Tuesday, January 31, 2012

NDP slips in Quebec

With a steep drop in support among francophones, the New Democrats are now only one or two points ahead of their main rivals in Quebec, where more than half of the NDP’s 101 MPs were elected in May 2011.

Two recent surveys, one by Nanos Research for CTV and The Globe and Mail and the other by Léger Marketing for Le Devoir and the Montreal Gazette, indicate the New Democrats continue to bleed support in the battleground province.

You can read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

The article focuses on the results of the Nanos and Léger surveys in Quebec. But let's here take a closer look at the Léger poll as well as Nanos's national results.
Nanos Research was last in the field December 15-18, and since then the Conservatives have dropped 0.8 points to 35.7%. They are trailed not by the NDP, however, but instead by the Liberals, who are up two points to 27.6%.

The New Democrats trail in third with 25.2%, down 3.5 points since Nanos's last poll.

Nanos is the polling firm that records Liberal support higher than any other at the moment, while also showing NDP support to be lower than other surveys. It certainly makes it stand out from the others, particularly in terms of its strong Liberal showing in Quebec and its weak NDP number in Ontario.

But there have been two polls recently that pegged Liberal support at 25%, while more have put the NDP at 28%. This does not make Nanos too different, though it does put it on the optimistic side of Liberal support.

The Conservatives are up 7.6 points in Ontario to 42.1%, followed by the Liberals at 35.1%, down 3.3 points. The New Democrats are down a whopping 12.6 points to 16.9%, a number so large that I think we can expect a whopping NDP gain in Nanos's next survey.

Quebec is the most interesting result, and in fact is not too different from the Léger poll below. The New Democrats are down 4.4 points to 29%, while the Liberals are up 3.6 points to 26.5%. The Bloc Québécois is up 4.2 points to 24.1%, while the Conservatives are down 5.7 points to 15.1%. This is not the first poll to show the NDP down to this level of support, and corroborates the slip that Léger has also recorded since mid-December (as well as the Liberal gain).

Elsewhere, the Conservatives have gained 6.6 points in British Columbia and lead with 41%, while they have dropped 6.4 points in the Prairies (including Alberta) to 48.1%. They are also down 12.1 points in Atlantic Canada to 29.5%.

The Liberals have gained 4.5 points in Atlantic Canada to reach 33.6%, while they have not moved much in British Columbia (21.2%, down 1.6) and the Prairies (20.5%, up 1.1). The New Democrats are down 4.7 points to 28.5% in British Columbia, but are up 5.1 points to 25.9% in the Prairies and 9.2 points to 35.2% in Atlantic Canada. The NDP has led in four of five recent polls on the East Coast.

With the current 308-seat electoral map, the Conservatives win 134 seats with the results of this poll. The Liberals win 80 and the New Democrats win 66, while the Greens take one and the Bloc takes 12.

The Conservatives win 20 seats in British Columbia, 24 in Alberta, 16 in the Prairies, 56 in Ontario, eight in Quebec, nine in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north.

The Liberals win four seats in British Columbia, two in Alberta, five in the Prairies, 37 in Ontario, 22 in Quebec, 16 in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north.

The New Democrats win 11 seats in British Columbia, two in Alberta, seven in the Prairies, 13 in Ontario, 33 in Quebec, seven in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north.

This would still give the Liberals and the NDP a combined majority of seats, but would place the NDP in a junior position. And while 29% and 33 seats is not great for the NDP in Quebec compared to their election result (though stellar compared to where they were a year ago), it could be worse.
Léger was last in the field December 13-14, and since then the NDP has dropped five points to 28% in Quebec, a very similar result and trend to what was identified in the Nanos poll.

The Bloc Québécois has picked up one point to close to within one of the NDP, and stands at 27%. The Liberals are up five points to 22%, while the Conservatives are down three to 15%.

Those are not dissimilar results to Nanos. It gives us a range of 28-29% for the NDP, 24-27% for the Bloc, 22-27% for the Liberals, and 15% for the Conservatives. That is relatively tight, but compared to other surveys conducted in January it is on the higher end for both the Liberals and the Bloc, and the lower end for the NDP. Nevertheless, Léger and Nanos have the most up-to-date data available.

The New Democrats have dropped among francophones (seven points to 26%), non-francophones (three points to 33%), in Montreal (four points to 30%), and in the rest of Quebec (nine points to 26%). This is problematic in every case, as it puts the NDP behind the Bloc among francophones and in the rest of Quebec, behind the Liberals among non-francophones, and in a close race with the Bloc and the Liberals in the Montreal area. The NDP has picked up one point in Quebec City, but they stand at 24%, seven points behind the Tories.

The Bloc is up two among francophones, in Montreal, and in the rest of Quebec. They are down six in Quebec City, however.

The Liberals are up four points among francophones and in the rest of Quebec, six points in Montreal and Quebec City, and 10 points among non-francophones.

The Tories have slipped two points among francophones and in Quebec City and five points in Montreal and among non-francophones.

These numbers would result in 27 seats for the Bloc Québécois, 25 for the New Democrats, 15 for the Liberals, and eight for the Conservatives.

Those are very problematic numbers for the NDP. Grafted on to today's parliament, it would reduce the NDP to only 68 seats in the House of Commons (the Liberals would increase to 42, the Conservatives to 169).

Being in the lead is still a good thing for the NDP, but they are in a very delicate position. By the time the next leader is chosen, he or she may take over a party in second or third place in Quebec unless things are turned around. The one advantage the NDP does have in this case, however, appears to be that neither the Liberals nor the Bloc are making their gains by anything but default. Neither party has really done anything to warrant a big increase in support.

The party can try to dismiss the polls considering the next election is still more than three years away, but during the years of the Bloc's dominance in Quebec a drop in support of this size would have been a major story. Much of the support the NDP gained in Quebec in the last election is relatively soft - it has to be, considering how quickly it turned from the other parties to the NDP. Waving away the results of these polls does not take anything away from what appears to be discontent among Quebecers with how the NDP has handled their new role in the province. The NDP ignores this discontent at their own peril.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Who can grow the NDP?

Late last week, Abacus Data released a very interesting poll on the NDP leadership race. It wasn't about who should win or who would win, but rather whether Canadians were familiar with the candidates, whether they would induce them to vote NDP, and what they were looking for in an NDP leader.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the numbers, I invite you to take a look at my latest column in The Hill Times here on the opportunity that the current level of NDP support gives the next leader. You may need a subscription to read it, but The Hill Times is well worth it! Also, check out my round-up of polls in Alberta since the last election on The Globe and Mail website here.

The most important numbers in the NDP poll deal with name recognition. Are Canadians aware of the eight people vying for the job of Leader of the Opposition?

The answer is that a lot of them aren't. Fully 40% of Canadians did not recognize any of the eight leadership contenders. Thomas Mulcair's name was the most recognized, with 36% of Canadians aware of him. Brian Topp, who was a relative unknown when the campaign began, appears to have been successful getting his name out as 31% of Canadians recognized him. Paul Dewar came in third with 27%, while Peggy Nash was in fourth with 23% recognition.

About one-quarter to one-third of Canadians appear to be aware of the four frontrunners in the race. After that, however, it really drops off: 11% for Roméo Saganash, 9% for Niki Ashton, and 8% for Nathan Cullen and Martin Singh.

Among NDP supporters, people who should be more interested in the race, 35% were still unable to name one of the candidates. Among those who could, the order was not any different nor was the proportion who could recognize them. But every candidate except Nash had better or equal recognition among NDP supporters as they did among Canadians. That Nash had a lower recognition score among her party's own supporters is slightly odd.

Thomas Mulcair, of course, was top in Quebec at 67% recognition. Topp (31%) and Saganash (24%) followed. Atlantic Canadians were most familiar with Dewar (32%), while Singh got a good score (18%). Ontarians were most familiar with Dewar (36%) and Nash (33%), while western Canadians were most familiar with Topp (35%). Niki Ashton (15%) and Nathan Cullen (18%) had their best results among this group. Dewar's 30% was quite good as well, indicating he has decent name recognition across the country.

What was interesting is that Liberals were more aware of the race than NDP supporters - only 29% were unable to recognize a single the candidate. Conservatives were more indifferent, with 42% unable to name any of the candidates.

But it was the question of whether any of the candidates would make Canadians more likely to vote NDP that interested me the most. It speaks to growth potential for the NDP and among which groups each of the candidates might be able to make the most inroads.

First, I noted that 28% of Canadians "would never vote NDP". That is a surprisingly small number, and gives the NDP plenty of growth potential. The number was even lower in Atlantic Canada (22%) and Quebec (14%), but was higher in Ontario (30%), British Columbia (33%), and Alberta (55%). Nevertheless, the ingredients of an NDP majority do appear to exist.

But which leader is most likely to get them there?
Click on the image to magnify. The circles for each of the leaders are proportional to their recognition score. It shows quite clearly how the four frontrunners are very far ahead of the others.

Among all Canadians, Mulcair gets the best score in terms of being able to make people more likely to vote for the NDP (21%, most of it in Quebec). Topp is second with 10%. But it is more interesting to look at the breakdowns.

