Friday, February 28, 2014

Tapping into the Pulse is out!

I'm very pleased to announce that Tapping into the Pulse: Political public opinion polling in Canada, 2013 has been released! The eBook is now ready for download by all eligible Kickstarter backers. So, to you wonderful people who contributed to getting this book published, check your emails! I've sent you instructions via Kickstarter on how to get your copy. If you haven't received an email but think you should, please get in touch.

As part of the Kickstarter drive, I pledged to only release the book to the general public one month after Kickstarter backers get their advance copy. That means the book will be available for sale to everyone on March 28. In the meantime, however, you can pre-order a copy, save a little cash, and get a sneak preview of the first three chapters. Those of you who have already pre-ordered should have already received an email with your preview. Any new pre-orderers will get their preview within 12 hours of putting in the order, though most of the time you will get it within a few minutes.

To you Kickstarter backers - THANK YOU. Your support got this book written and went a long way towards supporting the continued operation of I really hope you enjoy the book. Please let me know what you think of it!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Parsing the Prairies and Atlantic Canada

Polls in Canada generally look at six regions in the country. Four of them are provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. The other two are regions, grouping together Saskatchewan and Manitoba to form the Prairies and New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador to form Atlantic Canada. This makes sense, since these two regions have a smaller population than does Alberta - samples for each province are generally too small from which to draw any useful conclusions. But this amalgamation of these six provinces into two regions masks some significant differences.

The current polling averages give the Conservatives 39% in the Prairies against 33% for the Liberals and 22% for the New Democrats. That suggests a competitive two-way race, with the NDP well behind. But the reality is that Manitoba is shaping up to be a very interesting Liberal-Conservative contest, with the NDP trying to hold on to its enclaves in Winnipeg. And with the new riding boundaries, Saskatchewan is a competitive NDP-Conservative race, particularly in Saskatoon and Regina.

Atlantic Canada is looking like a Liberal landslide. The averages give the party 56% support to just 21% for the Conservatives and 19% for the New Democrats. But again that is misleading - the Liberals are doing well throughout the region, but are facing off against the New Democrats in Newfoundland and Labrador and the Conservatives in Nova Scotia.

Let's try and see what the polls can tell us about these regions.


First, we'll start with a simple uniform swing between the 2011 election results and the current polling averages to try and figure out how the parties are doing in these six provinces. For the Prairies, we get the following results:

SK: CPC 41%, LPC 29%, NDP 25%, GPC 4%
MB: CPC 38%, LPC 37%, NDP 19%, GPC 5%

This would suggest that the Conservatives hold a comfortable lead in Saskatchewan but are almost tied with the Liberals in Manitoba. And in both provinces, the NDP has fallen to third place.

How does this match up with the polls? In Manitoba, there have been two large sample surveys done in the last few months. A Sept. 19-28 poll by Probe Research surveying 1,002 Manitobans found the Tories ahead with 42% to 32% for the Liberals and 22% for the NDP. A Jan. 16-Feb. 3 poll by Insightrix Research surveying 800 Manitobans found similar results: 44% for the Conservatives, 34% for the Liberals, and 16% for the NDP.

This would suggest that the uniform swing is somewhat understating Conservative support and overstating support for the Liberals, with the NDP about right.

Saskatchewan is more complicated, however, since we do not have any large polls from the province. What we do have are EKOS Research's four polls conducted between Oct. 10 and Jan. 27, giving us a total sample of 193 responses (the individual polls averaged just 48 responses, which carries a margin of error of +/- 14%). If we average those polls out according to sample size, we get 39% for the Conservatives, 31% for the Liberals, and 18% for the NDP. That matches the uniform swing calculations quite closely, at least for the two frontrunners.

But it shouldn't. If the uniform swing is overstating Liberal support in Manitoba and understating Conservative support in the province, it follows that the opposite must be occurring in Saskatchewan. This would suggest that the race is actually closer in Saskatchewan than the EKOS polling and uniform swing estimate would suggest.

That is hard to swallow, considering that the Liberals took just 9% of the vote in Saskatchewan in 2011. Polling done by Nanos Research between Aug. 12-19 and surveying 156 Saskatchewanians gave the Liberals just 25% support in the province, against 30% for the NDP and 41% for the Conservatives (an EKOS poll of 86 people in the province in early July found similar numbers). This is a more intuitive result.

From this, we can conclude that Manitoba is indeed a Liberal and Conservative contest, which the by-election results in November back-up. Saskatchewan is more of a mystery, however. It would be helpful to have some more data for the province - a province that will be an interesting one to watch in 2015.

Atlantic Canada

Let's do the same uniform swing calculations for Atlantic Canada and see what we get:

NB: LPC 50%, CPC 27%, NDP 19%, GPC 4%
NS: LPC 56%, NDP 20%, CPC 19%, GPC 5%
PEI: LPC 68%, CPC 24%, NDP 5%, GPC 3%
NL: LPC 65%, NDP 22%, CPC 11%, GPC 2%

This shows how the Liberals are doing well throughout the region, with the Conservatives most competitive in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and the NDP in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is more difficult to assess these calculations because we have seen few polls from the individual provinces in recent months. The Corporate Research Associates released their last set of federal data almost a year ago, from their May 8-30 poll. At the time, CRA pegged regional support at 49% for the Liberals, 24% for the Conservatives, and 24% for the NDP. Not too different from the current levels of support.

