Monday, December 22, 2014

Liberals up, Conservatives stable, NDP down in 2014

It's that time of year again - the time to take stock of the year that is coming to a close. And from a polling perspective, that means comparing 2014 to the last few years. By that measure, it was a good year for the Liberals and a bad one for the New Democrats, while the Conservatives managed to slow their decline, perhaps even tread water, as we enter a climactic election year.

The past year has been an interesting one. Granted, it was quieter at the federal level than previous years. No election was held as in 2011, and no major party leaders were named, as in 2012 and 2013. The Bloc Québécois did get a new leader in Mario Beaulieu, however, and as we'll see this has not been a positive development for the party.

It was a much more exciting year at the provincial level, as Canada's two largest provinces went to the polls. And both of these elections had their own surprises. The Parti Québécois went into the Quebec election hoping for a majority government, and they ended up almost relegated to third spot. The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives were neck-and-neck as the Ontario campaign began, only for the Liberals to emerge with a majority government. The election in New Brunswick went as expected, but nevertheless it is something that first-term governments were defeated for the second time in a row. And then there was the Toronto race.

Let's take a look at how the federal parties did in 2014, compared to previous years. I did this exercise in 2012 and 2013 as well. It is a simple average of all the polls conducted in a given year, providing a very macro-look at the political landscape and where the parties are going.

It was a rather stable year nationwide, as a total of 45 polls were conducted. In 2012, the New Democrats were able to take top spot for a few months, before losing it to the Conservatives. In 2013, the Liberals surged ahead of the Tories to move into first. But in 2014, the order of the parties never changed from start to finish.

The Liberals averaged 35.9% support in 2014, a gain of 3.1 points over their average support in 2013 and part of a consistent trend of growth since the 2011 election (note that in this chart, as in all following ones, the 2011 year refers to polls taken that year after the federal election).

The Conservatives averaged 30.0% support unchanged from 2013. Still, it is confirms the drop the party has experienced since their majority victory in 2011.

(Note: An earlier version of this post had the Conservatives at 29.9% in the 2014 average. A new poll by Abacus Data, released since I wrote this post originally, bumped them up to 30%. As that tied their 2013 performance, rather than putting them 0.1 point down, I thought that was significant enough to update. I haven't bothered to update the regional numbers below with the Abacus results, as the effect was never more than one or two tenths of a percentage point, and did not change any of the trend lines. The updated numbers will be reflected in any future annual reviews, however.)

The New Democrats took a step backwards, falling 2.3 points to an average of 22.4% for 2014. That is their second consecutive annual drop, after putting up some good numbers in the second half of 2011 and throughout 2012.

The Greens have been very steady over the last few years, averaging 5.5% support in 2014. That is little different from their polling in 2012 and 2013.

Justin Trudeau had the highest approval ratings in 2014, averaging 44.5% in the 26 polls that asked the question. His disapproval rating averaged 37.8%, while 17.6% on average did not know.

Trudeau's approval rating dipped slightly from 2013, when it averaged 45.6%. His disapproval rating was up more sharply, however, increasing from 30.4%.

Thomas Mulcair's approval rating was up by almost six points, increasing from 36.4% in 2013 to 42.3% in 2014. He also had the highest net approval rating, at +12.3 (Trudeau was a +6.7, while Stephen Harper was a -24.4). His disapproval rating dropped slightly, by 1.7 points to 30%, while the number of Canadians having no opinion of the NDP leader was down 3.8 points to 27.7%.

Harper's approval rating was up by just 0.7 points to 32.6%, while his disapproval rating was down 0.4 points to 57%. It would seem, then, that Canadians' opinion of Harper has held steady in 2014 compared to 2013. Just 10.5% of respondents, on average, said they did not know what their opinion of the Prime Minister was.

There were fewer polls for Elizabeth May (six) and Mario Beaulieu (two) in 2014, but on average May's approval rating was 33.2%, with a disapproval rating of 36.2%. Beaulieu averaged an approval of just 15.9% in Quebec, with 53.8% disapproving of him.

To put that in some context, André Bellavance (the interim leader and Beaulieu's opponent in the leadership race), averaged an approval rating of 26% in the first half of 2014, with 41.5% disapproval in four polls.

Returning to voting intentions, the patterns that occurred nationwide were repeated in most regions of the country: a tiny Conservative drop, a larger NDP one, and a Liberal gain.

British Columbia was no different, with the Liberals averaging 32.4% support, a gain of four points over last year and more than twice their vote share of the 2011 election. Along with Atlantic Canada, B.C. was where the Liberals made their largest proportional increase.

The Conservatives were down slightly to an average of 30.1%, another drop for the party in B.C. The New Democrats were down 4.3 points to 25.5%, a disproportionate drop at the national scale, while the Greens were up slightly to 10.5%. They have been on a modest upswing in the province over the last few years.

The Conservatives were still in front in Alberta in 2014, of course, but dropped 2.1 points to 52.8%. Here again, they have been on a steady slide.

The Liberals were up 2.9 points to 24.8%, while the New Democrats were down only slightly to 13.8% in the province. The Greens averaged 6.1% in Alberta in 2014.

The Conservatives also led in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in 2014, with an average of 39.6% support. That was down 1.9 points from 2013, and one of the larger proportional drops for the party.

The Liberals were up 3.4 points to 31.8% in the Prairies, another year-on-year increase. The New Democrats were down 1,8 points to 22.3%, while the Greens were up slightly to 5.1% in 2014.

Thanks to the polling by EKOS Research (and the lone Ipsos Reid poll that broke it down further), we can take a look at federal support in Saskatchewan and Manitoba individually. EKOS's averages for the region match those for all pollsters, so this should be a representative breakdown of support.

In Saskatchewan, the Conservatives led in the 10 polls with a provincial breakdown with an average of 41.8% support. This put them ahead of the New Democrats, who averaged 24.7%, and the Liberals, who averaged 24.3%. The Greens averaged 6.7% support in the province throughout 2014.

In Manitoba, the Conservative lead was much smaller, with an average of 37.4% support. The Liberals were close behind with 35.8%, while the NDP trailed with 20.3% and the Greens with 4.9%.

In Ontario, the Liberals averaged 39.3% in 2014, a jump of 3.7 points from 2013. This is only the second consecutive year of growth for the party, though, as the Liberals had fallen in 2012.

The Conservatives were down only slightly in the province in 2014, dropping 0.3 points to 33.8% support. Again, though, this is part of a steady trend of decrease.

The New Democrats suffered one of their larger proportional drops in the country in Ontario, falling 3.5 points to 20.1% in the province. The Greens, meanwhile, were down a little to 5.4%.

Quebec was the only region of the country that bucked the trends. Whereas the Conservatives and NDP were down everywhere else, they were both up in Quebec. And the Liberals made their smallest gain here.

They still led, however, with 33.7% support on average in 2014, a gain of 1.3 points over 2013 and a continuation of the big gains made that year.

The New Democrats were up 0.9 points to 29.2% in the province, lower than their 2011-2012 performances but their only increase in the country.

The Bloc Québécois was down 3,6 points to 18.5% support in Quebec, their second consecutive annual drop, and lower than their post-election performance in the polls. And a line should be drawn between before and after Beaulieu's leadership victory. In the first half of 2014, the Bloc averaged 21% support. Since Beaulieu's victory, the party has averaged just 16.6% support.

The Conservatives were up over last year, the only part of the country where that occurred. They were up 1.7 points to 14.2%. While that is a gain, that ranks lower than their 2011 and 2012 performances.

The Greens were down 0.7 points to 3.3%, their lowest level in the province since the election.

Thanks to the breakdowns we get for the province from CROP, we can investigate why Quebec bucked the national trends more closely. First, let's take a look at the polling averages for the year by language.

The New Democrats made gains among both francophones and non-francophones in 2014, averaging 35.7% support among French-speakers in the province. That was a gain of 3.1 points over 2013, and higher even than the party's standing in 2012.

The Liberals dropped among francophones in 2014, falling 1.2 points to 27.6%. That is comfortably above the 16.3% the party had before Trudeau became leader, but nevertheless puts them well behind the NDP.

The Bloc has fallen significantly since 2012 among their only electorate, with 20.5% support among francophones in 2014. That was down two points from 2013, and more than seven from 2012 when the party was in second place. Again, this can be chalked up to Beaulieu. Before he became leader, the Bloc was at 23.4% among francophones in 2014, a gain over 2013. Since, the party has dropped to 18.9%.