Thomas Mulcair would be best positioned to grow (or at least sustain) the party in Quebec, as 78% of Bloc supporters and 62% of Quebecers would be more likely to vote NDP with him at the helm. He also would be able to grow the party in the Prairies (18%) and could draw in the support of Liberals (18%) and Greens (16%).

Brian Topp, however, would bring in British Columbians (17% of whom said they would be more likely to vote for a Topp-led NDP), Atlantic Canadians (16%), Albertans (13%), and Conservatives (9%).

Paul Dewar gets the green light from Greens (21%), Atlantic Canadians (16%), Ontarians (15%), and Liberals (13%), while Peggy Nash attracts Ontarians (14%) and Liberals (10%) as well.

The other four would have far less potential for growth than the others. Roméo Saganash and Niki Ashton's best demographic are Prairie Canadians (8% and 10%, respectively), while Nathan Cullen and Martin Singh do best in their home provinces (10% in BC for Cullen, 3% in Atlantic Canada for Singh).

Each of the frontrunners, then, has the potential to grow the party in different parts of the country. According to this poll, New Democrats concerned with holding on to Quebec would be best to vote for Mulcair. Those who want to grow the party in the western provinces might like Topp, while Dewar and Nash could put the party in a better position in Ontario.

Brian Topp, however, might have the best all-around numbers. He is second in Quebec to Mulcair, though he is far behind at 8% who say they would be more likely to vote NDP with Topp as leader. He is also close behind Dewar and Nash in Ontario with 9%. But Mulcair is not badly position either. Though he ranks fourth in Ontario, he is better placed than Dewar and Nash in western Canada.

This poll does not provide any clues as to how the members of the NDP will vote, nor was it designed to. The members will choose who they think is the best person to lead their party, but Canadians will decide whether that leader is the best person to lead the country. The two decisions are, of course, connected.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Liberals up, NDP steady, Tories down

Because the next election is more than three years away, four federal polls were released this week amid the heightened tension that the upcoming vote in 45 months has caused.

In all seriousness, though, this spate of new polls does give us a good idea of where Canadians stand as the 2012 political year starts to get going. The implications of these polls are, of course, relatively minor. But getting a bead on the mindset of Canadians is never a meaningless exercise.

Take a look at my article today on The Huffington Post Canada website here for a shorter overview of these polls, what trends they are showing, and what that might mean.

As we rarely get the chance to look at a series of polls taken over so short a time outside of an election campaign, let's examine these four federal surveys (by Abacus Data, Angus-Reid, Harris-Decima, and CROP) side-by-side.
The three Canada-wide polls were taken between January 12 and 22, surveying a total of more than 4,000 Canadians. The dates of the three polls all overlap with one another, except Abacus and Angus. As they both use online panels, that is perhaps a good thing.

The three polls run the gamut of scenarios. Angus-Reid gives the Conservatives an 11-point lead, with 39% to the NDP's 28%, while Harris-Decima gives them only a three-point lead, with 32% for the Conservatives and 29% for the New Democrats.

Since Abacus's last poll in early December, the Conservatives have dropped three points to 37%. The NDP has also dropped three points to 28%, while the Liberals are up three points to 21%. Angus-Reid was last in the field in September, and since then the Conservatives are unchanged, the NDP is down one, and the Liberals are up one to 22%.

Harris-Decima has the Tories down two since their early December report, while the NDP is up one and the Liberals are up three.

Though the Liberals don't exactly have the momentum of a runaway freight train ("Why are you so popular?"), this is a positive trend across the board in their favour. The New Democrats appear to be steady, while the Conservatives appear to be slipping.
British Columbia, however, is far less clear. The Conservatives ranged between 30% and 47% in the three polls, putting them either 12 points behind the NDP or 26 points ahead. This is what smaller samples can do.

The New Democrats ranged between 21% and 42%, while the Liberals ranged between 13% and 18%. Angus-Reid has the NDP up 10 points and the Conservatives down nine since August, while Abacus has the Conservatives up one, the NDP down 18, and the Liberals up 11 since December. Harris-Decima also shows wide variation, with the NDP up 11 points and the Conservatives down seven. That is a little too wild to conclude anything definitive, but we can certainly say that the race in British Columbia appears to be solely between the Conservatives and the New Democrats.

Alberta is a little more cut-and-dry, as usual. The Conservatives lead by between 44 and 57 points, with between 61% and 72% support. The New Democrats stand between 10% and 17% while the Liberals have between 11% and 17% support. This is where it gets a little muddier. Most polls have shown the NDP solidly in second in Alberta, but Harris-Decima shows the Liberals in second. Compared to everything else we've seen, that makes it a small outlier.
The Prairies pose another problem, but this is not new. Abacus Data shows the usual Conservative lead and relatively strong NDP showing, while Angus-Reid gives the Prairies to the Tories in a walk and Harris-Decima has a neck-and-neck race. Most recent polls have been between the results of Abacus and Harris-Decima, so we have to consider Angus-Reid to be the outsider on this one.

These are important differences. Angus-Reid would give most of Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the Conservatives, while Harris-Decima would actually split the provinces between the NDP and the Tories. This is one of the reasons why I expect Manitoba and particularly Saskatchewan to be more important in 2015 than they have been in a long time.

Ontario is slightly more in line. The Conservatives range between 35% and 42%, the Liberals stand between 29% and 34%, and the NDP between 24% and 26%. This generally jives with what other polls have been showing: the New Democrats are holding on to their gains while the Liberals have eaten into the Conservative lead. This is the major reason why the Liberals have been stronger in recent months.

Since August, Angus-Reid has the Conservatives unchanged at 42%, while the Liberals are up two and the NDP is down two. Since December, Abacus has the Conservatives down five while Harris-Decima has them down one. The Liberals are up four points according to Abacus and three points according to Harris-Decima, while Abacus has the NDP down three and Harris-Decima has them down one. In other words, the trends point to the Conservatives and (to a lesser extent) the NDP slipping in Ontario to the benefit of the Liberal Party.
We have a richer set of data in Quebec as CROP also reported this week with a survey of 1,000 Quebecers, at least twice as many as any other poll in the field. CROP also has the most up-to-date data, as it was in the field between January 19 and 23, overlapping with all three other polls but also stretching later than all of them.

Across the board, the New Democrats are leading with between 29% and 37%. Optimists might point to Abacus's 37% result, but the three other polls are far more in line with what the general trend has been since December.

The Bloc Québécois holds second in three of the four polls with between 21% and 23% support, a very tight grouping. The Conservatives have between 17% and 24% support, while the Liberals are also tightly grouped at between 17% and 19%.

In what direction the NDP is heading is difficult to say. Since August, Angus-Reid has the party down seven points. CROP also has them down seven points since their mid-December survey. But Abacus Data has them up one point since December while Harris-Decima has them up six. It would appear that the most likely situation is that the NDP is holding generally steady in the mid-to-low 30s.

The Bloc, however, seems to be slipping. Though Angus-Reid has them up two points since August, the three others that last reported in December have them either holding steady (CROP) or dropping (four points according to Harris-Decima, five according to Abacus). In any case, it does not seem that the Bloc is making any new gains, contrary to what seemed to have been the case in December.

The Conservatives seem to be holding, with no changes larger than two points since December (positive in the case of Harris-Decima and CROP, negative according to Abacus), while the Liberals have made three to four point gains in CROP and Abacus's polling. Harris-Decima has them down one, however.

This all seems to point to a general status quo in Quebec. That is good news for everyone but the Bloc, as the NDP slide seems to have stopped and both the Conservatives and Liberals are polling above the last election's result.

Finally, in Atlantic Canada the New Democrats lead by good margins in two of the three polls, and overall average between 27% and 42%. The Conservatives range between 26% and 30%, while the Liberals stand somewhere between 21% and 34%. With its small sample sizes and tricky three-way race, it is difficult to discern any real trend here. But the NDP has being doing well in the area recently.

Both Abacus Data and Angus-Reid see generally similar situations - a large Conservative minority. Abacus Data's polling would result in 147 Conservatives, 96 New Democrats, 60 Liberals, four Bloc seats, and one Green, using the current 308-seat boundaries. Angus-Reid's numbers would give 150 Conservatives, 101 New Democrats, 50 Liberals, six Bloc MPs, and one Green.

Harris-Decima, on the other hand, shows an extremely weak Conservative minority: 118 Conservative seats, 106 New Democrats, 77 Liberals, six Bloc, and one Green. Undoubtedly, this Conservative government would not last very long.

Broken down regionally, these three polls would give the Conservatives between 11 and 26 seats in British Columbia, with the New Democrats winning between four and 20 and the Liberals between four and five. The Greens win one seat in each of these three polls.

In Alberta, the Conservatives range between 27 and 28 seats, while the New Democrats could win one or none.

The Conservatives win between 12 and 26 seats in the Prairies, with the New Democrats winning between two and 11 and the Liberals between none and five.

In Ontario, the Conservatives range between 48 and 64 seats, the Liberals between 20 and 37 seats, and the NDP between 21 and 22 seats.

In Quebec, the New Democrats range between 39 and 52 seats, the Conservatives between eight and 16 seats, the Liberals between 11 and 13 seats, and the Bloc between four and seven.

