Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Conservative support reaching historic lows

As Conservatives gather in Calgary for the start of the party convention on Thursday, Tory fortunes have reached a nadir since Stephen Harper won the 2006 election. If an election were held today, the Conservatives could potentially be dealt their worst electoral showing in decades.

The convention comes at an awkward time. On the one hand, it forces the party brass and Harper to face the group whose opinions, according to Mike Duffy, motivated this entire sorry affair: the base. On the other hand, it gives the Prime Minister the platform to make a stand or amends, to lay out how this issue is going to be handled from here on out. We will find out during Harper's address to the convention whether he will take advantage of the opportunity.

He certainly needs to do something, as the Conservatives have never been at such a consistently low level of support since they came to power in January 2006. And, in certain regions of the country, one has to go back to the mid-20th century to find similarly low numbers achieved at the ballot box.

The chart below plots each poll that has been publicly released since April 2005, when Paul Martin's Liberals were in power. As you can see from the chart, the current spate of polling is the lowest it has been since before the 2005-2006 election campaign.

Click to magnify
Aside from a few individual polls here and there, the Conservatives have never polled under 30% since they first came to power. You see that a large number of polls have recently been under the 30% mark, compared to their more usual levels of between 30% and 40% support that they have registered between elections. (As an aside, I had recently seen some discussion to the effect that the Conservatives generally poll poorly, and around 30%, between elections. This chart shows that to be demonstrably false - their current level of support is unusual for the party.)

The recent downward trend is also unprecedented in its consistency and duration. The chart hints at peaks and valleys in Conservative polling here and there, but the rises and falls tend to be spread out over a short period of time. Losses are made up and gains are lost like a rolling wave. But since the 2011 election (you can see where the 2006, 2008, and 2011 elections were by the bunching-up of poll results) the party has been on a very steady decline. It has never been so sustained.

But just how bad is the current trough the Tories find themselves in? Perhaps those peaks and valleys between 2006 and 2011 were due to the heightened tension of the minority climate, whereas there is little opportunity for release now with a majority government in power. That could be the case, but that does not detract from the fact that, if an election were held today with results similar to the current poll aggregate, the Conservatives would put up some of their worst numbers ever.
Current polling averages
Their current average of 29.3% is particularly low. If we look at the electoral results of their predecessor parties (the PCs, Canadian Alliance/Reform, and the combination of these), we see that the party in its various guises has never taken this little of the vote in an election since 1945. Then, the Progressive Conservatives under John Bracken took just 27.6% of the vote. That is a particularly unimpressive low watermark: Mackenzie King's Liberals had just guided the country through the Second World War.

In the Prairies (40.5%), Ontario (34%), and Quebec (13.8%), the current level of polling support for the Conservatives represents their worst electoral result since the 2004 election, when Martin's Liberals were re-elected with a minority government and Harper was leading his party through a campaign for the first time.

In British Columbia and Alberta, the Conservatives have never done as poorly as 30.1% and 54.3% support, respectively, in an election since 1968, during Pierre Trudeau's first campaign as Liberal leader.

And in Atlantic Canada, I was not able to find a worse performance than 20.7% since 1867. The region has traditionally been a strong one for the Conservatives and their predecessor parties. The PCs, for example, were still a strong player in the region in 1997 and 2000.

This makes it difficult to brush off the current Conservative troubles as a matter of course for a mid-mandate government (the Liberals, for example, always seemed to poll much better while they were in power than when they were asking Canadians to re-elect them on the hustings). The Conservatives do have the benefit of two strong parties dividing the vote to the left of them, but that is a mixed blessing. Two strong alternatives means voters have two decent choices if the Conservatives begin to turn off more of their supporters. While the vote swing has often between between the Liberals and the Tories in central and eastern Canada, in the West the 'Prairie populism' has often swung the vote between the Conservatives and the NDP as well. That has the potential to be a very destructive combination for the party if things continue to go badly.

Of course, the next election is two years away. That is more than enough time for any government to turn things around and win re-election. However, Canadian political history is full of examples of governments limping to the finish line, never having been able to find their second wind before finally being put out of their misery. Which of these two fates awaits Stephen Harper and his Conservative government?

Friday, October 25, 2013

When a poll is and isn't an outlier

As I'm a little under the weather today, a short post to highlight my latest article for The Globe and Mail, on the topic of outlier polls.

With a series of polls out in the last week giving the Conservatives everything from 26% to 32%, and the Liberals from 32% all the way to 40% support, the piece is somewhat timely. EKOS was the first out of the gate and had some unusual results, making it look like an outlier poll. But the new numbers from Nanos and Forum go a long way to back them, as the updated federal polling averages can attest to.

The Globe article is available to Globe Unlimited subscribers only. If you like reading this sort of deep polling analysis (which, if you'll allow me to say, you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else except right here), please consider getting a subscription. In the end, the work I'm lucky enough to do for places like the Globe help subsidize my work on this site.

Speaking of which, a few days ago was the fifth anniversary of the launch of ThreeHundredEight.com, which began all the way back in 2008. I just wanted to give a big thank you to all of my readers, who have made this project possible. And thanks also to those of you that I have interacted with in the comments section over the years, on Twitter, and in real life, who help make this strange job of mine so fulfilling. I'll do my best to keep your interest for the next five years. It helps that those coming years are setting up to be pretty darn interesting.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CAQ falls away in CROP poll, LPC and NDP tied in Quebec

The latest La Presse/CROP poll was released yesterday, showing that the race is increasingly becoming two-headed in Quebec between Philippe Couillard's Liberals and Pauline Marois's Parti Québécois. Federally, the Liberals and New Democrats remain locked in a close race in the province. And in both cases, the likely seat count does not reflect the overall vote.

The Liberals have picked up three points since CROP's mid-September check-up, and remain in the lead with 38% support. The Parti Québécois closed the gap by a tick with a four-point gain to reach 34%. Both parties are now above where they stood on election night in 2012. And the PQ has been gaining in every CROP since May, when they were registered at just 24%.

The loser in the equation is the Coalition Avenir Québec, which dropped six points to only 15% support. That is the lowest they have been in any poll by either CROP or Léger since the party's creation. Québec Solidaire was down three points to 8%, while 4% of respondents said they would vote for Option Nationale and 2% said they vote for another party. Of the total sample, 12% were undecided and another 6% said they would not vote or did not respond to the question.

The PQ is heading into a caucus retreat to figure out if they should call an election after the municipal campaigns wrap-up on Nov. 3. A four-point deficit is not exactly a strong argument for taking such a risk, but the numbers are actually not that bad for the Parti Québécois: they have 41% support among francophones, a gain of six points in the last month. The Liberals trail at length with 29%, while the CAQ dropped eight points to 16% among this demographic.

At around this level of support among francophones, the PQ does move into a position where they could theoretically win an election and even a majority government. But would Marois be able to keep the PQ at 40% or more among francophones throughout an entire election campaign? One imagines that is what the party will  be trying to decide at their retreat.

