Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mulcair favoured as PM due to likely coding error (updated)

When a poll result is counter-intuitive, and not marginally so, you should probably take a look to make sure you did everything correctly. Last week, The Hill Times reported on a new poll by Forum Research with a headline that read: "Libs gain at expense of Conservatives, but Mulcair favoured as leader who would make best Prime Minister".

That didn't make much sense. The Liberals were ahead of the New Democrats in the poll by 12 points, yet Justin Trudeau trailed Thomas Mulcair on the PM question by 10 points? The reason it didn't make much sense is because it was probably wrong, and a coding or transcription error on the part of Forum Research is to blame.

UPDATE: As appeared to be the case, Forum Research has confirmed there was an error in its two reports that listed the numbers that should have been Trudeau's as Mulcair's and the numbers that should have been Mulcair's as Trudeau's. So, the error crept in when Forum took the data from their polling and transcribed it into their reports, both of which contained analysis as to why Mulcair was polling ahead of Trudeau on this question. 

This means that for these two polls, Trudeau was ahead on who would make the best Prime Minister with 29%, with Mulcair at 19% on Jan. 16-17 and 18% on Jan. 23-24. Forum says it has corrected the issue.

I've obtained the detailed reports of Forum's most recent polls, and the firm has some numbers out for a Jan. 23-24 poll that shows generally the same numbers that they recorded in the Jan. 16-17 poll reported by The Hill Times. Here is the table showing how the numbers have evolved on this question:

Forum report for Jan. 23-24 poll

What happened between Dec. 12-13 and Jan. 17 to change things so dramatically? Voting intentions did not shift to any similar degree between that time. Polling by Nanos Research concerning who would make the best prime minister has consistently tracked very closely to what Forum has been recording - until these last two polls, that is.

Forum releases a lot of data tables in their reports, so it makes it possible to see how the various demographic and regional breakdowns look. For the Best PM question, the numbers don't make much sense. The Liberals leading with 58% support in Atlantic Canada to 23% for the NDP, yet Mulcair gets 47% to 12% for Trudeau on the Best PM question in the region?

But then you get to the table of Best PM by voting preference. You can see why this is a problem pretty quickly:

Forum report for Jan. 16-17 poll

Apparently, Mulcair is the overwhelming choice of Liberal voters and Trudeau is the overwhelming choice of NDP voters. Time for a leader swap!

If you run the numbers using this table exactly as presented, you get pretty much the exact same national results as reported by Forum. But let's assume that this is the table that is wrong, rather than the overall numbers. That would mean that 53% of 609 Liberal voters prefer Trudeau, and 65% of 381 NDP voters prefer Mulcair. Perhaps the columns were just misplaced on this chart. If you do that, however, you come to a national tally of 24% on this question for Trudeau and 23% for Mulcair.

So, it seems that somewhere in Forum's coding or transcription process, the numbers were swapped between Trudeau and Mulcair, or Trudeau and Mulcair's names were put in the wrong spot on the chart (meaning Trudeau would be the one at 29%, and Mulcair at 19%). Either that, or their detailed report is rife with typos. Both the Jan. 16-17 and Jan. 23-24 polls show the same error, while previous polls have everything in the right place.

It isn't entirely The Hill Times's fault for the misinterpretation, the article was written by a great, but very busy, Parliament Hill reporter who can be forgiven for the omission as the analysis by Forum in the report itself talks about how Mulcair is ahead of Trudeau on the Best Prime Minister question. But there is a lesson in here, though. If a number doesn't look right, it probably isn't right, and both pollsters and journalists should be damn sure to double check to make sure everything is as it should be.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Manitoba NDP takes a beating in by-elections

Last night's results in the two Manitoba by-elections in the ridings of Morris and Arthur-Virden showed that Greg Selinger's NDP government has indeed taken a big hit from the increase in the PST that started their poll numbers spiraling downwards in 2013. Though the winners were never in doubt - both ridings are solidly Tory - the NDP dropped more than half of its vote share from the 2011 provincial election and, overall, finished third on the night.

We'll start in Arthur-Virden, where the results were particularly bad for the New Democrats.

PC candidate Doyle Piwniuk won handily with 68.2% of the vote, improving upon Larry Maguire's performance in 2011 and putting up the best numbers for the Tories since at least 1990.

Liberal candidate Floyd Buhler finished second, surging from 3.8% in 2011 to 16% last night, the best performance for the Liberals in Arthur-Virden since 1995. He was the only candidate last night (excluding the Greens and the independent Ray Shaw, who did not run in 2011) to get more raw votes despite the steep slide in turnout. Buhler received 738 votes, compared to 288 for the Liberal candidate in 2011.

The New Democrats' Bob Senff fell most sharply, to just 10.4% after the NDP took 30.2% in this riding in 2011. That was a drop of almost 20 points, and the NDP took just 21% of the vote haul they did in 2011. It was their worst performance since before 1990.

The Greens' Kate Storey captured 5.3% of the vote.

There was less movement in Morris, but again the NDP lost support to the Liberals and the Greens. PC candidate Shannon Martin's vote share was slightly lower than Mavis Taillieu's, at 70% to 74%, but that is a minor quibble when you take more than two-thirds of the vote.

The NDP's Dean Harder narrowly placed second, with 12.9%. That was a drop of 6.5 points and the party's worst showing since 1995. The Liberals' Jeremy Barber took 11.2%, up from 6.6% in 2011, and their best performance since 2003.

Shaw took 3.7% of the vote while Alain Landry of the Greens captured 2.3%.

Overall, it was a rough night for the New Democrats. In these two ridings in 2011, they had captured just under 25% of votes cast. That fell to less than 12% last night. The Liberals increased their share from 5% to 14%, while the Tories held firm.

