Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Conservatives still well ahead

The latest set of polls from Abacus Data, Environics, Harris-Decima, EKOS Research, and Nanos Research (click on links to see full methodologies, questions asked, etc.) continue to show much of the same. The Conservatives hold an 8-15 point lead, the Liberals are still relatively stuck, and the New Democrats are on the upswing. It all points to a House of Commons similar to the one we had when the election called.
A few notes on these polls before we get into them. They all overlap but include different sets of field dates: Abacus (an online pollster) was in the field April 11-15, Environics between April 12-17, Harris-Decima between April 14-17 (April 7-17 for regions other than Ontario and Quebec), EKOS between April 15-17, and Nanos between April 16-18. So, they all could be capturing slightly different things. Abacus, Environics, and part of the Harris-Decima poll, for example, include pre-debate data.

But there is a degree of consistency between these polls. The Conservatives are between 36% and 40%, generally unchanged since 2008. Liberal support looks a little more volatile. Abacus, Harris-Decima, and Nanos show them in a pretty good position, while Environics and EKOS show the Liberals in a very sorry state. And the NDP is at a very high level of support in every poll except the one by Nanos.

Ontario and Quebec have some interesting variations. Are the NDP doing very badly or very well in Ontario? And contrary to what you might think, the polls showing the closest Conservative-Liberal races are those where the NDP is doing well.

In Quebec, the NDP's position above 20% seems to have been confirmed, though Harris-Decima is a dissenting opinion. They have a good track record, so Harris-Decima's pegging of the NDP at 15%, still an improvement over 2008, should not be completely dismissed. Though the margin of error is 6.2% in the province in the Harris-Decima poll, it does give some reason for caution.

What most of the polls are also showing in Quebec is that the Conservatives are starting to look a little weak. In the polls that are indicating Tory troubles in Quebec, the Bloc is doing better. There appears to be a lot of transfers of support going on in Quebec between all four parties.

While on the subject of Quebec, a quick note about the three riding polls done by CROP for Le Soleil. They put the Bloc ahead in Louis-Hébert (37% to 28% for the Tories) and the Conservatives ahead in Beauport - Limoilou (35% to 32% for the Bloc). Most interestingly, they have André Arthur at 37%, followed by the Bloc at 32% in Portneuf - Jacques-Cartier.

Riding polls give me a chance to see how my model is doing, and before I entered all of the polls from this morning the projections were very close for two of these three ridings. In Beauport - Limoilou and Louis-Hébert, I was off by three points or less for all parties except the NDP in Beauport - Limoilou, and in that case I was off by 4.5 points. For the two main parties in Beauport - Limoilou, I wasn't off by more than 0.7 points. Portneuf - Jacques-Cartier had Arthur's support off by about six points, but was on the money for the Bloc. With the riding polls added to the projection, I should be able to zero-in on the final result more accurately in these three ridings.

Back to the national polls. In terms of poll-to-poll variation, there isn't much going on. Compared to their last full three-day poll, Nanos had the parties up or down less than two points, which is the same situation when comparing the Abacus and Environics polls to their last reports early in the campaign. Harris-Decima is showing much more of a swing, with the Tories down four and the NDP up four over the last week or so, but that isn't a statistically significant change in support. The same goes for EKOS, as all national variations are less than three points.

Voting intentions are starting to become a little unhinged, though. The polls are not greatly at odds with each other but some variations at the regional levels seem to be taking place, though they also appear to be cancelling each other out at the national level.

The NDP's performance in this election seems to be rattling a few cages and shaking things up. Where we'll be in one week's time, let alone 13 days, is anyone's guess. Of course, based on how the polls have moved over the last three years, the most likely scenario is that we'll be in the same position as we are today.


  1. As we seem about to to produce pretty much the same seat standings (caveat 13 days being an eternity in politics) we can credit Michaelle Jean for this election. Harper will definitely NOT obtain the confidence of the new House with a minority. No prorogue this time around; so, most likely Ignatieff PM. If he works well with Layton and Duceppe, we could see four years of a government that SURPRISE the MAJORITY of Canadians voted for. If he screws up, Harper will get a majority shortly afterward -- ref: Joe Clark and Trudeau.

  2. Éric, will you be looking at polling company bias at some point during the campaign? I'm assuming none of the major firms intentionally seeks to slant their results right or left, but presumably their differing choices about methodology do have an impact.

