Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Final projection: Dix's B.C. NDP heavily favoured to win

Election night update: The results will fall within the high and low forecasted outcomes, but they were considered to be an unlikely event. It seems, instead, that with the polling we have in Canada we can expect these sorts of surprises more often. It is very disappointing.

The B.C. New Democrats under Adrian Dix should win tonight's election in British Columbia, pushing Christy Clark's B.C. Liberal Party to the opposition benches and ending their 12-year tenure in government.

ThreeHundredEight.com's final projection for the B.C. election has the NDP winning a majority government with the Liberals forming the Official Opposition. They should also be joined on the opposite side of the legislature by at least one independent MLA.

As recently as yesterday, based on the polls that had been in the field up to May 10, there was some doubt as to what the likely outcome of the election would be. The B.C. Liberals appeared to be closing the gap, and there was enough volatility to believe that the last weekend of the campaign could prove decisive. But the polls released yesterday, two of which were actually in the field yesterday, show the parties' support to have stabilized, giving Dix's NDP a comfortable lead.

The likely outcome

The projection gives the New Democrats between 44.1% and 47.9% of the vote, with 46% considered the most likely outcome. They should win between 44 and 55 seats, while 49 is considered most likely. That puts the NDP safely in majority territory. Unless the polls are glaringly inaccurate, there is every indication that Dix will be the next premier of British Columbia.
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The Liberals are slated to take between 35.8% and 39.6% of the vote, or 37.7% more precisely. That should give them between 26 and 41 seats, while 35 is considered the most likely outcome. Clark's Liberals should then be able to form a robust opposition, and give the party some foundation upon which to rebuild. 

The B.C. Greens under Jane Sterk are projected to finish third with 7.8% of the vote, or between 6.8% and 8.8%. They are not expected to win a seat, though they should put up some very strong numbers in the Greater Victoria region. There is an outside chance for an upset - in particular the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head should be watched. The projection model is probably unable to fully reflect the potential strength of Andrew Weaver's campaign, due to the low level of support the party received in the riding in the 2009 election.

John Cummins's B.C. Conservatives are projected to finish fourth with 5.2% of the vote, or between 4.3% and 6.1%. They are also not considered to be in the running to win a seat.

Another 3.2% of British Columbians (or between 1.6% and 4.8%) are expected to vote for independent candidates and smaller parties. As many as four independents could be elected, but the projection model considers the re-election of one independent to be the most likely outcome.

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With only a matter hours between the time the final polls of the campaign were in the field and the beginning of voting in British Columbia, the Liberals are estimated to have only a 1.7% chance of making up the difference or proving the polls wrong. The New Democrats have a 98.3% chance of ending up with more votes tonight than the Liberals.

They also have an 83.3% chance of winning more seats, giving the Liberals a 16.7% chance of proving the polls and the projection ranges wrong enough to emerge as the victors. Those chances take into account the possibility that the Liberals could win more seats with fewer votes than the NDP, but the odds are not very high. Nevertheless, recent elections have rewarded an abundance of caution.

Being prepared for the unexpected

The forecasting model is designed to consider the possibility of an Alberta-level event, both in terms of the potential inaccuracies in the polls and a late swing in voting intentions. But there is little indication that something like Alberta is in the works, whereas my final projection for that election was soaked in uncertainty. I am far more confident in this final projection than I was with Alberta's, but the forecasting model does consider it possible for the Liberals to eke out a victory. With the volatility we have seen in the regional-level polling, the Liberals could win as many as 60 seats or be reduced to as few as five. The NDP could win as many as 78 or as few as 23. These are extremely unlikely outcomes. The polls would need to be disastrously wrong to cause such a surprise.

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The forecast ranges for the Greens and Conservatives are perhaps a little more realistic. Polling for these small parties can be more difficult, particularly when it comes to trying to capture individually strong local campaigns. The Greens have been polling surprisingly well in the Interior and North despite an incomplete slate, and the forecasting model thus gives them the potential to pull off an upset there. More likely, however, is that the polls and the seat projection model could be unable to accurately record what is going on in some of the ridings in the Victoria region. For these reasons, the forecasting model considers as many as eight seats a possibility for the Greens, though anything about two should be considered very implausible.

For the Conservatives, pulling off a surprise somewhere in the Interior should not be ruled out. However, the numbers have not been heading in the right direction for them.

But for all these forecasts, we're merely looking at the plausible rather than the probable. The tighter projection ranges are the most likely outcomes, especially considering the stability of the final polls of the campaign as well as the track records of the firms who were in the field yesterday (both Angus-Reid and Ipsos-Reid have long and successful histories in British Columbia).

Regional breakdowns

The New Democrats are very well positioned in the southwestern corner of the province, with a strong lead in metropolitan Vancouver and a very wide one on Vancouver Island.