In that poll, the only major differences from the uniform swing calculations above were that the NDP was second in New Brunswick and PEI, and the Conservatives were second in Nova Scotia. Support for the NDP was also considerably higher in Newfoundland and Labrador, at 32%.

If we apply a uniform swing from the CRA poll in May 8-30 to the current averages, we get a different picture:

NB: LPC 50%, NDP 24%, CPC 21%
NS: LPC 59%, CPC 26%, NDP 11%
PEI: LPC 67%, CPC 14%, NDP 13%
NL: LPC 56%, NDP 27%, CPC 16%

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. For the Liberals, it makes little difference - they are at majority support throughout the region. But it does make a difference for the Conservatives and New Democrats. It puts the Tories between 21% and 27% in New Brunswick against 19% to 24% for the NDP. It gives the Conservatives between 19% and 26% in Nova Scotia, with the NDP at between 11% and 20%. In Prince Edward Island, the Conservatives have between 14% and 24% support to between 5% and 13% for the NDP, while the Conservatives sit with between 11% and 16% in Newfoundland and Labrador. The NDP would be between 22% and 27% there. These numbers mean the difference between defeat and re-election for more than a few incumbents.

It would be helpful if CRA reported federal numbers for the region more often, particularly since their overall regional numbers tend to match other polls quite closely. Without that extra data, however, this exercise gives a good idea of why it is better to keep the Prairies and Atlantic Canada as large regions in my own estimations rather than try to guess at the support each party holds in the six individual provinces.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ipsos poll shows Conservatives stagnant

A new survey out last night, conducted by Ipsos Reid for CTV News, shows the Liberals holding a wide lead over the Conservatives, who have been unable to get their numbers to move over the last few months.

A few housekeeping items before getting into the poll: "Tapping into the Pulse" is finished and is going through the final stages of being readied for publication. Kickstarter backers will be getting it next week, while those who have pre-ordered will be getting a 'sneak preview' of the first three chapters. The eBook will be put for sale to the general public at the end of March. You can pre-order here. Also, if you aren't already, you might want to follow me on Twitter. It is the best place to be notified of site updates, along with alerts about new polls.

Ipsos Reid was last in the field for CTV News on Jan. 31-Feb. 4, and has shown no real significant movement in support since then. But the Liberals are up four points to 37%, followed by the Conservatives at 29%.

The Tories have been registered 29% support in three consecutive polls by Ipsos now, suggesting they are having trouble getting the numbers to move in their favour.

The New Democrats were down three points to 24%, while the Bloc Québécois was down two points to 5%. Support for other parties, including the Greens, was up one point to 5%. Undecideds numbered 18% of the sample, up three points.

Among those most likely to vote, the Liberals dropped three points to 35%. The Conservatives were up three points to 31%, while the NDP was down one point to 24%. None of these shifts appear statistically significant.

The Liberals led by four points among men and 12 points among women, while they were ahead among all age groups (though the margin over the Tories shrank to two points among voters 55 and older).

According to the poll, Canadians gave the budget a bit of a yawn. Though 47% said they approved of how the Conservatives have handled the economy (just 7% strongly approved), fully 71% said the budget was "neither good nor bad and you'd symbolically just shrug your shoulders". That included 67% of Conservative supporters, though without a "don't know" option a lot of these people would likely be those who knew nothing about the budget to begin with. One in five said the budget was bad, while just 9% said it was good.

The Liberals increased their support to 37% in Ontario, while the Conservatives dropped to 32% and the NDP fell to 25%.

In Quebec, the Liberals were up to 35%, followed by the NDP at 28%, the Bloc at 21%, and the Conservatives at 15%.

The Conservatives jumped ahead to 38% support in British Columbia, while the Liberals dropped for the third consecutive time in Ipsos's polling (going back to the end of November) to 30%. The NDP was down to 24%, while support for other parties, primarily the Greens, was at 8%. That was the highest 'other' result in Canada.

The Liberals led with 61% support in Atlantic Canada, the highest number registered anywhere in the country by any party, while the NDP was up 13 points to 25% in the region. The Conservatives dropped to just 12%, representing a 15-point decrease since the end of November.

In the Prairies, the Conservatives were up to 41%, followed by the Liberals at 30% (down in three consecutive Ipsos polls), and the NDP at 24%.

Alberta was a bit of an odd one. The Conservatives were up slightly to 48%, but the Liberals increased by 15 points to 39%, a huge number for them and their third consecutive gain in Alberta in Ipsos's polling. The New Democrats were down 16 points to just 7% in the province.

What is going on in Alberta? The chart below shows all the polls released for the province since April 2013.

As you can see, the Conservatives have been polling under 50% in Alberta in four recent polls. This has happened on several occasions in the past, but not usually coinciding with such high Liberal numbers. They have been over 30% twice recently, while before the party had only marginally gotten over the 30% mark in April and in September-October (aside from one anomalous poll where they were over 40% in May).

Is this just a wobble, or are the Liberals making real gains in Alberta? We'll have to see what subsequent polling shows. But with two by-elections pending in the province, these may be numbers worth keeping an eye on.

