Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Turnout and the Ontario by-elections

UPDATE: New polls from Campaign Research and Forum Research were released on July 31, and they have been used to update the By-Election Barometer. In terms of the turnout model as discussed below, applying it to Forum's latest polls changes the look of them rather significantly.

A few weeks ago, I discussed how a simple turnout model was able to significantly increase the accuracy of polls in some recent elections. Depressingly so - the model requires ignoring the voting intentions of those under the age of 35. But nevertheless the model worked. Can it be applied to the Ontario by-elections that will be taking place on Thursday?

The first question to ask, however, is whether the turnout adjustment should be applied. Earlier this month, I took a detailed look at Forum Research's by-election track record and found it to be decent. If we take those same polls and apply the turnout model, we see that it turns these decent polls into very good ones. (You will need to click on the chart in order to magnify it.)

In only two of the seven by-elections Forum has recently polled would the turnout model have made the poll worse. And these were the by-election polls for Victoria (out of the field 14 days before the election) and Calgary Centre (out of the field nine days before the election). In every other case, the turnout model would have improved the polls. On average, the model reduced the amount of error by 3.3 points. If we exclude the three polls taken more than a week before the vote was held, the turnout model improved the polls by an average of 7.5 points. That is rather significant. The polls in Westside-Kelowna and Kitchener-Waterloo, for instance, would have been dramatically improved.

Now that it is quite clear that the turnout model can improve polls, let's apply it to the latest set of by-election polls Forum has recently released.

In Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the seven-point deficit that Peter Milczyn was last recorded to have against Doug Holyday is increased to 11 points. Based on the amount of error in Forum's by-election polls, a margin of seven points was just about the limit of what you would consider a toss-up race. At 11 points, the margin seems insurmountable. It makes Etobicoke-Lakeshore, already leaning towards the Progressive Conservatives, a much more solid bet to go Tory.

London West is also made more solidly PC, as it improves Ali Chahbar's 36% to 40%, giving him a 10-point lead over the New Democrats' Peggy Sattler. At five points, the race could easily go either way. At 10 points, the Tories look much more likely to pick up the seat. The Liberals, still mired at 17%, do not seem to be a factor whatsoever.

Of all the polls Forum put out, the one in Ottawa South seems the most likely to be at fault. A poll by Campaign Research showed a much closer race just a week before, and the riding has a strong Liberal streak. But the turnout model suggests Forum may even still be under-estimating Matt Young's lead, inflating his support from 48% to 51%, while John Fraser's shrinks to 32% from 34%.

The news continues to be grim for the OLP in Scarborough-Guildwood. There, Forum (and Campaign) had given the Liberals their only lead. It was worth six points for Mitzie Hunter against Ken Kirupa, while Adam Giambrone remained well behind at 21%. The turnout model transforms the race into a toss-up, giving Hunter 37% of the vote to 36% for Kirupa. Giambrone stays at 21%. If the turnout model has it here, Scarborough-Guildwood could be a surprise.

Windsor-Tecumseh seems to be the riding least likely to surprise anyone, as Percy Hatfield has a wide lead over the Tories and Liberals in both the adjusted and unadjusted numbers. His lead is reduced from 35 points to 34 points, but that hardly seems to be of concern. The model suggests that the OLP could do even worse than expected here.

In fact, across the board it appears that turnout will work against the Liberals. The adjustment is nowhere worth more than two points, but with the PCs gaining between two and four points due to turnout it puts the OLP in a much more precarious position. Without the adjustment, the Liberals could expect to win Scarborough-Guildwood and have a shot at Etobicoke-Lakeshore and, maybe, Ottawa South. With the adjustment, the Liberals are out of the running in every riding but Scarborough-Guildwood. If these sorts of trends hold, the Progressive Conservatives could pick up three seats (maybe even four) and the NDP one. That would be quite a blow against the government.

Final by-election polls are to be expected this week. I will be interested to see how the NDP is doing in London West and whether the Liberals will remain competitive in Scarborough-Guildwood, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, and Ottawa South. But as it stands, Thursday is setting up to be a difficult day for Kathleen Wynne.