The Conservatives made a small gain among French-speakers in Quebec, increasing from 11.2% in 2013 to 12.1% in 2014.

The Liberals still dominate among non-francophones, averaging 60% in 2014, up slightly from 2013. That is almost twice their support among this electorate in 2012.

The New Democrats come up a distant second among non-francophones, with 18.7% support, up 2.4 points from 2013 but down almost 10 points from 2012. The Conservatives are also down significantly from 2012, with 15.3% support on average.

If we look at support at a regional level, we can also see where the NDP made its gains in 2014. They occurred primarily on the island of Montreal and in Quebec City.

On the island, the NDP averaged 34% in 2014, up six points from 2013. The Liberals led on the island with 37.2%, but that was down 2.2 points from 2013. Both the Bloc (12.3%) and Conservatives (11.4%) were also down here.

In Quebec City, the New Democrats led with an average of 32% support in 2014, up 5.5 points from last year. The Conservatives followed with an average of 26.4%, while the Liberals were down 2.1 points to 25.9% in the provincial capital.

The Liberals made a large gain in the regions of Quebec, however, with an average of 36.5% support. The NDP was second with 29.6% and the Bloc was third with 18.3%. For the Liberals, their support in this part of the province has more than doubled since 2012, suggesting the party could be more competitive than expected outside of the two main urban centres.

The Liberals will be more than competitive in Atlantic Canada, where they made a big jump from 48.1% in 2013 to 52.6% in 2014. The party's support has almost doubled here since 2012.

The Conservatives were down to 21.9% in the region, while the NDP fell 5.3 points to 19.9% support. The Greens were steady at an average of 4.5% in 2014.

So there you have it. The Liberals made gains throughout the country in 2014, but are showing some signs of peaking in Quebec, where their support among francophones actually dropped. The Conservatives are still slipping everywhere except Quebec, where they made only a modest gain, but the party has appeared to slow the rate of their decline. Considering where the polls have been recently, they may be reversing it. And the NDP appears to still be losing steam outside of Quebec, whereas in Quebec they are still the party to beat among francophones. An interesting landscape as 2015 begins.

This will likely be my last post of the year, though I will still do some updates to the other sections of the site over the next two weeks. It has been a really great year, and I'd like to thank you, my readers, for your support. Next year will be huge. Rest up over the holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The polls in Alberta as Wildrose implodes

Some momentous and unprecedented events are taking place this week in the Alberta legislature, as the province's Official Opposition splits apart. We will only know the scope of the implosion later today, but the latest reports suggest that leader Danielle Smith and perhaps half of her caucus will cross the floor and sit with the Progressive Conservative government. Wildrose may (barely) hang on to its role as the Official Opposition, but without their charismatic leader their future looks bleak.

But the polls have given little indication that Wildrose was on track for such a catastrophe.

Indeed, it seems the bones of contention may be more personal and related to Jim Prentice's new style, rather than any fear of crushing defeat. Based on what the polls were showing, the PCs would probably have prevailed in a snap election, but Wildrose would have remained as a strong opposition.

Let's take a look at the evolution of voting intentions in the province since the 2012 provincial election. The charts below are mash-ups of all the polls that have been publicly released since then, averaging them out when more than one appeared in a given month.

It really is a two-horse race in Alberta, as the Liberals and New Democrats have been polling some where in the teens for the last four years.

The Tories under Alison Redford had a bit of a honeymoon after the 2012 victory, leading in the polls until the end of the year, when Wildrose inched ahead. From then on until the fall of 2013, the two parties were in a close fight, swapping the lead depending on the poll. Between October 2012 and October 2013, the PCs averaged 34% against 33% for Wildrose.

But when things turned south for Redford, Wildrose stormed ahead, polling between 46% and 50% in March and April of this year. The PCs were at around 20%, and en route for disaster. Redford was out.

With Redford gone and Dave Hancock in as interim leader, the PCs slowly started to claw their way back. From 21% in April they went to 26% in June and 29% in September. They were still trailing Wildrose, but only by a handful of points.

When Prentice came in, the Tories moved ahead - narrowly so in October, and in more convincing fashion in the latest poll out of the province, that of Insights West (November 28-December 1). That survey gave the PCs 35% of the vote, against 29% for Wildrose, 16% for the NDP, and 15% for the Liberals. A series of by-election victories cemented the Tories' return to front-runner status, though also confirming that the PCs are not as strong as they were on election night in 2012.

That would, normally, be a good thing for the opposition. The PCs did hold on to their four seats, but with substantial loss of vote share. A repeat performance province wide would be a boon to the opposition parties. Instead, Wildrose took their four losses to incumbent Tories, two of which were high-profile, as a death knell. Recent events in the legislature simply further poisoned the well.

Defections are one thing. Wildrose has already lost some MLAs. But to have the leader cross the floor is something else entirely. How were the leadership numbers looking?

Smith's numbers were always enviable, and from December 2012 she consistently had better approval ratings than Redford and Hancock. 

Redford's numbers were pretty good after the election, with an approval rating of between 43% and 58% throughout 2012. 

But in December 2012, Smith's approval rating stood at 48%, and remained high throughout 2013. averaging 46% against 40% disapproval. By comparison, Redford's dropped to an average of just 32%, with 59% disapproving of her leadership.

Brian Mason and Raj Sherman, the NDP and Liberal leaders, roughly split the electorate three ways over this time, divided almost equally between those who approved of them, those who disapproved of them, and those who had no opinion. New NDP leader Rachel Notley still needs to be introduced to almost half of the population.

Redford's numbers fell significantly early this year, to an approval of just 20% between February and March. Her disapproval was a catastrophic 69%. Smith looked much better by comparison, and her approval rating soared to over 50% during this time.

Again, Hancock did his best to right the ship, with an approval rating of about 33% over his tenure (his disapproval rating was half of Redford's before she left). 

Prentice has put up some good numbers since he took over, with an approval rating of between 45% and 50% in the three polls that have been published since he became premier. The latest, by Angus Reid Global (December 4-13), gave him an approval rating of 50%, with just 33% disapproval.

Smith's numbers have worsened of late, but they are hardly disastrous. She managed 44% in the first post-Prentice poll, with 38% disapproval. In the latest poll by Insights West, she was down to 38% approval, with 40% disapproval. While down from her Redford highs, those are still numbers she could have worked with. Her move can't be chalked up to an attempt to save her own skin.

It seems we will not know how Smith would have compared to Prentice over the long run. We will have to see what happens with the rump Wildrose caucus going forward. A merger, at this stage, seems unlikely. 

With the most recent numbers from Insights West, Wildrose would have had a good chance of keeping its entire caucus in the legislature, with about 20 seats to 51 for the Tories and eight seats apiece for the Liberals and NDP.

But what if the electorate moves in the same way as the Wildrose caucus, with half going to the Tories? In that case, the Tories would win a landslide, with 76 seats to six for the NDP and five for the Liberals. Wildrose would be shut out. But those Liberals who went over to the PCs to block Wildrose in 2012 might revert back to their old party - not enough to change the government, but the Liberals would likely return to Official Opposition status in this scenario. It would likely be, though, a smaller and weaker opposition than the one Wildrose had - before today.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Polls show Liberals still leading, but by how much?

Two polls published over the last two days show the Liberals still leading in national voting intentions. But the surveys by Léger and EKOS Research differ significantly over the size of that lead - as well as whether it is shrinking or growing.

First, the numbers themselves.

Léger, in the field between December 8 and 11 and reporting for Le Devoir, found the Liberals to have 38% support, up two points from where the party stood in Léger's previous survey of November 3-6.

The Conservatives were down one point to 32%, while the New Democrats were unchanged at 19%.

Support for the Greens was down one point to 6%, the Bloc Québécois was up one point to 4%, and support for other parties was unchanged at 1%.

None of these shifts would be outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples.

EKOS, in the field between December 4 and 12 for their new poll published by iPolitics, gave the Liberals 31.8% support, down 1.7 points from the previous survey of November 4-6.

The Conservatives were up 0.6 points to 30.8% and the New Democrats were down 0.5 points to 20%.

The Greens were down 1.9 points to 7.8%, the Bloc was up 1.5 points to 5%, and support for other parties was up two points to 4.6%.

