Friday, April 24, 2015

Post-debate polls suggest Wildrose slipping, but what about the NDP?

As debates go, the Alberta leaders debate last night seemed potentially consequential. Most debates tend to be dull affairs where each party leader lives up to their lowest expectations. But last night did not feel like that. What do the polls say?

One poll done just after the debate concluded, by Mainstreet Technologies, showed a big win for the NDP's Rachel Notley, with the Tories' Jim Prentice in second. That fit with the consensus view. But a voting intentions poll done by Mainstreet released this afternoon suggests that the NDP has not had a boost, though Wildrose has taken a hit.

A poll by Forum Research, done on April 22 and 23 (so before and after the debate), showed a similar slip for Wildrose. But the Tories dropped as well, and the NDP surged into first place. Is it an outlier, or a sign of things to come?

The projection, as always, takes the middle road. The NDP is now first in the vote projection with 35%, enough to give the party 26 to 45 seats. That flirts with a majority, but is mostly in minority territory.

Or Official Opposition territory, as with 32% Wildrose can win between 25 and 42 seats. That is down from the 35% the party had in the last update.

The position of the PCs has improved slightly, with 25% and five to 31 seats. That no longer puts them only in third place. They could still potentially finish in second, at least in regards to the likely averages.

At 5% and one to three seats, the Liberals can hope for the balance of power but nothing more.

Forum's poll, reported by the Edmonton Journal, put the NDP up 10 points from their previous survey of April 7-9. They led with 38%, followed by Wildrose at 25% (-5) and the Progressive Conservatives at 20% (-7).

Mainstreet's poll in the Calgary Herald showed Wildrose down three points since the poll of April 20, but still narrowly ahead with 32%. The NDP was unchanged at 31%, while the Tories were up one point to 26%.

These are opposing trends, though the margin of error in the Forum poll (+/- 3%, with Mainstreet's at +/- 1.5%) could explain much of the divergence.

The two agree on Wildrose being down, which is a believable result considering Brian Jean's middling performance last night. But they disagree on the trends for the NDP and the PCs. Mainstreet has the Tories still very much in the race. Forum has the NDP at almost double the PCs' support.

Part of that may be one of the oddities of the Forum poll. In total, Mainstreet gave the Liberals and Alberta Party 12% support. Adding the 'others' to that number, we get to 18% for Forum. Considering the slate of candidates these three categories include, that is just not plausible. The Liberal score may only be slightly inflated, but for the Alberta Party to have 4% to 6% support, they would need to average about 10% to 14% in each of the 36 ridings where they are running candidates. That just isn't very likely.

And what of the 5% Forum awarded to other parties? That will have to go somewhere, and is nowhere to be seen in Mainstreet's estimations (which do not include the option).

These polls are in some serious disagreement, but that discord might not be as dramatic as it seems considering the margin of error. The broader trends are still relevant - the New Democrats doing historically well, Wildrose polling just under its 2012 support but high enough to win a large number of seats, and the PCs in third. We will need some more polling, and particularly some polls done once the debate can sink in a little more (and perhaps fade from memory) to get a better idea of the precise state of the race.

But we shouldn't be too shocked at these results. The electorate is extremely volatile in Alberta, and for the last two weeks we have only heard from Mainstreet. Sooner or later, another voice was going to get involved and muddle things.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wildrose moves ahead in new poll

The latest poll out of Alberta, the only one in the last week, shows Brian Jean's Wildrose moving ahead in provincial voting intentions as the Liberals collapse. In the projection, the movement has tipped a lot of races against the governing Progressive Conservatives in dramatic fashion.

The projection currently gives Wildrose the lead with just over 35% of the vote, enough to give them between 33 and 48 seats. That makes them the only party in the projection with a likely range surpassing the 44-seat mark needed for a majority government.

The New Democrats, at just under 32%, have improved their position significantly. Rachel Notley's NDP is now on track to win between 28 and 41 seats, which gives it plenty of overlap with Wildrose.

But it also gives the New Democrats no overlap with the Progressive Conservatives, who are now the odds-on favourite to finish third in the seat count with between four and 21 seats (the government's incumbency advantage tips the scales closer to 21 than to four, it should be said).

David Swann's Liberals are down to just over 4% of the vote, but because of how it is likely to be concentrated they could still hold on to between one and three of their seats.

The PCs are in a lot of trouble as they are only proving to be competitive in Calgary, and even there they trail in second with 30% in the projection to Wildrose's 35%. The New Democrats are dominating Edmonton (60%) and Wildrose is well-positioned in the rest of the province (43% to the Tories' 27%). It is a bit of a perfect storm for the opposition parties heading to the May 5 vote. Wildrose and the NDP look to have their vote concentrated in the right places, whereas the Tories have theirs spread out too evenly.

Mainstreet was last in the field on Apr. 13, and has showed significant shifts in support for Wildrose and the Liberals since then.

Wildrose was up four points to 35%, putting them ahead of the NDP, up just one point to 31%. The PCs were also up a point, increasing to 25% support.

The Liberals were down six points to just 4%, putting them in a tie with Greg Clark's Alberta Party (down one point to 4%).

The Liberal collapse is interesting. I asked Mainstreet whether they were making some adjustments for the Liberals or not, and I was told that all respondents had the Liberals as an option. That suggests that either Albertans are very aware of whether or not they have a Liberal candidate in their riding, or that even the party's 4% support is over-stated.

