Monday, July 15, 2013

A deeper look at polls from Environics and Ipsos-Reid

The two most recent federal polls unleashed on the world came from Ipsos-Reid and Environics Research Group. Both polls were taken at the end of June, which means that they are now a little dated. So instead of looking at the overall numbers, let's take a look at some of the numbers that weren't included in their original releases.
First, the Environics poll. In addition to the usual regional breakdown that Environics includes in its release, the polling firm also records 'sub-regional' support and was kind enough to pass those numbers along.

The last time I had these numbers was in June 2012, at the height of Thomas Mulcair's honeymoon with Canadians. Compared to those numbers, the New Democrats have fallen 11 points in Environics's polling, while the Conservatives have been down five and the Liberals gained 15.

At the sub-regional level, however, we can see where some of these gains and losses have disproportionately taken place. Compared to the shift in national support, the Liberals have surged disproportionately in Toronto (Environics defines Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal as their CMAs) by 22 points to 50% support. They were up 28 points, also to 50%, in Newfoundland and Labrador. Both of those shifts in support are well outside the margin of error, even for the small samples used for these regions.

It should be noted, however, that Environics also did a poll of 1,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians at around the same time as their national June 2012 poll, and compared to those numbers the Liberals were up only 16 points.

Liberal support grew by about the same amount as it did nationally in Saskatchewan (14 points), Montreal (13 points), and Vancouver (13 points), but only by 11 points in Manitoba.

For the Conservatives, their support fell disproportionately in Vancouver (10 points) and Saskatchewan (8 points), while it maintained itself better in Newfoundland and Labrador (down two points), Toronto (three points), and Montreal (two points). But in these areas, the Conservatives did not have much further to drop.

And the New Democrats suffered most in Newfoundland and Labrador (down 25 points and losing the lead), Montreal (down 15 points), and Toronto (14 points), while they fell only four points in Saskatchewan. They were also down 12 points in Vancouver and eight points in Manitoba.

With these levels of support, the Liberals would win five seats in Newfoundland and Labrador to two for the NDP, while the Tories would be shut out. In Manitoba, the Tories would take eight, the Liberals four, and the NDP two, and in Saskatchewan the Conservatives would win 11, the NDP two, and the Liberals one.

The extra bit of precision for the Prairie provinces does have an effect, as using the overall Prairie numbers to project seats short-changes the NDP by two (giving one extra seat to the Liberals and Conservatives).

For the Ipsos-Reid poll, the firm did something different in trying to assess likelihood of voting. They found that, among the general population, the Liberals led with 33% to 30% for the Conservatives and 28% for the New Democrats. The regional numbers would deliver seats in the following proportions:
The three parties would be almost even, with 121 for the Conservatives, 112 for the Liberals, and 102 for the New Democrats, with the Bloc and Greens taking three seats together.

The Conservatives pull more seats from fewer votes because of their advantage in the western provinces and in Ontario. A tie there (34% to 34%) is more advantageous for the Tories. But the party would only win five seats east of the Ottawa River.

When Ipsos-Reid looked at only those who were most committed to vote (about 60% of the sample, interestingly enough considering that is a very plausible turnout number), the Liberals were boosted to 35%, with the Tories dropping to 29% and the NDP to 26%. For those wondering, that is counter to what my simple turnout model would have given for this poll (34% CPC to 33% LPC and 24% NDP). With Ipsos's regional numbers for likely voters (which the firm was also nice enough to pass along), the Liberals move ahead in seats:
The Liberals win 126 seats to 114 for the Conservatives and 95 for the NDP. The big difference is in Ontario, as the turnout numbers give the Liberals 38% to 34% for the Conservatives. But turnout benefits the Tories in B.C. and the NDP in the Prairies and Quebec.

Despite the difference between Ipsos-Reid's total sample and likely voters being relatively marginal (no party moved by more than two points nationally), the consequences are far more important. In the first scenario, the Conservatives might actually try their luck at a minority government. They would likely be defeated by the Liberals and NDP, but if those two parties did decide to work together they would each need to be given almost equal heft in a coalition.

