Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Scottish referendum going down to the wire

On Thursday, Scots will decide whether to leave the United Kingdom and dissolve their union of over three centuries. The polls suggest the outcome could be as close as the one that almost split Canada apart 19 years ago.

The campaign for Scottish independence certainly appears to have the momentum.

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The referendum campaign in Scotland has been an interesting one. It started out as a long shot, but as the vote has approached the 'Yes Scotland' campaign has closed the gap. They still trail, on average, but it is close enough that the result could go either way. The pollsters are saying that the 'Better Together' side will prevail, but only just.

Below I've plotted all the polls that have been published since the beginning of the year, and cropped the y-axis so that the chart is easier to read. You can see just how close it has gotten.

It will be interesting to find out tomorrow how the polls do. Will they be right that the No side will win by a narrow margin? Will undecideds swing to the Yes side like they have been for the past few weeks? Or will they stick with the status quo?

We'll find out tomorrow night.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Liberals still lead in New Brunswick, and some news

The projection for the upcoming New Brunswick election, approaching fast on Monday, has been updated with the latest poll from Forum Research. The Liberals continue to lead, though the gap is narrowing. But before getting to that, a little news.

I'm excited to announce that I am joining the CBC News political team. I'll be writing for as well as appearing on television and the radio, covering polls and projections in the run-up to the 2015 federal election. It will be a lot of fun, and as the vote gets closer and closer we should have some great stuff for you.

My first article for the CBC, looking at the lay of the land as the House returns, can be found here.

It will be business as usual for the time-being on I'll be posting links to my articles and appearances here, in addition to keeping you up-to-date on the latest polls, as always.

I'd also like to thank The Globe and Mail and The Huffington Post Canada for the great opportunity they gave me to write for them since 2010 and 2011, respectively.

Now to New Brunswick.

It has been a quiet campaign on the polling front. Forum's poll, conducted on September 11, is the first set of numbers we've seen since the Corporate Research Associates poll that left the field on August 31.

The projection has narrowed as a result of this poll, with the Liberals down 3.1 points to 44.3%, or between 42% and 48% support. The Progressive Conservatives have gained four points, hitting 33.7%, or between 32% and 37%. The New Democrats took a hit of 2.7 points, falling to 13.7%, or between 10% and 17% support.

The Liberals are now projected to win between 28 and 37 seats, down from the 32 to 41 seats from the last projection. The Tories are now up to 11 to 21 seats from eight to 15, while the NDP is now projected to win only zero to one seat.

Of note is that the maximum and minimum ranges now overlap between the Liberals and Tories, meaning a PC victory is now plausible. It requires a big miss by the polls, however.

The Forum poll showed the Liberals still leading with 42%, down four points from their previous survey of August 25. The PCs were up just one point to 32%, while the NDP was down two points to 13% and the Greens one point to 6%.

This poll pegged support for other parties to be 7%, a gain of six points and the only shift that is outside the margin of error.

There is only one other party on the ballot, that being the People's Alliance of New Brunswick (PANB). There are a smattering of independents as well. Has the PANB made significant gains?

We can't say for certain whether respondents were intending to vote for the PANB or an independent candidate, though in all likelihood the majority of them intend to cast a ballot for the PANB (the party has 18 candidates, compared to nine independents). But therein lies a problem. Most New Brunswickers will not be able to cast a ballot for the PANB. Were the poll respondents aware of that?

With a PANB candidate in just 37% of New Brunswick's 49 ridings, many voters may not have yet realized that they will not have the option to vote for the PANB. That alone, then, could drop that 7% support to just 2.6%, or 3.6% if we make allowance for the 25 ridings that have either a PANB or independent candidate on the ballot.

This is one reason why the projection shows such low support for other parties. My methodology for estimating the support of smaller parties is to focus on how they performed in the last election and the number of candidates running in the current one. This method has been very successful in the past. The PANB does not have enough candidates to net 6% or 7% of the vote. That would require them to average about 19% in every riding. In 2010, the party averaged 4.6% per riding, or 3.4% if we exclude leader Kris Austin's notable performance.