Only the shifts for the Greens and others would be outside the margin of error.

The differences between these two polls are well within the margin of error for the Conservatives, New Democrats, and Bloc, and just about within the margin of error for the Greens. So those discrepancies can be easily explained away by standard sampling error.

But the differences between the Liberals and support for other parties is harder to explain. About three points of the discrepancy between EKOS and Léger for the Liberals cannot be explained by the margin of error, and about 2.6 points for 'other' parties. That those numbers are very close may not be coincidental, as EKOS routinely has support for other parties to be significantly higher than other firms. Throughout 2014, for example, 'others' have averaged 3.3% support in EKOS's IVR polling, compared to 1.1% for everyone else.

Discrepancies like these, however, can often be chalked up to methodological differences. EKOS is conducting its poll via interactive voice response, whereas Léger did its poll online. The two modes of contact may inherently produce slightly different results. The focus, then, should be on the trends instead.

Here there is a little more clarity. Over the last three Léger polls, all three major parties have been very steady. The Liberals went from 37% in October to 36% in November, before ending up at 38% here. That is a statistically insignificant wobble. The Conservative numbers have been 32%, 33%, and 32% - very stable. And the NDP has registered 21%, 19%, and 19% support over that time.

It is a little more complicated with EKOS. In the time span that Léger did those three polls, EKOS has done four. Three of them were on virtually the same dates, but the first was done online. The last three were done via IVR. It wouldn't be appropriate to look at the trends by mashing together those two very different modes of contact.

So if we just look at the IVR polls by EKOS conducted since the end of October, we see similar stability to Léger: 33%, 34%, and 32% for the Liberals, 28%, 30%, and 31% for the Conservatives, and 21%, 21%, and 20% for the NDP. Trend-wise, at least, Léger and EKOS are not in complete disagreement.

But Léger is showing a very different sort of margin between the Conservatives and Liberals, growing from three points to six points in this poll. Considering the stability in the numbers, we could say that the margin is simply moving back and forth with the wobble. But EKOS's trend is more towards convergence, with the gap being about five points at the end of October, four points at the beginning of November, and now one point. If those trends continue, the Liberals will be overtaken. On the other hand, if Léger's trend continues the Liberals will continue to lead comfortably.

Adding to the confusion this morning is a new poll by Forum Research, which I only noticed after I had updated the averages (it will be added tomorrow). The poll gives the Liberals 41% to 33% for the Conservatives and just 17% for the NDP. This would suggest Conservative stability, a Liberal uptick, and consistent NDP decrease. But Forum's one-day flash polls are perhaps more vulnerable to showing wonky results.

Returning to Léger and EKOS, however, the two polls do tell us something. The parties' support appears to be relatively stable, solidifying the newer, more competitive race that has taken shape since the summer. And the NDP remains stuck in third place without any sort of momentum.

But the differences in the numbers themselves have enormous consequences. If these were the final polls of an election campaign, we'd have a long night ahead of us.

With EKOS, the Conservatives would manage to win a plurality of seats, taking 138 to 125 for the Liberals. The NDP would be reduced to 60 seats, while the Bloc would benefit from vote splits to take 13 seats in Quebec and obtain official party status again.

With Léger, however, the Liberals would win the plurality of seats with 146, the Conservatives taking 134 and the NDP just 55. The Bloc was not high enough in Léger's poll to be in a position to win more than a seat.

These seat numbers tell different stories. In the EKOS scenario, Stephen Harper might try to stay in office and govern with a minority. The opposition might then topple the government, but would need to work together to convince the Governor-General to give them a chance to govern rather than sending Canadians back to the polls (which could be the other outcome). The role of the Bloc would be marginal, but the party would be 'back' and regain much-needed funds and staff.

In the Léger scenario, convention would allow Justin Trudeau to head-up a minority Liberal government that would likely rely on the NDP to survive. Unlike the EKOS scenario, the Liberals and NDP would not necessarily have to formalize any sort of agreement, which might be more palatable to their bases. Harper likely steps down and a leadership race ensues, delaying any threat of an election, while the Bloc is marginalized further and might just cease to exist.

And all of this is with a few percentage points of difference, showing just how significant minor shifts can be when the race gets close. If things continue this way, particularly if the NDP can regain some ground, 2015 is setting up to be one of the most exciting elections in recent memory.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What's the threshold for a minority or majority government?

The current federal polling averages give the Liberals 34.5% support against 32.1% for the Conservatives. Yet, the Conservatives are projected to win 133 seats with those numbers and the Liberals just 128. What kind of margin do the Liberals need to win a plurality of seats? How close do the Conservatives need to make the race in order to come out ahead? And what do they need to win a majority?

Let's take a look at this for all three parties. But first, a few words about how I came to these calculations. I started with the current averages and then uniformly lowered or raised each party's support in each region of the country. I based my adjustments on EKOS Research's last 'second choice' poll as follows:

For every one point gained by the Conservatives, 0.7 points were subtracted from the Liberals and 0.3 points from the NDP (in Quebec, the Bloc was subtracted 0.1 point and the NDP 0.2 points). For every one point gained by the Liberals, 0.6 points were subtracted from the NDP, 0.3 points from the Conservatives, and 0.1 point from the Greens (in Quebec, the Bloc was subtracted 0.1 point instead of the Greens). For every one point gained by the New Democrats, 0.7 points were subtracted from the Liberals, 0.2 points from the Conservatives, and 0.1 point from the Greens (in Quebec, it was 0.6 points from the Liberals, 0.3 points from the Bloc, and 0.1 point from the Conservatives).

We'll start with the Conservatives, who have the most efficient vote of the three parties.

The gap might currently stand at 2.4 points, but it could theoretically widen to as much as 4.1 points and the Conservatives would still narrowly come out ahead in the seat count. With 31.1% of the vote against 35.2% for the Liberals, the Conservatives could win 129 seats against 127 for the Liberals.

The party won a majority governing in 2011 with 39.6% of the vote, but it could manage the feat with a little less. With 38.1% support against 30.3% for the Liberals and 20.7% for the NDP, the Conservatives could reach the magic 169 number and form a majority government. The Liberals would take 102 seats and the NDP would win 64.

This assumes, roughly speaking, that the Conservatives have 63% support in Alberta, 45% support in the Prairies, 42% support in Ontario, 38% support in British Columbia, 30% support in Atlantic Canada, and 22% support in Quebec. This is with a uniform swing of the vote, though. The Conservatives could probably win a majority with even less of the vote if, say, they took a greater share in British Columbia and a lot less in Quebec.

Now to the Liberals, who find themselves needing more votes than the Conservatives to come out ahead in the seat count, or to obtain a majority government.

With the Conservatives now above 30%, the Liberals would need about 36% support to ensure a plurality of seats. With that much support, the Liberals could win 131 seats to 130 for the Conservatives if they are at 31.6%. The NDP, at 21.6%, would win 73 seats.

To reach the majority threshold, however, the Liberals need the NDP vote to drop much further. With 41.5% support to 29.9% for the Conservatives, the Liberals would take 172 seats and leave 118 for the Tories. The NDP, down to 18.3% of the vote, would take 44 seats.

Of course, the Liberals could also benefit from the Conservatives dropping much further below 30% than this, but we're working from current polling levels.

Regionally, the majority threshold awards 59% of the vote to the Liberals in Atlantic Canada, 45% in Ontario, 40% in the Prairies, 39% in Quebec, 38% in British Columbia, and 30% in Alberta. Here again, there could be a more efficient way to reach the majority threshold by, say, taking more of the vote in Ontario and a lot less in Alberta and the Prairies.

Finally, the New Democrats. Because of their advantage in Quebec (akin to the Conservatives' advantage in the West), the NDP can reach the plurality threshold with less of the vote than the Liberals, But they need more of it to reach majority territory.

In a tight three-way race, the New Democrats could win the most seats with 33.5% of the vote, pushing the Conservatives down to 29.9% and the Liberals to 26.8%. The Greens also need to be lower than for the Liberals and Conservatives, and the Bloc down to 15% in Quebec. With these numbers, the NDP would take 124 seats to 123 for the Conservatives and 90 for the Liberals.

At the majority threshold, the NDP needs to be at 42.5% of the vote nationwide. The Conservatives would be at 28.1%, but the Liberals need to sink to about the same level of support they had in 2011, with 20.5%. The Greens need to do worse than 2011, while the Bloc vote is cut in half. With these numbers, the NDP takes 172 seats to 100 for the Conservatives and 65 for the Liberals.