Average vote share across the two ridings (eliminating the difference of turnout between the two) was 69.1% for the Progressive Conservatives, 13.6% for the Liberals, 11.7% for the New Democrats, and 3.8% for the Greens.

In 2011, the average vote share in Morris and Arthur-Virden was 70% for the PCs, 24.8% for the NDP, and just 5.2% for the Liberals.

That means the Liberals picked up 8.4 points last night, primarily from the NDP. They dropped 13.1 points, with the remainder going to the Greens and Shaw. The PCs dropped by just 0.9 points.

If we apply those proportional changes to the province-wide results in 2011, we get the Tories at 43%, the NDP at 22%, and the Liberals at 20%. That is remarkably close to the last Probe Research survey, that put the Tories ahead with 48% to 26% for the NDP and 20% for the Liberals. These ridings did just about as expected in that respect, and the results go a long way to confirming the NDP's slide. It also suggests that the Liberal support recorded in the polls can actually manifest itself at the ballot box - at least in a low-stakes by-election. But what about a general election?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

By-elections in Manitoba today

Two provincial by-elections are being held in Manitoba today, and both are expected to be easily won by the opposition Progressive Conservatives. But that doesn't mean the two are without interest: as the first opportunity for (some) Manitobans to express their opinions of the NDP government since the PST increase of 2013, the results could be revealing. It will also serve as a first test for the third-party Liberals and their new leader, Rana Bokhari.

The two ridings up for grabs are Arthur-Virden in southwestern Manitoba and Morris in the southeast. Both of these are rural ridings, with the largest towns being Niverville in Morris (population: 3,500) and Virden in Arthur-Virden (population: 3,100).

Arthur-Virden was vacated by Larry Maguire after he narrowly won the federal by-election in Brandon-Souris. Maguire had represented the riding since 1999, and the PC vote in Arthur-Virden has been growing in every election since. In fact, the 66% of the vote he took in 2011 was the best performance by a Tory candidate for some time. This makes it likely that Doyle Piwniuk will be able to retain the riding - and with the NDP vote tanking province wide he may be able to take as much as 71% of ballots cast (as a simple swing from the last Probe Research poll would suggest).

The New Democrats peaked in 2003 here, when they captured 42% of the vote. Their share had been growing as the Liberal vote slipped to just 4% that year, where it has roughly remained. But the NDP has dropped to around 30% over the last two elections. With their sinking poll numbers, their candidate Bob Senff could drop further to around 18%. The Liberals, who have put up Floyd Buhler, could put up their best result since 1999. The Greens also have a candidate in the race.

The by-election in Morris follows the resignation of PC MLA Mavis Taillieu last year. The riding has been solidly PC for a very long time, and 2011 represented a strong year for the party. Shannon Martin should be able to take the riding comfortably.

The New Democrats saw their vote increase in elections between 1990 and 2007, peaking at 32% that year. But it dropped significantly in 2011 to just 19%, and Dean Harder is in danger of falling into third place for the first time since 1999, based on the provincial polls. Jeremy Barber of the Liberals could finish second, after the party dropped to just 7% in 2011. They have a better base here than they do in Arthur-Virden, however, as they took one-fourth of the vote between 1990 and 1999, and were still at 20% in 2003 (when the party was at just 4% in Arthur-Virden). A Green and independent candidate are also in the running here.

So the question is not whether the Progressive Conservatives will hold these ridings - they absolutely will. Instead the question is whether the governing New Democrats will be able to hold on to second place in both Morris and Arthur-Virden. The NDP's vote has fallen dramatically province wide, but especially so in the rural parts of the province. It will be interestingly to see if the Liberals can make a splash. They have a good shot at it: the party has traditionally performed respectably in Morris and their federal cousin almost stole the riding of Brandon-Souris, which contains Arthur-Virden, in November.

The results won't make any real difference in the legislature, but if the Liberals put up some strong numbers the New Democrats may have to be more concerned with the party in their rear-view mirror than the one charging ahead of them.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

First national poll of 2014 much like last polls of 2013

It was a long desert we walked through, with just one national federal poll released between Nov. 29 and Jan. 21, but yesterday Abacus Data broke the polling silence with a survey showing that not much has changed in the interim.

Just a friendly reminder that my eBook, "Tapping into the Pulse", a polling retrospective of 2013, can be pre-ordered here.

The last poll publicly released by Abacus Data was conducted on Oct. 18-22, but their report refers to the changes in support from their last survey conducted a little later in October. The voting intentions results of that poll were not released at the time, and instead just the numbers related to the then unfolding Duffy-Wright scandal were published. For that reason, I'll be comparing numbers to the Oct. 18-22 poll in this post.

Since that poll, the Liberals have picked up two points and continue to lead with 34%. The Conservatives dropped four points (outside the margin of error of probabilistic samples of comparable size - technically, as an online poll these margins don't apply) to 28%, while the New Democrats were up one point to 24%. The Greens were up two points to 7%, and the Bloc Québécois was unchanged at 5%.

One-in-four respondents were undecided, a drop of six points since the Duffy poll at the end of October. I mention this because it is interesting to see how voting intentions changed when looking at the entire sample: where did those undecideds go? The Liberals picked up three points among the entire sample, as did the NDP, while the Tories dropped two. What this means is that, while the Liberals and NDP only made small proportional gains among committed voters, they actually made larger gains among all voters.

The Abacus report (PDF) is full of these sorts of interesting details, as they include both the raw and weighted sample sizes and the full results for all demographic breakdowns among the entire sample as well as the sample of decided voters. It is the kind of standards of transparency every polling firm should be meeting, but very few do.