The Liberals have the non-francophone vote down more comfortably than they usually do, with 80% support. The CAQ came a distant second with 13%.

The Liberals led in the two major cities,  with 47% support on the island of Montreal and 45% support (a gain of 17 points) in Quebec City. They trailed with 33% in the regions of Quebec and 32% in the Montreal suburbs around the island.

The Parti Québécois led in those suburbs with a 17-point gain to 41% support, while they also had 41% support (a gain of 11 points) in the regions. They were down 13 points on the island of Montreal to 23% (about where they were in the last election) and 10 points to 21% in Quebec City.

The provincial capital was the best region for the CAQ, but 24% is not very impressive. The party was down 21 points to 16% in the suburbs of Montreal and eight points in the regions to just 12%. The CAQ did pick up nine points on the island of Montreal to reach 15%, but that will do them no good.

You may have noticed that CROP's poll has wrenched upwards and downwards quite dramatically. Even with these small regional samples, shifts of 10-20 points are unusual. It would seem that the September poll was a bit of an anomaly, as these CROP numbers are aligning more closely with what we would expect and what we have seen in Léger's polls.

Québec Solidaire was more stable, with only a drop of six points to 9% in the regions being of note. Elsewhere, the party had 4% in Quebec City and the Montreal suburbs and 10% on the island of Montreal. That is actually not a very strong performance, as QS had 12% on the island in the 2012 election.

How much of a gamble would an election be for the PQ? With CROP's regional numbers, the model gives the party 63 seats and awards 59 to the Liberals.

That is about as risky as it gets, since the PQ is straddling the line of a majority government and is also just four seats up on the PLQ. It would not take much to flip those numbers.

Québec Solidaire would retain their two seats and the CAQ would win one. Their regional numbers are just too low (16% in the suburbs represents half of the vote they took in that region in 2012), but I imagine a few incumbents could prove hard to knock off. That has just as much chance of hurting the PQ as it does the Liberals, making a majority government somewhat less likely.

(You may have noticed that I had said the model gave 62 seats to the PQ and 60 to the Liberals in yesterday's brief analysis with the Quebec averages, but I neglected to apply an incumbency advantage to Agnès Maltais in Taschereau in those calculations.)

Do any of the fundamentals help or hinder the PQ's electoral chances? That, too, is a mixed bag. Satisfaction with the government was unchanged at just 35%, suggesting the PQ may have little room for growth. That is among its better results since coming to power, though, so the PQ may look at the current climate as being as good as it will get. Support for sovereignty was at 38% in the poll, also limiting the party's potential for real growth (with ON and QS, sovereigntist parties already have 46% support).

The leadership numbers may be tilting in Marois's favour, however. Largely by default: Marois was up three points to 23%, putting her narrowly ahead of Couillard who fell five points to 22%. Poor François Legault was down two points to 13%. Françoise David had 7%.

The numbers seem to have stabilized over the last month, so the PQ may not get the kind of results they are hoping for that would make an election call an easy decision to make in the next few weeks. But would the PQ do better in an election now, with debate focused primarily on the Charter of Quebec Values (whose popularity has been increasing in polls from both CROP and Léger), or in the spring, when they are likely to present a budget that puts the province back in the red? The answer is rather obvious. On the other hand, if the PQ waits will the CAQ impale itself and bring down the government in the spring if they are still polling in the teens?

The contest at the federal level is even closer. The NDP slipped two points since September to 31%, putting them in a tie with the Liberals, who held steady. The Bloc Québécois was up a point to 18%, the Conservatives were unchanged at 14%, and the Greens were up one point to 6%.

Of the entire sample, 9% were undecided and another 5% did not respond.

A close race looking a lot like this has become the polling consensus of late. But CROP let's us take a peak at the regional and demographic numbers, showing that the race is not as close throughout the province.

The New Democrats have retained the advantage among francophones, with 35% support to 25% for the Liberals and 22% for the Bloc Québécois. The Liberals are still well ahead among non-francophones, however, with 56% to 22% for the Conservatives and just 14% for the NDP.

Like their provincial cousins, the Liberals were ahead on the island of Montreal with 41% support (a gain of 11 points) and in Quebec City with 34%. They were in second in the Montreal suburbs with 25% and in the regions of Quebec with 28%.

The NDP's vote broke down similarly to the PQ's, with 40% support in the suburbs of Montreal (a drop of 10 points) and 33% in the regions. They had just 23% support on the island and 22% in Quebec City, putting them in third place.

The Conservatives were second in the provincial capital with 28%, but were well behind with 17% on the island of Montreal and 11% in the rest of Quebec.

The Bloc Québécois had 21% support in the regions, 18% in the Montreal suburbs, 15% on the island, and 13% in Quebec City. If they are to have a hope of pulling more than a handful of seats out of these low numbers, they need to do better in at least one part of the province.

The NDP's lead among francophones gives them the majority of Quebec's seats with 41, compared to 29 for the Liberals, six for the Conservatives, and just two for the Bloc Québécois. The Liberals do dominate the island of Montreal and win the most seats in Quebec City, but it is the NDP's advantage in the Montreal suburbs and the francophone regions of Quebec that wins the day.

This is a bit of a change from earlier poll numbers in Quebec, when the Liberals were doing well in all regions of the province. The party seems to be reverting back to their traditional bases of support when they were a major player in the province before the sponsorship scandal hollowed them out. Compared to where the party has been in Quebec in the last three elections that is certainly good news, but it will make a decisive electoral victory difficult for the party. For the NDP, a base of support in francophone Quebec alone assures the party more seats in the House of Commons than they ever achieved before 2011.

On leadership, both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair slipped by two points to 26% and 25%, respectively. Stephen Harper was well behind with 11%, while Daniel Paillé and Elizabeth May tied at 5%.

It would seem that both the Liberals and New Democrats would be quite pleased with vote intentions settling in at around these levels of support for the next two years. It puts both in a position to turn a good campaign into electoral gains. The NDP gets to prove they have lasting power in Quebec, while the Liberals get to show they have recovered from the doldrums of the 2006, 2008, and 2011 elections in the province. But Quebecers have not been sitting still for very long lately.

Monday, October 21, 2013

By-elections called, by-elections polled

With a keen sense of timing, Forum Research has released new poll results via Global on the four federal by-elections that were called yesterday for Nov. 25. The results are strikingly good for the Liberals, with leads in three of the four by-elections (two of them rather comfortable). But it may not be as clear cut as that. Let's look at the polls, the potential issues, and what to take from them.
The four polls show strong numbers for the Liberals, with an average of 40% support in ridings they averaged 24% in the 2011 federal election. That 16-point gain actually matches rather well with the party's increase nationwide since the last vote. The Conservatives were, on average, down about 12 points while the NDP was down about nine points.