The NDP would take 49% of the vote in Quebec, 46% in British Columbia, 41% in the Prairies, 40% in Ontario, 40% in Atlantic Canada, and 34% in Alberta. The NDP's support is more uniform than the other parties, with the six regions differing by no more than 15 points. That range is 29 points for the Liberals and 41 for the Conservatives.

What about the Greens and the Bloc? Their immediate goal should be to achieve official party status, or 12 seats. The Bloc can reach that level quite easily due to vote splits with around 21% support in Quebec, if the NDP drops to 27% and the Liberals to 32%.

For the Greens, it is much more difficult and, to be honest, the model gets a little wonky once we start trying to extrapolate for this party. But the Greens would win their 12 seats with 18% support nationwide, with the Conservatives at 31%, the Liberals at 29%, and the NDP at 16%.

But just how plausible are the thresholds for the major parties? We've seen the Liberals and Conservatives at the plurality level in many polls recently, but the majority threshold has been harder to achieve.


(Note: the numbers above don't add up to the total number of polls because in some cases no party would have reached the minimum thresholds. For instance, if the Liberals were at 34% and the Conservatives at 31%. Obviously, some party would win a plurality in those cases but the numbers above are in terms of the threshold, which can be considered the level of support where winning a plurality/majority would be very likely.)

There have been 175 federal polls conducted since the 2011 election, and 42 in 2014 alone. The Conservatives have hit the plurality threshold in 93 of those polls (53%), but only in nine of them in 2014 (21%). The party reached the majority threshold in 11 polls, but the last time that happened was in January 2012, almost three years ago.

The Liberals have been above the plurality level in 37 polls since 2011 (21%), but 22 of them have been in 2014 (or 52% of those held this year). The majority threshold has only been hit three times, however, and all in polls by Forum Research (the firm that routinely has the party highest). Only once was that majority threshold reached in 2014.

For the New Democrats, the plurality threshold was reached in 19 polls since 2011 (11%), but these were all in the period between March and September 2012. The party never hit the majority threshold in polls conducted since the last election, and perhaps never before that either.

This little exercise does show how difficult it will be for the parties to secure a majority government in 2015. The Conservatives clearly have the easiest path, but it has been a very long time since the party has been that strong in the polls (and that was at a time when the future of the Liberals was still in question and the NDP was leaderless). The Liberals could conceivably reach the majority level if the campaign goes very well for them, but it would be a tall order. A majority for the NDP seems out of the question.

A plurality for any of the parties would be easier to achieve, of course, with the Conservatives having the easiest route. The Liberals could pull more seats out of fewer votes than estimated here if their support proves to be more efficient than expected in places like Quebec. Nevertheless, they likely need to win by a relatively comfortable margin to come out ahead in the seat count. The New Democrats have it within their reach if the Liberals falter on the campaign trail, but it would require virtually all of that lost Liberal support to go their way, rather than towards the Conservatives.

At this rate, I'd bet on no party obtaining a majority in 2015 - but that is about it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

November 2014 federal polling averages

The federal polling averages for the month of November bring up what could be an important question next year: was this the moment that Stephen Harper set himself back on track for re-election? While the Conservatives still trail Justin Trudeau's Liberals (for the 20th consecutive month), the numbers they put up in November were the best they have seen since before Trudeau became leader.

A total of five national and one Quebec poll was conducted during the month of November, totaling 15,672 interviews. Note that I have included the recent Ipsos Reid poll in the November averages. Though my usual practice is to only base a poll's inclusion in a given month on its last day in the field, the Ipsos poll required that an exception be made. The poll ended on December 1, but 96% of it was conducted during November.

The Liberals led in November with an average of 34.7% support, down 0.9 points from where they stood in October. This is the fourth consecutive month of stagnation or loss for the Liberals, who were at 39% in July.

The Conservatives gained 2.5 points to reach 32%, their best since February 2013

The New Democrats were down 0.8 points to 21.7%, while the Greens were down 0.4 points to 6%. Support for the Bloc Québécois was at 4.1%, and 1.4% of Canadians said they supported another party.

If we compare this month's numbers to past averages in November, we get an interesting look at how things have been shifting over the last five years. The overall Conservative drop and Liberal gain is clear, as is the fact that the NDP is still well above where it was prior to the 2011 election. And the downfall of the Bloc is stark.

The Conservatives and Liberals were tied in British Columbia for the second consecutive month, each with 32.1% support. That was a gain of 0.6 points for the Tories and a pick-up of 0.3 points for the Liberals. The NDP was up 0.5 points to 23.6%, while the Greens were down a point to 10.2%.

In Alberta, the Conservatives averaged 57.5% support, a gain of 7.4 points and their best numbers since January 2013. The Liberals were down 3.8 points to 20.9%, their lowest since April 2014, and the NDP was up 2.5 points to 14.1%. The Greens were down 4.5 points to 5.4%.

The Prairies have been remarkably stable of late, with the Conservatives at 39.3% (they have been at 39% for three consecutive months) and the Liberals up one point to 32.2%. The party has been between 31% and 33% for the last five months. The NDP was down 4.7 points to 19.5%, their lowest since April 2014. The Greens were up 3.7 points to 7.9%, their highest since May 2013.

The Liberals have reverted to the level of support they consistently showed in Ontario between August 2013 and June 2014, falling 2.3 points to 38.1%. The Conservatives were up 1.5 points to 35.7%, their best since January 2013. The NDP was down 0.7 points to 18.9%, and over the last five months have been at their lowest level of support in the province since before the 2011 election. The Greens were up 0.4 points to 5.3%.

Click to magnify
In Quebec, the Liberals were down 0.7 points to 32.2%, their lowest since June 2014. The New Democrats were down 1.4 points to 29.7%, continuing their steady run now stretching to 11 months in which the party has managed between 28% and 31% support in Quebec (with the fleeting exception of June, when the party was at 34%). The Bloc was up 1.1 points to 16.9%, while the Conservatives were at their highest since January 2013 with a gain of two points to 16.3%. The Greens were down 0.2 points to 4.1%.

And in Atlantic Canada, the Liberals were up 2.5 points to 51.2%, the Conservatives were up 1.5 points to 23.5%, and the NDP was down 0.9 points to 20.6%. The region has been among the steadiest in the country. The Liberals have averaged between 49% and 52% over the last six months, while the Conservatives have averaged between 21% and 24% over that time. And for the last 14 months, the NDP has been stuck at between 18% and 23% in the region. The Greens averaged 4.3% here in November, down 2.8 points from last month.

With these levels of support, the Conservatives barely win a plurality of seats despite trailing in the popular vote by almost three points. They'd take 133 seats, a gain of 11 since last month, while the Liberals drop eight seats to 128. The NDP would win 74, down three, while the Greens and Bloc would be unchanged at two and one seat, respectively.

The Conservatives picked up six seats in Ontario, three in the Prairies, and one each in Alberta and Quebec.

The Liberals dropped seven seats in Ontario and one in Alberta.

The New Democrats dropped three seats in the Prairies and one in Quebec, but picked up one in Ontario.

With now less than a year to go before the vote is held (and even less if you listen to some of the chatter in Ottawa), the lay of the land is shifting a little. The Liberals still lead, but the Conservatives are now in a position where they could plausibly come out ahead in seats. The New Democrats are still an important factor, but are now 10 points out of second place. Of course, that is where they were before the campaign kicked off in 2011, but it seems unlikely that a party can pull off the same trick twice. 

While there is still a lot of potential for movement, it may take the campaign to get things really unstuck. The Conservatives polled an average of between 33% and 38% in the 11 months before the 2011 campaign got started, while the Liberals were steady at between 26% and 30%. Before the NDP's breakthrough, they wouldn't budge from a range of 15% to 18%. If we apply those +/- to current numbers, we'd get the Liberals at between 31% and 39%, the Conservatives between 27% and 37%, and the NDP between 19% and 25%.  By that standard, the next 11 months may look a lot like the last 20. And then the campaign starts.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Gap closes between Liberals and Tories in new Ipsos Reid poll

We have been starved for new polling data of late, so what better way to feed the beast than with a massive poll with a sample of over 8,000 people and breakdowns for every province (and even the GTA)?