And in Atlantic Canada, the Liberals range between nine and 17 seats, the New Democrats between five and 14 seats, and the Conservatives between nine and ten seats.
Taken altogether, the Conservatives range between 116 and 171 seats. This means they could win a majority government with these polls, or could even be replaced by the New Democrats, who range between 72 and 121 seats. I only see a 9% chance of an NDP victory, however.

The Liberals range between 45 and 78 seats, meaning they could potentially form the Official Opposition, while the Bloc ranges between four and seven seats. That keeps them out of official party status.

So what do all of these polls tell us? Generally speaking, Canadians haven't moved too much from where they were in May 2011. If they have moved, outside of Quebec it has been from the Conservatives to the Liberals while inside Quebec it has been from the New Democrats to either the Liberals or the Conservatives. Though it is somewhat more complicated than that, as we seem to have the NDP making gains in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada as well, this is what we're seeing.

But overall, the Liberals and NDP can take the most from these polls. The Liberals are showing signs of life, indicating that a future recovery is possible. The New Democrats are showing staying power, indicating that the next leader will not have to play catch-up, at least outside of Quebec. Of course, the Conservatives are still in control. But they have a majority government and are looking less towards 2015 than the other parties. There is nothing to worry them just yet, but the situations in British Columbia, the Prairies, and Ontario point to the potential for problems when Canadians next cast their ballots.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Two Alberta polls, two outcomes

With the Alberta legislature set to get back to work on February 7 and the next election campaign likely to begin at the end of March, two polls were released this week for the province. One was by Forum Research and the other was by Léger Marketing. The two were radically different from one another.
Forum indicated that Progressive Conservative support stood at 38%, unchanged from their last poll in December. The Wildrose Party had gained six points to reach 29%, while the Liberals were up two to 14% and the NDP was steady at 13%.

But Léger Marketing found that Progressive Conservative support was at 53%, with the Wildrose Party at 16%, the NDP at 13%, and the Liberals at 11%.

Let's start with where these two polls agree. Both seem to have pegged NDP and Liberal support at about the same level, and even across the regional breakdowns the polls line up quite well. So, we can say with some confidence where the Liberals and the New Democrats stand.

But this race is going to be between the Tories and Wildrose, and on this score the two polls differ greatly. Léger gives the PCs a 37-point lead, while Forum gives them a nine point lead. That is the kind of difference that the margin of error cannot explain away.

Why are these polls so different? Forum uses the IVR method to conduct its polls while Léger uses an online panel. EDIT: Léger uses an online panel for its Quebec and federal polls. In this case, Léger contacted Albertans by telephone. While that might be one reason for the difference, this kind of disparity should not happen. Both were taken at about the same time, with Léger in the field between January 13-18 and Forum in the field on January 17.

But the difference between a poll taken over six days and a poll taken over one day can be huge. A poll taken over a week will be less influenced by day-to-day events, whereas a poll taken on one day might be overly influenced by whatever was in the news that day or the day before. However, there does not appear to have been a major story that broke at around that time, so it is difficult to say what could have provoked such a backlash against the Tories to the benefit of Wildrose. There was some talk of dodgy political financing, but Léger should have captured that as well. If Léger had a day-by-day breakdown, we'd have a better idea of what happened.

There is a small difference in how Forum and Léger defines its regions, but aside from Edmonton (by my calculations, Forum's Edmonton numbers would be 38-20-17-17 if they used Léger's definition of the city) it does not change much.

Since Forum has shown little real change since their last poll from December while Léger Marketing seems to line-up with some of the other polls that were taken at the end of last year, we might have to conclude that there is a methodological reason for this difference. That does not help us determine which of these two polls is closer to the truth, unfortunately.

The polls do agree on a few things. Both Léger and Forum indicate that PC support is generally uniform across the two major cities and the rest of the province, while Wildrose is strongest in Calgary. They both indicate that the NDP is running second in Edmonton while the Liberals are also doing best in that city. Their support in Calgary, which was relatively high in the last election, appears to have bottomed out.

But, again, the problem is the margin between the Tories and Wildrose. Forum sees a very close race in Calgary and a close one as well in the rest of the province. Léger has the Progressive Conservatives romping to victory across Alberta.

This is reflected in the seat projections for these two polls. The projection model for Alberta is completed, and incorporates a few of the lessons of the 2011 provincial campaigns. The projection model is regional, breaking the province down into Edmonton, Calgary, and the rest of Alberta, and has a few other tweaks that differentiate it from the models used in past elections.  I'll go into more detail when the projection model is fully launched.

I will start making projections for the Alberta election once the legislature returns. I am still working on a vote projection model that should bridge the gap between what the polls say and what the voters do.

Plugging these two polls into the model individually gives very different results. With the Forum poll, Wildrose would make a big breakthrough and form the largest opposition since 1997. With the Léger poll, the opposition ranks are reduced and the NDP becomes the second largest party in the legislature.

More specifically, with the Forum poll the Progressive Conservatives would win 65 seats, 18 of them in Calgary, 24 in Edmonton, and 23 in the rest of the province. The Wildrose Party would win 17 seats, half of them in Calgary and half in the rest of the province. They would be shut out of Edmonton. The New Democrats win four seats, all in the provincial capital, while the Liberals win only one.

With Léger's numbers, the Progressive Conservatives win the largest majority government in the province's history, with 81 seats. The New Democrats win four seats, all in Edmonton, while Wildrose wins only two (one in Calgary, one outside the two largest cities). The Liberals don't win a single seat.

As you can see, these are two very different scenarios. In the first, Wildrose is able to put up enough of a fight to win a good chunk of the province's seats, but they are still too thin to put up a real challenge to the Tories. In the second scenario, the Tories take advantage of a very divided electorate to win a huge majority.

Reconciling these two polls may be impossible. We'll have to wait for more data from other sources before we can say with any confidence what is going on in Alberta. What we do know is that the Tories are still very well placed to win yet another election in the province.

The Forum poll had an interesting breakdown of the approval ratings of the leaders. Both Alison Redford and Danielle Smith had net positive ratings, but whereas Smith had relatively uniform approval among both men and women, Redford has terrific approval ratings among women but has a negative approval rating among men. Gender does not appear to be an issue for Smith, but it might be for Redford.

Nevertheless, according to Léger Redford is still the favourite person to be premier at 37%. Smith is at 16% while Brian Mason of the NDP comes in third at 8%.

As we approach the election, more and more attention will be turned towards Alberta. If a scenario like Forum envisages plays out, it will be an interesting contest. Redford's Tories look pretty safe, so the real question will be how Smith performs during the campaign and whether the Liberals can survive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nash and Cullen make endorsement gains

The NDP leadership race is starting to kick into a higher gear, with the next debate to be put on by the party scheduled for this weekend in Halifax. The race is starting to gain a bit of attention as the candidates are beginning to (mildly) differentiate themselves from one another. And in the past week a few major endorsements were handed out.
Peggy Nash has, by far, made the biggest gain this past week in the NDP leadership endorsement rankings, thanks to a handful of high profile labour endorsements.

Nash picked up the support of the Federations of Labour of Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and the Northern Territories for a combined membership of 924,000 people. That is huge, and in addition to the endorsement of the United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council (representing 13,000 people) gives Nash a major 56.2-point bump in the endorsement rankings, propelling her 6.8 percentage points to 25.6% and ahead of Thomas Mulcair. Nash now trails only Brian Topp.

Nathan Cullen also made a splash this week, the first of the second tier of leadership candidates to announce an endorsement in quite some time. Cullen received the support of two British Columbian NDP MPs, Fin Donnelly of New Westminster-Coquitlam and Alex Atamanenko of British Columbia Southern Interior. Donnelly is a two-term MP while Atamanenko is a three-term MP, giving Cullen an additional 12.5 points. He now stands at 4.3% of the total, up 1.7 percentage points. That puts him on top of the second tier, ahead of Niki Ashton.

(Click here to learn more about the endorsement system and here for how the points are awarded. And, as always, you can right-click the list of endorsers and open in a new tab or window to magnify it.)

Brian Topp also picked up a few endorsements from Chris Charlton, three-term MP from Hamilton Mountain, and former MP Bill Siksay. Together, that gives Topp an extra 9.5 points but with Nash's big gain he has still fallen 3.1 percentage points to 32.9% of the total, his lowest of the campaign so far.

Thomas Mulcair obtained only one endorsement this past week from the United Association Local 46, a union of 7,000 plumbers, steamfitters, and welders in the GTA. That gives him an extra 0.4 points, but he has dropped three percentage points to 20.6% and now stands in third behind Topp and Nash.

Without any new endorsements that are recorded by this system, Paul Dewar has fallen 1.8 percentage points to 12.4%, while Ashton is down 0.5 points to 3% and Roméo Saganash is down 0.2 points to 1.2%.

Receiving the support of labour organizations from across the country is a bit of a coup for Peggy Nash, who appears to be the labour candidate. She has more union support than any other candidate by a wide margin. By my count, Paul Dewar has the combined support of unions and organizations representing 480,000 people, Brian Topp has the support of a 250,000-strong union, and Thomas Mulcair has union support totaling some 20,000 (though he does have the support of several high profile former labour leaders). Nash's union support combines for more than 1.4 million union members.

