Thursday, March 7, 2013

Honeymoon in Ontario, divorce in Nova Scotia?

In Ontario, the premier is just a few weeks on the job and is currently enjoying a bump in the polls. In Nova Scotia, the premier is at the tail end of his first mandate and could be a few weeks away from being out of a job.

In my weekly article for The Globe and Mail, I take a look at what the polling shows when new premiers are named between elections. You can read the article here. The short version is that new premiers usually boost their party's numbers before falling back to earth, and that the odds of re-election are as good as a coin flip. Heads or tails, Premier Wynne?

In the latest of my twice-weekly articles for The Huffington Post Canada, I take a look at the latest survey out of Nova Scotia by the Corporate Research Associates. Darrell Dexter is expected to call the next election in the province soon, as he must call it before the summer of 2014. With the announcement that he will present a balanced budget in April, everyone in Nova Scotia seems to believe that will be the starting bell for the next campaign.

I delve into the numbers in my Huffington Post article, so I invite you to head over there to read the piece. I won't go over the results a second time here, but we can take a look at what kind of legislature these results would produce.

Nova Scotia will be using a new electoral map in the next campaign, with the number of ridings reduced from 52 to 51. Electoral geography can be very important in deciding results, particularly in a province like Nova Scotia where all three parties are competitive.

Seat projection for CRA poll
And despite leading by seven points, Stephen McNeil's Liberals might be unable to secure a majority. The projection, which uses the new boundaries, gives his party 24 seats to 20 for the New Democrats and seven for the Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberals need 26 seats for a majority, so it is certainly possible that the projection model could be off by at least two seats to the benefit of the McNeil. But it is just as likely to be off in the other direction, handing a few extra seats to the Tories or even the New Democrats.

Two factors could play an important role in deciding the outcome. The New Democrats have the advantage of incumbency, and a few of their MLAs may be hard to defeat. That puts a few extra seats in the NDP's column. On the other hand, the Liberals would have the advantage of being the front runner, and their vote distribution may turn out to be more advantageous in close races where voters realize that the Liberal candidate could sit in cabinet.

But people should beware before scoffing at this sort of counter-intuitive seat projection. In the run-up to the Manitoba election in 2011, this site was consistently projecting an NDP majority even when they were polling behind the Tories. News reports on the eve of the vote said that the election was too close to call - and it was, at least in terms of the popular vote. But this site projected that even with only a few percentage points separating the PCs from the NDP, Greg Selinger would be able to win a larger majority than the one he had when the campaign began. In the end, the projection model called 56 of the 57 ridings in the province correctly. In fact, the model under-estimated the size of the NDP's majority by one seat.

Could the same sort of thing happen in Nova Scotia, with the polls showing an easy Liberal victory but the seat result being far closer? The race in and around Halifax could be what decides the election: if the Liberals can grow their support disproportionately in the capital, they can knock off a few New Democrats and secure a majority. If the NDP holds firm in the city, they may be able to keep the Liberals to a minority. And if the races closes by a few more points, they could even hold on to government.