In Bourassa, Emmanuel Dubourg led with 47% support against 18% for Stéphane Moraille of the NDP. The Bloc Québécois followed with 15% and the Greens with 12%. However, Forum listed Daniel Mailhot and Georges Laraque as the candidates for the Bloc and Greens. The actual Bloc candidate is Daniel Duranleau (Mailhot ran in 2011), though I don't suspect that would make much of a difference. But Laraque is no longer the Green candidate, and that absolutely would make a difference. If Laraque's vote is cut in half or more, where would it go? Moraille seems like the obvious destination.

The numbers in Brandon-Souris were the most surprising of the set, with Rolf Dinsdale of the Liberals leading with 39% to 35% for Larry Maguire of the Conservatives. The NDP and Greens were tied at 12% apiece. Considering the riding was easily won by the Tories in 2011 and that the Liberals got 5% of the vote, this is a remarkable turnaround.

In Provencher, the Conservatives' Ted Falk led with 56% to 29% for Terry Hayward of the Liberals, another strong showing for the party (they had 7% here in 2011). The NDP followed with just 9%, while the Greens were at 6%.

And in Toronto Centre, which had the largest sample of the bunch by far, the Liberals' Chrystia Freeland led with 45% to 30% for the NDP's Linda McQuaig. That generally matches where the parties were in 2011. The Conservatives were third with 18%, while the Greens had 7%.


The numbers look good for the Liberals and quite poor for both the Conservatives and New Democrats (losing Brandon-Souris would be a major blow to the Tories, not being in contention anywhere would be a strike against the NDP), but these polls are not without their potential problems.

First, there are the sampling issues that tend to appear in polls by Forum Research. Their IVR polls often over-sample older Canadians by a large degree, meaning that the samples of younger Canadians are smaller and thus potentially at risk of having larger errors. Those errors can then be amplified as the sample of younger voters is increased to its proper proportion.

Bourassa's sample was the least skewed, with 55% of it being over the age of 55, compared to the 40% of the voting population of the riding that is actually that old (at least according to the 2006 census, I do not believe the 2011 census has been broken down by riding just yet).

But the skew in the other ridings was significantly larger. In Provencher, 64% of the sample was 55 or older, instead of the 32% it should be. The sample in Brandon-Souris was 71% over the age of 55, when it needs to be 36%. And in Toronto Centre, the sample was 64% over the age of 55 instead of 25%.

Second, there is the issue of past voting behaviour. This is a tricky one, though, as the last election was over two years ago. Between then and now, voters have already cast a ballot in provincial elections and the population may have moved around (for example, all of the ridings report some respondents who voted Bloc in 2011, including those in Manitoba and Ontario). So, there is a natural amount of error that could occur.

Nevertheless, the samples do not match the voting results of 2011 very closely. For example, the sample in Toronto Centre reported a past vote of 51% for the Liberals, 24% for the Conservatives, and 18% for the New Democrats, instead of the actual result of 41% for the Liberals, 30% for the NDP, and 23% for the Tories. The samples are similarly Liberal in the other three ridings, while the NDP has been potentially under-estimated in Bourassa and Brandon-Souris. The Conservatives have been potentially under-estimated in the two Manitoba ridings.

If we weigh Forum's poll by how respondents said they voted in 2011, we get the following results:

Bourassa: 45% LPC, 22% NDP, 14% BQ, 11% GPC, 7% CPC
Brandon-Souris: 42% CPC, 35% LPC, 12% NDP, 11% GPC
Provencher: 60% CPC, 26% LPC, 9% NDP, 5% GPC
Toronto Centre: 40% LPC, 34% NDP, 18% CPC, 8% GPC

This still gives the Liberals a lead in Bourassa and Toronto Centre, but Brandon-Souris swings over to the Conservatives. The gap widens in Provencher, while it shrinks in both Bourassa and Toronto Centre, with the latter being particularly close. However, it should be emphasized that weighing by past vote is not necessarily more accurate than Forum's overall numbers. We don't know, for instance, whether past vote is already part of their weighting scheme (my calculations may not be taking into account other weighting factors like age or gender).

What we can know

The Ontario by-elections in August demonstrated that by-election polling can be particularly hit-or-miss. The polls called the race rather well in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Scarborough-Guildwood, for example, but missed by a significant degree in London West and Ottawa South. The polls in Windsor-Tecumseh, while picking the winner, were off in the details. That is not an especially strong record. If it persists, two of these four by-elections will be called incorrectly by the polls.

To take this into account, I've calculated some reasonable confidence intervals we can apply to the polls in these by-elections, based on how the polls performed in the Ontario and federal by-elections of 2012 and 2013, as well as the Westside-Kelowna by-election in British Columbia earlier this year.

The margin of error of polls always includes 95% confidence, implying that 19 times out of 20 the results are within the margin of error. In other words, there is a 20 to 1 shot that the polls will be right. But that is an assessment of how accurate the polls are of the general population. We cannot know for certain whether the polls are accurately depicting the voting intentions of the general population, since the entire population does not vote. In reality, recent by-election polls have been within their margin of error only about two-thirds of the time. That gives them a roughly 2 to 1 shot of being correct.

I will be averaging the by-election polls again as I did for the Ontario by-elections, but I will be applying 67% and 95% confidence intervals to the results. Put simply, those ranges reflect the degree of error that 67% and 95% of polling results had in recent by-elections. They should act as a good guide for what to expect on voting day, based on what the polls are saying.

Here the those ranges, applied to this series of Forum polls (the polls in Bourassa and Toronto Centre from the spring are too old to be included in the weighted averages, so the weighted averages are the same as the Forum polls across the board). You can click on these charts to magnify them.

The highlighted portions of the ranges note the party that has a winning result within those bands of support. As you can see for Bourassa, even the 95% confidence interval points entirely towards a victory by Dubourg if an election were held in the next few days.

In Brandon-Souris, both Maguire and Dinsdale could potentially win with the numbers in the Forum poll, at both confidence intervals.

Falk appears safe in Provencher, the by-election likely to hold the fewest surprises on Nov. 25.

Toronto Centre is more interesting, however. Freeland looks safe in the 67% confidence interval, but once that is increased to 95% her victory is in doubt. If the by-election were held this week, McQuiag would have an outside shot of winning - like the NDP did in London West this summer.

The starting positions have been established as the by-elections kick-off. The Liberals look secure enough in Bourassa, but we will need to see what happens to Laraque's support. The party also has the advantage in Toronto Centre, though the campaign is far from over. The Conservatives will need to work to hold on to Brandon-Souris, while Provencher looks safe. These four by-elections should be interesting.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why the Liberals need Quebec in 2015

My political education occurred during the years of minority government in Ottawa, when the Bloc Québécois was assured of winning a majority of seats in Quebec and elections were decided in the rest of the country. Quebec was a No-Man's-Land where only some 20-30 seats were ever at stake, making the province about as electorally important as the Prairies, Alberta, or Atlantic Canada. And, since a good portion of those seats went unchallenged just as in those other regions, the significance of Quebec in the electoral math was tiny.