Of course, some of these organizations overlap and not all of them are explicitly affiliated with the New Democratic Party. Nevertheless, Nash does seem to have the support of the labour world.

It's good news for Nathan Cullen that he picked up some caucus support, as his plan for combined NDP/Liberal/Green nominations is controversial within the party. Cullen has yet to receive the support of anyone from outside of British Columbia, however, a province already being mined for endorsements by Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair, but also Peggy Nash, Paul Dewar, and Niki Ashton. Though he might get a good chunk of the British Columbia membership, he'll need more than that to survive late into voting day.

It appears likely that the first ballot vote will put Topp, Nash, Mulcair, and Dewar all in decent positions. The big question is what happens on the second ballot. At least one candidate will be forced to drop-off but more could as well, potentially throwing their support behind one or two of the other candidates. And if the membership sees that one candidate or another has under-performed expectations, their votes might bleed to one of the others that has emerged as a front-runner. Though a good deal of members will undoubtedly vote via mail, and so already have their second and subsequent choices recorded, the day of the leadership vote could nevertheless be quite interesting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hudak back on top

It has been little more than three months since the last vote was held in Ontario, but already the pendulum has swung back in Tim Hudak’s favour. The good news for Premier Dalton McGuinty, however, is that Hudak has squandered an advantage before.

You can read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

The article gives the poll a little context and looks at the stakes in the Ontario minority legislature. But let's look at the actual results of the poll.
If Forum wasn't releasing a poll-a-week, I'm not quite sure what we'd all do. But Ontario is in a minority situation, so it is probably a good idea to keep tabs on what's going on in the province.

This is the second poll to be released since the vote was held on October 6, the other having been put out in November by Innovative Research and finding that Ontarians had not yet changed their minds.

This poll, however, shows a big shift in support as the Progressive Conservatives stand at 41%, six points above their election result. The Liberals have fallen five points to 33%, while the NDP is down three points to 20%.

I don't have a model prepared yet for the next Ontario election, but this would likely result in a PC majority and a loss of seats for both the Liberals and the New Democrats.

The Tories are leading in eastern Ontario (51%), the 905 region of Toronto (44%), southwestern Ontario (38%), and northern Ontario (42%). They hold a narrow one-point edge over the Liberals in the GTA, which includes the 905 region.

The Liberals are only leading in the 416 region of Toronto, the core of the city (44%), while the New Democrats look weak in every part of the province. Most dangerously for them, they are behind both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives in northern Ontario.

But Andrea Horwath has the best personal numbers, with an approval rating of 40% and a disapproval rating of 28%. That gives her a net +12 approval rating, whereas both Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak are net negatives. Hudak has the lowest approval rating at 26%, but McGuinty has the highest disapproval rating at 56%. Hudak's disapproval rating stands at 48% while McGuinty's approval rating is at 33%.

Almost everyone in Ontario has an opinion on Dalton McGuinty, with only 11% unsure of whether they approve or disapprove of his performance. That contrasts quite a bit with Hudak (26% don't know) and Horwath (32%).

As I mention in the article, Tim Hudak has led the Liberals by wide margins before only to fall behind. At 41%, his party is at its highest level of support since the beginning of the last election campaign, while the Liberals hit 33% several times prior to the vote. In other words, this poll could have been pulled out of early September, suggesting that there's little that could be taken to the bank if the Tories somehow managed to force another election. I wouldn't bet against McGuinty if the campaign started today.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Just how big an electoral challenge do Liberals face in 2015?

Buoyed by the energy of this month’s policy convention, Liberals across the country might feel compelled to look forward to the next election with enthusiasm. By then Stephen Harper will have been in power for almost 10 years and Canadians may embrace the next leader of the Liberal Party rather than one of the eight contenders currently vying for the NDP’s top job. However, for the Liberals to defeat the Conservatives in 2015 they need a comeback of historic proportions. 

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

Some Liberals at the recent convention seemed to realize the enormity of the task ahead of them, but the idea that the Liberals could return to power in 2015 seems extremely unlikely. As this article shows, the Liberals would need to overcome the largest margin in Canada's federal electoral history to defeat a sitting government.

History is always ready to be re-written, and considering the exceptional nature of the 2011 election it is certainly possible that the 2015 election will be just as historic. At this point, though, it doesn't look like 2015 is lining up to be this sort of historic election, though admittedly 2011 wasn't looking like a historic year even a couple weeks before the vote.

That means 2019 should be the Liberal target. A sensible strategy would seem to be a return to Official Opposition status in 2015 and then a to return to power in 2019. Another minority in 2015 and some sort of governing coalition with the New Democrats, however, would radically change things. That is a far more likely outcome than a Liberal-led minority or majority government in 2015, but is something that the Liberals should probably not be exclusively pursuing.

Being second fiddle in a coalition makes it more likely that, in a subsequent election, the leading party in the coalition (i.e., the NDP) would be given power alone or that the opposition party (i.e. the Conservatives) would be returned to power. Unless the Liberals are setting their ambitions low, this is something that, for their sake, might actually be better avoided.

But 2019 is very far away. According to the polls, Bob Rae has been doing a good job as interim leader and if he becomes permanent leader he could do very well in 2015. He will be 71 years old in 2019, and if elected Prime Minister that year would be the oldest since Charles Tupper, who was 74 years old when he was sworn-in in 1896. Rae would actually be the second oldest Prime Minister in Canada's history. That means 2019 could be a historic election if 2015 doesn't make the cut.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Liberals gain in Forum poll

The Toronto Star released the results of a new Forum poll yesterday, indicating that the Liberals have made gains since December. But it isn't as simple as that.
The poll found that the Conservatives have gained two points since Forum's last poll conducted on December 13. They now lead with 35%.

The New Democrats are up one point to 28%, while the Liberals are up four points to 25%.

You get a bump in the polls! You get a bump in the polls! Everyone gets a bump in the polls!

Why? In December, the Forum poll pegged Green support at 8% and support for other parties at 5%. Both numbers were a little high, but particularly the result for the Others. They have since dropped to more plausible levels of support, with the Greens at 4% and the Others at only 1%. Because of this, eight points were made available and everyone got a piece of the pie. Whether that is an indication of actual real growth by the Liberals (and the Conservatives, and the NDP) or not is a little fuzzy.

As Forum did not release any federal voting intentions before their December poll, we can't say very much about where the parties are heading.

To find out what this poll suggests about what Canadians think about the party leaders, however, you can read my latest article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

One odd thing stood out when looking at the cross tabs of this poll: the Conservatives held an important lead (39% to 29% NDP) in the 18 to 34 age group. That seems a little unlikely, just as it seems unlikely that the New Democrats would lead (33% to 32% Conservatives) in the 35 to 44 age group.

The Conservatives have made a big gain in Ontario, picking up eight points since Forum's December poll to hit 41%. The Liberals (29%) and New Democrats (25%) are each up two points, largely because of the four point drop in support for the Others and the eight point drop in Green support. Again, it is difficult to discern any real meaning in this - it appears that this is more of a "reset" poll from some quirky results last time around.

It is the same situation in Quebec, where the "Others" has dropped from 8% to a much more plausible 1%. Accordingly, the gains have gone to everyone: four points for the Conservatives (22%), two points for the Liberals (21%), and a point apiece for the New Democrats (29%) and the Bloc Québécois (23%). Those results all generally line-up with what other firms have recorded, but Forum is seeing a much more bunched up situation in Quebec. Having four parties between 20% and 30% support is about as close as it gets.

The main reason for the Liberal gain, however, is British Columbia. Unlike some of the other provinces, this can't be blamed on a big change in support for "others". Instead, the Conservatives have dropped nine points to reach 30% and the NDP has dropped seven points to hit 32%, giving the Liberals an extra 17 points to put them at 30% support. But considering what we've seen from other surveys, I'd have to call this one a bit of an outlier until we see some corroborating results.

Elsewhere, the Conservatives have gained one point in the Prairies (including Alberta) and lead with 52%, but the NDP is not too far behind with 28%, a gain of five points. And in Atlantic Canada, the NDP is up eight points to 38%, the Liberals are up five to 32%, and the Conservatives are down three to 29%.

With these numbers and using the current 308-seat electoral map, the Conservatives win 141 seats and are reduced to a minority government. The New Democrats win 92 seats and the Liberals win 64 seats, while 10 go to the Bloc Québécois and one to the Greens (guess who!).

The Conservatives win 11 seats in British Columbia, 26 in Alberta, 18 in the Prairies, 63 in Ontario, 14 in Quebec, eight in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north. Whereas the western caucus (including the Conservatives' two northern MPs) is currently larger than the Ontario caucus, in this scenario the Ontario caucus would be larger. The party moves east?

The New Democrats win 14 seats in British Columbia, two in Alberta, eight in the Prairies, 22 in Ontario, 36 in Quebec, nine in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north.

The Liberals win 10 seats in British Columbia, two in the Prairies, 21 in Ontario, 15 in Quebec, 15 in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north.