Especially since, with a margin of just nine points between the Conservatives and Liberals in the province, Alberta becomes a battleground province. At these levels of support, the Liberals would be able to take 10 seats away from the Conservatives - and often by comfortable margins. In fact, a handful of other seats in Alberta would be held by the Tories by relatively narrow margins. It is hard to believe, but that is what would happen if Alberta became competitive like this.

Overall, the numbers in the Ipsos poll would likely give the Liberals 139 seats to 126 for the Conservatives, 66 for the New Democrats, five for the Bloc Québécois, and two for the Greens.

Despite holding an eight-point lead, the Liberals are severely penalized by trailing in British Columbia and having only a five-point edge in Ontario, while the New Democrats can still win a plurality of seats in Quebec.

Apart from the interesting numbers in Alberta, it seems that federal voting intentions remain generally where they have been since April 2013. For the Liberals, whose convention begins in Montreal today, that is good news. But for the Conservatives and New Democrats, something has got to give for them to knock the numbers loose again.

Friday, February 14, 2014

How did the polls do in the Ontario by-elections?

Two by-elections were held in the Ontario ridings of Niagara Falls and Thornhill last night. I wrote about how the parties themselves did for The Huffington Post Canada, but let's take a look at how the polls did here.

As is usually the case, Forum Research was the only pollster in the field. The firm was a little less active than it was in the Ontario and federal by-elections of 2013, and conducted its final poll on February 11, rather than on the eve of the vote as Forum has usually done.

Forum and the Toronto Star did seem to be aware of the skepticism that had grown with Forum's by-election polls after the misses in Ottawa South and Brandon-Souris. In their reports, the Star pointed out that Forum uses a proprietary weighting formula that was shown to the Star, and that the raw data of the polls had been deposited at the University of Toronto (if you're a political science student there, take a trek down to the library and take a look at that raw data, please!).

There was no Ottawa South or Brandon-Souris type error last night in the polls. As forecasted, Wayne Gates of the NDP won in Niagara Falls and Gila Martow of the PCs won in Thornhill. The final poll in Thornhill was quite close, with all parties' results falling within the reported margin of error, while the final poll in Niagara Falls over-estimated the support of the NDP. Otherwise, the poll did fine.

A few notes on the charts below. The "With reported MOE" row shows the margin of error ranges for each of the parties when applying the margin of error that was reported (Forum rounds the margin of error off, and calculates it for the entire sample, not just decided voters). The "Actual MOE" row shows what the margin of error for each party actually was, taking into account their level of support (a party with 50% support has a higher margin of error than a party with 5%) and the number of decided voters.

In Niagara Falls, Forum over-estimated the support of the New Democrats by at least five points, and as much as twice of that. So that was a miss, but at least the winner was correctly identified.

The PCs, Liberals, and Greens all did slightly better than the poll expected, though the results were within both the reported and actual margins of error.

The poll conducted by Forum on February 5 would have been much closer. That survey had the NDP at 38% to 36% for the Tories and 19% for the Liberals.

The poll in Thornhill was much better. The results were within three points for the PCs and within 1.8 points for the Liberals, NDP, and Greens. All results fell within the reported and actual margins of error, and comfortably within them (unlike the PCs in Niagara Falls, who fell just within the edge of the margin of error).

This is not the first time Forum has had a good performance in the Toronto area. Its Toronto Centre poll in the November by-elections was the closest of the four, while the polls in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and Scarborough-Guildwood were the best of the five Ontario by-elections of August 2013. Forum has had much less success outside of the GTA. I cannot speculate why that might be.

UPDATE: A reader made an interesting suggestion of why that might be. Forum's by-election record has been generally good in races where voting patterns did not change much (i.e., the GTA) but has been very poor in ridings where those patterns changed significantly. If Forum is making assumptions to model the voting population in its polls, those assumptions may be incorrect when the electorate is shifting so greatly.

This site's By-Election Barometer continues to have a flawless record. Thornhill had been forecast to be a Likely PC win, while Niagara Falls was a Toss-Up that favoured the NDP. This stretches the barometer's record to 29 by-elections without an error.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

January 2014 federal polling averages

Only one national poll had been conducted for the month of December, but in January there were four, in addition to one survey done entirely in Quebec. If we compare January's numbers to the last month with some decent polling, in November, we see that not much has changed - though the Liberals and New Democrats swapped about a point.

I finished writing "Tapping into the Pulse" yesterday, and I am going through the final revisions. Then the book will go through the process of being turned into a readable ebook! I hope you'll find it interesting. I have certainly enjoyed writing it. If you haven't already, please consider putting in a pre-order to reserve your copy. You'll get a sneak peek of the first three chapters when the book is released to the Kickstarter backers on or before February 28!
The Liberals averaged 35.5% support in January, down one point from their average support in November. The Conservatives, who stopped a three month decline in January, averaged 28.4%, a gain of 0.5 points. The New Democrats were up 0.9 points to 24.3%.

The Greens were up 0.5 points to 5.4%, while the Bloc Québécois was down 1.5 points to 4.9%. Support for other parties stood at 1.5%.

Comparing the four national polls conducted in January to the last time these firms were active within a similar window, we see the New Democrats have made a significant gain from a particular low level.
Compared to polling by the same firms done at the end of October, the New Democrats were up 2.6 points. The Liberals dropped 1.4 points and the Conservatives fell 0.6 points.