Last night, Global News reported on the newest survey from Ipsos Reid conducted over three weeks between November 10 and December 1. The numbers continue the trend of softening Liberal support and a Conservative Party that, either by default or due to a small uptick, has moved into a near-tie with Justin Trudeau's party.

The Liberals were nevertheless ahead in the poll with 34% support, a drop of four points since Ipsos Reid's previous survey of September 9-12. The Conservatives increased by two points to move to 33%. The New Democrats were up one point to 24%.

Support for the Bloc Québécois was unchanged at 5%, while support for other parties was up one point to 4%. Note that, as is usually the case with Ipsos's polling, that includes the Greens.

Only the drop in support for the Liberals would be outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples, and it is really the only trend we can definitively identify. Other pollsters have also recorded a drop in Liberal support from the highs of the summer. The numbers appear to be returning to where things were in the spring - in fact, Ipsos's poll of April 17-22 had the spread at 33% for both the Liberals and the Conservatives and the NDP at 24%.

But are the Conservatives in the midst of an upward swing? The evidence is accumulating that their numbers are improving, but the size of the uptick is exaggerated by the steeper decrease in Liberal support. The party has gone from 38% in Ipsos's previous two surveys to 34% here, whereas the Conservatives have gone from 31% in the previous two surveys to 33%. It looks more like a reset or wobble than momentum, but we will have to see where things go from here.

That the Ipsos poll was taken over three weeks does give us an indication that the Conservatives may be building up steam. Between November 10 and 24 (the bulk of the sample with 5,034 decided voters) the Conservatives were around 32% to 33%, while the Liberals were around 34% to 35%. The last week of polling (the smallest of the three samples, though still 1,468 decided voters) had the Tories at 35% and the Liberals at 33%. A statistical fluke or a sign of things to come?

The Conservatives had a small edge in this poll among men with 36% to 35% for the Liberals (and 21% for the NDP), while the Liberals were ahead more comfortably among women (34% to 30%, with the NDP at 27%).

Other tidbits from this large-sample survey: the Liberals led among voters between the ages of 18 and 54, while the Conservatives were ahead among voters over the age of 55. A turnout advantage may be hiding there.

The more educated a person was, the more likely they were to support the Liberals, while the less educated a person was the more likely they were to support the Conservatives. Greater wealth meant a greater likelihood of support for either the Conservatives or Liberals, while as income dropped support for the NDP and Bloc increased.

And of particular note, considering the Conservative family-friendly policies unveiled over the last few weeks, is that the Liberals are actually doing better among households with children. They were up in these with 35% to 32% for the Conservatives. The two parties were tied at 34% in households with no children. Perhaps it is not the game-changing policy the Conservatives are hoping it will be. In fact, compared to the September poll the Conservatives made more of their gains among households without children.

At the regional level, the Conservatives and Liberals were tied in Ontario with 37% apiece, while the NDP was in third with 22%.

In Quebec, the Liberals were at 32%, followed by the NDP at 29% and the Bloc Québécois at 21%. With the exception of a single EKOS poll that put the party at 22% in October, that is the best result the Bloc has managed since Mario Beaulieu took over the party in June. The Conservatives had 15%.

The Conservatives were ahead in British Columbia with 33%, followed by the NDP at 30% and the Liberals at 28%.

In Alberta, the Conservatives were at 58% to 24% for the Liberals and 14% for the NDP.

In the Prairies, the Conservatives led with 41% to 33% for the Liberals and 23% for the NDP, with support for other parties jumping three points to 4%. The Greens have been putting up some oddly good numbers in the Prairies in recent polls, which coincides with this Ipsos uptick that is outside the margin of error. Something to watch?

And in Atlantic Canada, the Liberals led with 53% to 26% for the Conservatives and 19% for the NDP.

But because of the large sample in this poll, Ipsos kindly broke down the numbers even further. Let's take a look.

With the exception of PEI and, to a lesser extent, Newfoundland and Labrador, all of these are respectable samples.

Some of the numbers fall well in line with the sporadic results we've seen from other pollsters. The Liberal lead in Toronto is much like what we've seen elsewhere (and at the provincial level), while the closer race with stronger Conservative numbers in the 905 area code are not unusual. They do suggest that the Tories are not dead in the water in the GTA.

The numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick are well within the margins of what we usually see from the Corporate Research Associates when they put out federal results - big Liberal leads throughout. The numbers in PEI look a lot like the 2011 results, though CRA tends to give the Liberals a bigger lead here as well.

Saskatchewan and Manitoba are quite different from what we usually see from EKOS, the only pollster regularly putting out numbers for the two provinces. EKOS usually has the NDP in second in Saskatchewan and the Liberals either neck-and-neck with the Conservatives or first in Manitoba. If the Liberals are really that strong in Saskatchewan, we could see another MP from the province to join Ralph Goodale.

With these numbers, including the provincial-level results for the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, the likely seat outcome would be as follows.

Despite the one-point deficit, the Conservatives would come out on top with 132 seats, followed by the Liberals at 118 and the NDP at 83. The Bloc would win four seats again, and the Greens would take one.

The Liberals are unable to win the plurality of seats despite having the plurality of votes as they are penalized primarily in British Columbia, where they are only two points back from the NDP, and Quebec, where they are three points up on that party.

Though relations between the Liberals and New Democrats appear to be at an all-time low at the moment, it is worth noting that the two parties could easily combine for a majority government. Otherwise, the Conservatives would have some difficulty governing in this scenario.

House effects?

I wanted to take a moment to discuss the topic of house effects in relation to this poll. I often see comments along the lines of this or that pollster being biased towards one party or the other. The search for house effects is certainly a legitimate exercise as Nate Silver has shown again and again, but often the reputation a pollster has does not align completely with the data. And there is also an insidious insinuation that the bias is deliberately partisan, rather than methodological. Unless that can be explicitly proven, I chalk it up to silly tin-foil-hat conspiracy theories.

But anyway, let's look at Ipsos Reid and whether they have any house effects. It is worthwhile to compare Ipsos Reid to other pollsters, rather than snapshot election results more than three years ago.

In the six polls Ipsos Reid has conducted in 2014, the Liberals have averaged 35.5%, the Conservatives 31%, the NDP 24.3%, and other parties 3.8% (we'll put aside the Bloc in this case).

In polls conducted by other companies with field dates within two weeks of the start and end of these six Ipsos Reid polls, the Liberals have averaged 35.7%, the Conservatives 29.4%, the NDP 22.3%, and Greens and others 7.6%.

Ipsos is sometimes charged with putting out higher numbers for the Conservatives, and here we see that indeed they have been 1.6 points higher for the Tories than other pollsters in 2014. But that is a rather small discrepancy when we consider the Ipsos sample is only six polls, in addition to the margin of error of all of these polls. And to focus on this number would be to miss the point - Ipsos is right in line with other pollsters for the Liberals, and is instead more bullish for the New Democrats than they are for the Conservatives. Yet Ipsos is rarely charged with being an NDP-friendly polling firm.

The biggest difference with Ipsos is that support for the Greens and others is roughly half of what other pollsters peg it to be. This is significant because what differentiates Ipsos most from other pollsters is that they do not give the Greens as an option in their questionnaire. Undoubtedly, this drags down what would be Green support, with consequences for the support of the major parties. This alone may explain more of the discrepancy between Ipsos and other pollsters than anything else (and we should note that Ipsos is, by far, not the pollster that most often finds itself out of the peloton).

Some might think the exclusion of the Greens from Ipsos's surveys is a problem, but consider that in the 2011 election the Greens and other parties totaled 4.8% support. Other pollsters would have us believe that this support has increased by more than half. That is certainly possible, but polls consistently over-estimate the support of the Green Party in virtually every jurisdiction. One of the pollsters that consistently does this the least is, as it turns out, Ipsos Reid.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The seat implications of electoral reform

In my article for the CBC today, I've taken a look at the various proposals for electoral reform and what they would mean in terms of seats. The Conservatives want to stick with first-past-the-post, the system currently in place, while the NDP is today putting forward a motion in favour of mixed-member proportional representation. The Liberal Party's membership has supported moving to a preferential ballot, though it remains to be seen whether or not the Liberals will add that to their platform for 2015. It seems likely, considering that Justin Trudeau has often mentioned it.