It will be worth watching British Columbia to see if there is anything really going on with the Liberals, and Quebec remains very fluid. But this poll generally jives with what others have shown recently and continues to show the two main changes since the May 2011 election: the New Democrats are slipping in Quebec and the Conservatives are no longer in a majority position.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mulcair edges Nash in NDP leadership poll

Forum Research and The National Post released a new NDP leadership poll last night, indicating that Thomas Mulcair remains the favourite of both Canadians and NDP supporters. But what does it mean?
Once again, the sample size of NDP supporters, particularly of decided NDP supporters, is very small. The small size of the sample gives the poll a relatively large margin of error, making it difficult to discern any trends since Forum last reported.

But among decided NDP supporters (which, I should emphasize, do not necessarily share the opinions of the NDP members who will actually choose the next leader), Thomas Mulcair leads with 36% support, down nine points since Forum's December survey.

Peggy Nash follows with 20%, up four points, while Brian Topp and Paul Dewar are tied for third with 11%. At the very least, this survey seems to confirm the perceived frontrunners. Whether that has more to do with name recognition than anything real, however, is impossible to say.

Roméo Saganash leads the next tier with 8% (+1), followed by Nathan Cullen at 7% (+3), Martin Singh at 4% (-1), and Niki Ashton with 3% (-5).

If we include the undecideds, however, which number 48% of NDP supporters, we get Mulcair at 19%, Nash at 10%, Topp and Dewar at 6%, Saganash and Cullen at 4%, Singh at 2%, and Ashton at 1%. It is noteworthy that among this group of NDP supporters, Mulcair is falling while Nash, Topp, and (especially) Dewar have made gains.

Among all Canadians, Thomas Mulcair is the preferred choice at 14%, followed by Peggy Nash at 6% and Brian Topp and Paul Dewar at 5%. Fully 62% have no opinion.

It may be a knock against him, but Thomas Mulcair is also the preferred choice of Conservatives (11%), Liberals (13%), and Bloc supporters (33%). That may also be an indication that he has the best chance of winning new support.

Regionally, and without removing the undecideds, Thomas Mulcair leads among NDP supporters in Quebec (42%) and Atlantic Canada (6%), where he is tied with Brian Topp. The Quebec number is actually quite astounding, as only 42% of NDP supporters in that province are undecided. That contrasts very sharply with the 65% of undecideds in Ontario, 69% of undecideds in the four western provinces, and the 81% of undecideds in Atlantic Canada.

Peggy Nash leads in Ontario (10%), while Topp leads in the Prairies (9%) and British Columbia (6%).

Obviously, Quebec is Mulcair's best region. Ontario is the best region for Nash and Dewar (9%), which should come as no surprise as, like Mulcair, that is their home region. The Prairies is the best region for Topp, which again is not surprising as Topp made his name with the Saskatchewan NDP. Oddly, British Columbia is the best region for Saganash (6%) but also for Nathan Cullen (5%), while Singh's best result came in Quebec (3%) and Niki Ashton's came in the Prairies (5%).

What this indicates is that, with the exception of Saganash and Singh, the native region of each candidate is the region where they have the most support. This might also be the case on the convention floor (virtual or otherwise), but it might also be caused by name recognition.

But what do these levels of support mean in the context of the NDP's leadership race? Mulcair's numbers are undoubtedly inflated due to his lead in Quebec, which at last count contains only 6% of the party's membership.

If we weigh the results of this poll by the proportion of members each region contains (based on the numbers the party last released), we get a much closer result:

19% - Thomas Mulcair
19% - Brian Topp
16% - Peggy Nash
13% - Paul Dewar
9% - Roméo Saganash
8% - Nathan Cullen
8% - Niki Ashton
6% - Martin Singh

This is also a quite plausible result. Mulcair's strength is diminished as Quebec gives him less real votes than either Ontario or the Prairies, and just as many as he earns in British Columbia. Topp, on the other hand, builds his support on the four western provinces, where he receives almost four-fifths of his votes. Peggy Nash is strongest in Ontario, as is Dewar, while Cullen banks on British Columbia and Ashton on the Prairies. Saganash's numbers are perhaps exaggerated by his B.C. result.

Whether or not these are the numbers we'll see on March 24, they do reveal the problem with Thomas Mulcair's campaign. He is overwhelmingly the favourite of Quebecers, but they can only give him so many votes. Topp may not be dominating east of Saskatchewan, but he is strong in the provinces that have a lot of members, while Nash and Dewar have a solid base in Ontario.

Based on information published in the media from Brian Topp's campaign, however, there does seem to be an indication that membership numbers in Quebec have ballooned to somewhere closer to 15% of the total membership. If that is truly the case, then Mulcair will have a very good chance of coming out on top, and perhaps by a wide margin, on the first ballot.

Where he'll end up on the second and subsequent ballots, however, is the real question. The other three frontrunners seem to have a higher chance of earning second ballot support, particularly Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash.

Mulcair's campaign is centred on expanding the NDP's support beyond its traditional base. He may also be expanding the NDP's membership in that way as well. But he'll still need more than 50% of the votes on March 24, and that means getting support from the rank-and-file members who were there long before Mulcair was even an MP. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dewar closes in on front-runners

In this week's NDP leadership endorsement rankings update, Paul Dewar makes a big leap forward with important endorsements out of Ontario and Manitoba. Thomas Mulcair also lands a few endorsements from both ends of the country.
But it was Dewar who made the biggest news this past week, thanks to the endorsement of Charlie Angus, four-term MP for Timmins-James Bay. Angus is one of the more well-known MPs in the NDP caucus and has been representing his riding since 2004. His endorsement awards Dewar ten points, but more importantly increases his caucus support to two MPs, both of them important figures in the party. Angus also helps Dewar in the all-important province of Ontario, joining former MP Tony Martin, current MPP Rosario Marchese, a couple labour unions and former Ontario NDP leader Mike Cassidy as supporters from within the Ontario wing of the party.

Mike Cassidy was the other important endorsement that Dewar picked up this week. Cassidy led the Ontario NDP from 1979 to 1982 and was MPP and then MP for Ottawa Centre from 1971 to 1988. This endorsements gives Dewar an extra 12 points, and is a good representation of the support Dewar should be able to call upon in some quarters of Ontario.

But Dewar did not stop there, he also announced the endorsement of three Manitoba MLAs: Andrew Swan, Deanne Crothers, and Matt Wiebe. This brings his total of endorsements from the Manitoba NDP to 13, more than a third of the province's NDP legislators. These three endorsements give him an extra 1.5 points.

In total, that bumps Paul Dewar up 23.5 points to 75.8 endorsement points, or 14.2% of all available endorsement points. That is a 3.8 percentage point gain since last week. He is now nipping at the heels of Peggy Nash.

(Click here to learn more about the endorsement system and here for how the points are awarded. And, as always, you can right-click the list of endorsers and open in a new tab or window to magnify it.)

Thomas Mulcair's most important endorsement from this past week comes from Don Davies, two-term MP from Vancouver-Kingsway. Mulcair already has the support of a few MLAs from British Columbia, but this is the first caucus support Mulcair has received from the province, home to a large proportion of the NDP's members. Davies's endorsement gives Mulcair an extra five points.

Mulcair also announced the endorsement of two northern Ontario figures, former MPP Elie Martel and former MP for Thunder Bay-Nipigon Ernie Epp. As former provincial legislators are not counted in the system, Mulcair gains two points from Epp's endorsement only. Nevertheless, the two of them give Mulcair more support in the northern part of the province, adding to the endorsement of MP John Rafferty.

Lastly, after getting the support of Herb Dickieson, former leader of the PEI NDP, Mulcair this week received only the second endorsement to come out of Atlantic Canada since Robert Chisholm, Nova Scotia MP and former head of the party in that province, dropped out of the race. Mulcair received the support of the PEI Federation of Labour, an organization the size of which I have been unable to discover. I've assumed that it is of similar size to that of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, proportionately speaking, so I've awarded Mulcair an extra 0.6 points on the assumption that the union represents some 10,000 Islanders.

In all, that gives Mulcair an extra 7.6 points in the endorsement rankings. Normally that would not be a bad week's work, but compared to Dewar's score it is relatively small. It does keep him treading water, however, as he has managed to gain 0.1 percentage points. He now has 125.9 points, or 23.6% of all available endorsement points.

That is important, as with a lack of endorsements coming out of any other camp the other candidates have all taken a step backwards in their share of endorsement points. Brian Topp is down 2.2 points to 36% and Nash is down 1.2 points to 18.8%. Niki Ashton (-0.2%), Nathan Cullen (-0.2%), and Roméo Saganash (-0.1%) have all dropped a little as well.

Paul Dewar is certainly on a roll, picking up major endorsements in the last few weeks. But both Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair have tried to hold their own with endorsements of their own. Peggy Nash, at least in the endorsement race, appears to be falling behind.

Caucus support tells a somewhat different story, however. Mulcair has the largest crop of MPs behind him with 35, not including himself, giving him 39 election wins' worth of support. Topp comes up second with 11 MPs supporting him totaling 25 terms. Then it drops off by a huge extent.

Peggy Nash has six MPs behind her with a total of eight terms in office, while Paul Dewar has only two MPs supporting him, totaling six terms in office. But Niki Ashton (three MPs, three terms) and Roméo Saganash (two MPs, two terms) are in the same league in terms of caucus support. That tells us that, at least at this stage of the race, within the NDP caucus it is Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp who are the real front-runners. On this score, Nash and Dewar have a long way to go.

