Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Polls suggest Liberal support slipping

A new poll by Ipsos-Reid for CTV was released over the weekend, showing that the three federal parties are locked in a close three-way race, and that the Liberals have lost the lead they were enjoying since April. Another poll, by Forum Research for The National Post and conducted at the same time, suggests that the Liberals are still leading but are looking soft. The overall numbers may disagree but the broad conclusions are the same.
We will start with the slightly more recent Ipsos-Reid poll. We have not heard from the firm since the end of June, and their new survey shows no statistically significant shifts in support since then.

The Conservatives picked up two points to move narrowly into the lead with 32%, while the Liberals dropped two points to 31% and the New Democrats also fell two points to 26%.

The Bloc Québécois was up one point to 7% while the Greens were unchanged at 3%. The number of undecideds totaled 12% of the entire sample, down three points from June.

On the face of it, then, Ipsos-Reid shows very little real difference between their June and September polls. But the firm has shown a clear trend against the Liberals: the party was at 36% in May, 33% in June, and now 31% in September. That drop of five points is outside the margin of error.

The poll found the Conservatives up by three points among men and the Liberals up by two points among women, while the Tories led among voters aged 35 or older (the NDP and Liberals split the younger cohort). The good news for the Liberals, though, is that when Ipsos only looks at those most likely to vote the party edges ahead with 32% to 31% for the Conservatives and 25% for the NDP.

At the regional level, no shifts in support since June were outside the theoretical margin of error. But the Liberals were down primarily in Quebec while the Conservatives were up in the three largest provinces.

The Conservatives led in Ontario with 37%, followed by the Liberals at 35% and the NDP at 25%. They were also ahead in British Columbia with 38% to 31% for the Liberals, 27% for the NDP, and only 4% for the Greens. In Alberta, the Conservatives had 58% to 19% for the NDP and 17% for the Liberals, while in the Prairies the Conservatives had 36% to 29% for the Liberals and 28% for the NDP.

The Liberals led only in Atlantic Canada, down slightly to 50%. The NDP was at 24% and the Conservatives were at 16% here.

In Quebec, the New Democrats were narrowly ahead with 31%, though that was down a bit from where they were in June. The Liberals were down more significantly to 27%, putting them behind the Bloc Québécois. They were up to 30% support, while the Conservatives were up to 12%.
These numbers would deliver the Conservatives a plurality of seats, but they would still be in a position where the Liberals and NDP could combine for a majority government.

The Conservatives would likely win around 135 seats, with the Liberals taking 106, the NDP winning 66, and the Bloc winning 31.

Now the Forum poll, which seems to be part of a series of polling that the firm gave to The National Post. However, I have been unable to find any reference to the federal numbers on the newspaper's site. The poll report is, however, on Forum's site.

Forum was last in the field at the end of August, and shows stable numbers since then: the Liberals were down two points to 36%, the Conservatives were up two points to 31%, and the NDP was down one point to 21% support.

The Bloc was up one point to 7% while the Greens were unchanged at 4%.

Forum does not show any consistent trend for any of the parties, as they seem to be wobbling back and forth. But if we compare this new Forum poll to the one they conducted in mid-June, at around the same time as Ipsos's last poll, we do see some similarities. For example, both polls show the Liberals down slightly  (two points) and the Conservatives up slightly (one point). This seems to be the general consensus of the polls so far - that the summer did not cause any dramatic change in support but that the numbers have marginally improved in the Tories' favour.

The difference is, of course, that Ipsos was showing a closer race in June than Forum did. The same goes for the difference between Abacus Data, for example, and Nanos Research. A marginal shift in favour of the Tories means the lead changes in the polls by Ipsos and Abacus. In the polls by Forum and Nanos, however, it still gives the Liberals a comfortable lead. Where does the truth lie? Thankfully, with two years to go before the next election it does not matter too much.

Like Ipsos, Forum gave the Conservatives the edge among men (one point) and the Liberals the edge among women (11 points). The age breakdowns were different, though, with the NDP ahead among the youngest voters, the Liberals ahead among 35-64 year olds, and the Conservatives ahead among the oldest group.

