Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Conservatives ahead in new Angus Reid poll

For only the third time in the last year and out of the last 49 polls, the Conservatives have placed first in a national survey. Seasoned poll-watchers know that when something so out of the ordinary has happened, it is usually an anomaly that is quickly corrected. But until a new poll emerges to confirm or refute the findings of Angus Reid Global, we can only speculate as to whether this is a blip or a sign of things to come.

Angus Reid was last in the field in early March. Since then, the Conservatives picked up four points to lead with 32% support, putting them two points up on the Liberals, who fell three points to 30%. The New Democrats were down one point to 26%, while the Greens and Bloc Québécois were unchanged at 6% and 5%, respectively.

As I wrote in my piece for The Globe and Mail yesterday, these are unusual numbers. They are not completely implausible, though, as a swing of three or four points between the Liberals and Conservatives is not enormous. Nevertheless, these sort of numbers have been extremely rare over the last 12 months, as the chart below shows.

Polls since April 2013, with Angus Reid highlighted
Each dot represents a poll that has been released since Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader. The poll highlighted in green is this Angus Reid survey. As you can see, the Conservative result is higher than any recent survey. The Liberal result is lower than any recent survey. Is it a wobble or have the Liberals really taken a hit to the advantage of the Tories? We will have to wait and see.

Angus Reid also reported support among likely voters, which they determine based on a respondent's historical likelihood of voting and past voting behaviour. This is a good model for estimating likely turnout if turnout does not change to a great degree. If the assumptions the model is based on end up being off (if, say, young people turn out in larger numbers in 2015) the estimate will be wrong. This happened in the last US presidential election for a few pollsters. They assumed that the voting patterns of 2008 were anomalous and that turnout would revert to pre-2008 patterns. That did not happen, and so some pollsters, for instance, told Mitt Romney that he was going to win.

Nevertheless, according to Angus Reid's estimation of likely voters, the Conservatives have the support of 34%, a gain of three points since March. The Liberals dropped three points to 29%, while the New Democrats were up one point to 27%. At the regional level, the major changes were that the Tories placed first in the Prairies (42% to 34% for the Liberals) and extended their lead to 17 points in Ontario (43% to 26% for both the Liberals and NDP). The NDP's advantage in Quebec also increased (36% to 30% over the Liberals).

That the Conservative lead grew among likely voters is in line with what Angus Reid has found to be the case in the past. In February, a five-point national lead for the Liberals among all voters turned into a one-point deficit among likely voters. In March, that lead of five points decreased to just one.

Among eligible voters in this new poll, the Conservatives led in Alberta and Ontario. They had 57% support in Alberta, against 20% for the NDP and 17% for the Liberals. The Conservatives led with 41% support in Ontario (a gain of nine points) while the Liberals dropped eight points to 28%. The NDP was at 23%.

The surge in Conservative support in Ontario explains most of the gain the party made nationwide. It is what put them in front. But here again the numbers are unusual, as the Conservatives haven't been pegged at over 40% or with a lead of 13 points or more in the province in over a year.

The Liberals led in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, with 36% support in Saskatchewan and Manitoba against 33% for the Conservatives and 18% for the NDP. In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals had 57% support to 21% for the Tories and 17% for the NDP.

The New Democrats led in British Columbia with 34%, a gain of seven points, followed by the Liberals at 31% and the Conservatives at 26%. In Quebec, the NDP was at 33% to 29% for the Liberals, 19% for the Bloc, and 14% for the Tories.

With these regional levels of support among all eligible voters, the Conservatives would likely win 139 seats, with 100 going to the Liberals, 96 to the New Democrats, two to the Bloc, and one to the Greens.

The Conservatives are far from majority territory due to their poor showings in British Columbia, the Prairies, and Atlantic Canada. The Liberals are hamstrung due to their distribution of the vote in Quebec, while 71% of the NDP caucus comes from either B.C. or Quebec.

Among likely voters, the Conservatives get much closer to a majority with 157 seats, with 98 being won by the NDP, 82 by the Liberals, and one by the Greens.

Angus Reid included some leadership questions in its poll. Stephen Harper topped the list for best Prime Minister with 27%, up four points from March, while Trudeau fell four points to 20%. Thomas Mulcair was at 16%, Elizabeth May at 4%, and André Bellavance at 1%.

Mulcair had the best approval rating of the leaders, at 46% against 35% disapproval. Trudeau had 45% approval to 44% disapproval, while Harper split 38% to 55%.