In the second scenario, the Conservatives likely would not try to form a minority government and instead the Liberals would try their hand at it (yes, I know that the Tories could try to continue to govern but I'm assuming they wouldn't, as Jean Charest did in Quebec). If they did work with the NDP, they would be able to call more of the shots holding 57% of the coalition's seats instead of 52%, and finishing much further ahead in the popular vote (nine points instead of five).

This emphasizes just how important likely voter numbers will be in the next election. I am happy to see that more firms are starting to think about how they will go about this in 2015.


  1. Unless I'm mistaken, I believe the NDP has in fact fallen 11 points since Environics' June 2012 survey.


  2. "yes, I know that the Tories could try to continue to govern but I'm assuming they wouldn't, as Jean Charest did in Quebec"

    Éric, do you know of any examples other than MacKenzie King where an incumbent government succeeded in retaining power despite not winning a plurality of seats? e.g. at the provincial level?

    You're correct that it's quite obvious with Harper, as it was with Charest (or even Paul Martin for that matter), that none of the other parties would be willing to back him in such a situation.


    1. No other examples come to mind.

    2. 1. Russell MacLellan in Nova Scotia won 19/52 seats as did the NDP in 1998. He continued to govern for 18 months with the help of the Conservative party.

      2.After the 1896 election Sir Charles Tupper did not immediately resign but continued with the ministry until the Governor General refused to grant appointments. Lord Aberdeen then dismissed Tupper and commissioned Laurier to form a government.

      3. In Tasmania the Liberal party government of Robin Gray was reduced to a minority government 17/35 seats at the 1989 election. The Labor party won 13 seats but was able to form a coalition with the Green party (5 seats). Gray tried to remain premier but his request for a dissolution was refused and he was dismissed from office.

      I find it unlikely two rivals who are essentially competing for the same voters would form a joint government. It would weaken their potential and eliminate the possibility of either the NDP or Liberals ever forming a majority. In short it could very well solidify a vote split or it may reduce one or both parties to regional players. In addition both parties would be responsible for each others policies and or actions. Better to let Harper play out a minority then win a majority.

      I find the assertions among some that a coalition or agreement between two parties wishful thinking at best

    3. The Feb. 1974 UK general election returned a hung Parliament with Labour winning 301 to incumbent Conservative PM Heath's 297. Health tried to form a coalition with the Liberals but, this proved impractical as the Liberals did not have enough seats to guarantee Labour or the Tories a majority. Health resigned as PM in favour of Harold Wilson who called an election in the Autumn.

    4. Ah yes, I should've thought of the NS example, given that I lived there at the time. The incumbent Libs and NDP tied for seats, although the Libs got a slightly higher share of votes; so it's not quite as extreme as Mackenzie King in 1925 when he clung onto power despite being 15 seats and over 6 percentage points of the popular vote short of Arthur Meighen.

      Re: "I find the assertions among some that a coalition or agreement between two parties wishful thinking at best"

      I think if Harper gets a minority in 2015, especially a weak one (e.g. "Éric's first seat forecast above where the CPC wins the most seats but fewer votes than the LPC), and the LPC and NDP can combine for a majority, there will be immense pressure from the public and likely many party members and insiders for them to form a coalition government. Whether the leaderships would take heed is anyone's guess, but it's worth noting that it happened following the 1985 election in Ontario.

      Personally, in such a situation I would support them making a max 2-year deal during which they pledge to reform our voting system and then call a new election.


    5. Hi Dom,

      Part of the reason I think a minority government is far more likely as opposed to a coalition is the way government formation works. The Crown will call upon either Mulcair or Trudeau to form a government-whoever has more seats. Once Trudeau is in 24 Sussex he would have little reason to work out a formal coalition with the NDP. Whoever forms government does not need to prove to the Crown they have confidence in the House before their appointment, at some point a confidence vote will be held.

      The Conservatives may very well go through a leadership change and in the interregnum it would be unlikely they would defeat the government. Some short term agreement may be struck as you have suggested but, if Harper resigns the Liberals or Dippers (whoever form government) could pretty much govern as if they had a majority.

      The other big problem for both the Liberals and NDP if they ever formed a coalition would be the dissipation of volunteers and supporters for the other. The impacts are uncertain however, we would likely see a fractionalisation of both parties.

  3. Interesting that the Conservatives due better in Manitoba than Sakatchewan.


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