Please go take a look at the article at CBC.ca before reading any further. I've explained what I've done there, and also discussed some of the practical implications. But I thought I'd provide a little more detail here at the regional level for these seat estimates.

First, let's just start with the current polling averages as they were what all of my calculations were based on.

Current polling averages
The Liberals have 35% support, followed by the Conservatives at 31% and the New Democrats at 21%.

Now, here is what these numbers would likely give in terms of seats.

Note that, despite trailing by four points, the Conservatives narrowly come out in front in the seat count nationwide. Also, despite having a combined 11.4% support, the Greens and Bloc win just 0.9% of the seats.

The Conservatives win the most seats in British Columbia, despite trailing by three points there. The New Democrats take the bulk of Quebec's seats, despite being two points back of the Liberals.

Next, mixed-member proportional representation which, for the purposes of this analysis and easier comparison, I've simplified to proportional distribution of the 338 seats in the House (which is, in the end, the net result of the proposed system).

Note here how some of the discrepancies in FPTP are rectified, notably in British Columbia and Quebec. Also note that the opposition parties have a fairer shake in Alberta and the Prairies, while the Conservatives get their due in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

And finally, my estimates of the outcome of a preferential ballot, all else being equal (with MMP and especially with preferential balloting, the parties would change their behaviour - but let's assume they didn't).

Now there are new discrepancies between first-ranked support and the eventual outcome. The Liberals fall just short of a majority. The NDP comes in second despite trailing the Conservatives by 10 points on first-ranked balloting.

Regionally, the Conservatives finish third in B.C. despite being second in support and the Liberals finish third in the Prairies despite being 13 points up on the NDP. The Liberals again finish second, but now by an even greater margin, in Quebec. And the Conservatives are shut out of Atlantic Canada though they are virtually even with the NDP.

But while preferential voting does not mimic first-ranked support, that does not necessarily make it non-representative.

Look at the EKOS polling I based these second-choice calculations upon. Combining first and second choice gives the Liberals a "theoretical ceiling" of 57%, against 54% for the NDP and 35% for the Conservatives. This is not all that different from Nanos Research's numbers on which parties Canadians would consider voting for: they were 56% for the Liberals and 43% apiece for the NDP and Conservatives in today's update from the firm. (This is actually an uptick for the Tories - over the last year the Liberals have averaged 53%, the NDP 43%, and the Conservatives 40% in Nanos's polling).

Food for thought, if this discussion ever becomes a serious proposal. I think a majority government by either the Liberals or the NDP would be required to get either of these changes implemented (though I wonder about the legitimacy of one party pushing through drastic electoral change). For the moment, at least, that does not seem like a probable outcome for 2015.

Monday, December 1, 2014

147 years of elections

Polling has been a little thin lately, so let's take a look at the "only poll that counts." (As an aside, I loathe that phrase - it is the equivalent of saying "the only time your opinion counts is when my job is at stake.") And that means every federal election that has been held since 1867.

One of the things that struck me as I constructed the chart below was the degree of stability in Canadian politics. When you see the peaks and valleys, you may wonder what I'm on about. But political parties have often stuck to a fairly steady level of support.

This was particularly so early on in Canada's political history. Until the First World War disrupted the old order, parties shifted by only a handful of points. Between 1867 and 1911, the Conservatives took between 45.4% and 53.4% of the vote without fail. The Liberals captured between 45.1% and 53.8%. It was shifts in the margins that changed governments.

But that was in the era of a two-party system. There were periods of stability after the CCF arrived on the scene as well. From 1935 to 1953, the Conservatives (Progressive Conservatives after 1942) took between 27.7% and 31% of the vote in every election. Between 1963 and 1980 the Tories took between 32.4% and 35.9%. And even in the current period of turmoil, the Conservatives have only gone from 36.3% in 2006 to 39.6% in 2011.

The Liberals, too, had long periods of stability, capturing between 40.1% and 44.4% of the vote in every election between 1917 and 1935. Between 1993 and 2004, the party took between 36.7% and 41.3%.

And then there are the historically smaller parties, who have a much more reliable clientele. After the NDP's first two elections, the party took between 15.4% and 20.4% of the vote in every vote between 1965 and 1988. In fact, with the exceptions of the 1993, 1997, 2000, and 2011 elections, the party has fallen in that range in every election since 1965.

In their times, the CCF and Social Credit (with the Ralliement des créditistes) had a solid chunk of the vote as well, hardly shifting from one election to the next.

Of course, there were moments of great change: the first appearance of a three-party system in 1921, when the Progressives and United Farmers took 21.9% of the vote. The depression, followed by the Second World War, heralded a collapse in the Conservatives that was only briefly undone by John Diefenbaker between the 1957 and 1962 elections. Then there was the smashing victories by Brian Mulroney in the 1980s, followed by the final collapse of the Progressive Conservatives and the inauguration of a five party system. Most recently, there has been the swift decline of the Liberals and the breakthrough of the NDP in 2011. These again may be reversed in 2015.

(Note: The charts above and below were based primarily on the Library of Parliament figures on election results. Where there were gaps, I relied on the Wikipedia entries for older elections, which in turn are based on the Library of Parliament results as well. There are some notable differences in some of the numbers, however. This is likely due to the Library of Parliament records including some other candidates in the totals of the major parties, as in many elections there were Independent This and Labour/Progressive/Nationalist-That. I have deferred to the Library of Parliament when there have been discrepancies).

The chart I put together below shows the average results for each of the parties and their various iterations over select periods of time. In the brackets above each of the years I've put the reason why I selected these periods (i.e., a two-party system, a three-party system, the formation of the NDP, the collapse of Social Credit, etc.).

Overall, the Liberals have had the best historical performance with an average of 42.3% support, followed by the various classifications of the Tories (between 40% and 41.5%).

The NDP has averaged 16.5% support since 1962, putting them just up on the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties (who, recall, did field candidates in 1988).

The CCF averaged 11.2% during its history, while the Bloc Québécois has averaged 10.6% support. These are the only parties to have averaged over 10% support over their entire history.

The Progressives and United Farmers averaged 6.7% support, followed by Social Credit at 5% and the Greens at 2.4% (the Greens first fielded candidates in 1984, and took less than 1% of the vote in every election until 2004). Labour candidates averaged 0.9% in contested elections.

If we look at the era of the two-party system, from 1867 to 1917, the Conservatives were just a few points ahead of the Liberals. But since the three-party system started in earnest in 1935, the Liberals have averaged 39.2%, against 32.9% to 36.1% for Conservative parties.

Since the NDP was formed, Liberal support was roughly even with the Conservatives at about 36.7%, and since Social Credit and the Créditistes petered out in 1980, the Liberals have averaged 33.7% to 28.8% for the PCs or 38.1% for the combined totals of the PCs/Reform/Conservatives. The NDP upticks to 16.7% over that time.

During the era of the five party system, the Liberals reigned supreme averaging 40.2% between 1993 and 2000. Reform and the Canadian Alliance came second with an average of just 21.2%, followed by the PCs at 15.7%, the Bloc at 11.6%, and the NDP at just 8.8%.

But since 2004, in what we would consider the current system, the Conservatives have been ahead with an average of 35.8% support, followed by the Liberals at 28%, the NDP at 20.5%, the Bloc at 9.8%, and the Greens at 4.9%.

I also identified each party's 'peak period', which I have defined as three consecutive elections starting in 1935 (and for the Progressives and Labour, prior to that). 

It can be difficult for parties to put together three good elections. Consider Mulroney's victories in 1984 and 1988, in which he averaged 46.5%. That was the Tories' best performance following the inauguration of a three-party system. But those two elections were book-ended by defeat in 1980 and catastrophe in 1993.

The Liberals had their highest peak between 1940 and 1949, not coincidentally straddling World War II. The Liberals averaged 48.8% over that time, the PCs averaging just 29.3% and the CCF taking 12.5%.

The Conservative peak occurred under Diefenbaker between 1957 and 1962, when the party averaged 43.3% support. The Liberals took 37.8% over that time, the NDP/CCF taking 11.2%, and Social Credit averaging 7%.

The New Democrats are currently in the midst of their peak, and it seems likely that it will be extended into 2015. They have averaged 22.1% support since 2006, with the Conservatives at 37.9%, the Liberals at 25.1%, the Bloc at 8.9%, and the Greens at 5.1%.