    You've mentioned the issue with prompting or not prompting with party name and its impact on reported support for Greens, but have you got enough data to make any other meaningful comparisons between pollster averages for different parties?

  3. Looks like Iggy has decided to play Electoral Chicken.

    From the Globe: "Michael Ignatieff is saying clearly for the first time that he could defeat a minority Conservative government and make a case to the Governor-General that his party could govern with the support of others – and without another trip to the polls."

    Two things about this boggle the mind. First, he just conceded the Tory's main argument (while, technically, this isn't a flip-flop, previously he had only commited to not form a coalition, you just know that the Tories will sping it as such, and the public will perceive it as such). He's just acknowledge that, if you vote for Iggy, you'll get a government in hock to the NDP and the Bloc. Well, say "good-bye" to the "blue" Liberal vote (to say nothing of voters who loath the Bloc - I mean, how can Iggy credibly stand up to the separatists when his government would live at their sufferance). To do something like this, you'd almost suspect he was a Tory plant.

    Second, he's just sent a message to "soft" liberal voters (i.e., voters who prefer the NDP, but vote for the Liberals because only they have a chance to govern) in places like Toronto and Montreal to go ahead and vote NDP.

    Unbelievable! We could be witnessing the end of the Liberal party.

  4. Hi,

    By the way, thank you for your blog, very helpful keep tract with the election. When we’re looking at ridding projections, we see many of them that are disputed by less than 3 or 4%. Since these could easily turn on one or the other side at may 2nd, I would find it more than interesting to see those riding highlighted, or something like that, to have a better idea of what’s going on. You certainly have discussed about it, but anyway, I’m sure it would add something for the readers of your blog.

    Thank you,


  5. Franzca,

    I'll be looking at that, but likely only after the campaign.

  6. Definitely looking forward to see how the numbers change with Ignatieff's non-coalition but really some type of coaliton talk will affect the numbers, especially since we know the Tories will exploit it heavily in the media.

    (Politically I think Ignatieff had to do this at some point in the campaign so that he could get away with it in Parliament after the election without suffering a big drop in the polls like Dion. It was a good political strategy for Ignatieff to wait so late into the campaign to acknowledge it... only 10% of voters are undecided now, many voters have stopped paying attention.)

  7. Have you conducted any Poll by Poll analysis of local races?

    You and I both know that local dynamics will decide many of these key battleground ridings that are very tight. I would love to get methodology to study the relationship between a strong local GOTV effort and overall opinion polling on how excited certain portions of the electorate are to vote.

    There's a lot of good elections canada poll data available to compare where candidate performance came from within each election. It would be awesome if someone created a program that could analyze how someones support has shifted poll to poll in a previous election--and identify where those votes used to go.

    But most importantly: are there any polls out there that measure likelihood to turnout to vote? I see this as the MOST important measure of success for battleground ridings at this point. It's particularly big with your methodology, where you rely on provincial polls to shape local ridings---that support can fall much lower if turnout drops among partisan voters as it did with Liberals and Dion last time.

  8. Anonmous:
    "It was a good political strategy for Ignatieff to wait so late into the campaign to acknowledge it... only 10% of voters are undecided now, many voters have stopped paying attention."

    See, I'm more of the Rob Silver school of thought, namely that if this was his strategy he should have been upfront about it 6 months or a year ago, and spent the past year selling it to voters. Doing it now (a) plays into the Tory strategy ("only a Tory majority can keep the Bloc and the NDP out of power") (b) leaves Iggy vulnerable to accusations of flip-flops (if voters aren't paying attention, the rather subtle distinction between his earlier statement that he wouldn't form a coalition, and his new statement that he would form a government with the support of the Bloc and the NDP, will be lost), and (c) smacks of desperation (since, presumably, he wouldn't be saying this if he thought his party would be competitive on its own).

    Apart from encouraging both the NDP and the Tories, it has the potential to discourage Liberal voters in English Canada (since, for many of those voters, the dislike of the Bloc is greater than their dislike for Harper).

  9. @Carl

    At first, I had the same sentiment as you: bad strategy on Ignatieff's part.