For the regional numbers, the only significant shift in support occurred in Ontario. There, the Conservatives fell eight points to 30%. The Liberals moved ahead and increased their support to 37%, while the NDP was virtually unchanged at 23%. No other movement would be considered significant, with the insignificant exception of a Green spike from 2% to 8% in the Prairies.

Large, but not necessarily significant, shifts in support also occurred in British Columbia and Alberta. In B.C., the Conservatives moved ahead with 36%, while the Liberals dropped to 26% and the NDP to 25%. In Alberta, the Conservatives fell to 51% and the NDP jumped to 16%, with the Liberals unchanged at 24%.

The Conservatives continued to lead in the Prairies with 37% to 29% for the Liberals, while the Liberals led in Quebec with 35% to 28% for the NDP. In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals had 53% and the NDP and Tories were tied at just 21% support.

But despite the six-point lead in national voting intentions, the Liberals would only win a plurality by four seats. This is due to the strong numbers the Conservatives put up in the West, where they win a disproportionately high number of seats. They also aren't weak enough in Ontario to give the Liberals a majority there, while in Quebec the NDP wins a lot of close races.

In total, the Liberals would likely win about 131 seats on the electoral map that will be in force in 2015, while the Conservatives would win 127 seats and the NDP would take 76. The Greens and Bloc would win two seats apiece.

Each caucus would emerge rather unbalanced. Just over half of Conservatives seats would come in the West, while only 10% would come from Quebec and Atlantic Canada. Almost 85% of Liberal seats would be won east of Manitoba, while three-quarters of NDP MPs would either be from Ontario or Quebec.

Not every poll that has shown these sort of national numbers have shown such strong regional divisions, so it is not a given that the Liberals would be unable to win a larger minority with these national support levels. But it does demonstrate how efficient and inefficient the Conservative and Liberal votes can respectively be. The Alberta and Prairie numbers are not unusual in this regard, but the ones in B.C. are somewhat different than what we saw at the end of 2013. If the Tories have moved ahead there by 10 points, that makes it very difficult for the Liberals to pull ahead in the seat count. We'll see what other surveys show in the coming weeks.

This sort of scenario doesn't give the Liberals an unworkable minority, however. If they were so inclined, the Liberals and NDP could combine for a majority government, at least in practice if not officially.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

PQ takes the lead in Léger polling

If Pauline Marois was wavering over the possibility of an election early in 2014, she might not anymore. In fact, with the numbers reported in yesterday's Léger/Le Journal de Montréal poll, she may have to pull the plug herself if she wants to send voters to the polls soon.
The Parti Québécois moved into the lead in Léger's polling with 36% support, up four points since the firm was last in the field on Dec. 2-5. The Liberals dropped four points to 33%, their worst result since March 2013.

The Coalition Avenir Québec was down two points to 17%, while Québec Solidaire was unchanged at 8%. The Greens were up one point to 3%, and support for other parties was also up one point to 3%.

None of these shifts in support would be considered statistically significant if this online survey had a probabilistic sample, though the numbers recorded elsewhere in the poll suggest the PQ is making gains. The number of undecideds was 6%, while 13% in total either said they were undecided or refused to respond to the question. That was a drop of seven points since the December poll.

Contrary to how Léger normally reports its findings, this survey included demographic breakdowns. These showed the PQ ahead among men by seven points, but among women by only one. Considering the sample sizes, the PQ and Liberals were generally tied among voters between the ages of 18 and 34, while voters between the ages of 35 and 44 split primarily between the Liberals and the CAQ. The PQ was definitively ahead among 45-54 year-olds and had a wide advantage among 55-64 year-olds (though not conclusively so). Among the oldest cohort, the PQ and Liberals were tied.

This is somewhat unusual. The PQ has traditionally done better among younger voters while the Liberals had the edge among older constituents. While this does suggest that the PQ's electorate is getting older (a long-term problem), in the short-term that is not a bad thing for the party: older people vote.

There were no major shifts at the regional levels, with the PQ ahead in the regions of Quebec with 44%, followed by the Liberals at 27% and the CAQ at 19%. In the Montreal region, the Liberals were down to 38% while the PQ was up to 32%, followed by the CAQ at 12% and QS at 11%. In Quebec City, the Liberals led with 34% to 29% for the CAQ and 24% for the PQ. Note that the CAQ has picked up 11 points since October, when the party was at just 18% in the capital.

Among francophones, the PQ led with 43% to 25% for the Liberals and 19% for the CAQ. Among non-francophones, the Liberals dropped to 62% (they have fallen a statistically significant 16 points since the end of August among these voters). No other party had more than 10% support among non-francophones, however, with the PQ topping the jumbled list.
With these levels of support, and thanks to their considerable advantage among francophones, the Parti Québécois would likely win a majority government of some 70 seats. The Liberals would take 47 seats, the CAQ would hold six, and QS would retain their two.

The regional divide here is clear: 60% of the PQ's seats come outside of the two metropolitan regions (though the party does win most of the ridings around the island of Montreal). The Liberals win just over 60% of their seats in the Montreal region, while the CAQ is reduced to their base around Quebec City.

Leadership seems to be an important driver in this swap between the PQ and Liberals. Marois picked up six points since December to be the choice for premier of 27% of respondents, while Philippe Couillard fell four points to 20% (he has dropped 10 points since June, and was the choice of only 63% of Liberal voters). This makes Marois a bit of a drag on her party (which had 32% support among all respondents, including undecideds) but Couillard a much more significant one as the Liberals had 28% support among all respondents. François Legault (the choice of 13%) and Françoise David (8%) do not have this issue. They are polling at about the same levels as their parties.

Couillard's numbers compare poorly to Marois on Léger's "satisfaction" question (more or less an approval rating). Couillard was at 30% approval to 51% disapproval, a net -21. Marois, on the other hand, had 39% approval to 54% disapproval, for a net score of -15. That was better than Legault's net -18 (30% approval to 48% disapproval), while David had the best overall numbers (34% approval and disapproval).

