Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tories, NDP tied in Abacus poll

Abacus Data released its latest federal poll on Monday, showing that the Conservatives and New Democrats are tied in national voting intentions. But a tie isn't good enough for the New Democrats - a seat breakdown suggests that the Tories can win many more seats with just as much of the vote as the NDP.
Abacus was last in the field Aug. 10-12, and since then the Conservatives dropped two points to 35%. The New Democrats picked up three points to hit 35%, while the Liberals were down three points to only 17%.

That isn't an all-time low for the Liberals - they were polling even lower than that in the immediate aftermath of the May 2011 election - but this is one of the lower results we've seen for the party.

The Bloc Québécois came up fourth with 7%, while the Greens were unchanged at 6%.

The shifts in support for the Conservatives and New Democrats are statistically insignificant, but the drop of the Liberals is outside the margin of error for a party with that much support. Perhaps this is not too shocking, considering that the Liberals are still leaderless (and more so than usual, Bob Rae has not been very visible of late).

It is worth noting that Abacus used Angus-Reid's online panel for their polling. Based on the information available in their report, it would appear that Abacus recorded, or at least released, more demographic results than Angus-Reid ever does: Conservatives lead among evangelicals while the NDP leads among non-religious people, for example. It is unclear whether Abacus's last poll also used Angus-Reid's panel.

Things held very stable in British Columbia and Ontario, with no party losing or gaining more than a point. The New Democrats maintained a five-point advantage in British Columbia, while the Conservatives held firm with an 11-point lead in Ontario. The NDP narrowly edged out the Conservatives in the Prairies, and were up by nine points over the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. The Bloc appears to be benefiting slightly from the PQ's recent election victory.

Alberta and Atlantic Canada had some statistically significant swings. In Alberta, the Conservatives dropped 12 points to 58% while the NDP was up 15 points to 29%. The Liberals fell nine points to 6%. But this is probably a statistical fluke considering the sample size - the same goes for Atlantic Canada, where the NDP was up 18 points to 47% and the Liberals were down 17 points to 19%.
Despite the tie in voting intentions, the Conservatives would come out ahead in seats with 157 to the New Democrats' 140 on the proposed boundaries for the new 338-seat electoral map. The Liberals would win only 26 seats and the Bloc Québécois 14.

The Conservative victory is mostly won in Ontario, where the party takes 84 seats. The Liberals manage only nine in the province, and appear to be somewhat penalized by the new boundaries. On the old map, the Conservatives would win 71 seats, the NDP 25, and the Liberals 10 in the province.

The New Democrats do very well in British Columbia and the Prairies, but also manage to win four of the 34 seats in Alberta. This is a rather shocking result, but with 29% in this poll some shocking things would be bound to happen.

On the leadership front, Thomas Mulcair has the highest favourability rating with 36%, compared to 35% for Stephen Harper and 27% for Bob Rae. He also has the lowest unfavourability score with 22%, while Rae managed 34% and Harper 50%.

Justin Trudeau, a virtual lock for a leadership run, has a favourability rating of 39% and an unfavourability rating of 23%, giving him slightly better overall numbers than Mulcair. Marc Garneau, a likely candidate for leadership, has a favourability of 26% to 15% unfavourable. He has very high "neutral" and "don't know" numbers.

Among Liberal supporters, Trudeau has a 70% favourability rating, with only 9% saying they have an unfavourable opinion of him. At 7%, Garneau's unfavourability among Liberals is lower, but so is his favourability rating: 51%. He starts out with a big hill to climb, as 42% of Liberal voters had a neutral opinion or were unsure what they thought of him.

And now for something (almost) completely different - if anyone watched The Rick Mercer Report last night, they would have seen Rick's Rant about polls. I think Rick is expressing a frustration that a lot of people have with polling right now, but I also think this is being borne out of a bit of a false narrative when it comes to polling. He refers to Alberta, Quebec, and the disappearance of the Bloc as things the polls got wrong. I'll give him Alberta - that was a disaster. But the problem in Quebec was rather minimal: underscoring the Liberals by a few points in polls taken a few days before the vote. That was hardly a catastrophe. It's not as if the polls said that Québec Solidaire would win 20% of the vote and the CAQ would form a majority government. The PQ won with a minority, as most of the final polls suggested was a strong possibility.

And the polls did not miss out on the Bloc - the final four polls of the federal campaign averaged 24.6% for the Bloc Québécois in Quebec, instead of their actual result of 23.4%. Perhaps Rick is referring to a site like mine that did not predict that the Bloc would win only four seats, but I don't think it is fair to say that the polls missed out on the Bloc's demise.

This is something I have heard again and again, that the polls did not anticipate the NDP's rise in Quebec and the Bloc's fall. They absolutely did anticipate these things. They didn't see it coming two or three weeks before the vote, but that is because Quebecers hadn't swung over to the NDP yet. Polls don't predict future events, opinions ebb and flow during a campaign and we have seen many examples of that over the past 16 months. But critics of polls never point out their successes, even their recent ones: very good results in Quebec during the federal campaign, a perfect call in Manitoba's election, good performances in Ontario and Saskatchewan, and decent individual polls in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland & Labrador. Sure, Alberta was a Dewey-defeats-Truman moment and they could have been better in Quebec, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. And that's my counter-rant.