At the regional levels, the Liberals continued to lead in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, with the Conservatives ahead in Alberta and the Prairies.

In Ontario, the Liberals dropped 1.9 points to 37.4% but they have been between 36% and 38% for five months now in the province. The Conservatives picked up 3.8 points since November to reach 34.9%, their best result since April 2013. The New Democrats were down 1.3 points to 21.6%, while the Greens were up 0.6 points to 4.6%.

The Liberals gained 0.7 points to reach 36.7% support in Quebec, their best numbers since August 2013. The NDP also reached a high since then, up 3.4 points to 28.8%. The Bloc reached a low since August 2013 with a fall of 3.3 points to 18.5%, while the Conservatives were up 0.4 points to 12.5%. They have been between 12% and 13% for seven months now. The Greens were down 1.5 points to 3%.

The Conservatives were down 1.3 points in the Prairies to 35.6%, while the Liberals dropped for the third consecutive month to 30.2%, a fall of 5.9 points since November. The NDP put up their best numbers since January 2013, with a gain of 5.4 points to 27.8% support. The Greens were up 1.1 points to 5.2%.

In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals were up 5.1 points to 52.5%, while the NDP and Conservatives were both pegged at less than 25% for the third consecutive month. The NDP was down 0.7 points to 21.9% and the Conservatives were down 3.7 points to 21.1%. The Greens slipped 0.7 points to 3.4%.

The Conservatives dropped 5.9 points to 50.6% support in Alberta, their lowest level since May 2013. The Liberals were up 8.4 points to 27.6%, their best since then. The NDP was down four points to 14.5%, while the Greens were up 1.6 points to 5.7%.

And in British Columbia, the Liberals decreased by 4.7 points to 30.4%, followed by the Conservatives at 28.9% (+1.6), the NDP at 27.6% (-1.3), and the Greens at 10.6% (+3).
With these levels of support, the Liberals would win 136 seats, down six from their November estimate. The Conservatives would win 120 seats, up three, while the NDP would take 78, up 10. The Bloc dropped eight seats to two and the Greens gained one to reach two as well

The Liberals dropped most of their seats in Ontario, falling seven to 53. They were also down two seats in both the Prairies and Quebec. But they were up two seats in Alberta and three in Atlantic Canada.

The Conservative seat gains were in Ontario, where they picked up eight. They were also up one in British Columbia, though they were down one in the Prairies, two in Alberta, and three in Atlantic Canada.

The New Democrats gained 10 seats in Quebec and three in the Prairies, while dropping one in Ontario and two in British Columbia.

January showed a continuation of what we had seen in 2013. The Liberals retain the lead, which they have held now since April 2013. The Conservatives remain below 30% and the NDP is stuck in third. There are some interesting regional contests, though, with a three-way race persisting in British Columbia and Ontario and Quebec hardly decided.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olympic hockey rankings updated

Just a short note that I've updated the Winter Olympics hockey rankings, which you can read here.

Canada, of course, comes on top of the list, followed by the United States, Sweden, and Russia. But how do the teams compare to one another? Who will be the important players? And how do the line combinations stack up? Check it out.

The men's games begin tomorrow at noon, eastern time, with the Czech Republic taking on Sweden and Latvia up against the Swiss.

2014 Winter Olympics

The men's Winter Olympic hockey tournament is about to begin. In January, I took a look at each of the teams' rosters, using a simple system to compare each roster quantitatively. The system is based solely on points scored in the past season, with the main use of it being to compare players across different leagues. It is a terribly simple system, but it produces rather intuitive results. I wrote about the system here.

This is not a forecast of final results, but rather just a ranking of how the teams should place on paper. We start, of course, with Canada.

By any subjective or objective measure, Canada has the strongest roster in Sochi and enters the tournament the favourite to repeat as gold medal winners.

The system values Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes as the most important goaltender, but he is likely to actually be the third goaltender, with Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks contesting the starter's role. All three goaltenders give Canada the chance to win. With a .925 save percentage, Price has the best stats of the three.

The defense is incredibly deep, as any of the top six would play on the top pairing of any other team in the tournament. There is a lot of offensive talent among the eight, but also defensive responsibility. Any of the top six can lead a powerplay. There is a good mix of youth in Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues, P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens, and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings and veterans in Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators, and Jay Bouwmeester of the St. Louis Blues.

The forward group is just as deep - how else can you describe a line-up that could potentially have Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks on the third line and Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche on the fourth. There are quite a few players who are familiar with each other as well: Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks, and Patrick Sharp and Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks. Put those pairings together, and you have three lines that will already have some chemistry. And then you can add players like John Tavares of the New York Islanders, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, and Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks. Not bad, and that is with Steven Stamkos out of the line-up.

There is no reason Canada should fail to play for a gold medal. The goaltending is solid, the defense can score and keep the defensive zone clear, and the forwards can score even more. Perhaps the team will be disadvantaged on the big ice, but they are playing primarily against teams made up of NHLers already, and more than a few of these names have played in multiple World Hockey Championships.

The Americans remain in second spot, with the second deepest roster in the tournament.

The US goaltending looks a lot better than it did earlier in the year, when both Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings and Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings were struggling. Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres is still on his game and will probably get the chance to start, but if he falters either Quick or Howard can easily step in. Along with Canada and the Finns, the Americans have the least to worry about in net.