However, it doesn't always go according to the whims of the caucus. Jack Layton and Adrian Dix did not win the leadership of their respective parties with more caucus support than their rivals. On the other hand, Greg Selinger and Andrea Horwath did.

There's a lot of campaigning still to go, and the Dewar camp has already hinted that they have some endorsements coming out of Quebec soon. And with the debates now starting to roll, things should begin to shake loose.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

EKOS highlights eligible vs. actual voters

Last week, EKOS released a series of poll results for iPolitics that were drawn from a survey conducted online in mid-December. Unfortunately, that makes these results slightly out of date but we can still take a look at them. I invite you to take a look as well at all of the other information contained in the expansive EKOS report, as it touches on much more than voting intentions.
This is the first publicly released report of federal vote intentions from EKOS since the May 2011 election, and the poll shows a much closer race between the Conservatives and the New Democrats than we've seen elsewhere.

The Conservatives finished with 31.4% support in this survey, compared to 29.5% for the New Democrats and 24.8% for the Liberals.

The Bloc Québécois stood at 6.7% while the Greens were at 6.1%.

But EKOS also filtered these numbers out according to who voted in the May 2011 election, weighing them accordingly. With those weightings, EKOS pegs Conservative support at 36.7%, with the NDP at 27.8% and the Liberals at 21.9%.

That is quite a big difference between the voting intentions of the general population and the voting population. It does not surprise me that there would be a disparity, though this is larger than I would have expected. This EKOS poll was taken at the same time as a Nanos poll (December 15-18), and EKOS's likely voter numbers are similar to what Nanos had found, though I believe Nanos reports the voting intentions of all eligible voters. Nevertheless, that Conservative support among actual voters would be far higher than it is among eligible voters jives with what we have seen in recent election results.

EKOS's main divergence from other surveys seems to be in British Columbia, where EKOS has the NDP leading with 35.9% to 29.1% for the Conservatives and 21.1% for the Liberals. Considering sample size, however, this is not problematic.

The poll confirms what we've seen in some other surveys taken at the end of 2011, notably that the race in Ontario is far closer than it was on election night, with the Conservatives at 34.6% to the Liberals' 31.9%. It also shows that the NDP has dropped in Quebec (34.4% to 27.4% for the Bloc) and that the Prairies are looking to be a real battlefield. In this poll, the margin between the Conservatives and New Democrats is tiny (42% to 38.7%).

Primarily because of the results in British Columbia and the Prairies, but also the close race in Ontario, these numbers would result in a small Conservative plurality of 118 seats. The New Democrats would take 103 and the Liberals 74, with 12 going to the Bloc Québécois and one to the Greens. If they could co-operate, the Liberals and NDP would be able to govern with a stronger majority than the Conservatives currently enjoy.

The Tories would take 12 seats in British Columbia, 26 in Alberta, 13 in the Prairies, 48 in Ontario, five in Quebec, 13 in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north with these numbers. In a 338-seat House of Commons, they would likely win 133 seats.

The New Democrats win 17 seats in British Columbia, one in Alberta, 10 in the Prairies, 23 in Ontario, 46 in Quebec, five in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north. In the expanded Commons, they would likely win 111 seats.

The Liberals win six seats in British Columbia, one in Alberta, five in the Prairies, 35 in Ontario, 12 in Quebec, 14 in Atlantic Canada, and one in the north. With the extra seats in the House, the Liberals would likely win 80 in total.

The EKOS results for the more likely voters would probably result in a much stronger Conservative minority, with the Liberals and Bloc Québécois making most of the gains at the expense of the Tories and NDP.

These are interesting results, and at the very least add another set of data showing that Conservative support has slipped since the election and that the NDP's support in Quebec is wobbly, though still enough to give them a majority of seats in the province. This may seem like an irrelevant point considering that the next election is more than three years away, but I'd counter that knowing how Canadians feel about the people and parties who govern them is worth knowing. And if the Conservatives increased their support to 60% or if they dropped to 10%, that would be a significant piece of information - even if it wouldn't change the make-up of our government for several years.

Note: The monthly federal polling averages chart has been updated to include this December 2011 EKOS poll.

Monday, January 16, 2012

CAQ on track for minority in three-way race

Last week, François Rebello crossed the floor from the Parti Québécois to the Coalition Avenir Québec. Though François Legault gained a new MNA, picking up another member of the PQ might have actually hurt his levels of support in the province.

What are Rebello's chances of being re-elected now that he has crossed the floor? Check out my article today on The Globe and Mail's website on federal floor crossers here. The news is mixed for Lise St-Denis, who last week left the New Democrats for the Liberals.
Léger Marketing released a new poll over the weekend for the Journal de Montréal, taken January 11-12 and so shortly after Rebello's defection to the CAQ. The result is that the party has slipped four points since mid-December to 33%.

The Liberals have benefited with a gain of five points, and now trail with 27%. The Parti Québécois, meanwhile, is up one point to 25%.

Québec Solidaire is unchanged at 9% while the Greens have 3% support. Other parties, which would seem to include Jean-Martin Aussant's Option Nationale, also have 3% support.

The Liberals have gained eight points in the Montreal RMR and now lead with 35%. The CAQ has dropped two points to 29%, while the PQ is down another two points to only 19% support. At 11%, QS is closer to the PQ than the CAQ is.

In the Quebec City RMR, the CAQ is up three points to 46%. They really dominate the capital. The Liberals are up two points to 24%, while the PQ is down six points to 14%.

In the rest of Quebec, however, the PQ is up six points and now trails the CAQ by 34% to 36%. That is a seven point drop for the CAQ. The Liberals are up one to 18%.

Among francophones, the PQ is up three points to 31% while the CAQ is down four points to 38%. The Liberals are up one point to 17%.

Among non-francophones, the Liberals are up 16 points to 69%, trailed by a wide margin by the CAQ (12%).
With these levels of regional support (but not yet using the new electoral boundaries), the CAQ would win 47 seats, far short of the 63 needed to form a majority government. The Liberals win 38 seats and the Parti Québécois 37, a margin too close to say with any great degree of confidence who would form the Official Opposition.

Québec Solidaire would win three seats, all of them on the island of Montreal.

The CAQ wins 16 seats around Montreal, eight in the Quebec City RMR, and 23 in the rest of Quebec. Broken down more specifically, the CAQ wins 10 seats in western Quebec, two in eastern Quebec, 15 in and around Quebec City, 10 in central Quebec, none in Montreal and Laval, and 10 in Montérégie.

The Liberals win 31 seats in and around Montreal, two in the Quebec City RMR, and five in the rest of Quebec. More specifically, they win three in western Quebec, one in eastern Quebec, two in and around Quebec City, one in central Quebec, 26 in Montreal and Laval, and five in Montérégie.

The Parti Québécois wins five seats in and around Montreal, one in the Quebec City RMR, and 31 in the rest of Quebec, or 10 in western Quebec, 12 in eastern Quebec, two in and around Quebec City, five in central Quebec, four in Montreal and Laval, and four in the Montérégie.

If we look at which party wins each specific region of Quebec, we see a definite pattern. The CAQ wins Quebec City, the suburbs of Montreal, and the area between the two cities. In all, they win Lanaudière, Laurentides, Capitale-Nationale, Chaudière-Appalaches, Mauricie-Bois-Frances, and Montérégie. These are all relatively well-off, francophone regions that voted for the ADQ in 2007.

The PQ, on the other hand, wins Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord, Gaspésie, and the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. These are relatively less well-off francophone regions that have long supported the PQ.

That leaves the affluent, more anglophone, and federalist regions of Quebec to the Liberals: Montreal, Laval, and the Outaouais.

The Bas-Saint-Laurent and Estrie are split evenly between the CAQ and the PQ.

With the francophone vote so close between the CAQ and the PQ and the Parti Québécois looking good in the regions of Quebec, the election would be between those two parties outside of the major centres. In the major centres, the Liberals dominate Montreal while the CAQ dominates Montreal's suburbs and Quebec City. In other words, a three-pronged campaign.

It is interesting to note that support for sovereignty was up in January to 43%, well above the combined 34% support that the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire enjoys. This is because, according to the Léger poll, about one-third of CAQ supporters are also sovereigntists.

Quebec continues to become more and more interesting - à suivre.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What happened to the Liberals in Quebec?

As Liberals from across the country gather in Ottawa today for the start of their biennial convention, one question on almost everyone’s lips is whether Bob Rae will eventually turn his interim position as leader into a permanent one.

Few Liberals deny that Rae has done a good job or that, if he chooses to run in the leadership race scheduled to come to a conclusion in early 2013, he would be a good candidate to lead the party into the next election. That he is the best person for the job, however, is far from a consensus opinion.

But more than eight months after the Liberals were handed a drubbing in the last federal election, Bob Rae has undoubtedly kept the Liberal Party’s head above water. Eight months down, 46 more to go.

You can read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

A new poll conducted by CROP for L'Actualité was released yesterday, investigating what Quebecers think have been the causes of the poor performances of the Liberal Party in recent elections. The results are interesting.
The most common answer is the one that Liberals themselves seem to have identified as their major problem in the past. Almost one-third, or 30% of Quebecers, said that the main reason for the Liberal decline was that their leaders have not been inspiring.