The Liberals led in Ontario with 40% to the Tories' 35%, while the NDP was up to 21% support in the province. In Quebec, the Liberals were ahead with 37% to 27% for the Bloc and just 20% for the NDP, while the Conservatives were at 13% support.

Clearly, there is a big divide over where the Liberals and NDP stand in Quebec. This is the major cause of the difference between the Ipsos and Forum polls. Both agree, however, that the Bloc Québécois is polling above its 2011 level of support.

The Liberals were also ahead in Atlantic Canada with 45% to 29% for the Tories and 23% for the NDP.

The Conservatives led in the western provinces, with 36% in British Columbia (up 14 points), 50% in Alberta, and 44% in the Prairies. The NDP was second in B.C. with 27% (down 10 points), and trailed in third with 15% in Alberta and 21% in the Prairies. The Liberals had 25% in B.C. and 32% in the Prairies, as well as 30% in Alberta (up 12 points). That last result looks anomalous.
Especially when you see that it gives the Liberals seven seats in Alberta - as many as in B.C. or the Prairies! Overall, however, the votes do not work to the Liberals' advantage and they fall nine short of the Conservative total with 129 to 138. The Bloc takes 36 seats and the NDP just 33 seats, while the Greens win two.

These seat numbers are actually much worse for the Liberals than the ones with the Ipsos-Reid poll, as it gives them fewer options. The Liberals and NDP could combine for 172 seats in the Ipsos poll, while they could combine for just 162 in the Forum poll. That straddles the 169-seat mark for a majority. But note that the Quebec numbers are hard to estimate - as I've discussed before, depending on how the Liberal vote breaks down within the province the party could win an extra 10 seats or so (and the NDP would probably be able to salvage a few as well).

These two polls had some interesting numbers beyond the horserace. For example, on who is the best person to handle the economy (the major issue, according to Ipsos-Reid's polling), Stephen Harper was well ahead with 47% to 30% for Justin Trudeau and 18% for Thomas Mulcair in the Ipsos-Reid poll. In the Forum poll, the margin was similar: 34% for Harper, 23% for Trudeau, and 15% for Mulcair.

However, there were mixed results as well. On who would be best for jobs, Trudeau beat out Harper in the Ipsos poll with 33% to 29% for Harper, who was tied with Mulcair. Do Canadians care more about the economy or about jobs? The Ipsos-Reid poll suggests it is the economy, at 30% to 18%, but concerns about the economy may not be as pressing if you have a good job. On the other hand, if a bad economy is preventing you from finding a job, the economy may seem like the more important issue.

On the middle class, about whom we've heard too much lately, the Ipsos poll showed that Mulcair and the NDP were seen as understanding their pressures better at 38% to 30% for Trudeau and the Liberals, but on who would have the best policies for helping the middle class the margin decreased to 34% to 33% in favour of Mulcair. Trudeau was ahead in the Ipsos poll on handling healthcare (*cough* provincial jurisdiction *cough*), and was seen as more trustworthy in the Forum poll. On who would make the best Prime Minister, Forum gave the edge to Trudeau with 30% to 27% for Harper and 15% for Mulcair. Trudeau's approval rating, at 48%, was also higher than Mulcair's (36%) and Harper's (32%).

But before we finish with these two polls, let's take a look at how they were conducted. Ipsos-Reid did their poll online, which gives them some control over who participates in the survey. Forum Research did theirs via IVR, which can result in unusual samples.

In the chart below, I've compared the unweighted Ipsos-Reid sample to the reported Forum sample (which I assume to be unweighted).
You can see that Forum's sample is more problematic. Only 8% of the sample is young, when it should be 28%, while 62% of the sample is old, when it should be 33%. These discrepancies can be fixed by weighting, but that has the potential to magnify errors that occur with smaller sample sizes. By comparison, Ipsos-Reid's poll required little tweaking.