Satisfaction with the government was up five points to 38%, while dissatisfaction dropped six points to 56%. Support for sovereignty stood at 37% among all respondents, or 42% to 43% among decided respondents. That is up three or four points since December.

The parties are effectively carving out their issues among the electorate. When asked what would be the decisive issue for them in an upcoming election, 23% of respondents said healthcare, 16% said jobs, 11% said the deficit and the debt, and 10% said the values charter. Healthcare was a top issue for supporters of all parties, but the second most important issue was jobs among Liberals, the debt/deficit among Caquistes, and the charter among PQ supporters. That lines up very closely to the major issues being pushed by each party (QS supporters identified education and the environment as their top issues after healthcare).

On the charter itself, 48% said they supported it (an increase of five points) while 41% said they opposed it. The split was along linguistic lines, supported by 57% of francophones but opposed by 65% of non-francophones. It was opposed by 71% of Liberal voters but supported by 86% of PQ voters. The CAQ is split 46% for to 47% against, QS less so (32% for, 61% against).

Oddly enough, though, there is far more support for the major plank of the charter (or at least the plank that has gotten the most attention). Fully 60% of respondents said they supported banning public employees from wearing ostentatious religious symbols or clothing, including 69% of francophones and one-in-four non-francophones. Support by party here was almost universal among PQ voters but also among a majority of CAQ and QS voters. Opposition to this dropped to 59% among Liberals.

This would suggest that most Quebecers agree with the idea of the charter but many of them are opposed to its implementation. This could be driven in part by partisan considerations as well as a desire to avoid the difficult debate surrounding the issue in the province.

Respondents were split on who would win the next election, with 38% saying the Liberals would take it and 36% saying the PQ would win. By a margin of about two-to-one, Quebecers thought the next government would be a minority one. But as we saw in Ipsos-Reid's B.C. exit poll, perception does not equate to reality.

What does this mean for an election in Quebec? The PQ is likely to be a lot more bullish, as well as keen on being defeated on the charter itself (or simply pulling the plug and blaming the inability to get the charter passed). The CAQ is still being pushed out, but may just want to get it over with (Legault does not seem the patient type). That leaves the Liberals, who are likely not feeling very confident under Couillard's leadership. Supporting the PQ, however, seems out of the question for his party. Unless the CAQ decides to support the PQ on the charter as well as on a budget (the latter may be more difficult for Legault), an election is inevitable. Getting the CAQ on board for only one or the other won't cut it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Now accepting pre-orders for Tapping into the Pulse

Just a short note today to announce that you can now put in your pre-order for Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013. You can pre-order the eBook either by clicking here or on the banner at the top of the page.

Progress with the eBook is going well, I am about one-fifth of the way into it with two of the larger chapters already completed. I will be ramping up my work on the book in the coming weeks in order to get it to Kickstarter backers by February 28 at the latest. The eBook will then be released to the public one month later (March 28 at the latest, then) but if you did not reserve your advance copy during the Kickstarter drive now's the time to pre-order!

By pre-ordering, you'll save just under 20% off the final price and will secure for yourself a sneak-preview of the first three chapters of the book at the same time as the Kickstarter backers get their full copy. It will give you something to chew on as you wait for your pre-ordered copy to be delivered a month later, in the format of your choice.

The first three chapters of the book cover the opening months of 2013 in federal politics (January to March) and the provincial scenes in New Brunswick and British Columbia. That last chapter goes into detail about how the polls went wrong and tries to answer the question of why it happened.

I hope readers will enjoy the eBook when it is finished. It is the kind of thing I would want to read, which was the reason I launched this site in the first place more than five years ago. 

Thanks again to those Kickstarter backers who made this possible, as well as to for taking care of the technical aspects of publishing the eBook (including the cover art) and Paul Adams, Associate Professor of Journalism at Carleton University, for writing the foreword.

You can check out the pre-ordering page, which goes into a bit more detail about the eBook itself, by clicking here or on the banner.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wall, Dunderdale book-end the premiers table again

Angus-Reid released its ratings of Canada's premiers (with the exception of Prince Edward Island) this morning, showing that once again Brad Wall of Saskatchewan remains, by far, the most popular premier in Canada. Though his numbers are impressive, they could be a lot worse and he would still be near the top. The poll suggests that most Canadians disapprove of their premiers, with only two of the nine boasting disapproval ratings lower than 50%.

Wall's approval rating was virtually unchanged from Angus-Reid's last report in September. It stands at 66% with just 27% disapproval.

Second on the list is newcomer Stephen McNeil of Nova Scotia. As this poll was conducted at the beginning of December, McNeil had only been on the job for two months. Coming off a landslide victory, his 57% approval rating is not much of a surprise. That represents a gain of six points over his last rating as opposition leader, with the gain coming primarily from undecideds (dropping to 14% from 20%).

Only Wall and McNeil could be considered popular premiers. Their approval ratings are high and their disapproval ratings are low. If an election were held today, both would easily win a majority government.

There are two other premiers with approval ratings that put them in a position to win re-election, though neither could be considered popular. The first is Christy Clark of British Columbia, who managed an approval rating of 42%. Her disapproval rating, however, stands at 51%. This has not changed much from where it was in September, but her approval rating has dropped in two consecutive polls since June.

The other premier with an approval rating high enough to have good reason to hope for re-election is Kathleen Wynne of Ontario. That rating sits at 35%, with her disapproval at 50%. Excluding the undecideds, that gives her an approval rating of 41% among decided respondents, enough to win an election. But momentum is going in the wrong direction for her. Her approval rating is down four points from September and eight points from May. Her disapproval rating has increased by 13 points since March.

