Saturday, May 31, 2014

Brief Ontario update

The projection has been updated with a poll from Oracle Research, who we heard from earlier in the campaign. The poll is older than the most recent Ipsos Reid survey, however, as it dates from May 23-27. It was a telephone poll interviewing 1,000 people for Environmental Communications Options, a consultancy. The poll gave the PCs 36% support against 32% for the Liberals, 25% for the NDP, and 7% for the Greens.

Had the poll been included along with the other survey completed on May 27 by Forum Research, the dramatic swing that occurred with the addition of the Ipsos poll yesterday would have been lessened, as in the prior update the PCs would have narrowly led in the vote and seat count. The range tracker graphic on the projection page has been retroactively updated to show this.

The Oracle poll is interesting as their previous survey had shown a very large lead for the Tories (42% to 31%), just as an Ipsos poll done at the same time did. And now they show a close race leaning PC, just as Ipsos has in their eligible-voter tally released on Thursday. It helps to clarify the picture somewhat.

While I do not include internal party polls or interest-group polls in the projection model, I have included those commissioned by consultancies before (Hill & Knowlton in 2013 in British Columbia), as well as the previous Oracle poll and the riding polls being done by Oracle in the party leaders' ridings. In addition, Oracle Research has conducted polls in other races over the last few years, notably British Columbia and in a number of Ontario by-elections.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Consensus or not in Ontario?

On the one hand, the new poll from Ipsos Reid for CTV/CP24 has moved into the ballpark of all the other surveys we have seen over the last week. It is looking like a close race, close enough that the gap between the two parties is within the margin of error - maybe even within a rounding error. On the other hand, the new poll diverges greatly with other surveys in showing a massive, crushing lead for the Progressive Conservatives among likely voters. The pollsters may be now gauging the opinions of Ontarians correctly, but unless things converge before the end of the campaign someone will be telling the wrong story when the votes are counted.

The projection has swung wildly again with the addition of this poll. But it is less a product of the tendency of the model to lurch back and forth with every single survey (Ipsos now occupies 57% of the projection, so plenty of room for the other numbers) than it is a sign of just how different the likely voter numbers are from the rest of the field.

The last EKOS survey had the Liberals at 36%. The last Abacus poll of likely voters also had the Liberals at 36%. And yesterday's Forum poll, which bakes in a turnout model into the overall numbers, also had the Liberals at 36%. So, Ipsos having the party at just 29% among likely voters causes a bit of a swing.

The PCs have now moved ahead again with 38.6%, a gain of 3.6 points since yesterday's update. Their range now stands at 37% to 42%. The Liberals dropped 3.8 points to 32.1%, or between 31% and 35%, while the NDP increased by 2.4 points to 23.4% (or between 22% and 25%). The Greens are down 2.2 points to 4.8%, or between 3% and 6%.

In the seat count, the Tories are up eight to 51, or between 39 and 57 seats, just potentially getting them over the majority threshold of 54 seats. The Liberals fell 13 seats to 36, or between 38 and 48, while the NDP picked up five to reach 20, or between 17 and 25.

So is this a case of the polls disagreeing with one another again? Not exactly. The polls are now in general agreement on the state of the race, in that it is close and somewhere around 35% for the two leading parties. But the way likely voters are estimated is different from one poll to the next, a difference that perhaps has a much more significant effect on the numbers than the methodological variations between telephone and online polling.

EKOS will be coming out with likely voter numbers before the end of the campaign, so we will see what method they are employing. Forum uses a likely voter model, but it is a 'secret sauce' and we know nothing about it. Abacus asks respondents a half-dozen questions relating to commitment and interest in the election, and bases their estimate on how likely a respondent is to vote on that. Ipsos asks survey takers how likely they are to vote, only counting those who say that 'nothing short of an emergency' would prevent them from voting to come to their likely voter tally. That number is tracking with turnout from 2011, so on the face of it could be an effective model.

This makes it not entirely about disagreement among polls but rather the models used for estimating turnout. The two are very different. We can only wait until June 12 to see which model was the best.

Ipsos was last in the field on May 20-21, and since then recorded a one-point gain for the PCs, who led with 36%. The Liberals were up three points to 34%, followed by the NDP at 23%, down five points. Support for other parties was up one point to 7%, and 17% of the entire sample was undecided.

Only the drop in support for the NDP would be outside the margin of error of a probabilistic sample of this size.

Among likely voters, the Tories were steady at 41%, with the Liberals and NDP each down one point to 29% and 25%, respectively. Stability here, then, which would suggest that while unlikely voters may be moving towards the Liberals (the party has gained in two consecutive Ipsos polls), those who are most likely to cast a ballot are sticking with their preferred choice.

Regionally, the PCs were in front in central, eastern, and southwestern Ontario, while the Liberals led in the GTA and the NDP in the north. The Liberal lead in the 905 region of the GTA is the first that Ipsos has recorded since the beginning of the campaign.

The disparity between the results among eligible and likely voters makes this poll a difficult one to put into context. It is certainly a relief to see the eligible numbers squaring with those from other surveys, as it means we now have a better understanding of what is going on. But the likely voter numbers are still extraordinary for the PCs, and like nothing other polls are showing (even those that explicitly or implicitly account for turnout). For now, we can simply say that turnout will be key, both in terms of pollster accuracy and the election outcome.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Liberals drop in new poll

The polls are finally starting to look a little more similar, but that doesn't mean they are all still in agreement. The latest poll from Forum Research for the Toronto Star, for example, shows the Liberals decreasing significantly - the first such decrease recorded in this campaign.

The Liberals still hold the lead in the projection, however, with 35.9% (up 0.1 from the last update), or between 35% and 40% support. The PCs have increased by 1.8 points to 35% (or between 34% and 38%), while the New Democrats were down 1.7 points to 21% (or between 19% and 22%). The Greens were down 0.1 point to 7%, or between 5% and 9%.

In the seat count, the Liberals are still narrowly favoured with 49 (+1), or between 40 and 58. The PCs picked up six seats from the last update to hit 43, or between 34 and 50. The NDP dropped seven seats to 15, or between 13 and 20.

As you can see in the chart above (which tracks each polling firm's trends, as well as the confidence intervals that should generally apply), the drop for the Liberals reverses a rather steady - if slow - increase that every poll has recorded since the start of the campaign. But the question must be asked: is this just a reset? Forum had the Liberals at a very unlikely 41% in their last survey. A regression to the mean was perhaps inevitable.

Forum was last in the field on May 20. Since then, the Liberals dropped five points to 36%, moving them into a tie with the Tories, who were up two points. The NDP was unchanged at 20%, while the Greens were up three points to 7%.

Only the shifts in support for the Liberals and Greens appear statistically significant.

Regionally, the Liberals led in Toronto and the north/central part of the province, while the Tories were ahead in the east, southwest, and 905 area code. A few noteworthy shifts occurred: the Liberals dropped eight points and relinquished the lead in the 905, and also gave up the advantage in the southwest with a nine-point slip. In the north, the NDP fell 10 points, but that looks unreasonably low for the party.

It could be, however, that Andrea Horwath's shine is starting to wear off. Her approval rating sits at just 34%, its lowest level in at least a few years. Her disapproval rating jumped eight points to 48%, the highest it has been. Kathleen Wynne's disapproval rating also increased, by seven points, to 53%. Her approval rating dropped to 34%, while Tim Hudak's approval and disapproval ratings increased to 27% and 63%, respectively, as undecideds formed an opinion.

On who would make the best premier, Hudak jumped four points to 28%, putting him closer to Wynne's 31%. Horwath came up third with 18%.

