Thursday, October 30, 2014

How bad are Selinger's polling numbers?

Amid calls for his resignation emanating from within his own cabinet, Greg Selinger is determined to stay on as Premier of Manitoba. The calls come on the heels of poor polling numbers, as NDP MLAs in the province fear for their job security. So just how bad are Selinger's poling numbers?

They aren't great. But they may be getting better.

Two polls have been done in the province within the last month, both showing relatively similar results. The older survey, from Winnipeg-based Probe Research, put the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Pallister at 42%, down three points from where the party stood in Probe's June poll. The New Democrats were down two points to 30%, while the Liberals under Rana Bokhari were up four points to 20%. Support for the Greens and other parties was 8%.

Insightrix was in the field more recently, polling between October 7-17. It found the PCs to have the support of 46% of Manitobans, down three points from the polling firm's last survey of January-February. The New Democrats were up five points to 29%, while the Liberals were down two points to 16%.

Certainly, those are poor polling numbers for an incumbent government. After 15 years, voters in the province may be ready to turn the page.

Selinger's decision to increase the PST after pledging not to in the 2011 provincial election has been a major contributing factor to the NDP's slide. The party dropped behind the PCs at the end of 2012, and there has been no looking back.

Monthly polling averages
As you can see in the chart above, this is a stark change in fortunes from where the party had been prior to 2012. The NDP and PCs would routinely trade the lead back and forth, but for the last two years the NDP has fallen well behind.

And it isn't due to a surge in PC support. The Tories have held relatively steady through it all, and have not seen their support move much in either direction for the last four years. Instead, the Liberals have eaten into the NDP's support, moving from the low-teens to around 20%. The Greens have also upticked a little, dragging the New Democrats down into a position where re-election is an unlikely prospect.

The seat projections for these two polls make for depressing reading for Manitoba New Democrats. With Probe's slightly more positive numbers, Pallister would still win 33 seats and form a majority government, with the NDP at 18 seats and the Liberals with six (the party's best performance since 1990). With the wider gap measured by Insightrix, the Tories would win 38 seats (outpacing their historical best), with the New Democrats at 15 and the Liberals with four. With the high support recorded for the Greens, a seat for them would not be completely out of the question.

Dire straits indeed for the NDP, but the picture might actually be getting rosier. From around December 2013 to February 2014, the party appears to have hit rock bottom. Polling by Probe and Insightrix done during that time gave the NDP an average of just 25% support, against 48.5% for the PCs and 19% for the Liberals. A spread like that would be enough to give the Tories as many as 42 seats, with just nine going to the NDP and six to the Liberals. With a margin like that, a third-place finish for the NDP in the seat count would even be possible.

Today, however, it appears the NDP has rebounded a little, averaging 29.5% across these two polls against 44% for the Tories and 18% for the Liberals. A gain of around five points in 10 months is nothing to sneeze at, but the party has a long way to go before re-election becomes more than just a hope.

Would Selinger's departure help matters? The most recent poll by Angus Reid, conducted at the end of August and in early September, put Selinger's approval rating at just 30%, roughly even with his own party. But that compared favourably to the 26% to 28% approval rating he managed between May 2013 and June 2014.

So the New Democrats in Manitoba may be experiencing a bit of a rebound from the catastrophic numbers of the last year. But the odds are still stacked overwhelmingly against them.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tory, polls, big winners in Toronto's election

Though at one point in the count it looked like the result would be far closer than anyone expected, in the end John Tory prevailed over Doug Ford and Olivia Chow comfortably. The polls performed remarkably well and, on average, estimated each candidate's support to within two percentage points.

Tory took 40.3% of the vote last night, beating out Ford at 33.7% and Chow at 23.2%. The dozens of other candidates combined for 2.8% of the vote.

ThreeHundredEight.com's weighted average was only slightly different, at 42.8% for Tory, 32.2% for Ford, and 22.2% for Chow. Support for other candidates was exactly right at 2.8%, for a total error of five points. That equates to an error of 1.7 points per candidate, or 1.3 points if we include the estimate for 'other' support.

But the average performed well not because it found the middle-road among a group of disparate polling results, but rather because each of the pollsters in the field in the final days came very close to the mark.