The next tier of premiers are those are are competitive but still at risk. Topping that list is Pauline Marois of Quebec, with an approval rating of 32%. That is down seven points since September, but higher than where it was in June. Her disapproval rating increased by six points to 62%, but with an approval rating of 34% among decideds she stands a shot at re-election.

That would be harder for Alison Redford of Alberta and David Alward of New Brunswick. Redford's approval rating dropped three points to 31%, while her disapproval rating was up six points to 63%. Alward also managed 31% approval, though that was a gain of four points. His disapproval rating was virtually unchanged at 57%.

The last tier of premiers are those who are in deep trouble. The first is Greg Selinger of Manitoba, with an approval rating of just 28% and a disapproval rating of 62%. Kathy Dunderdale of Newfoundland and Labrador scores at the bottom of the list with an approval rating of only 24% and a disapproval rating of 69%, the worst in the country. Though her approval rating has increased by four points since September, her numbers are still worse than they were in June.

Unfortunately, Angus-Reid did not release any numbers for opposition or third-party leaders, as they have done in the past. I have asked whether this information could be made available, and will post here if it emerges. Update: Angus-Reid did not ask for anything but the premiers' approval ratings, so nothing for the opposition leaders will be forthcoming. This is another indication that the firm is moving away from free political poll releases.

When taking into account the premiers' net ratings (approval minus disapproval), the order of the leaders does not change drastically. Alward, with a relatively higher undecided proportion, jumps ahead of Marois and Redford to place fifth instead of eighth.

But only Wall and McNeil have positive ratings: +39 for Wall and +29 for McNeil. That is a drop of four points for Wall but an increase of eight for McNeil since September.

Three other premiers improved their net ratings since September. Both Alward and Dunderdale improved theirs by five points while Selinger's ticked upwards by one. But in all three cases, these may simply be bounce-backs from particularly low numbers.

Clark's net rating has worsened by four points, but she remains third on the list of overall net approval. Redford's score has worsened by nine points, while Wynne and Marois have seen theirs tumble by 10 and 13 points, respectively.

Overall, the Canadians' opinions of their premiers has worsened. Disapproval ratings increased by an average of 1.8 points in the nine provinces polled, while approval ratings dropped by an average of 0.2 points. For the three premiers likely to face the electorate in 2014 (Alward, Wynne, and Marois) that could be very bad news.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What if the right was still divided in 2011?

After the Conservatives won a majority government in the 2011 federal election, there was much discussion about how a united left, or at least a merger of the Liberals and NDP, would have changed the outcome entirely. But what if we flip that hypothetical question on its head, and instead ask what would have happened if there wasn't a united right?

This scenario would assume that the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives never merged, and that the two parties continued to exist as separate entities. To estimate how this division of the centre-right vote would play out, I've made some simple calculations (there's no reason to inject too much complication into this hypothetical exercise). The vote that the Conservatives took in 2011 in each province or region remains exactly the same, except that it is divided between the CA and the PCs in the same proportion as in the 2000 election. Support for the other parties is similarly unchanged.

In each province or region, the party that had the most support in 2000 is considered the leading party for the calculations, so that they win all the seats in the region - except in Alberta and the Prairies, where I have given the PCs one seat (they won a single seat in each of these regions in 2000).

Of course, this doesn't take into account how a more divided political landscape would change the results. It assumes that all else remains equal - the New Democrats still surge in Quebec, the Liberals and Bloc still collapse, the Greens still do well in British Columbia, etc. We could endlessly speculate on how the presence of two parties on the right would have changed things (and feel free to do so in the comments section), but for the purpose of this exercise we are leaving these questions aside.

Note - because of how I have done this, the results likely under-estimate how the two right-of-centre parties would actually do. It assumes that the division of the vote is uniform within each province, though in reality you'd have some regions where the CA would get a larger proportion of the vote and other regions where the PCs would do better. But let's also leave that aside (the calculations assuming a Liberal-NDP merger have almost always disregarded these sorts of questions, not to mention the possibility that some Liberals and New Democrats would not vote for such a merged party).
Jack Layton and the NDP win the party's first election in its history, taking 30.6% of the vote. The Canadian Alliance places second with 26.8% of the vote, while the Liberals come in third with 18.9%. The Progressive Conservatives take 12.8%, while the Bloc and Greens bring up the rear.

The NDP wins Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and finishes a close second in Ontario. The Canadian Alliance wins British Columbia, Alberta, the Prairies, and Ontario, but collapses east of the Ottawa River. The Liberals manage a tight race in Ontario and Atlantic Canada, but don't win a single region, while the Tories come closest to coming out ahead in Atlantic Canada (thanks to Peter MacKay?).

Right away, it is clear how this division changes things dramatically. The West is still safely in CA hands, but Ontario becomes an unwieldy four-way race and Atlantic Canada is a close three-way contest. And it makes it possible for a party to win the election with less than 1-in-3 support.

In terms of seats, it would mean another minority government. But who would lead it?
The New Democrats win 118 seats, almost tripling their historic best, while the Canadian Alliance continues to grow with 109 seats. The Liberals fall to just 64, while the Progressive Conservatives win 12, the Bloc four, and the Greens one.

The New Democrats win the majority of seats in Quebec, but come up short in every other region. The Canadian Alliance wins the majority of seats in the four western provinces and a plurality in Ontario, but are shut out east of the province. The Liberals win half of the seats in Atlantic Canada and come up second in Ontario, while the Tories place second on the east coast but are shut out in Quebec.