The last two polls we have seen out of Ontario have shown a close race, with a two-point edge for the Liberals according to Abacus and now a tie according to Forum. It will be interesting to see if Ipsos Reid, which was showing a narrowing of the gap the last we heard from them, will also show the same sort of close race.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

How not to report a poll

The Toronto Star has a significant-looking headline this morning: "Justin Trudeau, Liberal support, dip over pro-choice stance".

The first five words were mostly correct, the rest were a bit of a leap. This concerned a Forum Research poll showing the Liberals down three points since the end of April. But that is all the poll showed, as no questions relating to abortion were included with the survey and, thus, there is no evidence to link the (statistically insignificant) drop of support to his abortion stance. It could have been related, or the drop could have been because Trudeau looks a little bit like Brian Boyle of the New York Rangers (the Liberals did drop in Quebec, after all).

This wasn't entirely the fault of the Star, however, as the headline and the lede were merely echoing what the analysis included with the poll was saying.

Unless they are expressing their opinions as close observers of politics separate from the analysis of a poll, pollsters must limit themselves to what their own numbers show. Otherwise, they are giving their opinion the semblance of authority, of evidence-based observation, when that is not the case. There was nothing in the Forum poll that suggested the drop was related to Trudeau's abortion stance, unless you consider an increase of support for the Liberals among evangelical Christians to be sarcastic.

I wrote about this poll and this issue in more detail for The Huffington Post Canada today. Please go check it out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ontario Liberals inch ahead in Abacus poll

The new poll by Abacus Data for the Sun News Network shows the Liberals narrowly edging out the Tories among both all eligible and likely voters, part of a trend that seems to be building in favour of the Liberals - or, perhaps more accurately, against the PCs.

As the results of the Abacus poll among likely voters did not differ greatly from the projection yesterday, the numbers have not moved dramatically today. The Liberals are still in front with 35.8% (or between 34% and 39%), followed by the Tories at 33.2% (32% to 36%) and the New Democrats at 22.7% (or between 21% and 24%).

The seat count is virtually identical to the standings at dissolution: 48 for the Liberals, 37 for the PCs, and 22 for the NDP. The ranges still overlap between the Liberals and PCs, however, at between 40 to 58 seats for the Liberals and between 30 to 47 seats for the PCs. The New Democrats sit at between 16 and 24 seats.

For once, we're spared the whiplash caused by a new poll contradicting the one that came before it. In fact, this Abacus poll is broadly similar to the most recent poll by EKOS Research. The Liberals have now led in three of the last four polls, and the methodological trend seems to have been broken. It was starting to emerge that the IVR polls favoured the Liberals and the online polls the PCs, suggesting that there was a methodological factor behind the discrepancy. But now that is no longer the case.

A bit of a trend is developing. The charts below are the same as the one posted yesterday, but highlighting only each party. The vertical lines represent each day a poll was in the field, with a rough approximation of the margin of error relating to the poll (assuming a probabilistic sample). The horizontal lines track the trends for each individual pollster. When looked at in this fashion, the discrepancies recorded so far in the campaign do not seem too large, and the trends seem a lot clearer.

Generally, the numbers have not been moving very much. But it is clear that there is a positive trend in favour of the Liberals and a negative one for the Progressive Conservatives. The New Democrats appear stable. The Liberals have gone from the low-30s to the mid-to-high 30s, while the PCs have gone from the high-30s to the low-30s. There is a bit of a signal in all this noise.

The Abacus poll shows a great deal of stability, with even the regional results not changing from Abacus's last poll by more than five points (keeping them well within the margin of error of a probabilistic sample of similar size).

Among all voters, the Liberals picked up one point to move into the lead with 34%, as the PCs dropped one point to 32%. The NDP was also down one point to 25%, while the Greens were steady at 6%. The number of undecideds increased by one point to 15%.

The interesting result was among likely voters, which has favoured the Tories in past polling by Ipsos Reid and Abacus. Here, however, the Liberals are increased to 36% (+3 from last week) while the PCs also increase, but just to 33% (-3 from last week). Have the Tories lost their turnout advantage?

At the regional level, the races are quite close. The Liberals led in Toronto and eastern Ontario, with 39% and 40%, respectively. The Tories were second with 31% and 34%, and the NDP in third with 22% and 21%.

There was a tie in the GTA/Hamilton-Niagara region at 33% between the two parties (the PCs led here last week), while the NDP was at 25%.

Elsewhere, the PCs led in southwestern Ontario with 34% to 28% for the NDP and 27% for the Liberals, while in the north the NDP was ahead with 34% to 32% for the Liberals and 22% for the PCs.

It will be interesting to see if other polls start to echo what Abacus is recording. They are all recording drops in support for the PCs, so that is a trend that seems to be consistent. Whether that drops them into a tie or further behind, however, seems dependent on the pollster. But for now, at least, the polls are making a bit more sense.

Monday, May 26, 2014

EKOS shows sustained Ontario Liberal lead

Friday evening, EKOS Research released their latest poll for iPolitics showing a stable race in Ontario, with the Liberals leading the Progressive Conservatives. This is in contradiction to the previous poll that hit the wires, by Ipsos Reid. But it should be noted that since the campaign officially began (Oracle had a poll out before the writ dropped showing the PCs ahead), Ipsos Reid has been the only pollster to show a PC lead. We're far from consensus (EKOS has a six point edge for the Liberals, Forum had it at seven points, Abacus showed a tie when we last heard from them) but we may be moving towards a higher degree of evidence pointing to a narrow Liberal advantage.

The projection has swung back in favour of the Liberals, with 35.6% support (or between 34% and 39%) against 33.5% for the Tories (or between 32% and 37%). The New Democrats trail at length with 21.8% (or between 20% and 23%), while the Greens jumped to 8.1% (or between 6% and 10%).

In terms of the seats, the Liberals now lead with 48 (or between 41 and 58) and could potentially win a majority, though a minority remains more likely. The PCs sit at 39 (or between 31 and 47), and could still potentially pull off a win with what the polls are showing. The NDP sits at between 16 and 22 seats.

EKOS was last in the field on May 13-15, and since then has recorded no major change in support among the three main parties. The Liberals were down 1.3 points to 35.8%, the PCs were down 0.3 points to 30%, and the NDP was down 0.5 points to 20.4%.

The Greens made a jump of 4.6 points to 11.9%, which is almost certainly a sampling anomaly. EKOS will be releasing likely voter data in their next report, so we can expect the Greens to fall in that regard.

EKOS has been showing very steady numbers in their campaign polling. But the Liberals may not be losing the turnout war anymore. EKOS found that the party had 40% support among Ontarians 65 and older, just ahead of the PCs at 38% (the Tories were ahead by eight points among this group in EKOS's last poll). The Liberals also led among voters aged 45-64.

Regionally, the Liberals held leads in every region except eastern Ontario and the northeastern and central parts of the province (also note that the sample in the Northwest, just 28, has a margin of error of +/- 19 points). The Liberal lead in the southwest is somewhat unusual, but otherwise these numbers are generally what other polls have shown when the Liberals have been in front.

A few regional shifts appear outside the margin of error and are worth noting. But first let's just reiterate that the Green numbers are too high. The party gained 7.7 points in Toronto to hit 10.8%, and gained 12.1 points in eastern Ontario to hit 16.9% - putting them ahead of the NDP. That simply isn't plausible.

Elsewhere, there was a swing between the Liberals and NDP in Toronto. The Liberals dropped 12.7 points to 39.6%, while the NDP gained 9.4 points to reach 23.7%. This seems like more of a reset, as EKOS had abnormally low NDP numbers in the provincial capital last week.

