Wednesday, November 26, 2014

From bad to worse for the NL PCs

A quick follow-up on yesterday's post on the two by-elections held last night in Newfoundland and Labrador. By-elections over the last three years have been rough for the governing Progressive Conservatives. These last two were catastrophic.

The Liberals won both of these ridings by very comfortable margins after benefiting from gigantic swings from both the NDP and the PCs to their party.

In Trinity-Bay de Verde, Liberal Steve Crocker took 65.5% of the vote, with the Tories dropping to 29.1% and the NDP to 5.4%.

In Humber East, Stelman Flynn of the Liberals took 56.1% of the vote, with the Tories plummeting to 36.1% and the NDP falling to 7.8%.

The swing that occurred in Humber East is absolutely extraordinary. The Liberals gained 47.6 points and the PCs fell 42.1 points, for a total swing of 89.7 points. This has to be one of the largest swings in Canadian electoral history, if not the largest. To recall, just three years ago the PCs took 78.2% of the vote here and the Liberals only 8.5%. The PC vote share fell by more than half. The Liberal share increased almost seven fold.

In Trinity-Bay de Verde, the Liberals picked up 41.6 points and the PCs fell 32.8 points. The NDP vote fell by almost two-thirds.

These were horrific results for the PCs. The seven by-elections that have been held since the last provincial election have all been bad for the Tories, but these swings of 74.4 and 89.7 points are the largest to have occurred. In every previous by-election, the Tories had at least maintained half of their vote share. Here, they lost a majority of it. Before last night, the Tories had shed an average of 22.8 points per by-election. Last night, they dropped an average of 37.5 points.

A shocker? In terms of the scale of the Liberal victory in Humber East, most certainly. But after the extraordinary results the Liberals had put up in other by-elections, no one was counting the party out. I said so myself in yesterday's post, and the By-Election Barometer's subjective analysis for this riding said so as well (no model could plausibly predict such a historic swing). The Liberals appear unbeatable in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But these are by-elections, and the next provincial election may not be so easy. Regardless, there is no way to look at these results and consider the Tories' chances next year anything but slim.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More dramatic swings in store in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Two by-elections are being held today in Newfoundland and Labrador in the ridings of Trinity-Bay de Verde and Humber East. Both were won with massive margins by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2011. So, of course, that means both could very well swing over to the Liberals tonight.

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador have been in a remarkable state of transition since Dwight Ball took over the Liberal Party in November 2013 and Kathy Dunderdale resigned in January 2014. The Liberals won only six seats in 2011, but after a series of floor-crossings and by-election victories their caucus has more than doubled to 14. The party has won five straight by-elections, including the last four in which the Tories were the incumbents. Their largest victory occurred just a few weeks ago, when they won the by-election in Conception Bay South by 1.8 points, after trailing by 62.5 points in 2011.

No seat in Newfoundland and Labrador can thus be considered a safe one for the Tories. But will the party finally be able to break the Liberals' streak tonight?

The chart above shows how support has shifted in the five by-elections that have been held since the 2011 general election. The first, in Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, was held before Ball became party leader (the Liberals nevertheless held on).

In every by-election since then, the Liberals have gained at least 26 points, picking up almost 43 in the by-election held in Conception Bay South. The Tories have lost between 21 and 34 points in each of the last four contests, while the NDP has lost either a little (one point in both Carbonear-Harbour Grace and St. George's-Stephensville East) or a lot (more than nine in Virginia Waters, 21 in Conception Bay South).

On average, the Liberals have gained 23.5 points in by-elections held since the last general election, and 33.8 points in the four held since Ball took over the party. The PCs have shed 25.2 points on average over the last four contests, while the New Democrats have lost 8.1 points.

This falls into line with what the polls have been saying. If we look at the last three polls in the province, done by three different firms between the end of July and October, we get the Liberals at 56% support, followed by the Tories at 29.2% and the NDP at 13.8%. Since the 2011 election, that represents a drop of 26.9 points for the PCs and 10.8 points for the NDP, with a gain of 36.9 points for the Liberals. Those shifts are almost identical to the average changes in support over the last four by-elections.

If we look at it in terms of proportional changes, the Liberals have more than quadrupled their vote share in the last four by-elections. The New Democrats have retained just about two-thirds of theirs, while the PCs have retained only three out of every five voters who cast a ballot for their party in 2011.