The election in 2011 and the downfall of the Bloc Québécois changed all that. With the New Democrats now a major player in the province and the stigma of the sponsorship scandal apparently exorcised by the arrival of Justin Trudeau for the Liberals, Quebec is a major battleground and will play an extremely important role in deciding who wins the election in 2015.

A new iPolitics/EKOS Research poll released this week illustrates the importance of Quebec to the Liberals' electoral calculations.

I looked at this poll for The Huffington Post Canada so I won't go over the details here, but I would like to highlight EKOS's methodology briefly. It is not really possible to compare this poll to the last one from EKOS from early July, as that poll had been conducted via IVR whereas this one was conducted with a hybrid telephone-online methodology. I'll let Frank Graves explain, as he did in an email:

"The methodology is interesting. It is based on an RDD recruited panel which includes both cell phone and landline households. Unlike other panels, live interviewers have interviewed all respondents to verify who they are and get a dossier of basic information. We cover those who cannot or do not want to do the interview online using a hybrid. In this case, we did live interviews with that portion of the population...In short we end up with a probability panel which covers virtually the entire population."

We are seeing this sort of hybrid approach more and more. It certainly muddies the methodological waters, but it seems like a good compromise instead of going whole hog into the online field or sticking with the old methods.

But back to the subject at hand. This poll is about as good as the Liberals can hope to achieve in 2015 - everywhere except in Quebec. Their strength in British Columbia in this poll is about as high as it has been in any poll since Trudeau's leadership victory, and the nine-point lead over the Tories is significant. Being in the high-20s against a weakened Conservative Party in Alberta opens up a few seats, while a lead in the Prairies is something rarely seen. Having 40% in Ontario is a plausible high for the Liberals, but a 12 or 13 point lead over the Conservatives and NDP is huge. And having majority support in Atlantic Canada is also big for the Liberals.

That these numbers are among the best the Liberals have managed in years probably points to the poll being on the outside edge of the margin of error. We will see what other surveys say in the coming weeks. But as an example of a best-case scenario for the Liberals in 2015, this EKOS poll will do nicely.

Again, except in Quebec. Aside from Alberta, Quebec was the worst region for the Liberals in this poll. With only a two-point lead over the New Democrats, the party is not in a position to win a lot of seats in the province. And with the Bloc Québécois down only a few points from their performance in 2011, it makes it possible for them to come up the middle between the Liberals and NDP and hold on to a few seats. This is not a good recipe for hopes of a Liberal majority in 2015.

The seat projection bears this out. The party does extraordinarily well in every other part of the country, winning the plurality of seats in British Columbia and the majority in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. A few seats in Alberta and the Prairies adds to the Liberal haul. With the exception of Quebec, this is a blueprint for how the Liberals could plausibly win a majority government in 2015.

But because of the close race in Quebec with the NDP, which has greater strength among francophone voters (at least according to the latest Le Devoir/Léger poll), the Liberals only take 24 seats in Quebec against 41 for the New Democrats. The Conservatives manage to pick up a few extra seats due to the sagging NDP vote, while the Bloc is able to hold on to theirs (or at least the equivalent number). Primarily due to Quebec, the Liberals find themselves 28 seats short of a majority in the 338-seat legislature.

That Léger poll was slightly better for the Liberals than EKOS's result, giving them 33% support to 26% for the NDP and 22% for the Bloc. Using that poll's regional results, the model gives the Liberals 29 seats to 33 for the NDP, nine for the Bloc, and seven for the Conservatives. Bolted on to the EKOS numbers, that improves the Liberals' national total to 146 seats, or 23 seats short of a majority.

It is hard to imagine the Liberals doing better than EKOS's results outside of Quebec. Certainly, a few good candidates and efficient swings could turn a handful of extra seats in British Columbia, Atlantic Canada, and Ontario over to the Liberals, but the party clearly needs to be able to win a majority of the seats in Quebec if they are to have a hope of winning a majority of seats in Canada. They simply are not going to be able to squeeze more seats out of the rest of Canada without a major shift in voting patterns.

It is theoretically possible for the Liberals to win Quebec. The best numbers the Liberals have put up in Quebec since the last election was a Forum Research poll conducted just after Trudeau became leader in April. It gave the party 46% support in Quebec to just 22% for the NDP and 18% for the Bloc Québécois. In other words, it assumes a swing of the same magnitude as the one that propelled the New Democrats to first place in Quebec in 2011. With numbers like that, the Liberals would be able to take some 56 seats in the province, leaving 12 to the NDP, seven to the Conservatives, and three to the Bloc. That gives the Liberals their majority.

However, the Liberals are far removed from those heady days. The party is slumping in Quebec compared to the Trudeau honeymoon stage to the low-30s which, due to the concentration of the Liberal vote in and around Montreal (Léger gave them 40% there in their recent poll, compared to around 28% in the rest of the province), is not nearly enough for them to win half of the seats in the province.

What do they need to be in range of that? Using that Forum high-watermark poll as a base, and swinging the vote only between the Liberals and the NDP, we see that the Liberals would need around 41% or 42% of the vote in Quebec and a lead of 14 to 16 points to be able to win a majority of seats in the province. That means they need to win about as big as the New Democrats did in 2011. That is a high hurdle to jump.

But now that Quebecers will play a major role in deciding who wins the next election the dynamics of the federal race in the province in 2015 will be unrecognizable compared to what it has been since the Bloc Québécois burst onto the scene in the early 1990s. The election will not be about jurisdictional disputes or the sovereignty issue and it won't be about rejecting one party (the PCs in 1993, the Liberals in 2006, the Bloc in 2011). Instead, it will actually be about who might form the next government or, in the case of a Conservative rebound, what the opposition looks like in an almost certainly minority parliament. How will Quebecers react to this re-discovered influence?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Coderre leads Montreal mayoral race

Two polls have kicked off the Montreal municipal election, showing that former Liberal MP Denis Coderre is the odds-on favourite to win on November 3. But the race is far from over, as another candidate appears to be making a move.

This is also an opportunity to introduce ThreeHundredEight.com's coverage of the Montreal mayoral race, the first time I have forayed into the world of municipal politics. I plan to do the same when Toronto goes to the polls next year. The figures at the top of the page represent the current weighted averages of the polls, and you can click on the numbers for more details and tracking charts. I'll explain a little bit of the philosophy behind the averages and the tweaks that have been made to the model below.
But first, the polls. Le Journal de Montréal/Léger poll came out just as the campaign began, confirming that Coderre held a wide lead. Running on the Équipe Denis Coderre ticket, the former Liberal MP had 39% support in the Léger poll, almost identical to the 41% he was given in the new Radio-Canada/CROP poll that was released last night. In both polls, his lead was of 16 or 17 points over his nearest rival.

But who is his nearest rival? The Léger poll pegged Richard Bergeron of Projet Montréal, who finished a strong third in the 2009 mayoral race, as the runner-up with 23% support, roughly equal to what Bergeron took in the last election. However, Bergeron placed third in the newer CROP poll with 21%, dropping behind Mélanie Joly.