Continuing through the list, the CCF peaked between 1945 and 1953, when it averaged 13.5% of the vote. The Bloc Québécois was at its height between 1993 and 2000, when it averaged 11.6%. And the Greens peaked between 2004 and 2008, with 5.2%.

Social Credit and the Ralliement peaked between 1962 and 1965, when together it averaged 10.7% support. That still put it behind the NDP, a party it never displaced for third spot.

The Progressives and the United Farmers peaked between 1921 and 1926, when they together averaged 12.2%. This overlapped somewhat with the peak of Labour candidates, who took 2.3% of the vote between 1917 and 1925. Though the three-party system only consistently took its place starting in 1935 with the formation of the CCF, from 1921 to 1930 the Liberals and Conservatives were deprived of an average of almost 15 points.

And that ends our little trip down memory lane as the on-going history of Canadian politics continues.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

From bad to worse for the NL PCs

A quick follow-up on yesterday's post on the two by-elections held last night in Newfoundland and Labrador. By-elections over the last three years have been rough for the governing Progressive Conservatives. These last two were catastrophic.

The Liberals won both of these ridings by very comfortable margins after benefiting from gigantic swings from both the NDP and the PCs to their party.

In Trinity-Bay de Verde, Liberal Steve Crocker took 65.5% of the vote, with the Tories dropping to 29.1% and the NDP to 5.4%.

In Humber East, Stelman Flynn of the Liberals took 56.1% of the vote, with the Tories plummeting to 36.1% and the NDP falling to 7.8%.

The swing that occurred in Humber East is absolutely extraordinary. The Liberals gained 47.6 points and the PCs fell 42.1 points, for a total swing of 89.7 points. This has to be one of the largest swings in Canadian electoral history, if not the largest. To recall, just three years ago the PCs took 78.2% of the vote here and the Liberals only 8.5%. The PC vote share fell by more than half. The Liberal share increased almost seven fold.

In Trinity-Bay de Verde, the Liberals picked up 41.6 points and the PCs fell 32.8 points. The NDP vote fell by almost two-thirds.

These were horrific results for the PCs. The seven by-elections that have been held since the last provincial election have all been bad for the Tories, but these swings of 74.4 and 89.7 points are the largest to have occurred. In every previous by-election, the Tories had at least maintained half of their vote share. Here, they lost a majority of it. Before last night, the Tories had shed an average of 22.8 points per by-election. Last night, they dropped an average of 37.5 points.

A shocker? In terms of the scale of the Liberal victory in Humber East, most certainly. But after the extraordinary results the Liberals had put up in other by-elections, no one was counting the party out. I said so myself in yesterday's post, and the By-Election Barometer's subjective analysis for this riding said so as well (no model could plausibly predict such a historic swing). The Liberals appear unbeatable in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But these are by-elections, and the next provincial election may not be so easy. Regardless, there is no way to look at these results and consider the Tories' chances next year anything but slim.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More dramatic swings in store in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Two by-elections are being held today in Newfoundland and Labrador in the ridings of Trinity-Bay de Verde and Humber East. Both were won with massive margins by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2011. So, of course, that means both could very well swing over to the Liberals tonight.

Politics in Newfoundland and Labrador have been in a remarkable state of transition since Dwight Ball took over the Liberal Party in November 2013 and Kathy Dunderdale resigned in January 2014. The Liberals won only six seats in 2011, but after a series of floor-crossings and by-election victories their caucus has more than doubled to 14. The party has won five straight by-elections, including the last four in which the Tories were the incumbents. Their largest victory occurred just a few weeks ago, when they won the by-election in Conception Bay South by 1.8 points, after trailing by 62.5 points in 2011.

No seat in Newfoundland and Labrador can thus be considered a safe one for the Tories. But will the party finally be able to break the Liberals' streak tonight?

The chart above shows how support has shifted in the five by-elections that have been held since the 2011 general election. The first, in Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, was held before Ball became party leader (the Liberals nevertheless held on).

In every by-election since then, the Liberals have gained at least 26 points, picking up almost 43 in the by-election held in Conception Bay South. The Tories have lost between 21 and 34 points in each of the last four contests, while the NDP has lost either a little (one point in both Carbonear-Harbour Grace and St. George's-Stephensville East) or a lot (more than nine in Virginia Waters, 21 in Conception Bay South).

On average, the Liberals have gained 23.5 points in by-elections held since the last general election, and 33.8 points in the four held since Ball took over the party. The PCs have shed 25.2 points on average over the last four contests, while the New Democrats have lost 8.1 points.

This falls into line with what the polls have been saying. If we look at the last three polls in the province, done by three different firms between the end of July and October, we get the Liberals at 56% support, followed by the Tories at 29.2% and the NDP at 13.8%. Since the 2011 election, that represents a drop of 26.9 points for the PCs and 10.8 points for the NDP, with a gain of 36.9 points for the Liberals. Those shifts are almost identical to the average changes in support over the last four by-elections.

If we look at it in terms of proportional changes, the Liberals have more than quadrupled their vote share in the last four by-elections. The New Democrats have retained just about two-thirds of theirs, while the PCs have retained only three out of every five voters who cast a ballot for their party in 2011.

So what does that tell us about the by-elections being held tonight? The By-Election Barometer considers Trinity-Bay de Verde a 'Strong Liberal' pick-up, while Humber East is a 'Likely PC' hold. Going by the past shifts we've seen in other by-elections, this seems reasonable.

Trinity-Bay de Verde was won by the PCs with 61.9% of the vote in 2011, with the Liberals taking 23.9% and the NDP capturing 14.2%. The margin of 38 points between the PCs and Liberals is far smaller than the swings that have occurred in each of the last four by-elections (the smallest swing was 50.3 points in St. George's-Stephensville East, the largest was 69.8 points in Carbonear-Harbour Grace).

The riding is thus well within striking distance of the Liberals. If the average point swing we've seen since Ball became Liberal leader occurs in Trinity-Bay de Verde, the party should take about 58% of the vote to 37% for the Tories (and 6% for the NDP). It would require a comparatively very poor performance by the Liberals to lose this one.

But Humber East could be just outside of their grasp. The Tories took 78.2% of the vote here in 2011, with the NDP taking 13.3% and the Liberals just 8.5%. That puts the gap between the Liberals and the Tories at 69.7 points - just 0.1 percentage points less than the swing that occurred in Carbonear-Harbour Grace. The Liberals would need another massive swing of that size in order to wrestle the riding away.

It might be too much to ask to repeat that performance. If the average swing occurs, the Tories would win it by 53% to 42% for the Liberals (and 5% for the NDP). Even if we apply the proportional swing, dropping the PCs by a factor of 0.6 and quadrupling the Liberal vote, they still come up short by 11 points.

Winning Humber East will be a tall order for the Liberals, but they have shown they are capable of such enormous swings before in Carbonear-Harbour Grace. With the shifts we've seen in Newfoundland and Labrador, even a riding like Humber East could flip. Tom Marshall, who held the riding for the Tories since 2003, was a popular MHA and the riding was won by the Liberals when they were last in government. Despite what the numbers say about the likelihood of Humber East going over to the Liberals, they nevertheless have a shot at it. And that just about sums up how bad things are for the Progressive Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

NDP moves ahead in back-and-forth Quebec race

Yesterday was a good day for the New Democrats in Quebec. Maria Mourani, a former Bloc MP, announced that she was joining the NDP (at least on the membership rolls, if not in caucus) and a new poll published by La Presse put the party and Thomas Mulcair in front in the province. But is this part of a positive trend for the NDP leader, or just another wobble back and forth?
CROP was last in the field on October 16-20. Since that poll, the NDP has picked up four points to move into the lead in Quebec with 34% support. The Liberals dropped five points, the only shift outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples, to 32%.

The Conservatives placed third in the poll, up one point to 16%, putting the Bloc Québécois in fourth with 14% (unchanged). The Greens had 4% support.

Of the entire sample, 10% was undecided and another 5% would not vote or did not respond to this question.

Note that support for Others (which would include Forces et Démocratie) was at 0%, as it always is in CROP's polling.

Is this slip by the Liberals a sign of trouble for the party? That is always a possibility, of course, but in CROP's polling we've seen the Liberals and NDP trade the lead back and forth for all of 2014.