For party members looking for that next messiah, this would seem to back them up.

But it isn't as simple as that. Another 25% of Quebecers blamed the sponsorship scandal, which is now getting a little long in the tooth. Undoubtedly, these Quebecers know their history - it absolutely was the sponsorship scandal that sent the Liberals on their long trip south in the province. Whether that is still the problem, however, is more difficult to say. The scandal tarnished the Liberal brand in Quebec, and while the scandal itself may not be the reason today that Quebecers are not supporting the Liberals in large numbers, its effects appear to still be haunting the party.

This convention taking place over the next three days is about re-building and renewal, and that is what 14% of Quebecers said the Liberals have not managed to do. Another 12% blamed a lack of clarity the Liberals have had in their proposed policies.

Two per cent said that the Liberals were too left-wing and were trying to resemble the NDP, while 2% said that they were too right-wing and were trying to resemble the Conservatives. Make up your mind!

A last tranche of 15% said they did not know, an opinion that is probably shared by many members at the convention this weekend.

If we look at these another way, and taking out the "don't knows", we get 35% identifying leadership as the problem, 35% identifying policy and communication as the problem, and 30% identifying the sponsorship scandal. That sounds about right. There are more than a few causes of the Liberal decline in Quebec.

And a decline it certainly has been - but not just since the days of the Gomery Inquiry. Liberal support has waxed and waned since then. The Liberals averaged 17% support in Quebec in December. While that was their best result since April 2011, it is still half of where they were in May 2009. In that month, the Liberals averaged 34% support in Quebec and were nipping at the Bloc's heels. In December, the Liberals were fourth in support in the province behind the NDP, Bloc, and Tories, a position they have owned for the last eight months.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Weighing the polls (again)

In the wake of the 2011 federal election, I took a look at what had been the Achilles' heel of my projection model at the time: the daily reduction in weight of a given poll. For the federal election, I reduced the weight of a poll by 7% per day. This was not aggressive enough to be able to adequately record the increase in New Democratic support in the final week of the campaign, throwing everything off.

Accordingly, after some analysis I decided to instead decrease the amount of weight given to a poll by 23% per day. This worked pretty well during the last set of provincial campaigns, enough so that it was not the cause of any major errors.

That does not mean that the daily weight reduction cannot be dialed in more accurately. However, polls in the five campaigns acted very differently from one province to the next. On the one hand, in Ontario, Manitoba, and (especially) Prince Edward Island, increasing the rate of reduction increased the degree of accuracy of the vote projection model. On the other hand, in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, decreasing the rate of reduction upped the accuracy.
The chart above records the total cumulative error of the projection compared to the vote results for major parties. This means that if the model is under-estimating the support of one party by two points and over-estimating the support of another by two points, that equates to a total error of four points. A daily rate of reduction of 0.75, for example, means a rate of reduction of 25% per day.

For the federal election, a rate of reduction of about 25% would have worked well. For Ontario, a reduction of around 40% or more would have been best, while 35%-40% for Manitoba would have yielded better results. For P.E.I., the accuracy increased with every increase of the rate of reduction, but for Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan it was the opposite.

What this chart shows is that over the six elections, a daily rate of reduction of between 30% and 40% would have yielded the best cumulative result of 43.7 points of total error. This indicates that, in the future, a daily reduction in this range would be best.

But how to decide? A reduction of 30% would have worked better in the federal, Newfoundland, and Saskatchewan campaigns, a reduction of 40% would have been the better option in Ontario, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island.
What I've done in the chart above is rank each rate of reduction from one to six for each election. The lowest total when adding up these rankings, then, should tell us which rate of reduction would have had the better results across the board.

That turns out to be a reduction of 35% per day, or by a factor of 0.65. This is the top rate for Manitoba, and it ranks in the middle for every other election. Upping the rate of reduction to 40% would have been too much for the federal, Newfoundland, and Saskatchewan elections, while putting it to 30% would not have been the best result for anyone.

Moving forward, the vote projection model will be using this 35% daily reduction during a campaign. Outside of a campaign, I will be applying that 35% reduction on a weekly basis.

But that is only one part of the story. The next task is to figure out the difference between poll results and election results, so that the vote projection model can bridge the gap between the two. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dewar makes big gain in endorsement rankings

This week's NDP endorsement rankings update has all four of the frontrunners on the move, but only Paul Dewar has made a gain in his share of the points with the endorsement of a large national union and a veteran MP.
Dewar's most important endorsement this week comes from the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, James Clancy. The union has a membership of 340,000 people, making it one of the largest in the country. That alone nets Dewar 20.4 points.

Another endorsement, presumably to be announced tomorrow, comes from Linda Duncan, the MP for Edmonton-Strathcona. Having been elected twice by the people of the riding, Duncan adds five points to Dewar's total.

If this endorsement does occur as expected, this will be a big one for Dewar. Unlike his other main rivals, Dewar has not had much support from the NDP caucus. Duncan will become the first sitting MP to endorse Paul Dewar for leadership. And as Duncan is the only MP for Alberta, this gives Dewar an edge on the more than 8,000 NDP members that were last reported to be in the province.

These two endorsements give Dewar a boost of 25.4 points, increasing his total to 52.3 points or 10.4% of all available endorsement points. That is a gain of 4.7 percentage points since last week, and puts him in the double digits. He is now 48.1 points and 9.6 percentage points behind Peggy Nash.

(Click here to learn more about the endorsement system and here for how the points are awarded. And, as always, you can right-click the list of endorsers and open in a new tab or window to magnify it.)

Nash has landed two endorsements of her own, one from Mike Sullivan, the rookie MP for York South-Weston, and another from Dany Morin, freshman MP for Chicoutimi-Le Fjord. This gives her an extra five points and increases her caucus support to six MPs, not including herself.

With these endorsements, Nash now stands at 100.4 points, or 20% of the total. That is, however, a 0.3-point loss since last week, owing to the major gain that Paul Dewar made.

Brian Topp also made a splash this week with the endorsement of former Saskatchewan NDP Premier Lorne Calvert. This gives him an extra five points and increases the net support out of Saskatchewan to 10 points, perhaps better reflecting the clout of the endorsement of one Roy Romanow. The endorsement points system is, after all, somewhat abstracted.

With Calvert's support, Topp now has 192 endorsement points or 38.2% of the total available. That is a drop of 1.7 percentage points since last week, again because of Dewar's gains, but Topp remains in the lead by a wide margin.

Thomas Mulcair has had a bit of a mixed week. The good news is that he received the support of BC MLA Leonard Krog, awarding one point to Mulcair's campaign. The bad news is that Lise St-Denis, the MP for Saint-Maurice-Champlain who endorsed Mulcair for leadership, has jumped ship to the Liberals. This means Mulcair has lost 2.5 points in the endorsement rankings, and has gained the stigma of having once had the support of someone who is now persona non grata in the NDP.

Mulcair has thus had a net loss of 1.5 points this week, dropping him to 118.3 points or 23.5% of all available points. That is a two percentage point drop since last week.

Niki Ashton (0.2%), Nathan Cullen (0.2%), and Roméo Saganash (0.1%) have all dropped slightly in their share of endorsement points as more have been added to the pile. None have landed new endorsements in some time. Martin Singh remains mired with zero endorsements.

With Paul Dewar now in the double digits and finally having some caucus support, he has a real, verifiable claim to being within the top tier. I'm not quite sure that Brian Topp is having as much trouble as some seem to think, as he continues to gain the support of important figures within the NDP. Perhaps the membership will revolt against this decision from on high, but with many debates still to come there is plenty of time for Topp to demonstrate that he belongs among the top contenders. Paul Dewar and Peggy Nash will also have quite a bit riding on the debates, as they need to show how they might look in the inevitable sparring matches against Stephen Harper.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Riding History: Toronto--Danforth

Last night, the New Democrats chose Craig Scott as their candidate for the upcoming by-election in Toronto--Danforth. The by-election date has to be announced before the end of February.

This is the first of what I hope will be many riding histories. Each riding history will stretch back to Confederation, linking former ridings with ridings that exist today. With Toronto--Danforth heading towards a by-election, it seems like the perfect place to start - and Toronto--Danforth's history starts in the riding of Toronto East.

UPDATE (20/03/12): Parts of this post, including the graphics, have been updated following the by-election of 19 March 2012.
Toronto East did not share all of the geography of today's Toronto--Danforth, but the riding did encompass much of what today makes up the riding. The riding was one of the few in the country where the working class vote was an important one in the 1860s and 1870s, and Toronto East's first MP, James Beaty, was seen as a hero of the working class, despite having a fortune of some $150,000 in 1873 - a huge sum for the time.

Running as a Conservative in 1867, Beaty defeated a Dr. Aikins with 52.2% of the vote. Another candidate, a Mr. Allen, received a single vote (presumably himself).

Beaty was a merchant and newspaper owner, head of the Leader who had no less a figure than George Brown as his prime antagonist. He was born in Kileshandra in Ireland in 1798 and his nephew, born in Upper Canada in 1831 and also named James, went on to be twice elected as MP for Toronto West in 1880 and 1882.