Comparing these numbers to Angus Reid's March poll is problematic. That poll showed increases of about 10 to 30 points in the number of 'unsures' compared to the previous poll in February, while this current poll shows a reset, with the number of 'unsures' dropping by 16 or 17 points for Mulcair and Trudeau and by 21 to 26 points for May and Bellavance. I'm not sure why that happened, but it makes it wiser to compare the approval rating results in this April poll to the last set of numbers in February.

When we do that, we certainly see that Trudeau has taken a step backwards. His approval rating fell by six points, while his disapproval rating increased by six. Harper and Mulcair experienced only insignificant shifts. When asked if their opinion of the leaders had changed in the last three months, 30% said that their opinion of Trudeau had worsened, against 21% who said it improved (those numbers were 41% to 8% for Harper and 11% to 17% for Mulcair, respectively). So, the drop in support for the Liberals nationally is corroborated by the drop in support for Trudeau - though, of course, if the sample was unusually anti-Liberal the results would be repeated throughout.

One interesting aspect was how support for who would make the best PM did not always follow voting intentions. In British Columbia, for example, the NDP outpaced the Liberals by 34% to 31%. But Trudeau outpaced Mulcair by 24% to 20% on this question. On the other hand, in Quebec the margin between the NDP and Liberals was relatively narrow (33% to 29%), but Mulcair was the choice of 30% of respondents as best PM, compared to just 16% for Trudeau. Support for a leader and support for a party, then, is not always contiguous.

But this is one poll and an unusual one at that. We have to wait and see what other surveys show before we take these results at face value. Has the political landscape in Canada really flipped, or was this a blip? The death of Jim Flaherty, and the resulting outpouring of sympathy and analyses of his legacy, could not have had no influence on the results of this poll (the biggest Conservative jump was in Ontario, after all). We should have a better idea of the significance of this poll in a few weeks' time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Trudeau: One Year Later

Justin Trudeau has been leader of the Liberal Party for one year now. I wrote about the effect he had on the polls for The Globe and Mail earlier this week. I suggest you check it out if you have a subscription, as I go into the regional details there. Here, this is just a brief look at how the polls have broken down for the last two years.

I also suggest you consider checking out Tapping into the Pulse, my ebook on polling from 2013. It covers the last months of the Liberal leadership race and the first eight months with Trudeau at the helm of the party. The book also covers the wider federal scene, as well as each province individually. You can order it here from Gumroad, Amazon, and Kobo.

For those who want another trip down memory lane, I looked at the polls one year after Thomas Mulcair became leader of the New Democrats for The Hill Times here.

The chart below shows federal support in polls conducted one year since and one year before Trudeau became the Liberal leader. I've used a five-poll rolling average to smooth out the lines as much as possible. I've also added a linear trendline (the dotted, darker lines) to give an idea of how things have moved over the last 24 months.

The graph paints a pretty clear picture of the influence Trudeau has had on federal politics. The trendlines for both the Conservatives and New Democrats are negative, though both parties have more or less held steady for the last few months.

Stretching the chart back to April 2012 also allows us to take a look at Mulcair's honeymoon, when the NDP was polling in a tied or ahead of the Conservatives. It also lets us look at where his numbers have gone after two years as leader.

In late 2012, the Liberals were making gains as the leadership campaign rolled on, but you can see that in the months before Trudeau's victory became inevitable the polls were all over the map. This was, in part, because some voters' intentions included Trudeau as leader and others didn't. And Trudeau's quality as a potential leader was still murky at the time.

Since his victory the polls have been less varied, particularly over the last few months. You can see that since the beginning of 2014 the support levels of the three major parties have been relatively tight. Are the numbers stabilizing?

The chart also starkly shows how the Conservatives have not held a clear lead in the polls since over a year ago, and are trailing by a larger margin than they did when the New Democrats were doing so well in the spring and early summer of 2012. Never in the minority years of 2006 to 2011 did the Conservatives trail by such a large margin for such a long time. That the New Democrats have been solidly in third for the last year masks the fact that they have also been solidly over 20% - a level of support that was their ceiling prior to the 2011 breakthrough. Mulcair says it often, and he is right: the party's old ceiling is now their floor.

But the Liberals may be near their ceiling, particularly in this three-way race era. Only a couple of times has the party done better than 40%, the level of support they probably need to be comfortably in majority territory.