Running with the Vrai changement pour Montréal party, Joly also has ties to the federal Liberals having worked with Justin Trudeau's leadership campaign. Unlike the other three main candidates, her party does not have any seats in the municipal legislature (Équipe Denis Coderre is mostly made up of former Union Montréal members, while Marcel Côté's Coalition Montréal is supported by Louise Harel's Vision Montréal party and former members of Union Montréal. Bergeron's Projet Montréal has survived the confusing shake-up at Montreal City Hall).

Joly had only 16% support in the Léger poll, putting her behind Côté. But CROP gave her 24% support, making her the main adversary to Coderre. If there has been real movement in the last week or two and this is not about methodological differences between Léger and CROP, it seems that Joly has benefited from the rough week Côté has had.

Côté's Coalition Montréal is actually the second largest in the municipal legislature, due to its support from Louise Harel's Vision Montréal (Harel finished a close second to Gérald Tremblay in 2009), ostensibly making it the major adversary of Coderre's group. But in the past few weeks the party was found to have been accepting double donations from people who were giving money to both Coalition Montréal and Vision Montréal, as well as making robo-call advertisements that did not identify the source of the calls. It was a rough period for Côté (who, long ago, had ties to Brian Mulroney's PCs), and it seems to have hurt him considerably. He went from 17% in the Léger poll to just 11% in the CROP survey.

Municipal politics being what it is, the notoriety of the mayoral candidates is an important measurement. With his long history in federal politics, it is no surprise that both Léger and CROP found Coderre to be the most well-known of the candidates (Léger found 76% had an opinion of him, while CROP found 70% saying they knew who he was). Bergeron came second in both polls, with 64% and 59% notoriety, respectively, while Côte came third with 42% and 40%.

Joly, who will be launched into the limelight with her good poll numbers, is the least well-known of the major candidates: only 36% told CROP they knew who she was. But this suggests she has a lot of room to grow, because those who know who she is seem to like her.

I assume that the question in the CROP poll asking whether respondents had a favourable opinion of the candidates was only posed to those who knew who the candidate was, otherwise the question and the results would make no sense (it is not clear in the Radio-Canada report). If that is the case, Joly had the best favourability rating among those who knew who she was: 70% to Coderre's 65%, Bergeron's 54%, and Côté's 49%.

If we take Léger's numbers and only look at the people who had an opinion of the candidates, we see broadly similar results: 58% good opinion for Coderre, 53% for Bergeron, and 68% for Joly. But we also see that Côté has gone from a 60% good opinion to just 49% in the CROP poll. Again, it is difficult to compare polls from different firms but it seems rather clear why Côté's numbers have declined.

The CROP poll strongly suggests that Joly is the candidate to watch as the potential challenger to Coderre. If we look at the voting intentions numbers, including the undecideds (numbering 21%, with another 6% not answering or saying they won't vote), and compare those to the notoriety figures, we see that Joly is converting more of that notoriety into support.

By this measure, 47% of people who know who Joly is say they will vote for her, compared to 44% for Coderre, 25% for Bergeron, and just 20% for Côté. Coderre has little room for growth since most Montrealers know who he is (particularly those are are likely to vote). On the other hand, Joly has plenty of room for growth: if she maintains this level of conversion - no sure thing, of course - she will surpass Coderre if her notoriety increases to 65% or so. That might be a lot to ask with little more than two weeks to go in the campaign, but she definitely has the chance to make a splash and finish second - and that will help the candidates running under her party's banner. Being the youngest of the candidates (34), that would set her up nicely for a mayoral victory in 2017.


I have never tracked a municipal campaign before. The polls tend to be few and far between and it is beyond my capabilities to know the ins and outs of municipal politics in every major city in Canada. But limiting it to Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver - cities larger than half of the country's provinces - should avoid these problems. Coverage of these campaigns is good and there are often many polls. I suspect there will be a large number of polls when Toronto votes next fall.

But I am trying to keep it simple, and only aggregating the polls that come out during the campaign (similar to how I am currently tracking federal polls and provincial polls in Ontario and Quebec). I am not making any adjustments or giving any ranges. The approach is similar to RealClearPolitics, and just about aggregating the polls to give a, hopefully, clearer signal through all the noise. And I am not going to try projecting seats for Vancouver or Montreal, cities with a party system.

Two tweaks have been made to the aggregation model in the aftermath of the Nova Scotia election. The first is a simple one, preventing any one poll from taking up more than two-thirds of the projection's weight. It has only happened four times in the 12 elections I have covered that a single poll has carried more than 66.7% weight in the final projection, but in three of those cases the over-representation of a single poll made the projection worse (Saskatchewan 2011, Quebec 2012, and Nova Scotia 2013). In the fourth (Manitoba 2011), it made no difference. This cap has been inserted into the model to keep it an aggregation model - without this cap, the new CROP poll for Montreal would occupy 97% of the projection. At that point, I am just parroting back what CROP reported.

The other tweak is to weigh polls by their final date in the field instead of their median date. This is to prevent polls that are taken on a single day (such as Forum's) from being over-represented in the aggregation. So, for example, this CROP poll has been weighted for October 15, rather than October 13 (the median date of the October 11-15 survey), and the Léger poll for October 5 instead of October 4.

These are small tweaks that have a modest effect on the model, but serve to emphasize its qualities as an aggregation model. With the uncertainty that polls have had since the Alberta campaign, it seems better to try to gather as much data as possible in the aggregation rather than relying too heavily on individual polls.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

September 2013 federal polling averages

Though Parliament was not sitting in the month of September, it was a very interesting polling month. Four national and two Quebec polls were released, surveying just over 8,300 Canadians. The results show weakening Liberal support that equates to the best month of polls for the New Democrats since Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader.
The Liberals averaged 32.3% support in the month of September, a drop of four points since August. The Conservatives, who have been stable for the last three months, were unchanged at 30.4% support. The New Democrats were up 1.4 points to 24.5%, their best result since March.

The Bloc Québécois averaged 7% in national polls while the Greens were down 0.8 points to 4.4%, their lowest level of support since November 2012. On average, 1.5% of Canadians said they would vote for another party.

One of the four firms in the field nationwide, Harris-Decima, had not been heard from since April. So we have to go back that far to compare apples to apples.
Between April 5-30, straddling Trudeau's leadership victory, the Liberals averaged 35% support in polls by Abacus Data, Forum Research, Harris-Decima, and Ipsos-Reid, the four firms who were in the field in September. That means the party has slipped 2.7 points since April, compared to a drop of just 0.3 points for the Conservatives. The NDP has picked up 1.2 points in the interim.

As was the case last month, the most interesting region remains British Columbia. The Conservatives picked up 8.5 points to reach 35.2% and take the lead, their best result in the province since January. The Liberals were down 3.9 points to 28.7%, their lowest number since April, while the NDP was down 2.1 points to 27.8%. The Greens were down 2.3 points to 8%, their worst since November. They have been dropping in British Columbia for three consecutive months.