So what does that tell us about the by-elections being held tonight? The By-Election Barometer considers Trinity-Bay de Verde a 'Strong Liberal' pick-up, while Humber East is a 'Likely PC' hold. Going by the past shifts we've seen in other by-elections, this seems reasonable.

Trinity-Bay de Verde was won by the PCs with 61.9% of the vote in 2011, with the Liberals taking 23.9% and the NDP capturing 14.2%. The margin of 38 points between the PCs and Liberals is far smaller than the swings that have occurred in each of the last four by-elections (the smallest swing was 50.3 points in St. George's-Stephensville East, the largest was 69.8 points in Carbonear-Harbour Grace).

The riding is thus well within striking distance of the Liberals. If the average point swing we've seen since Ball became Liberal leader occurs in Trinity-Bay de Verde, the party should take about 58% of the vote to 37% for the Tories (and 6% for the NDP). It would require a comparatively very poor performance by the Liberals to lose this one.

But Humber East could be just outside of their grasp. The Tories took 78.2% of the vote here in 2011, with the NDP taking 13.3% and the Liberals just 8.5%. That puts the gap between the Liberals and the Tories at 69.7 points - just 0.1 percentage points less than the swing that occurred in Carbonear-Harbour Grace. The Liberals would need another massive swing of that size in order to wrestle the riding away.

It might be too much to ask to repeat that performance. If the average swing occurs, the Tories would win it by 53% to 42% for the Liberals (and 5% for the NDP). Even if we apply the proportional swing, dropping the PCs by a factor of 0.6 and quadrupling the Liberal vote, they still come up short by 11 points.

Winning Humber East will be a tall order for the Liberals, but they have shown they are capable of such enormous swings before in Carbonear-Harbour Grace. With the shifts we've seen in Newfoundland and Labrador, even a riding like Humber East could flip. Tom Marshall, who held the riding for the Tories since 2003, was a popular MHA and the riding was won by the Liberals when they were last in government. Despite what the numbers say about the likelihood of Humber East going over to the Liberals, they nevertheless have a shot at it. And that just about sums up how bad things are for the Progressive Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NDP moves ahead in back-and-forth Quebec race

Yesterday was a good day for the New Democrats in Quebec. Maria Mourani, a former Bloc MP, announced that she was joining the NDP (at least on the membership rolls, if not in caucus) and a new poll published by La Presse put the party and Thomas Mulcair in front in the province. But is this part of a positive trend for the NDP leader, or just another wobble back and forth?
CROP was last in the field on October 16-20. Since that poll, the NDP has picked up four points to move into the lead in Quebec with 34% support. The Liberals dropped five points, the only shift outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples, to 32%.

The Conservatives placed third in the poll, up one point to 16%, putting the Bloc Québécois in fourth with 14% (unchanged). The Greens had 4% support.

Of the entire sample, 10% was undecided and another 5% would not vote or did not respond to this question.

Note that support for Others (which would include Forces et Démocratie) was at 0%, as it always is in CROP's polling.

Is this slip by the Liberals a sign of trouble for the party? That is always a possibility, of course, but in CROP's polling we've seen the Liberals and NDP trade the lead back and forth for all of 2014.

There is little discernible trend in these numbers. The Liberals and NDP have been neck-and-neck throughout the year. But CROP did record the same sort of bump for the Liberals in the summer that other polls did, so it would seem that the party may be coming off that high to more usual levels of support.

A negative trend for the Bloc Québécois after Mario Beaulieu became leader in June, however, is readily apparent. The Conservatives are on the upswing, but that is from a very low point. They are still generally were they have been in the province since the last election.

The New Democrats increased their lead among election-deciding francophones, stretching it to 12 points with 39% support to 27% for the Liberals. The party has not trailed among francophones in any poll since February. The Bloc was at 17%, while the Conservatives were at 13%.

Among non-francophones, the Liberals tumbled 17 points to 49%, the lowest score they have managed among this group since before Justin Trudeau took over the party. The sample size is small, however, and would normally carry a margin of error of about eight points. Nevertheless, it may be something to keep an eye on. 

The Conservatives were up to 29% among non-francophones, which might potentially put them in the running in a riding or two on the West Island. The NDP was third with 17%, followed by the Greens at 5% support.

