Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Poll Position: Liberals

With Michael Ignatieff drawing his line in the sand yesterday, what better time to take a look at the Liberals' current status in the polls?

Back in July, I took a look at how the Tories were doing and the last time I looked at the Liberal polling performance was back in April.

On April 8, I was projecting the Liberals to have 31.7% support and to win 106 seats. Today, they are projected to have 32.5% support and to win 114 seats. So, they've improved their position but only slightly. They are still in opposition territory, but are now so close to the Tories that the "margin of error" could put them in front.

When I wrote my last analysis of Liberal fortunes, the party was on the upswing, moving from the low-30s into the mid-30s. But at the time of my analysis, Liberal support plateaued at around 35%, maintaining that level until mid-June. Beginning at that time, the Liberals dipped in support and after the end of June never polled higher than 34%. They plateaued again for about a month at around the 33% level, but have since tailed off into the low-30s, polling between 32% and 28%. Arguably, this is not the time to head into an election but things can change dramatically once attention is turned again to politics.

Let's look at their regional standings.

In British Columbia, the Liberals have remained relatively stable. From April to the end of June, the Liberals were slowly climbing from the low-20s into the mid-30s. Since the beginning of July, however, the Liberals have returned to ground and are now polling in the high-20s. Their fortunes have gone down as the NDP and Green numbers have inched upwards. They are currently projected to win 28.4% of the vote and 12 seats, which in terms of popular vote would be their best performance since 2004.

Alberta has also seen a slight rise and fall of Liberal support, but the variation here is minuscule. They were polling at around 20% from April to the end of July, but since then the party has sunk below 20%. They are polling in the high-teens, and are projected to win 19.3% of the vote and one seat. Again, that would be their best performance since 2004.

The Prairies have a significant variation because of the small polling size, but it appears that the Liberals have been relatively stable, polling anywhere from 15% to 30%. They are projected to win 23.9% of the vote and four seats. This would be their best support level since 2006.

In Battleground Ontario, the Liberals have dropped from their highs in the late-March, early-April period. At that point, the Liberals were polling at 45%. They then dipped a little, plateauing around 42% until mid-June. Subsequently, they slipped below 40% and polled at around the 39% level until early August. At that point, the Liberals slipped to 36%-37% support. They've been in a dead-heat with the Tories, though with a small advantage, since the beginning of July. They are currently at around the 37% mark, about one point ahead of the Tories. I've projected them to win 39.1% of the vote and 53 seats, still below their 2006 performance.

Quebec has been one of the better regions for the Liberals, but again we see a decline from their Spring numbers. In April the party was in a very close race with the Bloc Quebecois at the 34%-37% level, something they maintained until the middle of June. At that point, the Liberals slipped to the mid-to-low thirties, and recently have dropped below 30%. They are still in the high-20s, however, but they haven't had a lead over the Bloc for three months. Nevertheless, they are still in a strong position, and I project them to win 31.1% of the vote and 20 seats, their best performance since 2004.

Atlantic Canada has been the one region where the Liberal lead has been a constant. In April, the party was polling at between 40% and 48%, putting them well ahead of the Conservatives and NDP. They dipped down into the high-30s between May, rose again to the low-40s in early June, then dipped dangerously into the low-30s. At the beginning of July the Liberals were back in the 40s, but saw a drop back into the low-30s at the beginning of August. They've since returned to their high-30s, low-40s position but are finding themselves in closer competition with the Tories and especially the NDP. I project them to win 38.1% of the vote and 20 seats, still below their 2006 performance.

Lastly, I project the party to win 34.6% of the vote in the North and narrowly take all three seats. Conservative and NDP support has dropped too much at the national level.

Since the spring, the Liberals have dropped about three to five points, and have returned back to a close second. The old adage is that the opposition does not do well during the summer, and this could be a case of that. We will have to see how the polling numbers look over the month of September, especially after parliament resumes on September 14. However, with an election campaign liable to start a mere two weeks after that, we won't have too much time to gauge the trends before we plunge headlong into a campaign - where anything can happen.

The Liberals are doing well where they need to: British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada. They even look to pick up a seat or two in Alberta and the Prairies. They aren't in an ideal position to win an election, but they are at a good place to start a campaign. They are close enough to the Conservatives that, with a well-handled campaign, they can over-take and then open up a lead over them. Of course, they are also in a position where, handled badly or faced with a well-run Conservative campaign, they can drop back to 2008 levels.