On the opposite end of the country, the Liberals led in Atlantic Canada with 44.7%, a drop of just 0.2 points. But the NDP was up 7.8 points to 29.1%, their best since March. The Conservatives, who had seemed to recover in the region in the summer, plummeted 10.6 points to 20.9%. The Greens were up 2.3 points to 4.1%.

The Liberals continued to lead in Quebec, despite dropping 5.5 points to 32.2%. That is their lowest level of support since March, but the party has been wobbling up and down in Quebec since Trudeau became leader. The New Democrats were down 1.8 points to 26.7%, but the gap between them and the Liberals is the smallest it has been since the NDP relinquished the lead. The Bloc Québécois was up 5.5 points to 23.8%, while the Conservatives were down 0.2 points to 12.5%. They have been stable in Quebec for the last three months. The Greens were up 1.4 points to 3.8%.

The Conservatives led in the Prairies with 41.8%, a gain of 0.9 points, while the Liberals fell 4.3 points to 28.5%. The NDP was up 1.2 points to 24.4%, and the Greens were up 2.7 points to 4.9%.

In Ontario, the Liberals slipped 3.3 points to 36.1% but a trend is difficult to discern as the party has been up and down since April. The Conservatives, stable now for five months, were up 0.9 points to 34.2%. The New Democrats put up their best result since March, picking up 2.7 points to reach 23.5%. The Greens were down a point to 4.4%.

And in Alberta, the Conservatives were down 0.2 points since August to 53%, followed by the Liberals at 22.6% (+0.6) and the NDP at 17.3% (+1.2). The New Democrats have been increasing in Alberta for four months now. The Greens were down two points to 4.4%.
The Conservatives, despite a 1.9-point deficit, would win the most seats with these numbers with 136, a gain of 11 seats from August's projection. The Liberals dropped 19 seats to 115, while the NDP was down five seats to 70. The Bloc picked up 13 and would win 15, while the Greens were unchanged at two seats.

The Conservatives made their biggest gain in British Columbia, picking up 10 seats from last month's projection. They were also up five seats in Ontario (winning the plurality) and one in the Prairies, though they were down five seats in Atlantic Canada.

The Liberals dropped seven seats in Quebec, six in Ontario, five in British Columbia, and two in the Prairies from last month. They were up one in Atlantic Canada.

From August, the NDP was down six seats in Quebec and five in British Columbia, but were up four seats in Atlantic Canada and one apiece in Manitoba and Ontario.

The Liberals slipped in support in every region except Alberta, making the month a bad one for the party. But they are still ahead in Ontario, where the Tories have been stagnant, and Quebec, where the NDP is also soft. The Conservatives benefited the most almost by default, with losses in Atlantic Canada made up in British Columbia, and the party sitting virtually unchanged in the rest of the country. The NDP had a mixed month, with losses in British Columbia and Quebec (two key provinces for them) balancing out the gains elsewhere (Atlantic Canada especially). 

With Parliament returning tomorrow, it sets up the next political season quite nicely. The formerly written-off Liberals remain in front, and need to fend off the NDP. Thomas Mulcair, however, shines in comparison to Trudeau in the House of Commons, making that task more difficult. The Conservatives need to get out of their funk, but the Speech from the Throne is unlikely to be enough. An acrimonious return to Ottawa awaits.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nova Scotia: how did the polls and the projection do?

After the trauma of the elections in Alberta and British Columbia, it was almost more surprising to see last night's results in Nova Scotia generally align with what the polls were suggesting they would be.

Some pollsters did better than others. My detailed analysis of how the polls did can be found on The Globe and Mail's website. The article is available to Globe Unlimited subscribers only. If you like this kind of analysis and want to see more of it on The Globe and Mail as well as here on ThreeHundredEight.com, it needs your support. If you don't already have an online subscription to The Globe and Mail, please consider signing up as you might find my articles available to subscribers-only more often. You can find details on how to sign-up via the link above.

The projection did moderately well, particular in terms of the Liberals. Their vote haul of 45.5% fell just outside the likely ranges, which bottomed out at 45.8%. But there was a 21% chance that their vote would fall between the minimum and low projected ranges. Their total of 33 seats was projected exactly right.

At 26.9%, the New Democrats were just 0.8 points off from their projected vote totals. Falling between the average and high ranges, as they did, was considered a 68% chance probability. That they only won seven seats instead of the projected range of 12 to 15 was a surprise, but this was largely due to the performance of the Progressive Conservatives. Those seven seats they won did fall between the minimum and low range, though that was projected to be only a 5% likely occurrence.

The Tories ended up just outside the projected maximum level of support with 26.4% instead of 26.3%, and 11 seats instead of nine. That is unfortunate, to say the least. But this is partly due to the large percentage of the projection taken up by the final poll from Forum Research. More on why that was a problem later.

The Greens took 0.9% of the vote, just below the projected low range. Falling between the minimum and low level of support was considered a 35% chance, so nothing untoward there.

But one of the main reasons why the projection did miss on the seats for the Progressive Conservatives was that the polls did not do a particularly good job of gauging regional support, especially in Cape Breton. This is how it broke down last night:
The polling in Halifax and in the rest of the mainland was generally good, though no one got it bang-on. Cape Breton was a little more difficult. The full sample from Abacus, spanning the entire final week, was relatively close but the last set of numbers from them had the PCs doing much better, while the last set of numbers from Forum and CRA had them doing much worse. The samples were generally too small in Cape Breton, though, to get a good bead on the race.
The model did have some trouble translating the regional numbers into good seat totals. With the actual regional numbers plugged into the model, it would have projected a likely outcome of 22-33 seats for the Liberals (28 to be exact), 13-17 seats for the NDP (13), and 7-16 seats for the Progressive Conservatives (10). The Liberals ended up at the high end of that range and the PCs right in the middle of it, but again the New Democrats would have been over-estimated, falling in the minimum-to-low range. This is actually the first time in ThreeHundredEight's history of projecting a dozen elections that the model performed worse with the actual results plugged into it,

This demonstrates two things. The first is the limitations of a seat projection model in smaller provinces - on average, only about 8,100 votes were cast in any riding. That means that local factors can be especially important, and that is shown by the direction in which the model made errors: every which way. Normally, the model makes errors in the same direction as a party is over- or under-estimated. In Nova Scotia, however, that was not the case. For example, in the eight ridings the Liberals won where they were not projected to win, the NDP was projected to take six of them and the Tories two. In the seven ridings the PCs won where they were not projected to win, the Liberals were projected to win five of them and the NDP two.

Secondly, it highlights just how poorly the New Democrats did. They should have won more seats with the amount of votes they captured, particularly in Halifax. They ended up losing too many races that should have been winnable, with the Liberals benefiting.

