Monday, October 20, 2014

Could Quebec keep the Liberals from a majority?

A new poll from EKOS Research for iPolitics and Radio-Canada suggests that, despite the fallout from the Liberals' decision not to support the government's mission in Iraq, there has been little change in voting intentions nationwide. But the poll also suggests that Quebec could be the obstacle blocking the path to a Liberal majority government.

EKOS was last in the field September 21-25, and since then has recorded no significant shift in support. The Liberals were up 0.2 points to 38.5%, followed by the Conservatives at 26.4% (+1.5) and the New Democrats at 25% (+0.6). The Greens were down two points to 5.7%, while the Bloc Québécois was down 0.9 points to 3.1%.

Suffice to say, none of the shifts experienced by the major parties were outside of the margin of error. However, the New Democrats have made gains in three consecutive EKOS polls, worth 3.6 points since the spring.

Regionally, the Liberals led in Ontario with 48.8%, followed by the Conservatives at 31.5% and the NDP at 16.4%.

In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals had 43% to 24.9% for the NDP and 23% for the Conservatives.

And in British Columbia, the Liberals were up 13 points to 36.1%, with the NDP down to 30% and the Conservatives at 19.5%.

The Conservatives led in Alberta with 42.7%. The Liberals were down to 27.9% in the province, while the NDP was at 12.3%.

The New Democrats led in two regions. They were ahead in the Prairies with about 39% (my estimate from EKOS's tiny samples in Saskatchewan and Manitoba), with the Liberals at 31% and the Conservatives at 28%.

The NDP was also in front in Quebec, with 38.8% support to 29% for the Liberals, 14.3% for the Conservatives, and just 12.6% for the Bloc. That was a drop of almost five points for Mario Beaulieu's party. Beaulieu's approval rating in Quebec was just 11.7%, with his disapproval standing at 47.6%.

Now, these numbers in Quebec are not unusual for EKOS. At the end of September, the NDP had 36% to the Liberals' 32%, while in July the New Democrats had 37% to the Liberals' 29%. Over that time period, other polls have averaged 38% for the Liberals and 27% for the NDP, so in this regard EKOS seems to be out of step with consensus opinion (with the exception of one CROP poll where the gap was two points, the NDP has not led in any of the last 15 polls done by other firms since mid-June).

But polling by CROP and Léger have suggested that the NDP holds the edge among francophones, a finding corroborated by EKOS's latest survey as well. This poses a problem for the Liberals. Though the party is doing respectably well among this demographic, they are at a distinct disadvantage. Francophones decide the results of the vast majority of Quebec's ridings and polls suggest that francophone support for both the NDP and Liberals is generally uniform. That means the Liberals could find themselves losing a large number of seats outside of Montreal by slim margins - but losing nevertheless.

The seat projection using EKOS's numbers shows what kind of role Quebec could end up playing in the next election.

Outside of Quebec, the projection model would give the Liberals 131 of 260 seats - a majority. But in Quebec, with the New Democrats a handful of points below their 2011 result, the Liberals win just 17 seats, with 57 being retained by the NDP. The end result is that the Liberals find themselves 21 seats short of a majority - and it is hard to imagine the Liberals doing much better in the rest of the country than what EKOS awarded them.

Even if we put the gap in Quebec at what the other pollsters think it is, we still get the Liberals falling short of a majority. This suggests that unless the Liberals can make the same kind of breakthrough that the NDP did in the province in 2011, their hopes for a majority government are likely to be dashed.

Overall, EKOS pegs Justin Trudeau's approval rating to be 46.1%, with a disapproval rating of 37.1%. That compares quite well to Stephen Harper's 29.9% to 63.3% spread, but is worse than Thomas Mulcair's 58% approval to 21.7% disapproval rating. And in Quebec, Mulcair's approval rating increases to 70.1% against 43.2% for Trudeau.

That will make it difficult for Trudeau to gain ground among francophones, though this weekend's appearance on Tout le monde en parle could help in that regard. But the prospect of forming government may not help him. The NDP led in Quebec in voting intentions, despite just 8% of Quebecers thinking the NDP would form government in 2015. Almost half of Quebecers think the Liberals will win.