But this has almost become a distinctive feature of Forum Research's polling. They are often showing skewed samples like this. It seems odd to me that their methodology so consistently reaches older Canadians to such a large degree. Are we instead looking at how Forum weighs their polling? Is Forum reporting the results of their likely voter model, or are their samples always tilted in generally the same way because older Canadians are the only ones who bother to respond to IVR polling in large numbers? And, either way, what does that mean when we look at Forum's polling? If it is a model, then we are comparing apples to oranges with polls calibrated to represent the general population. If it is a methodological issue, then their polling is more prone to errors.

This is something that must always be considered when new polls emerge. The daily tracking polling we've seen from the Corporate Research Associates for The Chronicle Herald in Nova Scotia recently included a full breakdown with crosstabs and unweighted sample sizes (it was on the CH's website over the weekend). That breakdown showed that CRA's unweighted sample was quite representative of the population, and thus that the poll should be considered to be of good quality. This is the kind of transparency and disclosure that always needs to be included with polling so that readers, as well as the reporters writing about the polls, know what they are consuming.

31 comments:

  1. I used to commend Forum for being so prolific, but now they're starting to bother me. Their refusal to disclose what the sample sizes in their results tables actually represent is at the very least lame, and they have a tendency to interpret their results in questionable ways, e.g. their latest QC provincial poll. Luckily for them they have their decent track record going for them, but I can see why they drive Darrell Bricker nuts.

    Dom

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    1. I agree with you that Forum does a very poor job of interpreting its results.

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    2. But not merely a poor job, they do an ideological job... that is, they insist on viewing the results through a particular political filter...

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    3. Can you back that statement up? The only filter I see is the usual one - in favour of something that makes a good headline.

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    4. “We know from our polling that the proposed Charter is very popular among PQ supporters, but it appears that the ire it has raised amongst everyone else has blunted its usefulness as an electoral tool. The PQ is suffering, and the Charter has to be the reason.” (14 Sep 2013 poll on the "Qc horserace").

      Of course, the influence of the proposed Charter of Values has to be gauged, but the emphatic finality of Bozinoff's assertion that it alone is responsible for the PQ's low numbers comes from an ideological position. Another explanation, one that goes further in explaining both the long timeframe of the PQ's low numbers (they were low in the polls before the Charter even came up) and their unpopularity with some who might be expected to support the Charter (which apparently has the support of 51% of francophones), is their lousy performance on economics. There's an interesting contradiction in most English Canada reporting on Quebec... in some stories, like coverage of the Carré Rouge protests or the Orange Crush, Quebec is a hotbed of left-wing malcontents, while in other stories, like the Charter, it's a hotbed of racist rednecks. Either way, the point in such coverage is not to analyse what's actually going on here, but to demonise the province and maintain its isolation.

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    5. "...Bozinoff's assertion that it alone is responsible for the PQ's low numbers comes from an ideological position."

      Again, can you back that up? Bozinoff may just be making an incorrect analysis.

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    6. fair enough, it might be just an incorrect analysis, but then that error would come from somewhere and it's hard to imagine it not being part of this larger English Canadian mainstream political view of Quebec...

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    7. in other words, it may be an error, but that doesn't mean it isn't ideological... what seems like common sense is often the product of a politically biased context... so Bozinoff doesn't even have to be aware that he's drawing an ideological conclusion.

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    8. It is it ironic chirumenga, to accuses (without proof) Borizoff of bias when you write of the unsubstantiated existence of a "English Canadian mainstream political view" toward Quebec. To do so is to place your own views upon Borizoff and mould his actions to the real or imaginary situation you perceive to exist.

      You accuse someone of an ideological bias-why? Is it for altruistic reasons or simply to justify your own per-conceived notions or antipathy toward English Canada?

      I dispute that your idea of "English Canadian political view of Quebec" exists. Certainly I do not think you are someone who could summarise the political viewpoints of English Canadians in a manner consistent with their political ideology. What gives you the right or ability to do so?

      If it does exist then this view point of English Canadians is built upon the actions of Quebeckers: You accuse English Canadians of having unjustified stereotypes.