The New Democrats were ahead on the island of Montreal as a whole with 42%, followed by the Liberals, who were down 15 points to 25%. The Bloc was at 16% and the Conservatives at 15% (coupled with their strong non-francophone numbers, this suggests they are doing very badly among island-dwelling francophones).

Off the island of Montreal but within the metropolitan region, the Liberals were narrowly ahead with 32% to 31% for the NDP. The Bloc had 19% support here, its highest in Quebec, while the Conservatives were up seven points to 16%.

In and around Quebec City, the NDP was in front with 40% support, followed by the Conservatives at 23% (their lowest since the spring) and the Liberals at 18% (their lowest since February 2013). The Bloc had 13% support in the provincial capital.

And in the rest of Quebec, the Liberals were ahead with 38% support to 31% for the NDP, 16% for the Conservatives, and just 10% for the Bloc Québécois. Considering the 'RoQ' is where all of the Bloc's current or former MPs were elected (save Mourani) in 2011, that spells a lot of trouble for the party.

Indeed, with these numbers the Bloc would be shut out entirely. The New Democrats would ride their advantage among francophones to around 49 seats, with the Liberals capturing 21 and the Conservatives taking eight.

It makes for a good poll for the NDP. Mulcair was ahead on who Quebecers preferred for Prime Minister with 29%, a gain of seven points since last month. Trudeau was down six points to 22%, while Stephen Harper had 13% support. As these numbers do not exclude undecideds or people who say 'none of the above', we can say that Mulcair and Harper appear to be about as popular as their own parties. Trudeau, however, scored five points lower than the Liberals before undecideds were excluded.

One interesting tidbit from the CROP poll was the breakdown of federal support by who Quebecers support at the provincial level. With these numbers, we see that Philippe Couillard's Liberal supporters primarily intend to vote for the federal Liberals (48%) and the Conservatives (31%). The Parti Québécois's supporters are split between the Bloc (44%) and the NDP (31%), while supporters of the Coalition Avenir Québec would vote for either the NDP (45%) or the Liberals (30%).

That the Bloc cannot even draw a majority of PQ voters to its banner is another nail in its coffin.

But we can also reverse these numbers to see where each of the federal parties draw their support from.

Quebecers who vote for the Bloc Québécois are primarily PQ supporters (about 70% by my own calculations), with a smattering of CAQ voters (14%). That makes for a rather simple coalition of nationalists.

The Liberals and Conservatives are a little less monochromatic. About 57% of the federal Liberals' base comes from the provincial Liberals, while another 25% comes from the CAQ. But these two parties generally see eye-to-eye on things (the CAQ has even accused the PLQ of borrowing liberally from its platform). The Conservatives have a similar breakdown, 66% of their voters being supporters of the PLQ and 19% of the CAQ.

The New Democrats have a much trickier coalition to keep together. Their largest block of supporters are drawn from the CAQ, at 35%. The PQ and Québec Solidaire each provide about 21% of the NDP's support base, while 19% are provincial Liberals.

There are many ways to divvy these NDP voters up. On the national divide, about 42% of them are sovereigntists (PQ+QS) and 77% of them are nationalist (adding the CAQ to that total). Put another way, 54% are federalist (CAQ+PLQ). The sovereigntist/federalist split also aligns with how the party's supporters are divided between centre-right and centre-left.

This makes for a potentially divisive coalition of voters. It is obvious why QS would support the NDP (the party has always been more of a left-wing party than it is a sovereigntist one), and the PQ and NDP have similar social democratic roots. But the NDP is also federalist, so that makes them an option for centre-left provincial Liberals, while the party is somewhat populist and an 'alternative' to the traditional two party system, which might attract CAQ voters.

On the other hand, that the NDP is federalist could push QS and PQ voters away in the spotlight of an election campaign, while it is further from the CAQ and PLQ on the left-right spectrum than either the Conservatives or the federal Liberals. It makes for a difficult balancing act for Thomas Mulcair.

But he seems to be mostly pulling it off. The old sovereigntist/federalist divide in Quebec is fading away, as voters move from one party to another. And even the left/right politics of the province are being turned on its head, as labour-busting Pierre-Karl Péladeau emerges as the saviour of the centre-left PQ. It makes for a complicated political landscape in the province. Perhaps that is why Mulcair, a veteran of the provincial scene, has managed it. So far.