  1. Let's see if this is a Whynning solution ?

  2. Éric,

    To borrow from The Spy Who Loved Me:

    Nobody does it better
    Makes me feel sad for the rest
    Nobody does it half as good as you
    Baby, you're the best

    And what are the Ontario PCs good at? Namely, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory -- not to mention coming up with phony e-mail scandals that carry about as much water as a bucket filled with a myriad of holes...need I say anything more?

    1. You need to wait for the general election for the Ontario PCs to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory though. Like the BC NDP.

  3. Have to agree with you Ron. The party has some decent people but with the top taken by Hudak it's game over. Let alone the hangover from Mike Harris !!

  4. I think your turnout model is too radical. It assumes that not a single person under the age of 35 ever votes and that is just not true. I also really don't think your turnout model can be particuarly true otherwise the Tories would pretty much have won every general election every single time and that's not true either.

    1. The model is not meant to be a literal modeling of voting patterns.

      What it means is that the younger people who vote tend to vote like older people, so dropping the youngest cohort from the poll has the effect of improving its accuracy.

  5. Peter I loath Hudak. Don't underestimate voters ability to hold their noses to be rid of the Liberals. Wynne continues to support to many of McGuinty's wacky policies. I'll vote for her but only because I think the alternative is far worse!

    1. Earl,

      I think the Harper principle applies here even though in my estimation, it no longer applies federally. People tend to vote for the most credible of unlikely and normally unappreciated alternatives. In my book that means either Kathleen or Kathleen + Andrea in the general.

    2. Ronald,

      I have never read nor heard of this "Harper principle".

      The Conservative party of 2006 was not an unlikely alternative but, as has been its position for most of Canadian history, the likely alternative or the preferred alternative to a Liberal government.

      In Ontario historically the situation is reversed, the Liberal party is the likely alternative to a Tory government. A similar pattern exists in most provinces

      Generally speaking "unlikely alternatives" rarely do well. The NDP or Liberals in Alberta, the NDP in Newfoundland at the last election, the BC Conservative party in 2013. Once in a while a change does occur; the NSNDP wins Official Opposition and becomes the "likely alternative" after two subsequent elections they form government.

  6. Ed,

    I think we have to make a distinction between the federal Progressive Conservatives and Conservatives -- hardly the same animal, IMHO.

    Given the CPC's minority win in 2006, I would qualify it as a somewhat likely alternative. Again, in my estimation, the CPC is further right on the spectrum than the PCP was.

    1. Ronald,

      I agree the CPC win in 2006 was the likely alternative and so I am confused why anyone would label it or the elections of 2004, 2008, 2011 as the "Harper principle"?

      I do not make mention of the Progressive Conservative party. One may infer that I indirectly make reference to the PC party of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

      You may think the CPC and the PCP are different animals but, essentially they cover the same political terrain and have similar supporters. I would agree the CPC is slightly further right than the old PCs but, only just. Both cut budgets, both tried to stay away from "social issues" like abortion both had the largest deficits in Canadian history at the time. The CPC has returned to more traditional terminology towards the monarchy and Canadian Forces but, this is consistent with their red Tory roots. Mulroney's PCs were more successful in Quebec but, that was an aberration from traditional voting patterns. The current Tory weakness in Quebec follows the history of the Tory party since 1917.

  7. Ed,

    I appreciate your insight. What I refer to as the Harper Principle is nothing more than a political qualifier by someone being a little too cute and admittedly it's a stretch.

    My contention (which doesn't apply to 2004) is that Harper won each election basically on points. Voters had no great enthusiasm for the man, or his party, but he was perceived as the necessary change agent.

    There was no Harper mania even when winning a majority. Voters saw Harper as credible but went for the CPC with reservations. It's my contention (or rather supposition) that after almost eight years, Harper is not likely to maintain that support in the next election. His government can no longer be recognized as a change agent that previously enjoyed qualified support among the electorate in sufficient numbers to be returned to office.

    That's why I see Wynne's Liberals as still viable either standing alone or with its left-of-center partner. Hudak will never command Harper's previous conditional acceptance with the voters. Harper was given the benefit of the doubt something I believe Hudak can never accomplish. He remains a drag on his party -- box office poison if you will, and will likely drag down his party on election day. In other words, the Harper Principle is not even a remote possibility for the PCs under Hudak's leadership.


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