And in the northeast and central part of Ontario, the PCs picked up 15.4 points to reach 34.9% and take the lead.

The polls are still far from clear, as even the polls that give the Liberals the lead hardly agree on the size of that lead. But let's, again, try to make some sense of it.

The chart below shows the polls released so far in the campaign by firms that have reported more than once (including Abacus Data, which has reported just once but will also have new numbers out tonight). Each vertical line represents a day in which a pollster was in the field. So this EKOS poll, for example, has eight lines as it was in the field over eight days. The last Forum poll has one, since it was in the field for a single day. The lines also roughly represent the margin of error for each party in each poll (assuming a probabilistic sample).

It is still rather muddled and not all of the polls overlap, even when taking into account the margin of error and when they were conducted on the same days. But some patterns do seem visible.

The PC results are the easiest to follow, as with the confidence intervals it is possible to run from one end of the chart to the other. The PCs started the campaign high, and have since mostly dropped. The Liberals started the campaign lower, and have since mostly increased. The NDP has been generally stable.

I think something clearer is starting to emerge from this campaign. The Liberals and PCs are in a very close race, but neither have momentum and certainly not the Tories. Nevertheless, if an election were held today - considering turnout implications - the result would still be a toss-up.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

2014 World Hockey Championship post-mortem

The 2014 World Hockey Championship in Minsk, Belarus was a great tournament held in front of large, noisy crowds. There were more than a few upsets, a lot of close games, and every team - from 16th to 1st - was competitive. Unfortunately for Canada, though, the tournament was far from a success as Canada's medal drought continues.

Below you'll find my post-tournament analysis. A few notes on the format. The record for each nation refers to regulation wins, overtime wins, overtime losses, and regulation losses. I've included a list of the most-used forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders, based on average ice-time. I've also included a list of the top scorers (in brackets, it is: GP-G-A-PTS) and goaltenders (W-L, GAA, SPCT). At the bottom I've included what my ranking system suggested were the most valuable players, to compare to the list of players that were most used and who scored the most. And for the entire analysis, when referring to how a team was ranked I am referring to my own rankings (which you can find here).

The team that out-performed expectations the most was France, finishing six spots ahead of where they were ranked. Finland was also an over-achiever, moving from sixth to second and winning a silver medal in the process. The biggest under-achievers were Canada, the United States, and Kazakhstan. But the Big Six hockey nations held the top six spots, as usual.

The best team in Minsk won the gold medal, as it should be. The Russians were absolutely dominant, winning all 10 games they played in regulation, allowing only 10 goals in the process and scoring 42. They led the tournament in almost every category, and trailed for only 2% of the entire tournament (according to Rod Black on TSN). It was an outstanding performance, making up somewhat for the team's dismal showing in Sochi.

The Russians were strong everywhere, but particularly in net. Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky was excellent, posting a .950 save percentage and 1.13 goals against average, along with two shutouts. The Russians barely needed him to be so good - they won their games by an average of three goals - but he was there when they needed him. Andrei Vasilevski, a young Russian prospect, came in for two games and was just as solid.

After the injury to Dmitri Orlov in the third game of the tournament, Anton Belov of the Edmonton Oilers was the only remaining NHLer on the blueline. He was their best, with five points and a +10 rating, but he got tremendous support from Yevgeni Medvedev, Yegor Yakovlev, and Alexander Kutuzov. The Russians adopted a strict defensive system under new head coach Oleg Znarok, and it worked very well.

But as I said, they didn't need the defense because their offense was lights out. Four players averaged more than a point-per-game: former Phoenix Coyotes forward Viktor Tikhonov, who led the tournament with 16 points in 10 games, KHL top scorer Danis Zaripov (13 points), Sergei Plotnikov, and team captain Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, who had four goals and seven assists in nine games. Nikolai Kulemin, Sergei Shirokov, and Vadim Shipachyov also contributed.

It was a textbook performance by the Russians, who were by far the strongest team in Minsk in front of a very friendly (almost) local crowd. It doesn't make up entirely for failing to medal in Sochi, but it is not a bad consolation prize.

A silver medal with a line-up containing only three NHLers, one of them a rookie, is a huge achievement for the Finns, who were ranked only sixth going in to the tournament. The Finns got stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne when they needed it, and scoring from their European league players, and forged their way to the gold medal game, falling short 5-2 against the dominant Russians.

After losing to Latvia in their opener, an upset in and of itself, and then to Russia, it looked like the Finns had made a mistake in sending such a young and inexperienced line-up to Minsk. But then they beat Germany, Belarus, and Switzerland, and were back in the tournament. A loss to the United States almost knocked them out of the playoffs, but they beat Kazakhstan to give just enough points to edge out Switzerland for the fourth spot in the group. Then the Finns downed Canada and the Czechs in two tough elimination games.

Rinne was the star for the Finns, and was accordingly named the tournament MVP. He had a 1.88 goals against average and .928 save percentage, but was overpowered by the Russian powerplay in the gold medal game. The defense was not flashy but it was good, led by Juuso Hietanen and Atte Ohtamaa, along with Jere Karalahti and Tuukka Mantyla.

Jori Lehtera led the way up front with three goals and 12 points, while Petri Kontiola contributed three goals and six assists. Olli Palola led the team in goals with four, while national team veterans like Jarkko Immonen and Olli Jokinen contributed as well. It was a team effort, and all credit goes to the Finns for their silver medal.

The Russians proved to be too much for the Finns, as they did for everyone else in Minsk, but beating Canada and the Czech Republic to earn their silver medal is no small thing.

It is never a surprise when Sweden wins a medal at the World Hockey Championship, and the Swedes did so in Minsk with a 3-0 victory over the Czech Republic in the bronze medal game. But, on paper, the Swedes hadn't sent a stellar line-up to Belarus, with only a few NHLers and none of them the game-breaker type. But nevertheless, the Swedes only lost two games during the entire tournament.

One was against Canada in the preliminary round, while the other was against Russia in the semi-finals. Otherwise, the Swedes won seven games in regulation and one in overtime in a strong performance.

Much of that was due to the performance of Anders Nilsson, a young goaltender who played part of the year with the New York Islanders. He was terrific, with a .938 save percentage and 1.54 goals against average, providing the Swedes with security that was used to good advantage.

The defense was also strong, led by Mattias Ekholm (seven points in 10 games) and Magnus Nygren, who had five points. Johan Fransson, Tim Erixon, and Erik Gustafsson were also effective.

Scoring came primarily from three players: Joakim Lindstrom (five goals, six assists), Oscar Moller (three goals, six assists), and Mikael Backlund (five goals, three assists), but Ekholm, Linus Klasen, Jimmie Ericsson, and Nicklas Danielsson each had two goals. It gave the Swedes a balanced line-up that was difficult to handle.

A loss against Russia in this tournament is not much of a mark against the Swedes, as the Russians were dominant from top to bottom. Had they managed to squeeze in against the Russians, they would have been the favourite for the gold. A strong performance from a hockey nation with a lot of domestic depth: 15 players on the roster played part or all of last season in the Swedish league.

Each of the Big Six nations have an expectation of a medal when they go to the World Hockey Championship, and the Czech Republic is no different. Their line-up was good enough to play for a medal - and they did - but they didn't have what it takes to get into the top three. And this was because they did not score a goal in the last two games of the tournament.

Though the Czechs did well enough to make it into the playoffs and defeat the United States in the quarter-final, the team did not have an easy go of it. With the exception of the Czechs' 2-0 win over the Italians, every game was decided by a single goal in the preliminary round, including a loss to Denmark and two wins over normally weaker teams like France and Norway. It wasn't a line-up that was dominating.

