Friday, May 31, 2013

Liberals lead in Ipsos-Reid federal poll, Harper hurt by Wright/Duffy affair

Ipsos-Reid released its latest numbers for the federal scene in a poll for CTV News, showing that the Liberals continue to hold an important lead over the Conservatives (one that is widening by their reckoning). The poll also gauged public opinion on the Wright/Duffy affair, and found that a lot of it is sticking to the Prime Minister - even a majority of Conservative voters aren't sure if they believe Stephen Harper's side of the story or not.
Ipsos-Reid was last in the field Apr. 26-30, two weeks before any of this recent affair was reported in the news. Since that poll, the Liberals picked up one point and led with 36% support, while the Conservatives dropped two points to 30%. The New Democrats were up two points to 27%, while support for the Bloc Québécois and other parties was unchanged at 4% apiece (Ipsos does not include the Greens in their national surveys).

None of these changes in support are significant, suggesting a relative status quo. But within the context of the recent news, a drop for the Tories is not entirely surprising and one has to lean towards it being real.

An obligatory note in the context of the election in British Columbia: these numbers are not a reflection of the next election's outcome, but a measuring of support among the general population. Also, I consider it more unlikely that the kind of miss seen in B.C. and Alberta could occur at the national level, because the population is much less homogeneous. What motivates turnout in British Columbia might not be the same as in Atlantic Canada, or what causes a last minute change of heart in Alberta might not occur in Quebec. I would be shocked if an error like we saw in B.C. happened in a federal election (cut to scene in the future where I am dismayed at the way the polls missed the 2015 federal election).

But let's take a moment to consider the question of turnout. Using my back-of-the-napkin turnout model (drop the 18-34s and double the 55+), the Liberals end up at about the same level of support with 37%, while the Conservatives are bumped up more significantly to 34%. The New Democrats fall to 22%. Those would be the kind of numbers that could easily work to the Tories' advantage in terms of vote distribution. However, the Liberals still being ahead is a good sign for them: they were in front among respondents 55 or older with 39% to 37% for the Conservatives.

About one-in-five respondents to the poll either said they would not vote or were undecided, virtually unchanged from Ipsos-Reid's last poll.

Ipsos-Reid's reports contain a lot of information, including both weighted and unweighted sample data. This is the level of disclosure all firms should have. As I did last week with the most recent poll from Forum Research, let's take a look at how Ipsos-Reid's sample breaks down (I will do this more often so that we can see what we're looking at when new polls are released).

As you can see, the base sample needed very little torquing to get it to resemble the general population. That is a good thing, but it is also part of the design of Ipsos-Reid's (and any online pollster's) methodology. The process of recruiting respondents ensures that one or another demographic group is not under- or over-sampled. These numbers, then, speak not to the ability to build a representative sample randomly, but that the poll itself will not require distorted weighting schemes to get it close to the mark.

One question that is still being debated by the industry, and one that is being studied by firms who use the methodology itself, is whether or not the people who respond to online polls are different from the people who don't. Not in terms of their age or income levels, but just in terms of their values and perspectives. Numerous elections suggest that most online pollsters have it down pretty well most of the time, but it is unlikely to be a debate that will be put to rest soon.

Back to the numbers themselves. They are rather good for the Liberals, with sizable leads in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, a less sizable one in British Columbia, a tie in Ontario, and a narrow gap between themselves and the Conservatives in the Prairies. Most of the regional results show little change from Ipsos-Reid's last poll, but with the exception of British Columbia all of the minor fluctuations are to the Liberals' advantage.

The results in Quebec are perhaps most interesting. They show the same wide lead that other surveys (including the most recent CROP) have shown, with the Liberals at 39% to 29% for the NDP. But notable in this poll is that the Bloc Québécois has fallen eight points to only 15%. That is a very low number for them, and a drop that is about equal to the (theoretical, in this case) margin of error. The Parti Québécois has dropped in popularity in Quebec as well, suggesting that the malaise of Pauline Marois might be biting into the Bloc's support.
Their low numbers have significant consequences, as they put the Bloc out of contention for any seats whatsoever.

Nationwide, the Liberals narrowly edge out the Conservatives with 129 to 127 seats, while the New Democrats win 81 and the Greens retain their one seat.

There are two issues that are keeping the Liberals from pulling away in the seat count. The most important is Ontario. If the Liberals are in a tie with the Conservatives, they are at a disadvantage because of their concentration of support in and around Toronto. Secondly, the Liberals are at a disadvantage in Quebec as well due to their concentration of support in and around Montreal. Traditionally, at least - the latest CROP poll suggests that the Liberals are more than competitive outside of the Montreal area. If a re-alignment among francophones does occur, seat models may under-estimate Liberal strength in the province.

Of course, the driving force for these improving Liberal numbers is Justin Trudeau (along with the recent spate of problems for the Tories). On the questions of trust, having what it takes to lead, leading an open, responsible, and transparent government, and promoting democracy, Trudeau beat out both Harper and Thomas Mulcair in Ipsos-Reid's poll. Mulcair placed in third on all of these questions, except when it came to government transparency. But it should be noted that, in every case, the three leaders were relatively bunched up together. Only on democracy and trust can it be said the Trudeau was well ahead of his rivals.

However, the problems in these numbers for the Conservative government are quite obvious. The number of people who strongly disapprove (35%) of the government's performance was almost equal to the proportion who either strongly (7%) or somewhat approved (30%), and that's not including the 27% who somewhat disapprove. Only 31% agreed that the Conservatives deserve re-election, a disastrous number for them.

The Wright/Duffy affair is certainly dragging down the Conservatives. Only 13% of Canadians believe that Harper did not know about the arrangement between Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy, while 42% believe he did know (which implies he is lying) and another 44% are not sure (which is almost as bad). Even among Conservatives, 54% said they were not sure if Harper would have known or not, while 12% believe that he did. That is rather remarkable - two-thirds of Conservative supporters have doubts that the Prime Minister is telling the truth. If there is a silver lining, though, it is that 79% of Conservatives think the whole affair is of minor importance.

But those are toxic opinions, and the opposition has good reason, over and above the public interest, to keep the story in the news and to keep asking questions. The Conservatives will welcome the summer recess when it occurs later in June. Where will their numbers be when they return in the fall?