Here again, the results are radically different. Not much changes in British Columbia or Alberta, but the division of the vote between the CA and the PCs gives the New Democrats three seats in Saskatchewan. In Ontario, the PCs would likely be more competitive but the division of the vote balloons the number of seats the Liberals can win (demonstrating how many of the actual races in the province were CPC-LPC) while only marginally increasing the NDP's haul. In Quebec, the New Democrats win a few more seats at the expense of the Conservatives, while the Liberals mostly take advantage in Atlantic Canada.

This would be a difficult House of Commons to manage. The New Democrats could pass legislation with the support of either the Canadian Alliance or the Liberals, but nothing passes without either of those parties' support. The NDP and Liberals could combine for a majority government of 182 seats, or somehow the Canadian Alliance and Liberals could combine for a majority of 173. The Canadian Alliance and Tories could combine for a plurality of 121 seats, but that would likely not pass muster with the Governor General.

If we continue the alternate-history narrative from the last time I made these estimations in 2009, the result would have been the re-election of the Liberal-NDP coalition, giving them a majority instead of a minority with 49.5% of the vote (a gain of five points). But it would have been a changing of the guard, with the Liberals dropping 41 seats and the NDP picking up 77, most of them from the Bloc Québécois (which drops 52 seats). The Canadian Alliance and PCs would also increase their caucuses, by eight and seven seats, respectively. So, as in 2011, the only 'losing' parties would have been the Liberals and the Bloc - all the others increased their seats.

This scenario is rather unlikely, considering that with a divided right the Liberals would have likely won a majority in 2004 and minorities in 2006 and 2008. It is hard to imagine that after three elections like that the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives would have still resisted a merger. But it is not entirely implausible, neither for the past nor the future - at this stage it seems easier to imagine the Conservative Party splintering again (say, if a Red Tory wins the next leadership race) than the Liberals and NDP merging. There is at least precedent for the former, and none for the latter. Divisions on the right in Alberta, for example, show how there can still be plenty of animosity between the two factions within the federal organization. There is no scope for such a disintegration in the short term, particularly under Stephen Harper. But nothing lasts forever.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

2014 Winter Olympics

It doesn't get any better than Olympic hockey (well, Olympic hockey played at a reasonable hour would be better - Sochi is many time zones away). The best in the world will be facing off against each other, as all-star teams battle it out for gold. Who has the edge? How do the teams stack-up?

This is a question I've tried to answer with a very (very) simple system. What I've done is award each player on every roster a value. This is derived solely by the amounts of points they have scored so far this year. For goaltenders, I've multiplied the number of games played by their save percentage. It is as bare bones as it gets, but as you'll see below it does give a fairly intuitive ranking for the teams themselves and the players on each roster.

The more complicated question was how to deal with all of those players not plying their trade in the NHL. What I've done is determine the relative quality of each league to the NHL by figuring out how a player in, say, the KHL is doing this year compared to how they did in the NHL last year (by comparing points-per-game). And when there aren't enough players to have a workable data set, I've taken it to the next step - how one league compares to another league compared to how that league compares to the NHL!

The following is how I've valued other leagues:

0.406 - Kontinental Hockey League
0.298 - American Hockey League
0.286 - Swedish Hockey League
0.274 - Swiss Nationaliga-A
0.237 - Finnish SM-Liiga
0.227 - Czech Extraliga
0.171 - Deutsche Eishockey Liga
0.156 - Erste Bank Eishockey Liga

The second-tier leagues in each of the above countries were given a rating worth half of their parent league, while other lower leagues were given a rating of 0.075.

What the above means is that, for example, a point-per-game KHL player would produce 0.406 points-per-game in the NHL. This allows me to give each player outside of the NHL a value that is relative to how he would perform if he were in the NHL. Anyone who follows international hockey would likely look at the above rankings and agree that it sounds about right. So, I think we're on the proper track.

Let's go country by country, in descending order. You'll notice some players have two sets of points to their name. This is because they have played in two leagues this year. The league and team has been listed at the end of each table. Note that this is not meant to be a projection, but rather a means of valuing each roster. NHL points are as of this morning, while points in other leagues may be behind by a few days. I will update this ranking again once the NHL takes its Olympic break.

(You may need to click on each of the tables below to magnify them.)

Not surprisingly, the defending gold medalists top the ranking with a total value of 873.8 points. The Canadian roster has the most highly valued group of forwards and defensemen, and the second-best goaltending trio.

It seems likely that Carey Price and Roberto Luongo will challenge for the starting job, though Price's stats are a little stronger. The defense has a lot of size and offensive capability. Duncan Keith, P.K. Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, and Shea Weber will be dangerous from the blueline. And up front, Canada is simply all-powerful. Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Sharp, Corey Perry, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Marleau all have more than 40 points in the NHL so far this year.

But who was left off the roster that could have made it better, at least by this measure? Joe Thornton, Tyler Seguin, Taylor Hall, and Martin St-Louis all have more than 40 points in the NHL as well. Brent Seabrook and Jason Garrison have scored enough points to put them in the top six among defensemen, and Marc-André Fleury would have been the most highly rated goaltender available for Canada. But in most of these cases, it would be choosing one effective tool to replace another.

So Canada enters the tournament as the favourite. Price and Luongo should be able to provide them solid-enough goaltending to win them games if the offense is producing like it can. No team has anywhere near the depth of Canada.

The Americans are the closest to being able to make a claim to such depth. They come second in the rankings with 664.1 points.

Goaltending is, oddly, a bit of a question mark. Ryan Miller is having a great year, but he has struggled in past seasons. Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Quick are struggling this year, but have been great in past seasons. Odds are, though, that one of them will be up to the challenge.

The defense is great by the tournament's standards, but one wonders if any of the players on the American blueline would make it on the Canadian roster. That isn't the case with some of their forwards, though, notably Patrick Kane. But he is the only one with more than 40 points so far this year.