The defense is not nearly as flashy as the Canadian line-up. There is a lot of youth here: Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues, Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks, Ryan McDonagh of the New York Islanders, and Justin Faulk of the Carolina Hurricanes. That energy may be useful on the big ice, though. Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild and Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins can provide the steady leadership. It is a solid back-end, but won't score as much as Canada.

The Americans have a great line-up of forwards. Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs has been on a tear, and is now the most valued player on the roster. He and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks can lead the offense, supported by names like Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks, Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets, and James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Veterans like David Backes of the St. Louis Blues, Ryan Kesler of the Vancouver Canucks, and Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild could have good tournaments, the latter two especially looking to improve on a mixed season.

The United States should be able to play in the final, but again the question of the larger international ice will come into play. But the offensive group can score, the defense is reliable, and the goaltending should be good enough to keep them in any game.

The Swedes come in third in the ranking, and have a good enough team to play for a medal.

Their goaltending is a bit of a question. Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers has had a better season since being named to the Swedish roster, but if he does not deliver the Swedes will struggle with Jonas Gustavsson of the Detroit Red Wings or Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres as the relief.

The defense, though, is more reliable. Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators is the leading defensive scorer in the NHL. Combine him with Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings, and you have a dangerous powerplay. The next two pairings are not nearly as lethal, but Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Phoenix Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks are no slouches.

The Swedes have one of the best group of top-six forwards in Sochi. Nicklas Bäckstrom and Marcus Johansson of the Washington Capitals, Henrik Zetterberg of the Detroit Red Wings, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues, and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks are all leading players in the NHL. They are missing Henrik Sedin, but the Swedes have enough depth to cover that: Daniel Alfredsson and Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings and Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins. It is a strong line-up that should compete.

The host Russians have moved into fourth from fifth spot since the rosters were first announced, meaning they should be in the running to play for a medal. But they don't have the same depth as the top three teams.

Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche and Sergei Bobrobsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets are both good enough to lead Russia to a medal, so the team is not lacking in one of their traditional weak spots.

The defense is not as impressive, however. Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens, Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Slava Voynov of the Los Angeles Kings can all score in the NHL, but the group gets pretty thin after that. Alexei Emelin of the Canadiens is a good hitter, and Nikita Nikitin of the Blue Jackets is an effective player. Ilya Nikulin and Yevgeni Medvedev of Ak Bars Kazan, if they play, may have the advantage of experience on the home ice.

It is difficult to know what to make of the forwards. Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are obviously world-class players, and they both step up their game when they play for their country. But Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings is hurting and Ilya Kovalchuk of SKA St. Petersburg is not producing in the KHL to the extent that he did in the NHL (Alexander Radulov of CSKA Moscow, on a point-per-game basis, is a more productive player). Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blaues, Alexander Semin of the Carolina Hurricans, and Valeri Nischushkin of the Dallas Stars are all skilled players, but would any of them be on the American or Canadian rosters? The Russians could find themselves outmatched when the bottom two lines are on the ice.

The Russians lack the depth of the top three teams and their defense may not be good enough. But the home ice advantage will play in their favour.

The Czechs fall to fifth in the rankings, though if they can score enough they might be able to medal.

Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets will have to carry the bulk of the load in nets, and he hasn't had the best of seasons in the NHL. Jakub Kovar of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg and Alexander Salak of SKA St. Petersburg are both quality KHL goaltenders, but may not be up to the task of playing the top three teams if Pavelec falters.

The defense is also problematic. Marek Zidlicky of the New Jersey Devils is the most important offensive threat, but after him the group is thin. Radko Gudas of the Tampa Bay Lighting, Michael Rozsival of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Zbynek Michalek of the Phoenix Coyotes will have no trouble handling the lesser teams, but will struggle when the competition heats up. Tomas Kaberle of Rytiri Kladno may not be up to snuff as he plies his trade in the Czech league, though Ladislav Smid of the Calgary Flames is reliable defensively.

The offense is very solid for the Czechs, however. David Krejci of the Boston Bruins, the ageless Jaromir Jagr of the New Jersey Devils, and Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers are all top NHL players. Veterans like Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens, Patrik Elias of the Devils, and Milan Michalek of the Ottawa Senators can provide leadership, while younger players like Ondrej Palat of the Lightning and Vladimir Sobotka of the St. Louis Blues provide the energy.

If Pavelec plays well and the defense focuses on defense, the Czechs can be a threat. But without solid goaltending, the team will not go very far.

The Finns come in sixth in the rankings. If their goaltenders stand on their head, they could move up.

Finland has the best group of goaltenders in the NHL, and they brought them to Sochi. Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins, though valued third here, will likely start. If he doesn't play well, either Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars or Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks can step in without losing a beat.

They will have to play well because the Finns' defense is unimpressive. Olli Määttä of the Pittsburgh Penguins is the biggest offensive threat, but that is a lot to put on the young Finn's shoulders. Veterans Kimmo Timonen of the Philadelphia Flyers and Sami Salo of the Tampa Bay Lightning are past their prime, but Sami Vatanan of the Anaheim Ducks is a future star. At least two Finnish defenders will be coming from the European leagues. Juuso Hietanen of Torpedo Nizhni Novogorod has been productive in the KHL, and Sami Lepistö of Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg has NHL experience.