In an election where just over half of those ridings that were not entirely new changed hands, the projection model was not particularly strong at the riding level. It made 18 errors, calling 33 of 51 ridings correctly for an accuracy rating of 65%. Taking into account the projected likely ranges, the likely winner was identified in 37 of 51 ridings, for an accuracy rating of 73%. That is not very good, but shows the hazards of small elections. The idea that the overall numbers are more important, and that riding-level errors balance each other out, is especially true in smaller elections.

The probability ratings for the riding projections did a decent job, however, with an average confidence of 72% in the ridings incorrectly called compared to 81% in the ridings correctly called. Half of the ridings incorrectly called had a confidence level of 70% or less.

One of the problems with this campaign was the emergence of the Forum Research poll on the eve of the election. Because the model weighs a poll by its median date, it rewards a firm like Forum that does its polling on a single day. This is actually not really the very best practice since it is better to poll over a few days to iron out the data and ensure that it isn't too dependent on the factors that can skew a poll when it is taken on a single day (i.e., are the people available to take a call on a Monday night different from those who can take a call on a Sunday night?). Coupled with Forum's large samples (due to the cost effectiveness of IVR polling), the final Forum poll took up almost three-quarters of the projection.

I don't think it is appropriate to reward this kind of poll, so going forward I will be weighing polls by the final date in the field, particularly during an election campaign. Doing so would have made CRA's poll weighted for Oct. 3 instead of Oct. 2 and Abacus's weighted for Oct. 6 instead of Oct. 5. At the very least, this would have brought the Progressive Conservative result into the maximum range and undoubtedly produced a better projection.

It is gratifying, however, that the polls did a good job in Nova Scotia. That makes the coverage this site provided throughout the campaign useful, since it was an accurate reflection of the ups and downs of the last four weeks. The lessons learned from this campaign will be digested and the new data added to the model's calibrations, and on we go to the next vote, slightly more confident than we were yesterday that we can trust what the polls are telling us.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

2013 Nova Scotia Election Projection

The following are ThreeHundredEight.com's final forecasts for the upcoming provincial election in Nova Scotia, scheduled for October 8, 2013. These numbers were last updated on October 7, 2013, and reflect the best estimates as of October 7, 2013, the last day of polls included in the model. You can click on all of the charts below to magnify them.
The vote and seat projections in the central columns reflect the best estimates based on the available polling data. The low and high projections are based on the likely over-estimation or under-estimation of support the polls are likely to make, while the minimum and maximum projections are based on the highest degree of error polls have made in recent elections for parties in a similar position (i.e., British Columbia and Alberta).


The projections highlighted within the boxes signify the range of most likely outcomes, based on the degree of polling error made in past elections for parties in a similar position. The chart below shows how each party is classified, and the probability that the result will fall within any of the projection ranges.

Based on these probabilities, there is a 68% chance that the outcome of the election for the New Democrats will fall between the best estimate (or average) projection and the high projection. There is an 84% chance that it will fall between the average and maximum projection, and so on. It is, of course, possible that the outcome will fall outside of even the maximum and minimum projected ranges and a new historical precedent for error would be set.

A detailed explanation of the vote and seat projection models and how the probabilities are calculated can be found here.

The projections are subject to the margin of error of the polls included in the model, as well as the inherent inability for the projection model to make perfect estimations of real-world dynamics. The projection ranges are a reflection of the degree of error polls have made in recent elections. The probabilities are based on how polls have differed from election results in the past.

The following chart lists the polls currently included in the projection model, as well as the weight each poll carries.

The following is a list of the current projections for all 51 of Nova Scotia's ridings. These are the best estimates of likely outcomes if an election were held on the last day of polling. The high and low results are  the estimates of likely floors and ceilings, based on the high and low vote projection ranges. The probabilities listed beside each riding is the likelihood that, if an election were held on the last day of polling, the winning party identified by the model would actually win. It does not assign any probability to a particular trailing party winning the riding - if a projection gives the leading party a 75% chance of winning, there is a 25% chance that any of the other parties could win (though, in practice, most ridings are only contests between two parties).

These riding projections are not polls and are not necessarily an accurate reflection of current voting intentions in each riding. It may be necessary to right-click and open the chart in a new window in order to be able to read it.

The chart below shows the evolution of the Nova Scotia projection. The shaded bars show the likely and maximum/minimum ranges as well.

The chart below shows the polls released during the campaign, with each dot representing a result of a poll in the field on each day.

Final Nova Scotia projection: Liberal victory

Stephen McNeil's Liberals should win the provincial election in Nova Scotia tonight, relegating Darrell Dexter's New Democrats to Official Opposition status. Jamie Baillie's Progressive Conservatives should remain as the third party in Nova Scotia's Legislative Assembly.

ThreeHundredEight's final projection for the Nova Scotia provincial election heavily favours the Liberals to win a majority government, though the slimmest of minorities is also envisioned as a possibility. No scenario puts the NDP ahead of the Liberals in the seat count, though it is possible that the New Democrats could have a very bad night and find themselves in third place behind Baillie's Tories. But the expectation is for the Liberals and New Democrats to swap places in the assembly, and for their 2009 seat counts to be virtually reversed.

The likely outcome

Final projection (click to magnify)
The Liberals are projected to win between 30 and 38 seats in tonight's vote, putting them well above the majority threshold of 26 seats. The model gives them 33 seats, which would represent their best electoral performance in the province since 1993. The are at an estimated 47.7% support in the polls, with the likely vote range stretching from between 45.8% and 52.5% of the vote.

Finishing second should be the New Democrats, with a projected likely range of between 12 and 15 seats. The model awards them 12 seats exactly, their worst result since 1999. They are expected to take between 26.1% and 28.7% of the vote.

Where the Progressive Conservatives will finish is an interesting question. The projection model has had them as low as 15.9% at the mid-point of the campaign, but they appear to have experienced an uptick in the last few days. They are projected to win between four and seven seats, with six being considered the most likely outcome. They should take between 21.4% and 24.7% of the vote, and averaged 23.3% in the polls. If this occurs, this will be the lowest number of seats they have won since the Second World War and their lowest share of the vote since Confederation.

The Greens did not nominate a full slate of candidates, and so are not projected to do very well. They are expected to take between 1.2% and 1.7% of the vote and win no seats. Independents are expected to take about 0.4% of the vote.

How it could all go wrong

As I have discussed on several occasions, the fundamentals in the polling being conducted in Nova Scotia are extraordinarily strong for the Liberals. In addition to a lead wider than anything seen in the late stages of the campaigns in British Columbia and Alberta, McNeil has been out-polling Dexter by a significant degree at a personal level and the Liberals generally lead on the issues that matter.

In fact, some of the lessons of B.C. seem to have been learned. The polls that were done by the Corporate Research Associates and, especially, Abacus Data looked into the race in great detail and went beyond the simple voting intentions question. Because of that, we were able to see that the Liberal lead was not only wide but deep - something that neither the B.C. New Democrats nor the Alberta Wildrose could say before they were disappointed on election night.