However, I feel that is unlikely. My gut tells me that the Liberals will not end an election campaign in a worse position than they are presently in: say, 30% and 100 seats. Considering the disastrous 2008 campaign, such an improvement may be worth the effort, at least for the Liberals. If the Tories find themselves in a weaker minority position, parliament will not work any better than it is now.

But increasing Liberal support by three to five points is not out of the question and is hardly improbable. With the vote splitting the way it is, and the NDP likely to be far more comfortable supporting an Ignatieff minority government, that just may be enough to give us some political stability for a little while. I am of the firm belief that minority governments are inevitable until the political situation changes radically, so we have to get comfortable with the idea. Or, more accurately, the political parties have to get comfortable with the idea and begin to work together.


  1. My gut is telling me something quite different. I don't think they'll go back to Dion levels, but it's hard to see how this will help their numbers.

    My insticts say that this development will cause the Ontario numbers to sag even more (although they may pick up steam in Quebec)

    It all has to do with how they perfom during an actual election, as you say, but I have a feeling that the Ontario numbers in the next month may save us from a fall election.

    Just a hunch, but if the Conservatives can paint this as crass political calculation (should be easy IMHO), they can really hurt the Liberals in many regions.

    This should be an interesting show, but changes in the governing party usually need a "throw the bums out" mentality.

    I don't really feel that that is the prevailing sentiment today.

    The next month of polls will tell the tale. I can hardly wait.

  2. The opposition tried to paint the 2008 calling of an election as a "crass political calculation" but it didn't work.

    I don't think Canadians really care that much about that sort of thing. After 30+ days of campaigning, Canadians will have forgotten and will instead look at the various policies and leaders and decide who they think should lead the country.

  3. I concurr with almost everything you've said here. the Liberals have nothing to lose, and will almost certainly have some gains. I also suspect that Ignatieff's liberals will use the campaign's dying days to go public with the possibility of a coalition with the NDP. That would be a good idea, for the simple reason that they could claim a mandate if/when Harper fails to win the confidence of the house.
    You are right that we live in perpetual minority land now, and politics has a funny way of adapting into useful, and useable forms. If minorities and coalitions are to become the norm, then there's no reason to wait now, is there?

  4. I meant to try that over the next month, before the potential election, plenty of time before then to avert this election.

    This Parliament may not see it's first birthday, but only time will tell.

    I'm not ready to call it stillborn quite yet.

  5. Unforunately you use National numbers to project regional results.

    The concentration of Toronto votes will not help 905 votes for the Liberals. The last 3 elections the gaps double digits leads vanished.

    In the North your claim those national numbers will translate to all three ridings and ignore the last 3 elections results.

    You ignore the vote splitting of the left.

    If the Liberals only improve their vote by 2-3% in Toronto or Mtl island they will lose more seats in tight races.

    The MOE is significant for provincial breakdown 7-12%.

    No one is doing riding by riding Polls and you keep making prediction regarding Muclair and the North.

    Great site regardless of your algorithm.

  6. -- "Unforunately you use National numbers to project regional results."

    No, I use regional polling data.

    -- "In the North your claim those national numbers will translate to all three ridings and ignore the last 3 elections results."

    False. The model takes into account the three last elections.

    -- "You ignore the vote splitting of the left."

    False. The model takes into account this sort of thing.

    -- "The MOE is significant for provincial breakdown 7-12%."

    Not when you use all polls to get an average result. And no, the MOE is not 7%-12% in Quebec and Ontario, for example.

    -- "No one is doing riding by riding Polls and you keep making prediction regarding Muclair and the North."

    True, as does every other projector. That's what we do.

    -- "Great site regardless of your algorithm."

    Thanks, but you don't seem to understand how I make my projections.

  7. Moving beyond the nitpicking . . .

    I may be out on a limb on this one, but I have a gut feeling we're going to have a Liberal majority at the end of this election - a small one, for sure - but a majority nonetheless.

    The Liberals are in the best position to fight an election in a decade. They have a leader who, for all his faults, has the support of the party and can articulate himself well. They're viable in Ontario *and* Quebec, they've shown strength in the East and BC, and most importantly, they have money to fully fund a campaign.

    This won't guarantee a win, but it puts them in place to do so if and when the undecided and swing voters of the country finally make up their minds about Ignatieff. If Iggy's managed to make his case effectively, I think he'll pull off about 155-160 seats. If not, the Tories will be returned with a third minority.

  8. Based on today's numbers, I think we're looking at a Lib minority - the big question is whether the Libs + NDP = majority. My guess is that, at the end of the day, they'll be short two or three votes and we won't have an official coalition. If, on the other hand, they are just over, we might very well see a genuine coalition government.


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