Finland would have had a decent set of forwards if Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula hadn't dropped out due to injury - they would have been their two most valued players. Instead, scoring will have to come from Jussi Jokinen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Olli Jokinen of the Winnipeg Jets, and Mikael Granlund of the Minnesota Wild, hardly a top trio to strike fear in the hearts of other teams. The Finns do have decent depth, however: Teemu Selänne of the Anaheim Ducks on the second trio, Tuomo Ruutu of the Carolina Hurricanes on the third, and Petri Kontiola of Traktor Chelyabinsk on the fourth. Sakari Salminen of Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod will be interesting to watch, as he had a terrific season in the KHL.

If Finland gets the goaltending, they can get a medal. But if they don't, they do not have the offensive power to get them far enough.

The Slovaks can never be under-estimated (they played for a medal in Vancouver), but will be less dangerous this year.

Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues, who has been having a so-so season, will need to play great for the Slovaks to get very far. Peter Budaj of the Montreal Canadiens is a solid back-up, but probably not up to a medal winning performance.

Any defensive group that has Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins in it is going to be good, and the Slovaks are no different. He'll be ably supported by Andrej Sekera of the Carolina Hurricans and Andrej Meszaros of the Philadelphia Flyers, but the team is hurt by the absence of Lubomir Visnovsky due to injury. Ivan Baranka of Avangard Omsk is effective enough in the KHL, while NHL veteran Milan Jurcina of TPS Turku could be useful.

No Marion Gaborik robs the Slovaks of a one-two punch up front. Instead Marion Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks will have to provide most of the scoring. He'll need youngsters like Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco of the Detroit Red Wings to break out, while veterans like Marcel Hossa of Dinamo Riga, Tomas Kopecky of the Florida Panthers, and Michael Handzus of the Blackhawks will need to play at their very best. A line from the KHL's Slovan Bratislava made up of Michel Miklik, Milan Barovic, and Branko Radivojevic could have some chemistry.

The NHL veterans will need to lead the way for Slovakia to medal. That means great goaltending from Halak, solid offense and defense from Chara, and goals from Hossa. It is a lot to ask.

The Swiss are always a tough out, and Sochi will be no different.

Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks will give the team reliable goaltending, while Reto Berra of the Calgary Flames and Tobias Stephen of Genève-Servette HC can step in if Hiller falters. But the Swiss will need Hiller to win some games for them.

The Swiss defense can rely on two pairings of NHL veterans: Mark Streit of the Philadelphia Flyers, Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators, and Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber of the Vancouver Canucks. Mathias Seger and Severin Blindenbacher of ZSC Lions Zurich are both good Swiss league defenders. The Swiss will be skilled in their own zone.

Goals may be harder to come by at the other end. NHLers Nino Niederreiter of the Minnesota Wild, Damien Brunner of the New Jersey Devils, and Simon Moser of the Predators will need to be good. But the Swiss league is starting to produce good Swiss forwards as well, and Roman Wick and Luca Cunti of Zurich have both been very productive. Martin Plüss of SC Bern and Andres Ambühl of HC Davos are reliable veterans as well.

If the Swiss can win games by 2-1 scores, they can pull off some upsets.

The bottom four teams are unlikely to be very competitive, but Austria may be the best of them - at least for a few minutes at a time.

Bernhard Starkbaum of Brynäs Gävle has been playing very well in the good Swedish league, so he should be the starter for the team. He should be capable of winning some games for the Austrians, particularly against offensively challenged opponents.

The defense is not terrific, with only Stefan Ulmer of HC Lugano playing outside of the middling Austrian league. But Thomas Pöck of KAC Klagenfurt has NHL experience, and Gerhard Unterluggauer has been productive for VSV Villach.

The Austrians may not put their top forwards together on the same line, but they should at least have a decent powerplay. Thomas Vanek and Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders are both good scorers, with Vanek in particular having a decent year. Micahel Raffl of the Philadelphia Flyers has also proven himself capable. After that, though, there is not much. Oliver Setzinger has been good for Lausanne HC in the Swiss league. Raphael Herburger has been playing for EHC Biel, which should do him well.

Strong play by Vanek and Grabner and solid goaltending from Starkbaum could make the Austrians competitive. But after the NHL players are off the ice, the team will struggle mightily.

It is a similar situation for Norway, which has a few good players but little depth.

Lars Haugen should carry the load in net, and he has had a decent season in the KHL with Dinamo Minsk. Lars Volden of Espoo Blues is also capable.

Jonas Holøs of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl is the best defender on the team, and he has NHL experience. As does Ole-Kristian Tollefsen of Färjestad Karlstad. The rest of the line-up has been playing in the Norwegian league, which will not prepare them for stiff competition.

Mats Zuccarello has been having an amazing season with the New York Rangers, and will be the main source of offense for the Norwegians. Patrick Thoresen of SKA St. Petersburg, who has NHL experience, is also a skilled veteran. Mathias Olimb of Frölunda Gothenburg and Per-Åge Skrøder of MODO Örnsköldsvik are good players in the Swedish league. The rest of the line-up will struggle to keep up.

The Norwegians play hard, but do not have the talent to compete with the top rosters.