In and around Vancouver, the New Democrats are projected to take between 45% and 50.6% of the vote, giving them 24 or 25 seats. The Liberals should take between 35.8% and 41.2% support and between 14 and 16 seats. The Greens are expected to capture between 5.1% and 7.9% support, while the Conservatives are strongly considered likely to finish fourth with between 3% and 5.2% of the vote. One independent is expected to be elected as well.

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On Vancouver Island, the New Democrats should take between 43.9% and 52.9% of the vote and win between 11 and 14 seats. The Liberals are projected at between 27% and 35.2% of the vote and as many as three seats. The Greens should finish third with between 10.4% and 16.6% of the vote, while the Conservatives should take between 3.7% and 7.9%. Though the Greens are not projected to win any seats, the forecast puts them in the running for as many as three.

In the B.C. Interior and North, the race is far more competitive. Either the NDP or Liberals could win the most support, with the slight edge being given to the Liberals. They should take between 37.8% and 45% of the vote, while the NDP stands at between 37.3% and 44.5% support. That gives the Liberals between 12 and 22 seats and the NDP between nine and 16. The Conservatives or Greens will finish third, with the Conservatives favoured at between 5.2% and 9% support. The Greens should captured between 4.5% and 8.1% of the vote. As many as three independents could be elected in the region, with between 2.2% and 6.5% support.

What the polls have shown

There is no doubt that the Liberals were able to close the gap due to an energetic campaign and a decent debate performance by Clark, aided by a very safe NDP campaign that allowed the Liberals to dominate the agenda. But after taking an initial hit, the NDP vote stabilized and the Liberals were unable to make enough ground to turn things around in the final weeks.
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The projection adjusts the polls slightly in order to take into account the over-estimation of support that polls have traditionally been guilty of in the case of Green parties throughout Canada, and more generally of small parties without a seat in the legislature (in this case, the Conservatives). The model also estimates the support of independents and other parties independently of the polls. 

Without these adjustments, the numbers change slightly. The weighted, unadjusted poll average would then give the NDP 44.2% of the vote to 36.2% for the Liberals, 9.8% for the Greens, 6.9% for the Conservatives, and 2.9% for the others. Conservative support in the Interior and North would sit at 9.2%, while the Greens would be at 16.6% on Vancouver Island. Without these adjustments, the Greens and Conservatives might be considered more likely to win a seat. But there would be no more consequential differences in the projected winner overall.

How the leaders have fared

Campaigns clearly matter. Prior to the campaign, Adrian Dix had a double-digit lead over Christy Clark on the question of who would make the best premier. The latest polls suggest that the gap has closed to only three points. The last three surveys have averaged 30.7% for Dix on this question, with Clark at 27.7%. The campaign had a significant effect on Clark's ratings on this score, and for a brief moment she was even polling better than the NDP leader.

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Clark's approval rating also improved during the course of the race, but still averaged only 34.7% at the campaign's end. Dix's approval rating was 41.7%, putting him in a tie with Jane Sterk. Her approval soared during the campaign, but she had already surpassed Clark by the end of March. Cummins's approval rating held more or less steady, and finished at 21%.

In terms of their chances of election, only Adrian Dix is favoured to be in the legislature after the dust settles. Too much should not be made of the individual riding projections (the overall numbers are more important), but probability calculations make their forecasts more interesting.

Riding projections
Dix is a lock to win Vancouver-Kingsway, with the model estimating his re-election odds to be 94%. Clark's re-election chances are not nearly as good, however. The NDP is actually favoured to win her riding, with an estimated 62% chance of winning, but that is not much better than a coin flip. Sterk is expected to put up some strong numbers in Victoria-Beacon Hill, but the NDP's Carole James is given an 87% chance of being re-elected. And the Liberals are given a 62% chance of holding on to Langley, where Cummins is running. The NDP is considered more likely to win it than Cummins, though the model is almost certainly under-estimating the party leader's drawing power.

The importance of a campaign

Considering just how long the New Democrats under Adrian Dix have been leading in the polls in British Columbia, and the dozen years the Liberals have been in power, an NDP victory should not come as too much of a surprise. At the campaign's outset, the New Democrats were leading by 18 points. That Clark's Liberals were able to reduce that lead to only eight points and put themselves in a position where the foregone conclusion became a potentially historic comeback is a testament to the importance of an election campaign. 

In the end, however, the result is what counts. The New Democrats have been favoured to win this election for many months. That they will probably win it with a smaller margin than they had enjoyed for the 12 months or so prior to the campaign's start does not invalidate those expectations. Enough British Columbians changed their minds during the last four weeks to change the tone of the race, but the numbers do not lie. It was always going to take a pitch-perfect campaign, and a lot of luck, for Clark's Liberals to overcome the huge hill that had formed in front of them. They put up a strong fight, but it may have been too much.

The polls were getting a little uncertain of themselves in the last week of the campaign, but they are now clear and consistent. Reasons for doubt existed in Alberta, and plausible excuses were made for that debacle. There will be no such excuse this time. Unless the polling industry is on the verge of an even more humiliating and unlikely collapse, Adrian Dix will become the next Premier of British Columbia.