    However, as I thought about it more, it made more sense. First, the way Ignatieff worded his answer spoke mainly to the Westminster system of government and his right to follow the rules if he and other cooperative parties so desire. The CPC backlash has actually made Harper appear very unknowledgeable about the Westminster system and the constitution and unwilling to work with other elected MPs (or else is a blatant liar), to which the message boards on the internet so far seem to attest.

    Second, I actually think that, with the same goal to unseat Harper, many NDP supporters will be more inclined to vote Liberal if they think that this strategic move will defeat the CPC incumbent since the Libs and NDP will be working together in parliament anyway; I'm one of those who think this way, though the NDP is better positioned to replaced the CPC candidate in my riding. Also, a cooperative government comprised of a majority of MPs who represent a majority of the electorate, and therefore finally a more stable arrangement than we've had in the past five years, will likely be more appealing than allowing another weak, uncooperative, despotic Conservative minority government. Just my take.

  10. Re: Prime Minister Iggy:
    I watched that interview on CBC too. What he actually said was that if the Tories won a minority and lost the confidence of the house, the Liberals could form government, with the help of other parties, rather than go into another election.
    Apparently the Tories have said they will present the same budget that was defeated last month if they form government again. That means if it's a minority, they could lose confidence unless someone blinks.
    It is constitutional and I think defensible. But it should make for an interesting and hot last week of campaigning.
    It may indeed hurt the Libs -- not fatally -- but it may also be balsy enough to work and it'll give Harper something to think about if he does win a minority and plans to table the same budget.

  11. Ignatieff hasn't said anything that anyone didn't already know by reading into the careful choosing of words in the first few days of the campaign. In the Mansbridge interview, he indicated he would be willing to work with each of the party leaders, including Mr. Harper, on an issue-by-issue basis. I'm sure there are many issues on which the two parties could agree. And for all this fuss about working with separatists, surely the Conservative government has had to obtain Bloc support to pass at least several government bills in the past?

  12. Pink

    The budget was never even voted on so it certainly wasn't defeated..

    The Govt fell on the "Confidence Of Parliament" issue. NOT the budget !!

    I do wish people would get that clear !!

  13. Bonjour Éric,

    I really appreciate reading your analysis every morning. I am always holding my breath for some drastic change, but I am silly to expect the electorate to change political stripes overnight.

    My question is regarding the undecided voters. How is this taken into consideration in your analysis. Sometimes, this is as high as 15%. Since Conservatives are known for having such a strong and decided base, can we expect these undecided voters to vote Liberal/NDP/BQ/Green (in that order)?

  14. Thanks Susy.

    I don't take undecided voters into account. Pollsters generally portion out the undecided vote in the same proportion as the decided or leaning vote, and so I use those numbers. I think, in general, that is how the undecided vote breaks.

  15. Peter's right. Which raises an interesting question, if the Tories run and "win" (i.e. get a lot more seats and votes than the Liberals) on their budget (which is basically what they've done) will the Liberals be eager to vote against it?

    Personally, I don't see Iggy trying to form a government with 70-odd seats. The optics would be terrible (particularly vis-a-vis the separatist), it would pull the Liberals far further to the left than they want to be (I mean, traditionally the Liberals have succeeded by governing - notwithstanding their election patter - on the center-right, not on the center-left), they would accomplish precisely nothing (the Tories still control the Senate - as an aside, look for a few more senate appointments after the election, I gather there are 3 vacancies), and would be short-lived (since how long does anyone thing the Bloc will play nice in that situation?). It might be different if the seat gap was, say 130 to 100 for the Tories (which was the scenario we were looking at a few months ago), but that doesn't appear to be the likely outcome at this point.

    The more likely scenario is that the Tories introduce substantially the same budget they introced in March, the Liberals will propose some inoffensive amendments that the Tories can live with (or at least, can't really oppose), and that'll be that.

    Given that, Iggy's response to what would happen if a Minority government fell should have been, "that will be up to governor general". That's a weasel response, but he's been a politician for 5 years now, he should know that's the right answer.

  16. Anonymous 23:58 said:
    "In the Mansbridge interview, he indicated he would be willing to work with each of the party leaders, including Mr. Harper, on an issue-by-issue basis. I'm sure there are many issues on which the two parties could agree. And for all this fuss about working with separatists, surely the Conservative government has had to obtain Bloc support to pass at least several government bills in the past?"