The Slovenes stay out of last spot because of one name only: Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings.

It will be interesting to see how Luka Gracnar, coming off a good season with Red Bull Salzburg, will do on the big stage. He is a young goaltender, but a bright spot for Slovenia's future. Veteran Robert Kristan of HK Nitra can step in and do well enough if Gracnar fumbles.

No defensemen is playing in a top European league, so the Slovenians will struggle in their own zone. Sabahudin Kovacevic of Sary-Arka Karaganda, Blaz Gregorc of HC Pardubice, and Ziga Pavlin of IF Troja-Ljunby may be the best of a bad group.

Kopitar has been playing great for the Kings, but he will be a target for opposing teams. Nevertheless, he is a top player in the NHL and if the focus is on him, it will open up some space for Jan Mursak of CSKA Moscow, who has some NHL experience. Apart from these two, Rok Ticar of Kölner Haie and Jan Urbas of Red Bull München are capable.

But the Slovenes will be the whipping boy of Sochi, as after Kopitar and Mursak step off the ice the team is just not able to keep up.

The Latvians will also struggle, but their line-up is more balanced.

Kristers Gudlevskis of the Syracuse Crunch of the NHL will give them some goaltending used to North American shooters, so that will give the Latvians a chance.

Veteran Sandis Ozolinsh of Dinamo Riga leads the defensive group. He is still able to produce offensively and provides leadership. Fellow Riga players Kristaps Sotnieks, Krisjanis Redlihs, Georgijs Pujacs, and Arvids Rekis have familiarity. Veterans of North American hockey Arturs Kulda of Salavat Yulayev Ufa and Oskars Bartulis of Donbass Donetsk will be able to hold their own.

Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres is the best offensive talent the Latvians have on offer, and he will be supported by players with NHL experience like Martins Karsums of Dynamo Moscow, Kaspars Daugavins of Gèneve-Servette HC, and Janis Sprukts of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Miks Indrasis of Riga has had a very good year in the NHL.

The Latvians have more depth than Austria, Norway, and Slovenia, but have no stand-out players. That means they will be able to compete without too much of a drop-off in talent between lines, but will find it difficult to impose themselves on the game.

A question of depth

In addition to these full roster analyses, I thought it would be interesting to break it down line-by-line, and see if any of the rosters have hidden strength that way. Kopitar and Vanek, for example, can only play so many minutes. Note that the line combinations below are not actual line combinations, but just groupings by the rankings above.

Here we see why the Finns, ranked sixth overall, could be dangerous. They have the second-highest rated first and second goaltenders, and the best third goaltender. The Americans punch well below their weight here, while the Latvians, for example, have a better starter than their team overall.

On the back-end, the Swedes have the top pairing in Karlsson and Kronwall, while the Slovaks have the fourth-best pairing in Sekera and Chara. Russia's is the fifth best in Markov and Tyutin, while the Swiss pairing of Streit and Josi beats out the Czechs and Finns. Here again, the Latvians come out of the bottom group. The second and third pairings fellow more in line with the overall rankings, though the Czechs are particularly weak.

The forward groupings fellow the overall rankings relatively closely, though the trio of Ovechkin, Malin, and Tarasenko displaces the Swedes (Bäckström, Zetterberg, and Landeskog) for third. The Swiss have the second worst top grouping in Niederreiter, Brunner, and Wick, putting them behind the Austrians and Norwegians.

The Canadians, Americans, and Swedes take up the top three spots for the rest of the lines, with the Czechs displacing the Russians for fourth - demonstrating their offensive depth. The Finns then displace the Russians on the fourth line and the extra skaters, showing the lack of depth Russia has after their top three pairings.

When we rank the teams by depth (giving the top ranked team for each line combination 12 points, the second team 11, and so on) the order changes a little. Canada, the United States, Sweden, and Russia still place one through four, but the Finns (thanks to their goaltending) move into fifth, with the Czechs falling to sixth. The Latvians move into 10th, moving the Norwegians down to 11th and the Slovenes to 12th.

Let the games begin!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

With Cotler's departure, is Mount Royal at play?

This week, Irwin Cotler announced that he would not seek re-election in 2015. That leaves his riding of Mount Royal up for grabs, as the Liberals will need to name a new candidate and will not be able to benefit from an incumbency advantage. Could this create an opportunity for the Conservatives to win their first seat on the island of Montreal in decades?

The riding has traditionally been a very safe one for the Liberals, and was represented by Pierre Trudeau when he was in office. It was a rare thing for the Liberals to not win a majority of votes in the riding, and Cotler first won it in a by-election in 1999 with an incredible 92% of the vote. However, his vote share dropped in every subsequent election, to 81% in 2000, 76% in 2004, 66% in 2006, 56% in 2008, and finally 41% in 2011.
Click to magnify
He almost lost the riding in that election to Conservative candidate Saulie Zajdel, who captured 36% of the vote. The Conservatives had been increasing their vote share in every election since the merger, taking 9% in 2004, 18% in 2006, and 27% in 2008. As the chart above shows (the Canadian Alliance and PC votes were combined for 2000), the trendlines would point to an easy Conservative victory in 2015 if the Liberal vote continues to slide and the Conservative vote continues to increase.

(If it did, it would probably have to be under a Conservative candidate other than Zajdel, who was arrested and charged with fraud in June 2013.)