The back end performed well enough, with Ondrej Nemec managing seven points in 10 games. Alexander Salak played the bulk of the games for the Czechs, and boasted a low goals against average of 2.29, but an unimpressive save percentage of .897.

The Czechs' offense was quite good going into the semi-finals, led by the ageless Jaromir Jagr's four goals and four assists. Tomas Hertl and Vladimir Sobotka contributed six points apiece, while Roman Cervenka put up five. But in the games against Finland in the semi-finals and Sweden for the bronze medal, the Czech forwards were completely shutout. And that is why the Czechs finished fourth.

Overall, though, it was a decent tournament for the Czechs considering that they did not have many NHLers in the line-up and one of them, Roman Polak, was injured after only one game. They needed more from players like Jan Kovar, who had 68 points in the KHL this year but just one assist in the tournament, but both Pekka Rinne and Anders Nilsson got the better of the Czechs in their last two games of the tournament.

Canada cannot catch a break in this tournament. Despite fielding a decent line-up every year - the only country to send a full squad of NHLers - the Canadians can't seem to get past the quarter-finals. Canada performs well in the round-robin every year, but always falls short when the field is reduced to eight. Canada has not gotten past the quarter-final round in five years.

The team sent to Minsk was particularly young, but it nevertheless performed well. After the shocking loss to France in a shoot-out to open the tournament, Canada ran the table, beating Slovakia, the Czechs, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, and Norway. But then Canada fell 3-2 to Finland in the quarter-finals - tournament over.

In the end, the Canadians could not get past Pekka Rinne in the Finnish net. Canadian goaltenders played well, with James Reimer putting up a .911 save percentage and Ben Scrivens managing a 1.74 goals against average and .938 save percentage. But he did not play as well as he could have against Finland, and Canada lost.

Scoring was mostly by committee, with only Joel Ward (six goals, three assists) and Cody Hodgson (six goals, two assists) putting up point-per-game performances. Kyle Turris played a lot, and had six points, while Matt Read and Jonathan Huberdeau each had five points. The young rookie Nathan MacKinnon had four points, but Nazem Kadri has just three assists in eight games.

The defense was solid, with every member of the squad except Braydon Coburn earning a point. Ryan Ellis led the group with five points and a +9 rating.

But Canada needs to find a way to get into the semi-finals. It is easy to send a squad that can dominate the lesser teams and compete with the traditional powers, but the quality of European league players should not be under-estimated. If Canada sends a line-up of second and third liners, the Swedes, Russians, Czechs, and Finns will be able to beat them. Their line-ups might be dominated by European league players, but these players are generally good enough to play on the third or fourth line of NHL teams. They don't because of many reasons, above all the ease of incorporating North American players rather than trying to get Europeans to cross the pond and adapt.

Canada needs to have at least some of their top-flight players at the Worlds in order to compete for a medal. Turris, MacKinnon, Kadri, Garrison, Ellis, and Scrivens are great players. But they are not Jagr, Ovechkin, Malkin, Rinne, or Bobrovsky, who all answered the call for their countries.

The United States never sends a high-quality line-up to the World Hockey Championship, and that has often cost them. Only a few years ago, when the format was different, the USA had to win the mini-tournament to avoid relegation. But lately the US program has been able to send a team that, while not having any big names, can win. In Minsk, the Americans did quite well, though fell short of being able to play for a medal.

The biggest problem for the Americans was goaltending. Tim Thomas played virtually every minute of the tournament for the Americans, and he did not give them a strong performance. He had a .869 save percentage and 3.49 goals-against average, numbers that are quite low even for a short tournament.

Luckily, the Americans were able to put the puck in the opposite net. Only Russia and Canada scored more goals in the round-robin. The team was led in scoring by Seth Jones, who had an amazing tournament with two goals and nine assists in 11 games. A big surprise was the performance of Johnny Gaudreau, a Calgary Flames prospect, who had 10 points in eight games. As expected, Tyler Johnson of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators delivered, with six goals for Johnson and eight points for Smith in eight games. Brock Nelson, who had five goals, was also highly productive. The performance of Tommy Wingels was disappointing, however. He had 38 points for San Jose this year, but none for Team USA.

But the Americans' record does not reflect the sort of tournament they had. Aside from the blow-out win over Belarus, the Americans only narrowly squeaked by their other opponents, even lesser lights like Kazakhstan and Germany. The Americans got the goals, but they also did not keep the puck out of their own net. In the playoffs, the US fell short 4-3 to the Czechs. There were a number of good goaltenders who could have been available and who did not also play in the Olympics (Craig Anderson, Cory Schneider, Al Montoya, Alex Stalock). The US program needs to do a better job recruiting for the Worlds.

By any measure, it was an outstanding tournament for the Belarusians. Hosting the tournament for the first time, in Minsk, the Belarusians set a new attendance record and their team gave them something to cheer about - four wins and a seventh place finish, their best performance since they finished sixth in 2006. It was also a marked improvement over three straight 14th place finishes.

The tournament did not start off well with a 6-1 loss to the United States, but the Belarusians got back on their feet with wins over Kazakhstan and Switzerland. They also defeated Germany and Latvia, and kept the games close against Russia and Finland. They came up short in the playoffs against Sweden, but kept it very competitive with a 3-2 scoreline. Plenty for the locals to cheer about for a team that has struggled in the last few years.

Most of their top players stepped up, with Mikhail Grabovski leading the team with four goals and four assists in six games. Former NHLer Sergei Kostitsyn also had four goals and four assists, but in eight games. National team veteran Alexei Kalyuzhny had one goal and six assists in seven games, while ex-pat Canadian Geoff Platt had five points. Former NHLer Andrei Kostitsyn was a disappointment, held pointless in seven games despite getting his fair share of ice time.

The Belarusians did not get a lot of offense from the blueline, but Vladimir Denisov, Roman Graborenko, and Dmitri Korobov (who played a few games in the NHL this year) all had very good plus/minus ratings. Ex-pat Canadian Kevin Lalande, who plays with Dynamo Minsk in the KHL, was lights out with a .938 save percentage and sparkling 1.25 goals-against average. Vitali Koval was also effective when he got the call.

So good for the Belarusians to go beyond expectations in front of a home crowd. They had the most pressure in this tournament, and they delivered.

The French were the over-achievers of the tournament. Ranked 14th going in and on the bubble to avoid relegation, France finished eighth overall and made it into the playoffs after pulling off a few upsets.

The most shocking upset was the 3-2 victory over Canada to open the tournament, but the French were also able to pull off wins against Slovakia, Norway, and Denmark, as well as pushing the Czechs to overtime. It was an incredible performance.

The French were led by one terrific line of Antoine Roussel (29 points with Dallas this year), Stephane da Costa (four points with the Ottawa Senators, 58 with Binghamton of the AHL), and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (35 points in the good Swedish league). Roussel lit up the tournament with six goals and five assists in eight games, while da Costa had six goals and three assists. Bellemare, who scored the shoot-out winner against Canada, had three goals and five assists.

The problem for the French was that there was not much else after these three (except for Julien Desrosiers, who had six points), and their higher-skilled opponents could focus their defensive efforts on the Roussel-da Costa-Bellemare line. Cristobal Huet was there when he needed to be, though his stats (.902 save percentage, 2.60 goals against average) were less than shining. National team veteran Baptiste Amar was good, but the French were lacking a top flight defenseman.

Nevertheless, this was a terrific performance for the French, who will not be taken so lightly in future years. If they can get their top players to the tournament, France has the ability to pull off upsets.