Mainstreet asked Liberal supporters what they would do if there was no candidate in their riding. The result bodes well for the New Democrats, as they were the choice of 61% of Liberals. Only 10% chose Wildrose and just 2% the Tories, suggesting that all of the Blue Liberals that flocked to the PCs in 2012 are now gone. What's left are people who are either centre-left or just anti-PC. Another knock against Jim Prentice's re-election chances.

Turnout is unlikely to benefit the Tories either, as Mainstreet found no real difference between all decided voters and those who say they are certain to vote. In fact, it only widened the margin between the Tories and Wildrose.

But the PCs do seem to have hit rock-bottom. They dropped five points in Edmonton, but were up slightly in Calgary and in the rest of Alberta. In those two regions, the race seems to be shaping up as a PC/Wildrose contest, as the NDP was down two points outside of Edmonton and Calgary and was unchanged in Calgary itself. The New Democrats may have hit their ceiling.

Their support is almost comically unbalanced, however, with their vote jumping 13 points to 64% in Edmonton. Their nearest rival was 48 points behind.

Wildrose is picking up some steam, with a gain of six points in Calgary and more marginal increases in Edmonton and the rest of the province.

On paper, it looks like Liberals have crossed over to Wildrose, as the increases that Wildrose experienced were almost identical to the decreases that the Liberals suffered (seven points in Edmonton and Calgary, four in the rest of the province). Considering the second-choice numbers for remaining Liberals, it is possible that all of the anti-PC Liberals have jumped ship to Wildrose. A more likely explanation, though, would be a lot of cross-pollination between parties, the end result being a jump for Wildrose.

Mainstreet also had two riding polls out yesterday.

One, in Calgary-Fort, gave the NDP a decent lead over Wildrose. The other, in Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, gave the NDP a wide advantage over the Tories.

The result in Calgary-Fort differed little from the projection, particularly considering the margin of error, and so serves to confirm that the NDP is indeed doing well in pockets of the city.

Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, however, had the NDP with far less support than the projection expected. This is not too much of a surprise, since the proportional model can balloon a surging party's support in regions where they already have a strong base. It suggests that the NDP's support in Edmonton may be more uniformly spread, giving them a better chance in every riding. But with 64% support citywide according to Mainstreet, they already have pretty good odds.

But the campaign has been dominated so far by one-day IVR polls from Mainstreet Technologies. It would be very helpful if we had multiple sources to work with, each using different methodologies. I imagine - and hope - that a flurry of post-debate polls will crowd the playing field a little soon and give us a clearer picture of the race.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Alberta projection updated with candidate slates

The Alberta projection has now been updated to take into account the number of candidates each party will have on the ballot on May 5.

Only the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats managed to nominate candidates in all 87 ridings, while Wildrose had one candidate barred from running. The Liberals came up just short of a two-thirds slate, while the Alberta Party and Greens fell well short of a 50% slate.

The projection has accordingly been adjusted to reflect these vacant spots. The Liberals have been reduced by the proportion of candidates they have on the ballot, as past experience shows that polls are largely unable to account for this fact.

The table below is a list of parties that did not run a full slate of candidates in recent elections but were nevertheless included in most polls. Parties that had a slate of at least 90% were not included, as it appears that this has little effect on the accuracy of the polls.

All of the numbers have also been rounded, because when we're looking at numbers as small as these a few decimal points can make a big difference. The issue, though, is that most polls only report whole numbers.
As you can see from the chart above, in virtually all recent cases the polls overestimated the support of parties not running a full slate by roughly the same proportion as the number of candidates they were running.

The poll average column shows the average of all polls conducted within seven days of the vote. The expected result shows the poll average adjusted by the candidate slate.

Only in the recent cases of the Saskatchewan Liberals, the Manitoba Greens, and the People's Alliance in New Brunswick have parties outperformed the expected result. And in the case of the Saskatchewan Liberals, their slate was so small that the adjustment reduced them to almost zero. They actually took 0.6%, just above the level needed to round them down to zero.

It would seem that many poll respondents are unaware of whether or not a candidate for a particular party is running in their riding. How this affects their voting behaviour is a puzzle. Do they discover only in the ballot booth that their favoured party is not on the ballot, or do they discover this in only the very last days of the campaign? And what do these people do? Spoil their ballot, not show up, or vote for another party?

Or is this overestimation just a sign of a party's lack of funds, organization, and get-out-the-vote infrastructure?

In the context of Alberta, what will these Liberal voters do? They could be worth three percentage points. An argument could be made that they could go to any of the three major parties, or the Alberta Party in ridings where they have a candidate where the Liberals do not. But it is impossible to speculate with much confidence. Rural Liberals may be different from Edmonton Liberals and Calgary Liberals. The local race may play a very big role as well. They may cast a ballot for the NDP in ridings where they have a good chance, or for the PCs in ridings where the race is between the Tories and Wildrose. Or they could even vote for Wildrose to send the PCs a message.

In regards to the other parties, the projection has also been adjusted. Support for other parties is often overestimated in polls, and in the past I have found that an effective measure of their likely support is based on two factors: the average support a party received in the previous election in the ridings where it had a candidate, and the number of candidates it has nominated in the current election.

In the case of the Alberta Party, to take an example, it has nominated 36 candidates. The party averaged about 3% per candidate in 2012. Take into account leader Greg Clark's potential performance in Calgary-Elbow, and you end up with the party capturing 1.5% of the vote. That is what the projection assumes will happen, and added to that are the expected vote shares for the Greens, independents, and an assortment of fringe parties.