Perhaps the debate, in which Austin took part, has boosted his party considerably. But even that looks unlikely. Support for other parties stood at 7% among anglophones, but also 5% among francophones. How plausible is it that the PANB, a party that has a reputation (deserved or otherwise) of lacking respect for francophones, and which is led by a leader who does not speak French and so could not participate in the French-language debate, is polling almost as strongly among francophones as it is among anglophones?

The minimum/maximum range for "Others" in the projection should suffice to capture the PANB's support.

Also of interest in this poll were the results for the three main leaders. Brian Gallant, whose party is ahead by a wide margin, is not polling as well as he was at the end of August.

His approval rating dropped by five points to just 29%, while his disapproval rating ballooned to 46% from 33%. Even among his party's supporters, his approval rating is just 62% and his disapproval rating is 19%.

David Alward's numbers held steady, at 26% approval and 63% disapproval. Those are not enviable numbers by any stretch, but they are no longer so horrible compared to Gallant's.

Dominic Cardy of the NDP is doing better. His approval rating was up to 38%, but more importantly his disapproval rating was down five points to 24%. And for all the noise about the direction that Cardy is taking the NDP, just 5% of NDP voters said they disapproved of him.

But liking Cardy is not the same as voting for him, as the party's drop in support attests. And when respondents were asked how they rated the leaders on specific issues, Cardy was still behind the others.

On who would best handle the budget, Gallant edged out Alward with 27% to 26%, with Cardy at 18%. On who could best bring jobs and growth to the province, it was Gallant at 31% to Alward with 28% and Cardy at 12%. Only on being able to cut waste was Cardy competitive.

Though Gallant was more comfortably ahead on ethics and vision, that he was only a few points up on Alward on economic questions should be of some concern for the party. Alward may be too unpopular to make major inroads, but if Cardy can eat into Gallant's support the race could get a lot closer.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Doug replaces Rob - what now?

A quick analysis on the news out of Toronto this afternoon. With Rob Ford out of the race to be Toronto's mayor due to health problems, the campaign has changed radically. But with Doug Ford taking his place, and undoubtedly set to run a campaign based on the premise that a vote for Doug Ford is a vote for Rob Ford, will the support levels so far recorded in the race change dramatically as well?

There are two competing factors at play. The first is that Doug Ford is not his brother. Rob Ford has managed to maintain a degree of sympathy with a segment of the population despite all of the issues of the last year. Doug Ford, on the other hand, has no such well of sympathy. 

There have not been many polls conducted related to the possibility of a Doug Ford candidacy. But a few polls have asked about him. The most recent survey, a poll conducted by Forum Research in May, put Doug Ford at only 20% if he replaced his brother. This was at a time when Rob Ford was polling at 24%.

Rob Ford's approval rating at the time was 32%, one of the lowest levels he has ever recorded. Doug Ford's approval rating in the same poll was 30%. 

In a poll conducted by Forum in November 2013, Doug Ford was similarly polling below his brother.

And in an Ipsos Reid poll from the same month, 34% of respondents said they trusted Rob Ford whereas only 30% said the same about Doug Ford. To be fair, however, Doug Ford's approval rating in that poll was two points higher than Rob's (42% to 40%).

So this suggests that we might expect, all things being equal, that Doug Ford would poll below his brother's level of support, which is currently averaging 29%.

The second factor at play, however, is that Doug Ford will not be replacing his brother in a vacuum. Though Rob Ford has withdrawn from the mayoral race, he has put his name on the ballot to be a councilor. Doug's candidacy, then, is almost as a proxy for Rob. This is the Ford family running for the job, rather than Doug alone. Some voters who liked Rob but not his brother may still vote for Doug Ford because of this. Add the extra sympathy that Rob Ford's health problems might give him, and it has the potential to boost the kind of numbers Doug Ford would have had on his own.

So perhaps the next set of polls will show little difference, with Doug merely being slotted in for Rob. But there are seven weeks left to go in the campaign, and Doug is not the campaigner his brother is and has had testy exchanges with the media in the past. He will have debates to attend as well. If he manages to maintain Rob Ford's support out of sympathy at first, he may have difficulty holding on to it through to October 27.