Beaty moved to Toronto in 1818 when the city had a population of only 500, but by the 1870s the city was a major centre with a large working class. The Leader stood on the side of the strikers during one particular work stoppage, and that was undoubtedly a factor in Beaty's success in the 1872 election.

Beaty faced off against John O'Donohue in an election Beaty would call "a hard and bitter fight." He did not stay long in office, however, retiring shortly after Sir John A. MacDonald left office in the wake of the CPR scandal. In an interview after his retirement from politics and business, Beaty said that he was "hopeful that I will be spared to see Toronto become a still greater city than it is at the present."

O'Donohue ran again as a Liberal-Conservative in 1874 and won with 52.8% of the vote against Emerson Coatsworth. It appears that this may have been the father of Emerson Coatsworth Jr., who would win the riding under the Conservative banner in 1891. O'Donohue was another Irish-born MP. He would eventually be appointed to the Senate by MacDonald in 1882.

For some reason, the 1874 election was declared void and in a subsequent by-election in 1875 Samuel Platt, another Irishman, defeated O'Donohue with 58.7% of the vote. Platt was re-elected in 1878, with the records not indicating whether either Platt or his opponent, Ed Galley, belonged to any particular party.

Platt did not re-offer and in 1882 John Small was elected as a Conservative. He would be re-elected in 1887 against the first Liberal candidate on record for the riding.

Emerson Coatsworth then took over for Small in 1891, winning 63.1% of the vote, the most yet seen for any one candidate in this riding. Coatsworth was defeated in 1896 by John R. Robertson, but would eventually go on to be Mayor of Toronto from 1906 to 1907.

Robertson was an Independent Conservative in the 1896 election, but he did not run again in 1900 when Albert E. Kemp, who would be the longest serving MP in the history of Toronto East and its successor ridings down to Toronto--Danforth, was elected. The 1900 election was also the first appearance of a third party on the ballot: Labour.

Kemp was re-elected in 1904 but was defeated by Joseph Russell, an independent, in 1908. Kemp ran again in 1911 and defeated Russell, who would go on to be an MPP for Riverdale in 1914. In Robert Borden's cabinet, Kemp was Minister of Militia and Defence from 1916 to 1917 and Minister of the Overseas Military Forces from 1917 to 1920, Toronto East's first full cabinet minister. Kemp was named to the Senate in 1921 by Arthur Meighen.

Edmond B. Ryckman continued the Conservative dominance of Toronto East in 1921, in an election that featured the first female candidate. Elizabeth Bethune Kiely, "housewife", was the Liberal candidate but received only 52 votes. Perhaps because she was a woman, the Liberal vote instead went to an independent "gentleman" and to the Progressive Party candidate.

Ryckman was re-elected three more times, taking over 80% of the vote for the Conservatives in 1925 and 1926. He was briefly Minister of Public Works in 1926 and was Minister of National Revenue from 1930 to 1933.

Ryckman passed away while in office (sadly, he would not be the first to die in office while representing this riding) and in the by-election of 1934 he was replaced by Thomas L. Church. The Conservative candidate defeated the Liberals with 46.3% of the vote to 37.5%. This by-election is also notable for it being the first appearance of the CCF. The party received 16.3% of the vote.

Church was not a political neophyte, having been Mayor of Toronto from 1915 to 1921 and the MP for Toronto North and Toronto Northwest from 1921 to 1930, when he was defeated. Toronto East gave him the chance to return to the House of Commons.

By 1935, Toronto East was split into the ridings of Broadview and Greenwood, and Church ran as the incumbent for the riding of Broadview in the election that year. He was re-elected in 1935, 1940, 1945, and 1949, barely holding on to his riding in a real three-way race in that year. He took 37.9% of the vote to Liberal candidate Ruth Radford's 33.6% and the CCF's George Grube, who took 27.5%.

Church passed away and in the 1950 by-election the Progressive Conservatives returned in force, taking 48.1% of the vote under George Hees. Hees was re-elected four more times and sat as Minister of Transport from 1957 to 1960 and Minister of Trade and Commerce from 1960 to 1963.

But in 1963, Hees lost the riding for the Progressive Conservatives to the Liberal candidate, D.G. Hahn. Aside from the election of a few independents prior to the First World War, this was the first time that Broadview/Toronto East was not represented by a Conservative. Hahn took 40.9% of the vote to Hees' 31.3%, while the NDP's John Gilbert took 26.1% of the vote. Hees did not leave politics, however, being elected seven more times as MP for Northumberland and Prince Edward Hastings. He would eventually receive the Order of Canada.

Hahn did not stay in office long, however, being defeated by the NDP's Gilbert in 1965. From this point on, the riding would forever be a contest between the Liberals and the NDP. Gilbert won with 39.7% of the vote. Gilbert would be re-elected three more times, always taking between 40% and 42% of ballots cast. He resigned in 1978, and Bob Rae was elected under the NDP banner in a by-election held that year. It was a close race, with the PC's Tom Clifford losing by only 420 votes. Rae would be re-elected in 1979 and 1980, keeping the NDP's support at the 40% or so it held steady at from 1965 through to 1984.

Rae resigned from office to become the leader of the Ontario NDP. He was Official Opposition Leader in the Legislative Assembly from 1987 to 1990 and Premier from 1990 to 1995. He is now, of course, interim leader of the Liberal Party and MP for Toronto Centre.

By 1979, Broadview had been incorporated into a new riding called Broadview--Greenwood. In the by-election of 1982 following Rae's resignation, Lynn McDonald was elected for the NDP with 39.1% of the vote. She faced stiff competition from independent candidate Peter Worthington, then editor of the Toronto Sun and today still a columnist for that newspaper. Worthington had tried to capture the Tory nomination but had failed. He would eventually get that nomination and run again in 1984 for the Tories, when he was again defeated by McDonald. That election, in which the Tories took 34.7% of the vote, was the last in which the party was a real factor in this riding.

Broadview--Greenwood elected a Liberal for only the second time in its history in 1988, when Dennis Mills narrowly defeated McDonald. Mills was re-elected in 1993 with 61.1% of the vote, the best the Liberals have ever done in this riding, and again in 1997 and 2000. In the 1997 election, however, he was tested by the NDP's Jack Layton.

The riding's name changed to Toronto--Danforth in 2000 and in 2003 it was re-organized into the riding we know today. But in 2004, Mills was defeated by Layton, 46.3% to 41.3%. Jim Harris, leader of the Green Party, was a candidate in Toronto--Danforth in 2004, and took 5.4% of the vote.

Layton was re-elected in 2006 and 2008 with 48.4% and 44.8% of the vote, respectively, before winning with 60.8% of the vote in 2011, the best performance by an NDP/CCF candidate in the riding's history. Layton was, of course, leader of the New Democrats from 2003 until his passing in 2011, when he was briefly Leader of the Opposition. Layton's wife, Olivia Chow, is currently the MP for Trinity--Spadina while his father, Robert Layton, was the MP for Lachine and Lachine--Lac-Saint-Louis from 1984 until 1993. His great-great-uncle William Henry Steeves was named a senator in 1867.

UPDATE (20/03/12): The by-election to replace Jack Layton was won by NDP candidate Craig Scott with 59.4% of the vote. Scott Gordon, the Liberal candidate, placed second with 28.5% of the vote.
Toronto--Danforth and its predecessors has had its fair share of stellar MPs, including cabinet ministers, mayors, party leaders, senators, and premiers. George Hees and Thomas L. Church were elected most often in the riding, with five elections each to their names. Undoubtedly, Jack Layton would have tied them in 2015.

UPDATE (20/03/12): Because of its attachment to the Conservative Party from 1867 until 1963, the Conservatives (and Progressive Conservatives) have won the riding most often: 24 times. The New Democrats have dominated the riding since 1965, and have won it 14 times. The Liberals have won it five times, while Independents have won the riding three times.

UPDATE (20/03/12): Since 1934, when the CCF first appeared, the New Democrats (including the CCF) have averaged the highest share of the vote with 33% in contested elections. The Liberals come a close second with 31.9%, while the Conservatives (including the PCs, Reform, and Canadian Alliance) have averaged 31% of the vote. It has been a three-way race over the last 78 years primarily because each party has had its turn in the sun: the Conservatives for the first 100 years, the Liberals under Mills, and the NDP since the 1960s.

With the exception of Mills' time in office, the chart at the top of this post shows how the New Democrats have been remarkably steady in the riding since 1965. Between that election and 1988, the NDP always took between 36% and 46% of the vote, a tradition Layton continued until last year's spike. The chart also demonstrates that the Liberals have been on an almost constant decline since 1993, while the Conservatives have not been a factor since 1984 - though it is interesting to see how dominant they were before the election of D.G. Hahn in 1963.

Though the riding's boundaries have changed since 1867, there is a common geography for Toronto East, Broadview, Broadview--Greenwood, and Toronto--Danforth. There is also a common link of MPs, making Toronto East the ancestor of the riding that will soon by contested in a by-election. The successor of James Beaty, quite fittingly a "hero of the working class", was Jack Layton until 2011. It seems quite likely that Craig Scott will soon be the successor of Beaty and Layton. UPDATE (20/03/12): And he was.