The closest was Mainstreet Technologies, which polled four days before the vote and had a massive sample of about 3,320 decided voters. In the first public test of its polling, its overall error was 3.4 points, or 0.9 points per candidate (including others). It was the only poll to nail one of the candidates' support levels exactly, estimating Ford to have the support of 34% of voters. It was also the closest for estimating Chow's support. Tory was over-estimated slightly and Chow was under-estimated a little, but all reported results were within the poll's small margin of error.

Ipsos Reid, which polled the furthest out from Election Day of the three (October 21-23) was the next closest, with a total error of 6.3 points (or 1.6 points per candidate, including others). Ipsos was the closest for Tory, at 41.7%. It under-estimated Ford and over-estimated Chow, but all results were again within the margin of error of a random sample of similar size.

The most active pollster on the municipal scene, Forum Research, was the furthest with a total error of 7.8 points (or two per candidate, including others). Its estimate for Tory was just outside of the margin of error, over-estimating his support by almost four points. Ford and Chow were both under-estimated slightly, but overall it was still a decent result.

It is interesting to note that without Forum's final poll, the averages would have been 41.7% for Tory, 32.4% for Ford, and 23.1% for Chow. That would have given a total error of 2.8 points, better than either the Mainstreet or Ipsos surveys.

But overall, the polls told the story of the campaign in Toronto accurately, and those surveys that had Ford at a relatively high level of support were by no means implausible. In fact, Ford ended up with more of the vote than the polling averages (with the exception of one update on October 6) ever gave him. We can reasonably conclude then that the polls served the electorate well, with little misleading information being published.

Other cities

As far as I am aware, Forum was the only pollster active outside of Toronto with the exception of Mainstreet in Brampton (if I am wrong here, please correct me).

The polling in Mississauga was done closest to the vote out of these non-Toronto polls, and the result was not exactly stellar. The final Forum poll of October 24 surveyed 308 people in Mississauga, estimating Bonnie Crombie's support to be 52% against 34% for Steven Mahoney. The result was actually 64% for Crombie and 29% for Mahoney. An earlier poll by Forum done on October 15 with a larger sample of 769 respondents was closer, with 56% for Crombie to 31% for Mahoney. The winner was right here, but the margin was not.

In Hamilton, Forum did better. The last poll of October 17 (751 surveyed) put Fred Eisenberger ahead with 37% to 25% for Brad Clark and 22% for Brian McHattie. The result was 40% for Eisenberger to 32% for Clark and 20% for McHattie. Not a bad performance, but Clark was well outside the margin of error.

Mainstreet was last in the field in Brampton, reporting a poll of October 20 with 1,602 respondents that showed 41% for Linda Jeffrey, 34% for John Sanderson, and 13% for Susan Fennell. Forum was in the field earlier on October 16 (surveying 1,020), putting Jeffrey ahead with 42% to 27% for Sanderson and 14% for Fennell. The result: 49% for Jeffrey, 22% for Sanderson, and 13% for Fennell. An over-estimation of Sanderson's support to the detriment of Jeffrey by both Mainstreet and Forum.

In London, Forum was out of the field almost three weeks before the vote (Oct 8-10, surveying 782) so it is hard to blame it for the size of its error. But it did have the winner right, giving Matt Brown 35% to 27% for Paul Cheng. In the end, Brown won with 58% of the vote to Cheng's 34%.

The one real upset, if we can call it that, was in St. Catharines, but again that is based on an old poll of October 7 (729 surveyed). The poll gave Jeff Burch the edge among decided voters with 32% to Walter Sendzik's 24% and Peter Secord's 22%. The result was instead a Sendzik victory with 40% to 35% for Burch and 20% for Secord.

Finally, there was the poll in Ottawa. This was done well before the election on September 18, surveying 1,096 people. But the campaign here was very dry and low key, which explains why Ontario's second-largest city went virtually unpolled. The Forum survey gave Jim Watson the support of 63% of decided voters, followed by Mike Maguire at 24%. In the end, Watson won in an even bigger landslide with 76% to Maguire's 19%.