The Slovaks are always aiming to be in the final eight, as the nation used to have a lock on the 'seventh' spot among the big countries in international hockey. As we get further away from the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the Slovaks have been struggling. But they finished ninth, about as good as they were expected to finish. It could have been a better tournament, though.

The Slovaks mostly won the games they should have (against Italy, Denmark, and Norway) and lost the ones they were expected to (against the Czechs, Canadians, and Swedes). But the 5-3 loss to France doomed the Slovaks to finishing outside of the playoffs.

The Slovaks went with Jan Laco throughout the tournament, and he did moderately well. But the Slovaks probably needed a better than .890 save percentage from Laco. They also needed a much better performance from Tampa Bay's Richard Panik. He had 13 points with the Lightning this year, but had zero for Slovakia - despite getting decent ice time. Marek Hrivik, who had 27 points in the AHL, was also held pointless in Minsk.

The offense was instead led by Michel Miklik, who had a stellar tournament with four goals and seven assists in seven games. Tomas Tatar and Ladislav Nagy both had four goals, while former NHLer Miroslav Satan led the team in ice time with over 20 minutes per game.

The Slovaks had a mixed line-up, and were always going to struggle against the bigger countries. They performed well against most of the weaker teams, but the loss to France was the story of the tournament for Slovakia.

The Swiss should have been able to make it to the playoffs, but instead they finished 10th after winning a silver medal last year. The Swiss started the tournament with three straight losses, against Russia, the United States, and Belarus, which put them off on the wrong foot. They were able to defeat the Kazakhs, Latvians, and the Germans, but their losses to Finland and Belarus kept them out of the playoffs.

The Swiss usually have a strong back end, and this was again the case in Minsk. Roman Josi led the team in scoring with seven points in seven games, while Yannick Weber had three goals and one assist. Reto Berra was not stellar, with a .902 save percentage, but the Swiss lost a lot of close games. The offense was just not potent enough - a perennial problem for the Swiss.

Damien Brunner, the only full-time NHL forward in the Swiss line-up, led the way with three goals and three assists. But the injury to Sven Bartschi in the first game of the tournament hamstrung the Swiss. Denis Hollenstein, Andres Ambuhl, and Simon Moser contributed, but the Swiss needed a better performance from Benjamin Pluss, who had 38 points in the Swiss league this year but none in the tournament.

With one-goal losses against the Belarussians, the Latvians, the Finns, and the Americans, the tournament could have easily been a very different one for the Swiss. They needed clutch scoring or stronger goaltending. Without either, the Swiss end up in the middle of the pack.

It was a great tournament for the Latvians, coming off a surprise performance in the Sochi Winter Olympics. The Latvians defeated the United States and Finland in two upsets, in addition to their win against the Kazakhs. They also suffered close one-goal losses to the Germans and the Swiss. If they would have won either of those games, Latvia would have made it into the playoffs.

The Latvians performed well because their best players did their jobs. Mikelis Redlihs led the team in scoring with six points, while Kaspars Daugavins had five points. Miks Indrasis put up four points, while Zemgus Girgensons of the Buffalo Sabres had two goals. A better showing from him could have gone a long way.

At the back, Arturs Kulda (formerly of the Atlanta Thrashers) led the team with four goals from the blueline, while also leading the team in minutes per game. Kristers Gudlevskis, who made a name for himself against Canada in Sochi and earned himself a call-up from Syracuse of the AHL to the Tampa Bay Lightning, had a .891 save percentage and played in the big games. Edgars Masalskis had two of the wins and a lower goals-against average.

An 11th place finish is respectable for the Latvians, and their victories against the Finns and Americans were milestones. A few more lucky bounces and it could have been an exceptional tournament for Latvia.

Norway out-performed expectations because they kept the puck out of the net, won the games they were supposed to, and kept it close in others. Wins against Italy and Denmark to start the tournament ensured they'd avoid relegation, while pushing the French to a shoot-out kept them out of the bottom four, where they were expected to finish.

The Norwegians had a good defense, with fewer goals allowed in the round-robin than all but six teams. Both Lars Haugen and Steffen Soberg played well when called upon, Haugen getting the Norwegians their two wins and Soberg keeping games close, with a stellar .948 save percentage. Jonas Holos, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche, was a horse, playing an average of 32 minutes per game.

The offensive talents up front largely delivered, with Mathis Olimb leading the team with eight points and Morten Ask scoring three goals and two assists. Ken Andre Olimb and Per-Age Skroder were also important contributors, while Anders Bastiansen got a lot of ice time for his two goals.

The Norwegians can usually be counted upon to finish around 12th, and this particular line-up appeared weaker than in recent years. But the Norwegians acquitted themselves well.

It was a topsy-turvy tournament for the Danes, who were defeated by the Norwegians and French, two teams they should have been able to topple. On the other hand, they won against the Czechs, a team that finished fourth. Consistency against the lower-ranked teams was lacking for the Danes, and so they finished only 13th.

Goaltending was the big problem for the Danes. Only Kazakhstan allowed more goals in the round-robin. This is where the timing of the tournament hurt Denmark, as Fredrik Andersen was busy playing with the Anaheim Ducks. Simon Nielsen, who played the bulk of the time for the Danes, struggled with just a .856 save percentage. Patrick Galbraith, with a .888 save percentage, was better - but his goals against average was an entire goal-per-game worse.

That is unfortunate, since the Danes did have some scorers in the line-up. Kim Staal and Jesper Jensen, two European leaguers, led the way with five points for Staal and three goals for Jensen. NHLers Mikkel Boedker and Jannik Hansen also contributed, with four points apiece. Nicklas Jensen of the Vancouver Canucks also had two points. But from the blueline, Philip Larsen of the Edmonton Oilers, who played 25 minutes per game, was limited to just one assist.

If the Danes had gotten the saves they needed, they could have performed very well. Victories against Slovakia and Norway, games lost by just a goal, would have give the Danes a chance to compete for a playoff spot.

It is hard to say the Germans under-performed. They won the games they should have against Latvia and Kazakhstan, and were competitive in most of the games they lost to the more high-powered teams, like Finland, Russia, and the United States. They needed victories against Belarus and Switzerland to have hopes of making it to the playoffs, but came up short.

Inexplicably in my view, however, it was Rob Zepp who got the call in nets for Germany in those games, rather than Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer had a good season with the Washington Capitals, posting a .925 save percentage in 17 games. He was also good in this tournament, with a .922 save percentage. But he only played two games, with Zepp instead getting the bulk of the time in goal but managing a woeful save percentage of .856. Grubauer had a goals-against average of just over two goals. If he had been the goalie throughout the tournament, that might have been enough to win the Germans a few other games.

But the Germans were not scoring very much. Thomas Oppenheimer and Kai Hospelt led the team with six and five points, respectively, while prospect Leon Draisaitl had four points. But after these three, no German player had more than two points. Felix Schutz, who had 38 points in the KHL this year, was limited to just one assist. Thomas Rieder, who had 48 points with the Portland Pirates of the AHL this year, scored just one goal in seven games. Had the Germans' best scorers played up to their capabilities, and if Grubauer had been given the starts, the Germans might have had a much better tournament.

Italy was relegated, as expected. But they managed to finish 15th rather than last, an achievement in itself for this line-up. And their victory - their only victory - against France, a team that over-achieved on almost every night, was a highlight.

But the Italians couldn't buy a goal, scoring only six in seven games. Their top scorer, defenseman Giulio Scandella, had just one goal and three points, while no one other than Markus Gander scored more than a goal. There were high hopes for Brian Ihnacak, who had 81 points in the Italian league this last season, but he did not manage a single point. Diego Kostner, who had a decent season in the much more competitive Swiss league, had just one goal.