Nevertheless, the model is prepared for a surprise tonight and observers of the election should be as well. The model assumes a degree of error as bad as anything we have seen in the last few elections, making for some wide ranges.

Based on those worst and best case scenarios, the Liberals could theoretically take anything between 43.9% and 64.4% of the vote and win between 25 and 43 seats. The New Democrats could win between 25.1% and 34.5% of the vote and between four and 23 seats, while the Progressive Conservatives could win between 19.5% and 26.3% of the vote and between two and nine seats.

As you can see, the Liberals and New Democrats do not overlap either in votes or seats. This eliminates an NDP victory as a theoretical possibility, though it is always possible that the polls in Nova Scotia will do even worse than they did in B.C. and Alberta. If that is the case, woe be upon them.

The NDP and PCs do overlap, however, and it is possible that the Tories could finish second in both seats and votes. The final Sun News Network/Abacus Data poll suggested that could be the case. Vote efficiency is certainly in the NDP's favour, however, and they should be able to finish second.

Regional breakdowns

Because I wasn't sure what kind of detail would be available during the campaign - and until Abacus started polling, that detail was rather pitiful - I did not break down the projection by region. But the model was and is making regional projections based on the CRA data that was available (estimating it when it wasn't) and incorporating the Abacus and Forum Research numbers when they emerged.

Riding projections
Halifax is the major prize of the campaign, with the Halifax Regional Municipality containing almost two out of every five seats in the province. The polls did suggest that this was one of the closest races in the province, but the Liberals appear to have moved ahead in the final days. They started the campaign at over 50% in the HRM and ended it closer to 45%, but for a time the gap between the Liberals and New Democrats in the capital was a mere two or three points.

The model estimates the Liberals will take between 44% and 50% of the vote in Halifax, netting them between 12 and 14 seats. The NDP should win between 30% and 33% of the vote and between four and seven seats, while the Progressive Conservatives should take between 20% and 23% and one or two seats.

The rest of the mainland region was dominated by the Liberals in most polls, with the party over 50% throughout the campaign and the two other parties splitting the rest between them. How the Liberal steamroller will perform here, however, remains to be seen. Will NDP and PC incumbents be able to hold?

The Liberals should take between 45% and 52% of the vote here and between 11 and 17 seats, making it the region with the widest range for the party. The Tories are expected to finish second with between 24% and 28% of the vote and three to five seats, while the New Democrats should take between 23% and 26% of the vote and between five and seven seats.

Cape Breton is, to me, the biggest mystery of the election. The polls from CRA and Forum have both shown very weak numbers for the Tories with support in the mid-to-low teens, while Abacus has given them about 40% support. That makes a huge difference for the four PC incumbents on the island.

The weight of the evidence, primarily due to Forum's large sample on Cape Breton, points to the party finishing third with between 17% and 19% of the vote and zero seats. I have to admit that I believe the model will be wrong here and that some of the incumbents will survive. But with between 49% and 56% of the vote in Cape Breton, the model gives the Liberals seven of the island's eight seats. The NDP is expected to take between 27% and 30% of the vote and win one seat.

Polling consistency

The polls have been very steady in Nova Scotia, showing hardly any movement since the campaign began. Campaigns always matter, but sometimes they serve to just confirm what people were already thinking.
In the last week of the campaign, the Liberals were assessed to be at between 46% and 48% in almost every poll. That is a remarkable degree of consistency considering the generally smaller samples. Where the Tories and New Democrats stand, however, is a different matter.

CRA was suggesting that the PCs were polling very badly at under 20% until their final poll of the campaign was broken down. The last three days of their polling pointed to PC gains. Abacus showed the same thing, with the party polling at 22% to 25% in their first missives but 28% in their final one. Forum pegged the Tories at 23%, splitting the difference.

And that difference is what puts the NDP in a solid second or a precarious third. CRA put the New Democrats at 31% in their final poll, while Forum put them at 26% and Abacus at 24%. Unless the polls are wildly wrong, the winner of the polling sweepstakes will be the polling firm that put the Tories and NDP in the right spot. Generally, though, you have to favour the government - my gut tells me CRA will be closest to the mark.

How the leaders have fared

The last time anyone other than McNeil was chosen by Nova Scotians as the best person to be premier in a poll was in February 2012, and his numbers only got stronger during the campaign. CRA gave him between 34% and 38% on the best premier question in their final polls, up 11 to 20 points over Dexter. He barely polled above Baillie, something that was consistent in Abacus's numbers as well. In their polling, though, McNeil was lower (just above 30%) and the 'don't knows' were higher.

Abacus gave us a bit more information as it asked Nova Scotians to rate their opinions of the leaders. This was also good for McNeil, who managed 51% to 54% positive scores in all of Abacus's polling during the final part of the campaign. His negative rating was increasing, however, from 22% to 27% in the final days, but that still gave him a remarkable +25 score by the end. Dexter's positive score was stuck at around 37% with a negative rating around 47%, while Baillie's numbers improved slightly in the final days. He finished with a 41% positive to 33% negative score.

The projection model considers both Baillie's and Dexter's re-election chances to be good but by no means assured. Dexter is projected to take between 41% and 47% of the vote in Cole Harbour-Portland Valley, against 36% to 42% for his Liberal challenger. Baillie is slated to take between 44% and 50% in Cumberland South, against 41% to 47% for the Liberal candidate. Both calls are made with 59% confidence. I suspect, though, that they will probably be re-elected with larger margins than the model suggests (big swings can be difficult to assess accurately).

McNeil's re-election in Annapolis is made with 100% confidence, though the steam is shooting out of the model's seams on this one as it gives him between 81% and 93% of the vote. It was already a good riding for the party, and with the Liberals making such huge gains in the region their support is probably being inflated here.

A big night for Nova Scotians and pollsters

Nova Scotians generally give their governments a second kick at the can, the last time a government being booted out after one term being in the 19th century. But we saw in New Brunswick that re-election streaks can be broken. The election of an NDP government in Atlantic Canada was a historic first in 2009, so the defeat of a first term government in Nova Scotia can be a historic second in 2013.

That is, if the polls are right. Everything points to the polls being right. The Liberal lead is among every demographic, among likely voters, among undecided voters. The polls should not be wrong. If they are, the industry will be dealt a blow of tremendous proportions. Both CRA and Abacus were doing their polling the old-fashioned way: daily tracking with live-caller interviews. Both CRA and Abacus investigated how likely respondents were to vote, and Abacus probed their motivations to a great degree. Forum swooped in with a larger sample, more superficial poll, but simply confirmed the findings of their two colleagues.

Nova Scotia is a small province, but a lot of eyes will be on the results tonight. Canadian New Democrats hope that Dexter will pull off a surprise, and at least win a moral victory. Canadian Liberals hope that McNeil's election will mark the first salvo of a Liberal return to prominence. And Canadian pollsters hope that a strong call will be made and the industry's reputation will be partly rehabilitated. It should be an interesting night.