For the Conservatives, this poll is a disaster. With under 20% support in B.C., the party takes just three seats there, and ties the Liberals for second in the seat count in the Prairies. With 79 seats (three-quarters of them in Alberta and Ontario), the party would find itself reduced to third-party status, with the NDP remaining as the Official Opposition. How this setup would work in practice is a little difficult to determine.

Of course, the Conservatives have not been as low as 26.4% in other polls, so these results are likely on the lower end of what is plausible. But we can still compare trend lines, and it seems that, so far, the Liberals are holding steady despite what has been widely considered to be a bad couple of weeks for Trudeau. But let's see what others have to say.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tight race in Alberta in new polls as by-elections loom

With four provincial by-elections just around the corner in Alberta, two new polls suggest the race could be tight both province-wide and within the two cities at play.

We'll start with the poll from Lethbridge College, which reports on an annual basis. We last heard from the school in October 2013.

The poll pegs Progressive Conservative support to stand at 32.6%, down 3.5 points from where the party was a year ago. That marks the lowest that Lethbridge has registered PC support to be since 2009, when it started polling.

Wildrose was up 1.4 points to 30.8%, their highest score in Lethbridge polling. 

The New Democrats trailed with 16.8%, while the Liberals were at 12.8%. Support for other parties (which presumably includes the Alberta Party) was at 7%, up 1.4 points.

It is a close race, which is in step with the last two polls we have seen out of the province from Léger (31% to 26% in favour of Wildrose in June, 33% to 29% in August-September). While that is, relatively speaking, good news for Wildrose, this does still represent a level of support somewhat below where the party was in 2012. They have come into contention almost by default, as the PCs shed more than 10 points' worth of support.

At the regional level, the PCs enjoyed sizable leads in both Edmonton and Calgary, were tied with Wildrose in the northern part of the province, and well behind in the south.

But the results in Edmonton and Calgary are out of step with the recent Léger polls out of Alberta. The Tories have averaged just 27% support in those polls in Calgary, versus 42% according to Lethbridge. While both the NDP and Wildrose polled lower in the Lethbridge polls than in the Léger surveys, it is among Liberals that the difference is most important: an average of 23% instead of the 16% here.

In Edmonton, the PCs have averaged 22% against 28.5% for the NDP and 21% for the Liberals, instead of 33% here for the PCs, 24% for the NDP, and just 10% for the Liberals (Wildrose's support seems consistent).

Now, we could consider that perhaps the arrival of Jim Prentice has transformed things in both Calgary and Edmonton, as Liberals flock back to the PCs now that it is under a Red Tory. While that might be an intuitive conclusion, Lethbridge College showed higher results for the PCs than other polls did in October 2013, so we may be looking instead at a methodological quirk.

The other poll was conducted by ThinkHQ in its 'Eye on Alberta' regular report. Only the results of the poll in Calgary and Edmonton proper (not the metropolitan regions or CMAs, as Lethbridge College has it) were released to the public.

In Calgary, ThinkHQ puts Wildrose narrowly ahead at 38% to 36% for the Tories, with the Liberals well behind at 13% and the NDP at 8%. Since July, that represents a gain of eight points for the Tories, who have been picking up steam in the city for some time. The PCs were at just 20% in Calgary proper in March, while Wildrose has fallen 10 points since then.

The contest was a close three-way race in Edmonton, with Wildrose at 27%, the PCs at 26%, and the NDP at 25%. That marks a drop of five points since July for Wildrose, and a gain of four points for the Tories. Here again, the PCs have been rising, as they were at just 15% in Edmonton proper in March.

It seems that Prentice has had a positive effect on the Tories' numbers (though he only recently won, he has been the heir apparent for months). But he has still not put the party in a position to win a province-wide election - ThinkHQ mentioned in its report that Wildrose still held a provincial lead, and even with the numbers from Lethbridge's poll the PCs would only barely eke out a majority, if at all.