Goaltending wasn't a problem, though the defense was over-powered by the Swedes and Canadians. But otherwise, Daniel Bellissimo kept the Italians in some games, and he put up a .903 save percentage. If the Italians had been able to score, against the Norwegians and Danes, for example, they might have avoided relegation. But they'll be back in Division I next year.

That Kazakhstan was relegated is not much of a shock, the team is usually on the bubble. They were also in the more difficult group, being ranked only more highly than Latvia. They kept the games against the lower ranked teams close, but the 5-4 loss against Latvia - the team they should have been able to beat - sealed their fate.

The Kazakhs weren't hamstrung on offense, scoring more goals than Italy and Germany, and as many as Norway. But they were the worst defensive team in the tournament, allowing 32 goals in seven games, for an average of 4.6 per game. No team will be able to win with such a porous defense.

Goaltending was the problem, as neither Vitali Yeremeyev nor Alexei Ivanov were able to get the job done. Both had mediocre seasons in the KHL, but Yeremeyev is a national team veteran and was once highly rated enough to play a few games with the New York Rangers some years ago. Ivanov played more of the minutes, and put up just a .875 save percentage and 5.07 goals-against average, compared to Yeremeyev's .890 save percentage and 3.65 goals-against average. Perhaps had Yeremeyev played a little more, the Kazakhs could have put up a better result.

They could have gotten better performances from Roman Starchenko (two goals) and Talgat Zhailauov (one goal, one assist), but Kevin Dallman and Nikolai Antropov stepped up in their place. Nevertheless, a last place finish has to be disappointing for a team that could have done better.

Replacing Kazakhstan and Italy in 2015 will be Austria and Slovenia, who earned promotion earlier this year. These are two good replacement nations who have the potential to stick for more than one year, considering the surprising performance of the Slovenes in Sochi and the number of NHLers available to Austria. Next year's World Hockey Championship will be held in Prague and Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ipsos shows PC lead, but a shrinking one

The polls have yet to really form a consensus on the Ontario provincial election campaign, but they do seem to be moving in a more comprehensible direction. The latest poll from Ipsos Reid for CTV and CP24 still gave the Progressive Conservatives the lead, but one that is decreasing from their earlier survey. It is perhaps another example of stable Liberal, but softening PC, support. Nevertheless, the Tories retain a commanding lead among those most likely to cast a ballot.

The projection has moved the PCs back in front, with 37.3% support (or between 36% and 41%) against 35% for the Liberals (or between 34% and 39%). The New Democrats have increased their support to 23.2% (or between 21% and 25%), while the Greens stand at 3.3% (or between 2% and 4%).

Unlike most previous projections that gave the Liberals the seat advantage at this sort of margin, the projection now considers the PCs more likely to win a plurality of seats. They are awarded 45, or between 38 and 54 (just putting a majority in reach). The Liberals sit at 41 seats, or between 32 and 50. The NDP is at 21 seats, or between 17 and 24. The party that would win the most seats is still a toss-up, but it is leaning PC again.

But why are the polls in such disagreement? This is not something that can be easily answered. On the one hand, methodology is surely a factor. The recent online polls have been better for the Tories, the IVR polls for the Liberals. On the other hand, pollsters using different methodologies came up with similar numbers in the recent Quebec election, and are in general agreement at the federal level. Different methodologies do not necessarily give different results, and an online poll done earlier in the campaign by the Innovative Research Group had good Liberal numbers, while a telephone poll had good PC numbers.

I think the reason is something more specific to this campaign, and to Ontarians in particular. Followers of this site know that the polls in Ontario have not been in agreement for many months. In the 2011 provincial campaign, the polls were also choatic (about half gave the Liberals the lead, the other half the PCs) until the last week. However, despite the smaller sample sizes, the federal polls in Ontario have been relatively consistent.

To me, this suggests that the low level of voter interest in Ontario provincial politics (recall that turnout was just 48% in 2011) is a significant factor. There is also the question of swing voters, as I explain below. Add to all of this the methodological differences and multiply it by the difficulties in building a sample in this low-response world of ours, and I think you have the ingredients for a great deal of volatility between polls. We will see if the numbers converge in the last week or two when voters start tuning in.

Ipsos was last in the field on May 12-14, and since then the Progressive Conservatives have dropped four points to 35%, while the Liberals have increased their support by one point to reach 31%. The NDP was up four points to 28%, while support for other parties was down one point to 6%. In all, 19% of the sample was undecided.

None of these shifts are outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples. There is no real trend, either, as this poll is more or less a return to where the parties stood when Ipsos surveyed earlier in the campaign.

Among likely voters, the PCs dropped two points to 41%, the Liberals slipped one point to 30%, and the NDP increased by four points to 26%. Again, there is no consistent trend here, though every poll that makes the distinction shows a significant boost for the Tories among likely voters.

The PCs led in every region of the province except Toronto and the North, where the Liberals and NDP, respectively, were ahead. There is nothing in the regional numbers that stands out as unusual, but there were some big swings: the NDP picked up 11 points in Toronto, while the PCs fell by 12 points. The Liberals were up 19 points in central Ontario, and the PCs moved ahead of the NDP in the southwest.

On who would make the best premier, Andrea Horwath topped the list with 38%, followed by Kathleen Wynne at 32% and Tim Hudak at 30%. We can't compare this to the last time Ipsos asked this question at the beginning of the campaign, however, as they removed Mike Schreiner as an option (did his 9% go primarily to Horwath?).

Among likely voters, however, Hudak was first with 36%, followed by Wynne at 34% and Horwath at 30%. That is a rather significant difference.

There were also a few regional differences on this question. Despite the five-point lead for the PCs in the GTA/905 region, Wynne was well ahead with 38% to 33% for Horwath and 30% for Hudak. That is not a particularly strong sign for the PCs in a battleground region. Similarly, in southwestern Ontario Horwath was seen as the best person to be premier by 47% of respondents, compared to just 29% for Hudak. And this in the context of a six-point PC lead.

I did say that the polls are moving in a more comprehensible direction, and that may seem confusing considering the back-and-forth that we have seen since the campaign began. But look at the chart below, which plots each poll of eligible voters according to the days the poll was in the field (i.e., a poll in the field on one day gets one dot, a poll in the field over three days gets three).

It is a bit of a mess, but you can see that the Liberal high and low polls have generally held steady. They are, however, very far apart. The PC high and low polls are converging a little, with the highs no longer so high and the lows no longer so low. The NDP, meanwhile, appears to be heading in neither a positive nor negative direction.

It could be that in the discrepancies there is a bit of a pattern. The PCs are moving to the mid-30s among all eligible voters, while the Liberals are still hard to pin down and stand somewhere in the 30s. The NDP is somewhere still between the high and low 20s.

The last Abacus poll suggested that there are more voters accessible to the NDP and Liberals, that they have a smaller core (10% each to 16% for the PCs) but a larger group of swing voters (46% for the NDP, 44% for the Liberals, against 35% for the PCs). This may be what we are seeing. From one poll to the next there is less variation in PC support because their support is more settled, but there are more swing voters going back and forth between the Liberals and NDP, causing their numbers to wobble back and forth more dramatically.

Something to consider as we await the next round of polls.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Ontario Liberals move ahead

Another day, another poll, another story line. This time it is from Forum Research and the Toronto Star. The latest numbers give the Liberals the lead, with their support steadily growing. Should we ready ourselves for another whiplash when the next poll comes out?