      It is not so. When any country introduces a law like such as Bill 101 they condemn their language to irrelevance. Bill 101 demonstrates to young Quebeckers or Canadians, Americans Germans that Quebecois French has less value than modern English and to survive it must be subsidised and given an uneven playing field or head start. Quebecois french can not compete with English or Chinese as a global language and therefore must be protected and coddled.

      This idea that Borizoff and English Canada have a deep seeded conspiracy against Quebec is frankly laughable and shows a degree of hubris unknown except I would surmise in the Gallic races. There is no great conspiracy save the one portrayed by the Quebecois government upon their people. Quebeckers need to accept responsibility instead of blaming those who have their best interests at heart.

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    9. This member of the, er, Gallic race prefers this discussion go no further.

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  2. At 62% older voters and 8% young voters, is the Forum Poll a valid measure of anything?

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  3. So basically Forum's potentially taking a sample of 120 respondents aged 18-34, with a margin of error of ~9 percentage points, and inflating it to 28% of the weight of their overall results. Yikes. Btw, I strongly suspect that what we're seeing is indeed a much higher willingness on the part of older people to participate in IVR surveys. As an 18-34 myself, I can attest that I would never participate in an IVR survey. In fact, I don't even answer my cellphone for any 1-800 type of number, and even when I answer a call from a recognizable area code, I immediately hang up if I detect that distinctive delay after I say "hello?" that indicates it's coming from a call centre.

    Dom

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    1. I do the same, but I find it odd that the sample sizes tend to be always slanted in this fashion. EKOS doesn't show as much of a skew, and they use IVR.

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    2. EKOS explicitly state in their methods that they call cell phones in addition to land lines. Forum don't seem to specify. Might this be the difference?

      Dom

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  4. And is it the higher sample size that prompts you to give the Forum poll more weight than the Ipsos-Reid poll?

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  5. Or is this just the effect of the end of summer in year two and not really all that predictive ?

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  6. It might be intentional. The older the respondent, in general, the more likely they are to vote. Even though a sample skewed towards older people doesn't represent the population at large, I think it is closer to the voting population than the polls that weight it closer to the census data. Forum has a pretty good (relatively) track record when the elections were terribly called

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  7. These polls demonstrate why Harper prorogued the Parliament for one month, on top of the summer break. During extended breaks visibility of opposition parties goes down, as does their ability to focus media attention on government scandals (senate etc.). During the summer this was surprisingly not very apparent, but now with the additional month it finally shows off, IMHO. Things should get more interesting starting mid October.

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  8. are there any potential demographic (or other) biases in the methodology of Internet polling that we should be aware of too? have you written about this previously, Eric?

    to be honest, whenever I read/hear that a poll was conducted on the Internet, I automatically discount its representativeness and validity in my head. But I should probably find out more about it first.

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    1. I don't think it should be discounted, online polling has had strong performances in some recent elections, and bad performances (like other methodologies). It isn't the same as just some online poll on a news site that anyone can answer, these firms are spending a lot of money to get their systems right.

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    2. i'd be curious about how they conduct internet polling though and how they understand and "correct" for any potential biases. but then again i guess every company's methods are opaque at some level, regardless of method, so maybe i shouldn't single internet polls out for suspicion.

      i don't know if you've written about this before, but i'd personally be interested to see an analysis of whether different methodologies differ systematically in their results.

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    3. I have looked into it before but never found anything particularly conclusive.

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  9. I'm sure it's true that Justin Trudeau's honeymoon period is coming down and leveling off as they often do, but Ipsos-Reid is a Conservative pollster that tends to inflate Conservative support by several points throughout its history of polling. Has this been taken into account?

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    1. Ipsos-Reid is certainly not a 'Conservative pollster', and they do not tend to inflate Conservative support. In fact, they under-estimated Conservative support in the 2011 federal election and PC support in that year's provincial election. But in the federal election, they were still one of the closest to getting CPC support right.

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    2. I come back to my point, which party do people think would win Elizabeth May's seat if she came in with these numbers?

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    3. I dunno, I think it could go either three ways. A lot of the provincial NDP support in the area could go Liberal federally.

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