So the three by-elections in Calgary and the one in Edmonton should still prove a difficult test for the Progressive Conservatives. These were all relatively safe ridings, so they should still be favoured to win them all. But if Wildrose is as strong in Calgary as ThinkHQ suggests, the PCs will be hard-pressed to hold all four seats.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

September 2014 federal polling averages

There was a relative flurry of polls in the month of September, as parliamentarians got back to work in Ottawa. Five national polls and two in Quebec surveyed almost 9,000 Canadians, showing that support has been mostly holding steady for the last few months. And that means a continued sizable lead for Justin Trudeau's Liberals.

The Liberals averaged 38% support in September, unchanged from where they were in August and marking the third consecutive month with the party between 38% and 39% support - a high for them since at least 2009.

The Conservatives were down 0.8 points to 29.9%, while the New Democrats were up 1.5 points to 22.2%. Despite the NDP's gain, the party has been between 21% and 22% for three months now, their lowest since before the 2011 federal election. Undoubtedly, the NDP slump and Liberal strength are related.

The Greens were down 0.5 points to 4.7%, while the Bloc Québécois was down 0.4 points to 4%. Support for other parties was at 1.1%.

The New Democrats moved into the lead - a very narrow one - in British Columbia, the only province where the party is in front. They were up 6.6 points to 30.1%, their best result since August 2013. The Liberals were down 5.1 points to 29.4%, while the Conservatives slipped 1.6 points to 29.3%. The Greens were up 0.1 point to 10.4%.

In Alberta, the Conservatives picked up 3.5 points and averaged 54.8% support, followed by the Liberals at 27.2% (down 0.2 points). The NDP dropped 4.1 points to 10.6%, while the Greens were up 0.3 points to 4.8% in the province.

The Conservatives also made gains in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, up 3.2 points to 39.4%. The Liberals were up 1.2 points to 32.4%. The party has been very stable in the region, polling at an average of between 29% and 33% since the end of 2013. The NDP was down slightly, by 1.7 points to 24%. The Greens were also down, by 2.5 points to 3%.

In Ontario, the Liberals continued to lead and gained two points to reach 43.1% support. The party has been over 40% for three consecutive months now. The Conservatives were down 2.3 points to 33.1%, while the NDP was up 0.8 points to 18.2%. The Greens were down 1.7 points to 4.3%.

The Liberals were also in front in Quebec, down 0.6 points to 36.6%. The NDP was up 1.2 points to 30%, while the Bloc Québécois dropped 0.5 points to 15.5%. The party has been stagnant or dropping for four consecutive months now under Mario Beaulieu. The Conservatives were unchanged at 14%, the level of support they have averaged in six of the last seven months. The Greens were down 0.1 point to 3.1%.

The Liberals dropped 3.3 points in Atlantic Canada and slid to 49.1%, their lowest level of support since December 2013. The NDP increased by five points to 22.7%, while the Conservatives were down 0.9 points to 21.8%. The Greens were also down, dropping 1.4 points to 5.1%.

With these levels of support, the Liberals would likely win around 143 seats, with 112 going to the Conservatives, 81 to the New Democrats, and two to the Greens. The Bloc would be shut out.

Compared to August, this represents a drop of four seats for the Liberals, eight for the Conservatives, and one for the Bloc, while the NDP picks up 13.

The Liberals picked up six seats in Ontario and one in the Prairies, but dropped one in Alberta, three in British Columbia, and seven in Quebec (recall that, despite the overall Liberal lead in the province, polls suggest the NDP has the edge among francophones).

The Conservatives gained one seat in Alberta and two in the Prairies, but dropped four in British Columbia and seven in Ontario.

The New Democrats were down three seats in the Prairies, but up one in Ontario, seven in British Columbia, and eight in Quebec.

Now that the show has returned for the fall and the parties are in full pre-election mode, it will be interesting to see how the polls shift in the coming months. Stephen Harper's Conservatives have yet to gain any traction or put a dent in the wide lead that the Liberals have taken in the summer. Thomas Mulcair's NDP is showing signs of life in B.C. and Quebec (vital battlegrounds for them) but is struggling in Ontario. Can the Liberals continue to hold off their two rivals?