Kyle Okposo was left off the roster, and he has 43 points this year. Bobby Ryan has 37, and would have been highly rated as well. On defense, Dustin Byfuglien is the top-scoring American defensemen but was not invited to the tournament, while Keith Yandle has 28 points so far this year. And both Ben Bishop and Craig Anderson would be rated above Howard and Quick by my measure.

But the Americans have a very solid team and, on paper, should meet the Canadians in the gold medal game.

Sweden comes in third with 567.3 points, and it is hard not to like their roster. Only Jimmie Ericsson, who plays in Sweden, is not on an NHL team.

Goaltending is their weakest link, however, ranked fifth overall. Henrik Lundqvist is not having the best of years, and neither Jonas Gustavsson nor Jhonas Enroth are of the calibre to win gold.

The defense is much better, led offensively by Erik Karlsson and Niklas Kronwall. The top six forwards are deadly, with Nicklas Bäckström topping the list, followed by the Sedin twins, Alexander Steen, Henrik Zetterberg, and Gabriel Landeskog.

There were a few notable omissions from the roster, however. Marcus Johansson has 28 points this year, and Victor Hedman has 23. Other potential candidates left off the list were Patric Hornqvist, Carl Soderberg, Jonas Brodin, and Tobias Enstrom. Robin Lehner has the stats to get him on the team as one of the goaltenders, and even Eddie Lack or Anders Lindback might have been better choices than Enroth.

But if Lundqvist picks up his game on the big stage, Sweden will be a dangerous opponent.

Fourth on the list is the Czech Republic, with 426.4 points. They have a great group of forwards, led by David Krejci, Jaromir Jagr, Jakub Voracek, and Martin Hanzal. Tomas Plekanec and Patrik Elias are savvy veterans as well.

But their goaltending (ranked seventh) and defense (ranked eighth) is a bit of a problem. Only Ondrej Pavelec is an NHLer, though both Jakub Kovar and Alexander Salak have put up strong numbers in the KHL. The defense is lacking an offensive threat after Marek Zidlicky, and Tomas Kaberle may not be up to snuff after playing in the Czech league this year.

These holes could have been plugged. Marek Mazanec of the Nashville Predators might have been a better back-up choice to Pavelec, while Jan Hejda, Jakub Kindl, and Roman Polak could have bolstered the defense. The top six forwards could have also been improved with the addition of Jiri Hudler and Radim Vrbata, two surprising omissions. Is Jiri Novotny really a better choice than either of those two?

The Czechs will be able to score, but keeping it out of the net may be a problem against the Americans, Swedes, and Canadians.

We now get to the host country, whose roster is not nearly as impressive as it looked in 2010. Russia is ranked fifth with 421.5 points, just behind the Czechs.

Their goaltending is decent with Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky likely to split duties. Their defense is good as well, led by Andrei Markov, Fedor Tyutin, and Slava Voynov. It isn't terribly solid, however, and their forward group drops off in quality after the top six. Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin are among the best in the world, but aside from them and Pavel Datsyuk, would any of the Russian forwards be good enough to make Team Canada? How about any of the defensemen?

More than a few NHLers did not make the roster, though they probably should have: Alexander Semin, Nail Yakupov, Sergei Gonchar, Dmitry Kulikov, and Anton Volchenkov. The Russians left off a few good KHLers as well, such as league leaders Sergei Mozyakin and Danis Zaripov.

Unless the Russians get a terrific boost from being the home team, I think they could struggle to win a medal.

The Finns place sixth with 418.9 points, helped primarily by their top-ranked goaltending trio.

In Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi, and Kari Lehtonen, the Finns have the best goaltending in the tournament. Any one of these could win them a gold medal. Their defense, however, is quite weak. Kimmo Timonen and Oli Maatta lead them offensively, but this is not a particularly tough group. Only four NHLers will patrol the blueline.

Their forwards are also of mixed quality. Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula, Jussi Jokinen, and Olli Jokinen are having good years, but no other forward has more than 22 points in the NHL.

The additions of Saku Koivu (who asked to be left off) and Sean Bergenheim would have given them more depth up front, and Rasmus Ristolainen might have been a good addition on the blueline.

The Finns lack depth but their goaltending can steal them games.

The plucky Slovaks come seventh with 267.6 points. Their biggest problem, even more so than the Finns, is depth. They have good top lines, but drop off significantly after that.

Jaroslav Halak and Peter Budaj will give them NHL-quality goaltending, and Andrej Sekera, Zdeno Chara, Andrej Meszaros, and Lubomir Visnovsky will be solid on the back-end. Their offense is thin, but led by Marian Hossa and his brother Marcel. Youngsters like Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, and Richard Panik will hopefully give them some energy.

The Slovaks did not leave any NHLers off their roster, and that was probably a very good idea. Never under-estimate the Slovaks - they could pull off a surprise, as they did in 2010 with their fourth place finish.

The Swiss come in at eighth, with 231.3 points. Their roster has a few NHLers and one AHLer, with the rest coming from the decent Swiss league.

In Jonas Hiller and Reto Berra, the Swiss have two reliable goaltenders. Their defense is also quite good, led by Mark Streit, Roman Josi, Raphael Diaz, and Yannick Weber. They may have trouble scoring, however, with just Nino Niederreiter and Damien Brunner coming from the NHL this year. Roman Wick does have NHL experience, though, and is tearing up the Swiss league.

The Swiss always compete and cannot be discounted. Making the medal round, however, may be difficult.

Now we get to the bottom tier, with Austria being the best of them with 135.6 points. This is almost entirely due to the presence of Thomas Vanek, Michael Grabner, and Michael Raffl on the roster. These three NHLers account for almost half of the team's points.

It will give the Austrians one good line, but they will struggle mightily when they are off the ice. Bernhard Starkbaum is a decent goaltender, but the Austrians will be lucky to salvage a point against any of the higher ranked teams.