The projection now gives the Liberals the lead in the vote projection, the first outright lead they have enjoyed since the campaign began. They stand at 38.7%, or between 37% and 43%. The PCs have fallen to 34.6%, or between 33% and 38%, while the New Democrats sit at 21.1%, or between 19% and 23%.

In terms of seats, the Liberals are now in majority territory - again for the first time since the beginning of the campaign. They are projected to win 55 seats, or between 46 and 62 seats. The PCs are projected to win 37 seats, or between 31 and 46 seats. The NDP is projected to win 15 seats, or between 13 and 16 seats.

The Forum poll has the same sort of sampling issues I have highlighted before. The proportion of respondents 55 or older is almost twice as large as it should be, and the proportion of respondents 34 or younger is almost a quarter of what it should be, if this was a representative sample. Weighting can correct for this, but as explained before that has the potential to magnify the errors that can creep in with small sub-group sample sizes.

Forum was last in the field on May 12, and since then the Liberals have picked up three points to move into the lead with 41%. That is an extraordinarily high number. How high? The last poll to give the Ontario Liberals 41% dates from early October 2011 - almost three years ago.

Those three points came equally from the other three parties, with the PCs down to 34%, the NDP down to 20%, and the Greens down to 4%.

None of these shifts are outside the margin of error, but of note is that the New Democrats have now fallen in five consecutive Forum polls, while the Liberals have gained in three consecutive polls.

It will be interesting to see what other pollsters say, as it does seem that the Liberals are improving their position (either among all eligible or just likely voters) in every poll that has been out since the campaign began. Whether they really hold a lead of this magnitude, however, is another matter entirely. The normal margin of error of a random sample of this size would be around +/- 3%, roughly reducing the Liberals to as little as 38% and the PCs to as much as 37% (or, conversely, to as high as 44% and as low as 31%).

The Liberals led in every region of the province in this poll except in eastern Ontario. A Liberal lead in the 905 area code and, especially, the southwest is somewhat unusual. The only large shifts that appear statistically significant was a swing between the NDP and Liberals in Toronto: the Liberals were up 12 points to 51%, while the NDP fell 10 points to just 14%. This echoes the latest poll from EKOS, but not the one from Abacus.

Forum showed little change in approval ratings, with Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath steady at 38% and 35%, respectively. Their disapproval ratings fell to 46% and 40%, respectively. Tim Hudak's approval rating increased to 25%, while his disapproval rating was unchanged at 59%.

In the second release from Abacus's poll this week, similar numbers were shown in terms of favourability - or at least relative numbers, since Abacus provides the option of people having a 'neutral' opinion. But 29% said they had a favourable opinion of Horwath, with 28% having a favourable opinion of Wynne and just 22% saying the same for Hudak. Negative views topped out at 42% for Hudak, against 37% for Wynne and just 21% for Horwath (she had the highest 'neutral' score).

On who would make the best premier, Abacus gave Wynne 26% to 20% for Hudak and 18% for Horwath. Among likely voters, however, Wynne's score improved to 31%, against 24% for Hudak and 20% for Horwath. Those numbers were very similar to Forum's estimate of 34% for Wynne, 22% for Hudak, and 17% for Horwath.

Also on the plus side for the Liberal leader is that Abacus found Wynne polling ahead of her rivals in three key swing groups: OLP/PC voters (32% to 17% for Hudak), OLP/NDP voters (43% to 25% for Horwath), and three-way swing voters (19% to 10% for Horwath and 7% for Hudak). Hudak, meanwhile, beat Horwath among PC/NDP swing voters by a margin of 36% to 23%.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Abacus shows tie in Ontario, PC edge among likely voters

After the back-and-forth see-sawing of the polls since the start of the provincial campaign in Ontario, it is comforting to see a poll with results that more comfortably fit into what the other pollsters have been saying. Whereas some polls see a PC lead and others see a Liberal lead, the new poll by Abacus Data for the Sun News Network splits the difference, putting the Liberals and PCs in a tie. But then the poll also agrees with what Ipsos Reid has been showing as well - that the Tories have an advantage among likely voters.

The results from Abacus differed only a little from the previous projection, so this is the first update in some time without a dramatic swing in one direction or the other. The PCs retain their lead at 35.8% (or between 34% and 39%), while the Liberals dropped slightly to 34.3% (or between 33% and 38%). The New Democrats were up to 23.4% (or between 22% and 25%), while the Greens held steady with 5.2% (or between 4% and 7%).

The Liberals also remain ahead in the seat count, with 44 to 41 for the PCs. But the NDP has rebounded, back to 22 seats.

While the precise seat estimate favours the Liberals, the ranges favour the Tories. They are projected to take between 38 and 54 seats, just grazing the minimum needed for a majority. The Liberals sit at between 32 and 52 seats, while the NDP is at 16 to 23 seats.

Recall that these are just the most likely outcomes. There is a 9% chance that the Liberal total will fall between the High to Maximum level (52 to 64 seats). That increases to 14% for the PCs (54 to 67 seats).

Regionally, the PC numbers have fallen back down to earth in Toronto, primarily to the benefit of the NDP. The Liberals have been steadily dropping in the 905 area code, while they have spiked in eastern Ontario. The NDP have been making gains in southwestern Ontario, and northern and central Ontario remains a three-way mess.

We have not heard from Abacus at the provincial level in Ontario since August 2013, so there are no trends to look at.

The PCs and Liberals were tied in the poll among all eligible voters with 33%, while the NDP trailed not too far behind at 26%. The Greens were at 6% and 2% of Ontarians said they would vote for another party. Of the total sample, 14% were undecided.

Among likely voters (determined by Abacus according to how respondents answer a half-dozen questions related to likelihood of voting and attention paid to the campaign), the PCs moved ahead with 36%, while the Liberals were unchanged at 33%. The NDP and Greens each dropped a point to 25% and 5%, respectively. Note that the projection model uses the likely voter numbers.

Among eligible voters, the Liberals led in Toronto with 40% to 27% for the NDP and 26% for the PCs, while they were also ahead in eastern Ontario with 42% to 31% for the PCs and 20% for the NDP.

The Tories were in front in southwestern Ontario with 38% to 30% for the NDP and 23% for the Liberals. The PCs also edged out the Liberals in the GTA/Hamilton-Niagara region with 37% to 33%, with the NDP at 23%.

The New Democrats led in northern Ontario with 37%, well ahead of the Liberals at 28% and the PCs at 27%.

Abacus defines its regions by postal code, so M is Toronto, L is the GTA/Hamilton-Niagara region, K is the east, R is the southwest, and P is the north.

The poll had oodles of information, and I invite you to check it out. What I found most interesting is how Abacus sliced up the electorate. It found 16% of Ontarians to be 'core PCs', with 10% being 'core Liberals' and another 10% being 'core NDP'. That's the base.

Swing voters represent the rest. The largest group are Liberal-NDP swing voters, representing 21% of the electorate. This partly explains the Liberals move to the left. Another 12% are PC-NDP swing voters, while just 10% are Liberal-PC swing voters. Another 13% are complete swing voters, willing to vote for all three parties. Things are not always as simple as the left-right spectrum. This is something that Abacus will be tracking, and it will be interesting to see how these groups move over the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

EKOS shows widening Liberal edge in Ontario

Another poll, another take on the political situation in Ontario. The latest survey from EKOS Research for iPolitics shows the Liberals ahead of the Progressive Conservatives by the healthiest margin we have seen in any poll so far in this campaign. The only leads we have seen wider than this were the ones awarded to the Tories!

Sunrise, sunset. The projection now shows - again - a close race between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals. The PCs are back down to 35.8%, or between 34% and 39%, while the Liberals are at 35.7%, or between 34% and 39% as well. The New Democrats slipped to 21.8%, or between 20% and 23%, while the Greens are at 5.5%, or between 4% and 7%.