So that is the last 24 months in polls. Only 18 months remain before the next election is scheduled to take place. What will this chart look like by then?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

March 2014 federal polling averages

The Liberals continued to hold a lead in March as their numbers stabilized after months of oscillation back and forth. Only three polls were in the field nationally last month, and one in Quebec, but nevertheless over 10,000 Canadians were surveyed on their voting intentions.

The Liberals averaged 34.8% support in March, down 0.2 points since February. This marks three consecutive months in which the party has been in a narrow one-point band, the first time that has happened under Justin Trudeau. In fact, the Liberals had not even managed to hold their numbers steady for two months before 2014.

The Conservatives were down 0.4 points to 28.3%, making that six consecutive months in which the Tories have been registered at under 30% support. The New Democrats were up 0.6 points to 24.8%, their best result since September 2013, continuing a positive three-month trend for the party.

The Bloc Québécois was down 0.2 points to 5.7% while the Greens were up 0.6 points to 5.2%. Support for other parties averaged 1.3% in March.

In British Columbia, the Liberals picked up 6.6 points to reach 36.8% in March, their best result on record going back to January 2009. The Conservatives were down 1.3 points to 28.8%, while the NDP dropped 6.3 points to 22.9%, its worst result since March 2011. Considering these extremes, the month was more likely an anomaly than anything significant. The Greens were up 0.8 points to 10%.

The Conservatives led in Alberta with 55.6%, up 8.8 points since February. The Liberals were down 7.6 points to 20.8%, while the NDP was down 0.9 points to 15.1%. The Greens were up 0.1 point to 5.8%.

In the Prairies, the Conservatives managed their best result since June 2013 with a 3.4-point gain to 43.3%. The Tories have picked up support in Saskatchewan and Manitoba for three consecutive months. The Liberals were down 3.4 points to 29.7%, and the NDP was up 1.2 points to 22.6%. The Greens were unchanged at 4.2%.

The Liberals have been very stable in Ontario, averaging 37% or 38% support over the last six months. They were up one point to 38.4% in March, while the Conservatives dropped 3.1 points to 30.6%. The NDP was up 1.6 points to 25%, its best result since March 2013. The Greens were up 0.3 points to 4.6%.

Quebec - in the midst of a provincial election campaign in March - had the Liberals down 1.1 points to 31.7%. The New Democrats put up their best numbers since before Trudeau became Liberal leader, with a gain of 1.2 points to 29.8%. They have been experiencing a positive trend for four months (the NDP was at just 25% in November). The Bloc Québécois was down 1.7 points to 20.7%, while the Conservatives were at their highest since March 2013 with a 0.9-point gain to 13.6%. The Greens were also up 0.9 points, to 3.9%.

The Liberals were ahead in Atlantic Canada with 52.9%, a drop of 4.6 points. The New Democrats were up 2.4 points to 20.6%, while the Conservatives were down 0.5 points to 20%. They have been on a negative trend for four months now, dropping from 25% in November. The Greens were up 1.4 points to 4.6%.

The chart above shows the effect that Trudeau has had on politics in Atlantic Canada. Since he became leader in April 2013, the Liberals have managed 50% or better in five of 12 months, and have never been lower than 43% or held a lead of less than 13 points. Both the Conservatives, who last held a consistent lead in 2011, and the New Democrats, who were ahead after Thomas Mulcair became leader, have taken a hit.

With these levels of support, the Liberals would likely win around 137 seats, up four since February's projection. The Conservatives dropped one seat to 120, while the New Democrats were up three to 76. The Bloc Québécois would likely win three seats, a decrease of six from February, while the Greens would win two.

The Liberals make their biggest gain in Ontario, up eight seats to 61 thanks to the margin between their party and the Conservatives increasing by almost five points. The Liberals would also pick up two seats in British Columbia compared to February, but were down one each in Quebec and the Prairies and four in Alberta.

The Conservatives gained eight seats in all in the West (one in the Prairies, three in B.C., four in Alberta) but were down nine in Ontario.

The New Democrats were up seven seats in Quebec to 43, and one seat in Ontario, but dropped five in British Columbia.

Mostly stable numbers across the board. That is not a bad thing for the Liberals, as the longer they remain in the lead the harder it will be to budge them from it. The New Democrats are showing a little life in Quebec, which is good news for them, and remain in the game. The Conservatives still appear unable to turn things around. With 18 months to go before the next election, that is not an enviable position to be in.