The Norwegians come in at tenth, with 95.4 points. Only Mats Zuccarello comes from the NHL (and he is having a good year), but the team does boast some other players with NHL experience: Jonas Holos, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, and Patrick Thoresen. Look to them to lead. Lars Haugen, playing in the KHL, should be solid for them in nets.

The little team that could comes in at eleventh, solely due to Anze Kopitar. The Slovenians will be relying heavily on him to score their goals, and he will be helped by Jan Mursak. He is playing well in the KHL and has NHL experience. The rest of the team will be out-matched by the NHL-heavy line-ups they will face, but is not as bad as might think.

The Latvians place last with 84.5 points, as the country has lost most of its NHLers. Only Zemgus Girgensons is playing in the big league, though Sandis Ozolins, Oskars Bartulis, Martins Karsums, and Kaspars Daugavins have NHL experience as well. Five of their defensemen play for Dinamo Riga in the KHL, so will benefit from familiarity. Kristers Gudlevskis will have to bank on his AHL experience to keep the Latvians in the game against the big teams.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

December 2013 federal polling "averages"

The quotation marks in the title of this post is no accident. There was only one publicly released national poll during the month of December, making it impossible to call the month's calculations an average. For that reason, I am not going to bother with a post detailing the month in polling, since I can instead just point you to the poll report from EKOS Research.

There was a federal Quebec poll conducted in December by CROP as well, which does make that province's estimation an average (33% LPC, 27% NDP, 22% BQ, 12% CPC). But it is still too little to spend any time on. So this post and the graph below has been uploaded to the site merely in order for future generations to know what happened in December 2013.
The EKOS poll does make the month look rather anomalous in some parts of the country. For example, it sinks the Conservatives to just 26% nationwide, their lowest on record, and shows big upticks in Green Party support in most regions. But apart from those exceptions, EKOS's numbers were not too unusual and do not make the line graph appear extraordinarily unwieldy. Hopefully things will fall in line in January.

Why the dearth of polls in December? You might suspect the holidays to be the culprit, and it is true that polling firms usually step out of the field in the last weeks of December. But there had been four national polls in December 2012, five in December 2011, seven in December 2010 (albeit in the context of a minority government), and four in December 2009. So, December 2013 was unusual.

There might be an element of poll fatigue at play, especially now that we are at the mid-point of the Conservative mandate and 2013 was a rough year for polls. Accordingly, I also suspect that the polling miss in Brandon-Souris, and the very negative press that resulted, may have encouraged a few pollsters to step outside for awhile. We saw a little bit of the same thing happen shortly after the election in British Columbia. That experience was so traumatic that it also apparently prompted one firm, Angus-Reid, to drop out of the political game entirely. We haven't heard from them with a poll on voting intentions anywhere since the B.C. election.

Over the last few years, January has been about as quiet as December so we could expect more silence. But because of the lack of polls released last month, I imagine that more than a few pollsters will come out with some new numbers soon. We haven't heard from some of the regulars since October. There are more than a few questions I'd like answered. Any consequences from the resignation of Daniel Paillé? Have any of the year-end interviews had an appreciable effect? Hopefully, we'll have some answers soon.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Manitoba PCs hold widening lead

Released between Christmas and New Year's, the latest polling numbers out of Manitoba may have been over-looked. The New Democrats should hope they were, because they were horrible. Probe Research shows Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives holding a gaping 22-point lead over the governing NDP. No party has won an election by such a margin in over 60 years.
Probe was last in the field for the Winnipeg Free Press in September, and since that poll they have recorded a five-point increase for the Tories. They now lead with 48%, while the New Democrats have dropped three points to 26%. The Liberals held steady at 20%, while 6% of respondents would vote for another party (mostly the Greens).

Of note is the large number of undecideds: 22%. That is a nine-point increase over the last two polls from Probe. Because of that, the shifts in support since September for any of the parties among decided voters do not seem statistically significant, though the increase in undecideds certainly is.

These numbers are remarkable since they represent the best and worst results for the PCs and NDP, respectively, in many years. In the space of 12 months, the NDP has shed 13 points of support. The Liberals have benefited, picking up nine points. The PCs have gained six.

It has put them in a strong position. They Tories led by 22 points among men and 20 points among women, while they were ahead in all age groups, education levels, and income brackets.

The party is also in front in Winnipeg, with 41% to 29% for the NDP (down seven points since September). The Liberals ran a strong third in the capital with 23%. The PCs were in front in every part of Winnipeg except the downtown core, where the NDP remains in front.

In the rest of the province, the Tories led with 58% to 21% for the NDP and 15% for the Liberals.
With these levels of support, the Progressive Conservatives would win a landslide with 42 seats to just nine for the NDP and six for the Liberals.

Almost all of the NDP and Liberal seats would come in the capital, while the Tories would sweep all of southern, rural Manitoba.

These are striking numbers, particularly since elections in Manitoba tend to be close affairs. As mentioned at the outset, no party has won an election by such a large margin as 22 points since 1953, so it follows that these numbers would produce an unusual result (but recall that the model correctly called 56 of 57 ridings in the 2011 election).

Nine seats would be the worst result for the New Democrats since the 1962 election, six would be the best result for the Liberals since 1990, and 42 seats for the Tories would be the best performance by any party in the province's history.

One imagines, then, that this could be rock-bottom for Greg Selinger's NDP and that they have nowhere to go but up. The Liberals have a new leader in Rana Bokhari, but she is not well known and it seems unlikely that she will replace the NDP as the alternative to the Tories. Pallister is in an enviable position, especially in facing a government that has been in power for 15 years and will have been in power by 16 or 17 years by the time Manitobans are next called to the polls.