But the 2011 election was a bit of an outlier, considering it marked a historical low for the Liberal Party. If we apply current levels of support in Quebec to the riding (36% for the Liberals to 13% for the Conservatives), and take into account the effect of losing an incumbent candidate, the Liberals should easily prevail with 67% of the vote to just 20% for the Conservatives. With the Liberals enjoying a surge of support under Justin Trudeau, Mount Royal should not be at play. In fact, Mount Royal would drop quite low on the list of potential Tory pick-ups in the province.

However, that relies on the swing in support at the provincial level. Can we get a little more detailed than that?

Thankfully, CROP has been releasing federal polling data for the riding of Montreal over the last year. The trends have been recorded in the chart below, using a two-poll average.
As you can see, the Liberals are doing quite well. Under Trudeau, they have consistently polled above 30% on the island of Montreal, and often over 40%. That puts them above the 27.3% of the vote they captured on the island in 2011. The New Democrats have consistently polled below the 38% of the vote they took in 2011.

The Conservatives have fluctuated quite a bit. They took 13.3% of the vote on the island of Montreal in 2011, and have polled both well above and well below that level over the course of the year. But on average, they have only managed 12% - virtually unchanged from where they were on election night. By contrast, the Liberals have averaged 42% support on the island of Montreal since Trudeau took over as leader.

Again, that makes Mount Royal a very safe riding for the Liberal Party. A simple uniform swing would give the Liberals 56% of the vote to 35% for the Tories. But what would be needed for the Conservatives to be in a real position to take it?

Because of the narrow margin in 2011, it would not take very much. With Cotler's incumbency advantage gone, the Conservatives could theoretically win the riding at 13.8% support on the island of Montreal, if the Liberals had fallen to 26.7%. That would require, however, a very steep drop in Liberal support between now and the 2015 election. That could very well happen, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Trudeau does worse than Michael Ignatieff in Quebec. There are lower fruit for the Conservatives to pick in Quebec than Mount Royal, particularly ridings currently held by the New Democrats and Bloc Québécois.

Of course, the landscape could completely transform between now and the 2015 election. A meteorite could also land on Mount Royal and make these calculations irrelevant. But we are better off focusing on the probable rather than the possible. Based on the information we have, Mount Royal does not look like a seat that should be high on anyone's list of swing ridings in 2015.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Post-Dunderdale, Liberals retain lead

Newfoundland and Labrador may be a small province, but it manages its fair share of drama with Kathy Dunderdale resigning as premier last month. That drama continued today, as news reports say the two NDP MHAs that left the party late last year will be heading over to Dwight Ball's Liberals. With defections going their way from the governing Tories as well, the Liberal caucus will balloon to 11 members, almost double the number of seats won in the 2011 provincial election.

Despite all the upheaval, however, the latest poll from Abacus Data for VOCM shows that little has changed in the province since before the holidays, with the Liberals still enjoying a wide lead over the Progressive Conservatives.
This is the first we've heard from Abacus at the provincial level, but their numbers show no real change from those reported by the Corporate Research Associates in November. Abacus found the Liberals leading with 49%, followed by the PCs at 34% and the NDP at 15%, with 2% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians opting for another party.

22% of the entire sample was undecided. Interestingly, 24% of 2011 PC voters were undecided, suggesting that they are particularly unsure of where to go after Dunderdale's departure (15% of NDP voters in 2011 were undecided, and just 9% of Liberals). This suggests that the Tories do have some scope for growth among voters who have supported them in the past, but they have taken a big step backwards. Before excluding undecideds, 28% of PC voters from 2011 have already gone over to the Liberals (31% of NDP voters have as well).

The Liberals led among both sexes and in all age groups, but it is worth noting that among the oldest voters (60+, often a good proxy for turnout) the margin was closer: 49% for the Liberals and 40% for the Tories, with the NDP at just 10%.

It is also worth noting that support is remarkably uniform across the three regions defined by Abacus (it would have been interesting to have some numbers for St. John's, where support is less likely to be so uniform). The Liberals had 47% support on the Avalon Peninsula and in the St. John's Region, 49% in western Newfoundland and in Labrador, and 51% in eastern and central Newfoundland. The Tories varied even less, with a high of 35% in the eastern and central parts of the province and a low of 33% in Avalon and St. John's. The NDP had its best numbers, 17%, in Avalon and St. John's - likely due to much better numbers in the provincial capital.

With these provincial levels of support, the Liberals would likely win a majority government of around 26 seats, with 18 going to the Progressive Conservatives and just four to the New Democrats. Considering the uniformity of Liberal support, I'd wager a higher likelihood of even more seats than this for the party than otherwise.

The province will be one to watch as contenders position themselves to replace Dunderdale as the permanent leader of the PCs. This man or woman will also serve as premier for no more than one year, when an election needs to be called. The Tories still have a strong base of support from which to build upon (in fact, considering how unhappy Newfoundlanders and Labradorians were with the blackout, it is remarkable the Tories have held on to as much support as they have), but it seems that Dunderdale herself was not the only problem. While Abacus did record PC support at five points higher than CRA did in November, the difference is within the two polls' margins of error. We will have to see whether a new leader will improve Tory fortunes, or whether voters have simply deemed it time for a change.