There is little discernible trend in these numbers. The Liberals and NDP have been neck-and-neck throughout the year. But CROP did record the same sort of bump for the Liberals in the summer that other polls did, so it would seem that the party may be coming off that high to more usual levels of support.

A negative trend for the Bloc Québécois after Mario Beaulieu became leader in June, however, is readily apparent. The Conservatives are on the upswing, but that is from a very low point. They are still generally were they have been in the province since the last election.

The New Democrats increased their lead among election-deciding francophones, stretching it to 12 points with 39% support to 27% for the Liberals. The party has not trailed among francophones in any poll since February. The Bloc was at 17%, while the Conservatives were at 13%.

Among non-francophones, the Liberals tumbled 17 points to 49%, the lowest score they have managed among this group since before Justin Trudeau took over the party. The sample size is small, however, and would normally carry a margin of error of about eight points. Nevertheless, it may be something to keep an eye on. 

The Conservatives were up to 29% among non-francophones, which might potentially put them in the running in a riding or two on the West Island. The NDP was third with 17%, followed by the Greens at 5% support.

The New Democrats were ahead on the island of Montreal as a whole with 42%, followed by the Liberals, who were down 15 points to 25%. The Bloc was at 16% and the Conservatives at 15% (coupled with their strong non-francophone numbers, this suggests they are doing very badly among island-dwelling francophones).

Off the island of Montreal but within the metropolitan region, the Liberals were narrowly ahead with 32% to 31% for the NDP. The Bloc had 19% support here, its highest in Quebec, while the Conservatives were up seven points to 16%.

In and around Quebec City, the NDP was in front with 40% support, followed by the Conservatives at 23% (their lowest since the spring) and the Liberals at 18% (their lowest since February 2013). The Bloc had 13% support in the provincial capital.

And in the rest of Quebec, the Liberals were ahead with 38% support to 31% for the NDP, 16% for the Conservatives, and just 10% for the Bloc Québécois. Considering the 'RoQ' is where all of the Bloc's current or former MPs were elected (save Mourani) in 2011, that spells a lot of trouble for the party.

Indeed, with these numbers the Bloc would be shut out entirely. The New Democrats would ride their advantage among francophones to around 49 seats, with the Liberals capturing 21 and the Conservatives taking eight.

It makes for a good poll for the NDP. Mulcair was ahead on who Quebecers preferred for Prime Minister with 29%, a gain of seven points since last month. Trudeau was down six points to 22%, while Stephen Harper had 13% support. As these numbers do not exclude undecideds or people who say 'none of the above', we can say that Mulcair and Harper appear to be about as popular as their own parties. Trudeau, however, scored five points lower than the Liberals before undecideds were excluded.

One interesting tidbit from the CROP poll was the breakdown of federal support by who Quebecers support at the provincial level. With these numbers, we see that Philippe Couillard's Liberal supporters primarily intend to vote for the federal Liberals (48%) and the Conservatives (31%). The Parti Québécois's supporters are split between the Bloc (44%) and the NDP (31%), while supporters of the Coalition Avenir Québec would vote for either the NDP (45%) or the Liberals (30%).

That the Bloc cannot even draw a majority of PQ voters to its banner is another nail in its coffin.

But we can also reverse these numbers to see where each of the federal parties draw their support from.

Quebecers who vote for the Bloc Québécois are primarily PQ supporters (about 70% by my own calculations), with a smattering of CAQ voters (14%). That makes for a rather simple coalition of nationalists.

The Liberals and Conservatives are a little less monochromatic. About 57% of the federal Liberals' base comes from the provincial Liberals, while another 25% comes from the CAQ. But these two parties generally see eye-to-eye on things (the CAQ has even accused the PLQ of borrowing liberally from its platform). The Conservatives have a similar breakdown, 66% of their voters being supporters of the PLQ and 19% of the CAQ.

The New Democrats have a much trickier coalition to keep together. Their largest block of supporters are drawn from the CAQ, at 35%. The PQ and Québec Solidaire each provide about 21% of the NDP's support base, while 19% are provincial Liberals.

There are many ways to divvy these NDP voters up. On the national divide, about 42% of them are sovereigntists (PQ+QS) and 77% of them are nationalist (adding the CAQ to that total). Put another way, 54% are federalist (CAQ+PLQ). The sovereigntist/federalist split also aligns with how the party's supporters are divided between centre-right and centre-left.

This makes for a potentially divisive coalition of voters. It is obvious why QS would support the NDP (the party has always been more of a left-wing party than it is a sovereigntist one), and the PQ and NDP have similar social democratic roots. But the NDP is also federalist, so that makes them an option for centre-left provincial Liberals, while the party is somewhat populist and an 'alternative' to the traditional two party system, which might attract CAQ voters.

On the other hand, that the NDP is federalist could push QS and PQ voters away in the spotlight of an election campaign, while it is further from the CAQ and PLQ on the left-right spectrum than either the Conservatives or the federal Liberals. It makes for a difficult balancing act for Thomas Mulcair.

But he seems to be mostly pulling it off. The old sovereigntist/federalist divide in Quebec is fading away, as voters move from one party to another. And even the left/right politics of the province are being turned on its head, as labour-busting Pierre-Karl Péladeau emerges as the saviour of the centre-left PQ. It makes for a complicated political landscape in the province. Perhaps that is why Mulcair, a veteran of the provincial scene, has managed it. So far.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Will Conservatives drop, Liberals gain in Monday's by-elections?

Update on Election Night: Answer? Yes. The Conservatives took a hit in their vote share more or less in line with how they have performed in past by-elections, but nevertheless put up some decent and respectable results with (at time of writing, with still some votes to be counted) 63% in Yellowhead and 49% in Whitby-Oshawa. They also won both ridings, which in first-past-the-post is all that matters.

The Liberals had a good night in terms of vote share increase, jumping to 41% in Whitby-Oshawa (almost tripling their share) and 20% in Yellowhead (increasing it more than sixfold). But they still came up short. The Liberals will do well in 2015 if they can replicate these kinds of swings, but will not go very far if they just replicate these close losses instead.

The New Democrats had a bad night in Whitby-Oshawa, dropping to just 8%. They held their own in Yellowhead, however, with 10%. But the party's future prosperity lies not in rural Alberta, but in seat-rich Ontario. The drop of more than half of their vote share in Whitby-Oshawa is not a promising sign. But these are still just by-elections, when a two-horse race can have a stronger influence on strategic voting than might be the case in a general election. Nevertheless, little silver lining to be had for the NDP. 

In terms of the polls, Forum should have quit when it was ahead. The polls of November 11 that I wrote about below were quite close, but their election eve polling of November 16 was worse. And in the case of Yellowhead, much worse.

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The Conservatives have put up poor results in byelections since winning a majority government in 2011, and will again be put to the test in two contests in Ontario and Alberta on Monday. Will they be able to hold on to their two seats?

You can read the rest of the piece on CBC.ca. It goes over some of the regional-level polling Alberta and Ontario, the by-election record of the major parties since 2011, and how the Conservative government's record stacks up.

Let's briefly here go over the by-election polls that were out this morning. They were conducted by Forum Research, and we all know how hit or miss their by-election polling has been in the past. One thing to take into consideration, however, is that Forum's by-election record is actually not too bad in the GTA, where the Whitby-Oshawa by-election is being held. Their notable misses took place in Alberta, Manitoba, and elsewhere in Ontario. We'll see if that trend continues on Monday.

Forum now has it as a close race in Whitby-Oshawa, with Pat Perkins of the Conservatives at 44% and Celina Caesar-Chavannes at 40%. That represents a narrowing of the gap, as Perkins does pick up three points while Caesar-Chavannes picks up eight compared to Forum's poll of October 27. The NDP's Trish McAulife is down three points to 12%.

That it has become a close race is a little bit of a surprise. The Flaherty legacy is strong in the riding. So, we should take these results with a little caution. When Forum has been off in the past, often it was an over-estimation of the challenger's support. So that would suggest Perkins has more of an edge than the poll indicates.

In Yellowhead, we get our first poll of the campaign. Jim Eglinski of the Conservatives was well ahead with 62%, followed by 16% for the Liberals and 12% for the NDP. These are intuitive numbers at the very least.

Unless Whitby-Oshawa flips, the thing I will be looking for on Monday is whether the Conservatives continue to take a significant hit in these by-elections to the benefit of the Liberals, continuing to corroborate what the polls are showing to be the case at a wider level.