So the polling outside of Toronto (featuring lower profile campaigns with fewer voters, so there is more potential for error) was hit or miss. Of the polls done within two weeks of the vote, the one in Hamilton was a success with those in Mississauga and Brampton being of mixed quality. The older surveys in London, St. Catharines, and Ottawa were only somewhat indicative of what the result would end up being. The winners were identified in London and Ottawa, and that it could be a close race was hinted at in St. Catharines. On that score, the polls outside of Toronto would get only a passing grade, compared to the straight-As the polls receive in Toronto.

This is likely to be the last major election to be held for quite some time. Newfoundland and Labrador will probably not head to the polls until next year, and it remains to be seen what will happen in Alberta. But if Jim Prentice decides to take his strong by-election results as a mini-mandate, there may be no high-profile election held before the federal vote next fall. That leaves Toronto as the 'what have you done for me lately' election for the polls, one in which they were vindicated. I naively hope that will quiet the critics for now.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Polls agree Tory will win Toronto race. Will voters?

The race for the Toronto mayoralty is finally coming to an end today and the polls are unanimous: John Tory should defeat Doug Ford and Olivia Chow by a comfortable margin. The polls are in remarkably close agreement, showing little variation that cannot be explained by normal sampling error in polls done over the last two weeks. But will voters do what they have said they would?

First, the averages. The weighted averages give Tory 42.8% of the vote, putting him a little more than 10 points ahead of Ford. He has averaged 32.2%, followed by Chow at 22.2%. Support for other candidates has averaged 2.8%.

These numbers have been steady for some time. Since the beginning of September, Tory has averaged no lower than 40.4% and no higher than 46.4%. He has led since the end of July.

Support for Ford has been steady since the end of September, not wavering from a range of between 30% and 34.3%. That does suggest he ends this campaign with slightly more support than Rob Ford had when he bowed out.

For Chow, she has been stuck since the beginning of August with between 22% and 26.7%. She lost the lead in July and fell to third at the end of the next month. She never recovered.

All of this stability might be showing the effects of a long race. After months and months (and months) of campaigning and debates, people have made up their minds.

And so have the pollsters. There has been extremely little disagreement between them. If we go back over the last two weeks of the race, we see that Tory's support has registered between 39% and 44% in every single poll - between 42% and 44% if we look at just the last five. That is incredibly consistent.

There has been a little more variation for Ford (29% to 34%) and Chow (21% to 25%) but those are marginal differences. Rarely do we see numbers clustered together so closely.

If we look at just the final three polls, we'd see a range for Tory of between 42% and 44%, Ford between 31% and 34%, and Chow between 21% and 25%. That would suggest a clear 1-2-3 finish for the three candidates. But let's extend that further, taking into account the margin of error for the highest and lowest results for each of the candidates.

When we do that, the ranges for Tory extend to between 39% and 47%, with Ford between 28% and 36% and Chow between 18% and 28%.

There are a few different scenarios in those ranges: a huge Tory victory by a margin of almost 20 points, or a close result with a margin of just three. Chow could finish in third place by a large degree, or potentially could narrowly edge out Ford for second.

If anything is going to skew these numbers, it could be turnout. It is always woefully low in municipal races, and I suspect that it might not be too high today either. If it was a closer race or if Rob Ford was still on the ballot, there could potentially be more interest. But as it stands, Doug Ford is not in range to win and Tory is not the kind of 'exciting' candidate that people will turn out in droves to vote for. On the other hand, the mayoral campaign has been so present in the lives of Torontonians for the last year that perhaps they will turn out in large numbers anyway. We'll see.

If turnout is determinant in the outcome, it seems that Tory should still have an advantage. Ipsos Reid gave Tory 51% support among likely voters, a gain of nine points over his standing among all eligible voters. Mainstreet Technologies gave him a boost of two points to 44%. Both pollsters agreed that Ford would take the biggest hit, dropping him by five to six points. For Chow, it was a bit of a wash. All signs point to a Tory victory today.

Though only a few firms were active during the race, polling in the campaign seemed omnipresent. In the end, they all agreed on the final outcome and were more or less in line throughout the last year. Will they be vindicated or could a surprise be in store tonight? Only a few hours remain before we'll find out and Toronto's long ordeal will be over.