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The Nanos Number: Changing Population Means Changing Politics

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Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC Power & Politics host Evan Solomon to get to the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: How will changing demographics affect long-term political strategies?

The number 25

The percentage point drop since 1961 of families with a married couple.

Source: Statistics Canada

Three byelections on Monday didn't result in any major changes in the House of Commons, but beneath the surface there could be hints of what's to come the next time Canadians go to the polls.

In the riding of Calgary Centre, Conservative Joan Crockatt won with 37 per cent of the vote, with the Liberals and Greens coming in a close second and third with 33 per cent and 26 per cent of the vote respectively.

Nik Nanos calls these results seismic, "because it was a near-death experience for the Conservatives."

"For the Conservatives probably the key takeaway....is that demographically Alberta is changing, Canada is changing," he told Evan Solomon on Power & Politics. And, Nanos said, it raises the question, who will be in the Conservative winning coalition in the future?

In the U.S. election the Democrats are very well-positioned. The Obama winning coaltion included some of the fatest growing segments of the population, including hispanics.

Now the trend in the U.S. shows a decline in the traditional family make-up that includes a married couple.

Nanos says part of the Democrats' success can be attributed to their strategy change in response to demographic changes, including crafting policies that speak to the fastest-growing groups of the population.

The trend is very similar in Canada.

There has been a 25-point drop in families that include a married couple during the past 50 years, from 92 per cent in 1961 to 67 per cent in 2011, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada.

Political parties are going to have to adapt as the traditional family changes in Canada.

"The parties that are going to succeed in the future are the ones that get ahead of that, because those are the fatest-growing part of the Canadian population," Nanos said.

It means the Conservatives will have to adapt, if they want to remain the governing party in the future.

But for the Liberal and NDP, Nanos's advice is to take advantage of the change.

The Conservatives have courted the so-called ethnic vote to build their coaltion majority. "It will be interesting to see how the opposition parties try to build their coalition majority in the future," Nanos said.

Green Party Curveball?

There is a curveball in this equation: younger Canadians.

Nanos says the Greens were much more effective in reaching out to "the tech-savy, web 2.0, twitterverse-type Canadians, younger Canadians," during the byelections.

"From a long-term perspective, it's probably a very good strategic move," Nanos said.

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