    Well, I think the commitment to work with the Tories has to be taken with a BIG grain of salt. After all, if the Liberals and Tories could agree on issues, then the Liberals would be able to work with a Tory minority, and the question would be moot.

    As for the Bloc, the problem isn't that the Liberals would work with the Bloc on an issue-by-issue basis (as, indeed, the Tories have on occasion). The problem is that, unless the seat projections change drastically over the next week and half, the Liberals will have to work with the Bloc on EVERY issue. That creates a very different dynamic, both in terms of optics, and in terms of practical issues for the Grits. For example, let's say the Liberals do manage to form a government - surely one of the Bloc's first priorities will be to hold Iggy to his commitment (a commitment he should never have made) to build a Hockey Arena in Quebec. How is that going to go over in the rest of Canada? That's an obviously and discrete issue, but it illustrates the point.

    In contrast, the dynamics were very different for the Tories since they could tell the Bloc to get stuffed and go shopping for the support of the NDP and the Liberals (as indeed, they've done). Moreover, for much of the time the Tories haven't even needed the Bloc's active support on bills, all they need is for Bloc MPs to abstain.

  17. Carl

    "the Tories haven't even needed the Bloc's active support on bills, all they need is for Bloc MPs to abstain. "

    Which is precisely the same as support !!!!

    You can support by NOT defeating and that's what has happened here !!

  18. Anonymous 12:07,

    Those are a couple of fair points, so let me consider them one at at time.

    On the first one, I agree that what Iggy said was an accurate description of the mechanics of the westminster system. But I don't see that helping him for two reasons. First, it's unlikely to impress anyone who doesn't already know that (which likely includes a fair chunk of the Canadian public - at least in Ontario, the teaching of civics in our public schools is horrendous). Second, the issue isn't one of legality, but of legitimacy. The governor general could, quite legally, ask me to form the next government, but I'm willing to bet that he won't, because Carl from the Internet doesn't have the legitimacy to govern.

    And on the legitimacy, Iggy has two strikes against him. First, at least based on current polls and projections, Iggy will have nowhere near as many seats or votes as the Tories come election day. This is in contrast, for example, to the NDP-Liberal accord in Ontario in 1985, where the Liberals ended up with more votes, and almost as many seats, as the governing Tories (it also didn't hurt that that Tory government was old and tired and probably needed to be replaced - I don't see these Tories going quite as easily).

    Second, there's the issue of the Bloc. A coalition/accord/arrangement (whatever you want to call it) with the NDP, might be doable (though, see my earlier post about it not being a particular bright idea for the Liberals), but once you get the Bloc on side, you're toast in English Canada (and, keep in mind, the Bloc wasn't part of the coalition in 2008 - although the NDP and the Liberals did agree to consult with them - so in that respect what Iggy's proposing is no different from what Dion proposed in 2008). Coalitions/accords/arrangements are fine in theory, but the the test is whether the particular parties to a coalition/accord/arrangement are acceptable in fact.

    With regard to strategic voting, I think you've identified the risk. Some of your NDP friends may be inclined to support the Liberals in ridings where the NDP has the better chance of winning - possible allowing the Tories to slip through the middle. Sure, strategic voting may help the Liberals hold onto a few ridings, but it also may translate into more Tory seats. Moreover, the assumption seems to be that the Liberals will benefit from strategic voting (that's certainly Iggy's assumption), and that would be a reasonable assumption if the Liberals were running well ahead of the NDP (since they become the obvious candidate for the ABC vote). On the other hand, with the NDP and the Grits running close to one another, voters might well be inclined to say, well, neither has a better chance of winning, so I'm going to vote my heart.

  19. Peter,

    You will note, I said that they didn't need their ACTIVE support.

    In any event, the effect of not-voting is the same as supporting the government, but the optics are very different (both for the government and for the opposition). This is why, for example, the Liberals have, on a number of occasions, voted against government bills while ensuring that enough members are away to ensure that the bills won't be defeated. It allows them to say that they opposed the bill, without actually stopping it. Would you say that the Liberals are supporting the government in that case?.

  20. "It allows them to say that they opposed the bill, without actually stopping it. Would you say that the Liberals are supporting the government in that case?. "

    Of course they are. But that's a matter of internal party politics. Not something you or I have any influence over.

    Reverse the situation so the Liberals have a minority Govt and watch the CPC do the same thing!!


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