The Liberals have moved ahead in the seat projection, and now lead with 49. The PCs have fallen back into second with 44, while the New Democrats have taken a deep tumble to just 14 seats. The ranges favour the Liberals, at between 39 to 57 seats against 35 to 52 for the Tories and 14 to 18 for the NDP.

Why the steep drop in the NDP projection? This can be blamed almost entirely on Toronto, as EKOS shows the party to be at a very low level of support there. The projection now gives them just 18% support in the city, and this costs them dearly in seats: they are currently projected to take only one to three in Toronto. This could be a bit of fluke in EKOS's polling, but Ipsos Reid also had the NDP relatively low in the city in their last poll. EKOS does not show the same trend as Forum and Ipsos did in terms of PC growth in Toronto, however, so it appears that the provincial capital is a battleground in flux.

I wrote about this poll for The Huffington Post Canada, so I suggest you read that analysis instead of me repeating myself here.

But let's look at the toplines. Since EKOS's last poll of April 25-May 1, the Liberals picked up 2.4 points to reach 37.1%, followed by the Tories at 30.3% (down 1.3 points). The NDP was also down 1.3 points to 20.9%, while the Greens were down 2.1 points to 7.3%.

All of these shifts were within the margin of error. The only regional shifts outside of the margin of error were the 13-point gain for the Liberals in Toronto, the 12-point drop for the NDP in the north, and the 10-point gain for the Greens, also in the north. That is probably an anomaly, though, which Frank Graves himself said on his Twitter feed.

Let's try and find some common threads in this poll with the other polls that have been out recently. There are a few, frayed as they are:

The Liberals have been steadily picking up support since the pre-campaign period, with EKOS showing Liberal gains in two consecutive polls. Forum also showed the same thing, while Ipsos recorded consistent gains for the Liberals among likely voters (though a drop among eligible voters). That the Liberals seem to be taking these voters primarily from the NDP also seems to be relatively consistent.

The PCs have an ingrained turnout advantage. Ipsos showed that explicitly in their 'likely voter' tally, while both Forum and EKOS have shown significant leads for the Tories among older voters, the cohort most likely to cast a ballot. In this EKOS poll, Ontarians 65 or older favoured the Tories over the Liberals by a margin of 42% to 34%.

The NDP is mostly putting up its best numbers in southwestern Ontario. EKOS had them at 26% in the region, their best result in the province. Ipsos has put them in the lead in the region, though that includes the Hamilton and the Niagara peninsula. Forum has not been as bullish in the southwest for the NDP, however. But according to Adam Radwanski of The Globe and Mail, the southwest is the cornerstone of the NDP's strategy. So far, and for the most part, that seems to be a good idea. But they are also not making inroads elsewhere, and on that the polls are unanimous.

In other news, a riding poll by Oracle in Don Valley West gave Kathleen Wynne a very comfortable lead in her own riding. The numbers were hardly different from the projection, but the poll was taken into account nevertheless. Oracle will apparently poll in all of the leaders' ridings, which seems rather fruitless since Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath are in absolutely no danger of being defeated. Hopefully they will poll Mike Schreiner's riding of Guelph, since that is a much more interesting contest. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ipsos shows sustained Ontario PC lead

And the pendulum swings back again (again), with the new poll by Ipsos Reid for CTV News/CP24. The poll itself shows a few interesting trends, not all mutually supporting. The margin enjoyed by the Tories over the Liberals has expanded among eligible voters, but decreased among likely voters. The PCs have been making steady gains since November 2013, while the Liberals have also been steadily progressing among likely voters - while dropping among eligible voters. Let's try to make some sense of this.

The projection has returned to putting the Tories firmly in control, with 40% support (or between 38% and 44%) against 33.1% for the Liberals (or between 32% and 36%). The New Democrats remain in third at 22%, or between 20% and 24%.

In terms of seats, the PCs are just short of a majority with 53, with the Liberals projected to take 35 seats and the New Democrats 19. The seat ranges for the PCs and Liberals just about overlap, with 44 to 59 seats for the PCs and 28 to 45 seats for the Liberals being the most likely outcome at this stage. The NDP range is from 16 to 22 seats.

It has been some time since the projection has put the Liberals ahead in voting intentions, and I think this is an important point to make. The polls have been in stark disagreement - this is undeniable. But even in this cloud of noise there is a faint signal. In the polls that have put the Liberals ahead, their margin was smaller than the one enjoyed by the Tories in the polls where they were ahead. Over the seven polls conducted in this campaign so far, the Liberals have averaged a 2.4-point lead in the four polls in which they have led. In the three polls in which the Tories have led, that margin has averaged 8.6 points. This means that a completely unweighted average of all the polls conducted in the campaign so far lean PC by just over two points.

Ipsos was last in the field just a week ago, between May 6-9. Since that poll, the PCs have picked up two points to lead with 39%, while the Liberals dropped one point to 30%. The NDP was down four points to 24%, while support for other parties (including the Greens) was up three points to 7%.

The number of undecideds increased by four points to 20%.

Aside from that jump in undecideds, none of these shifts appear statistically significant. But they are part of some wider trends.

The Progressive Conservatives have been either holding or gaining support over the last four Ipsos polls, stretching to November 2013 when the party was at just 31%. That grew to 34% in February, held at 37% in April and early May, and is now at 39%. The Liberals, meanwhile, have dropped from 32% in April to 31% earlier this month and 30% this week.

However, it is a different story among likely voters (the tally used by the projection model). Here, the PCs gained one point to 43%, while the Liberals were up three points to 31% and the NDP down five points to 22%. None of these shifts were outside of the margin of error of a probabilistic sample of comparable size, but the Liberals have been making gains among likely voters: 27% in April to 28% earlier this month and 31% this week.

This could potentially be a trend that is aligning with the one recorded by Forum, which does apply a sort of turnout model to its numbers. It could be that the Liberals are falling among the total population, but among those who are actually going to vote they are improving their position.

Regionally, the Tories led in central Ontario with 55%, followed by the NDP at 19% and the Liberals at 15% (down 16 points). They were also ahead in the 905 region of the GTA with 48% to 34% for the Liberals and 16% for the NDP. In eastern Ontario, the PCs led with 44% to 30% for the Liberals and 23% for the NDP.

The New Democrats were narrowly in front in southwestern Ontario with 33% to 30% for the PCs and 27% for the Liberals, while they were more comfortably ahead in northern Ontario with 40% to 29% for the Liberals and 28% for the PCs.

The Liberals only led in Toronto, with 37% to 34% for the PCs and 21% for the NDP. But something unusual may be happening in this supposed Liberal fortress. Take a look at the projection tracker for the city:

That is a rather sustained gain for the PCs at the expense of both the Liberals and the NDP. Could Tim Hudak really be making inroads in Toronto?

This is one area where the polls are in actual agreement. Unlike the other regions of the province, Toronto is defined in the same way by both Forum and Ipsos. So we can compare the trends they are recording.

Forum had the Liberals up over the PCs in Toronto with 44% to 27% on April 7 and 44% to 28% on May 2-3. In their last poll, on May 12, the margin decreased to just seven points, with the Liberals at 39% and the PCs at 32%.

Ipsos, meanwhile, has also been recording Tory gains in the provincial capital. The margin was 40% to 24% for the Liberals in its April 15-17 poll, and then 45% to 26% on May 6-9. The PCs have since bounded eight points to 34%, against just 37% for the Liberals.

It could be a fluke, but it is odd that both firms are recording similar gains for the PCs in Toronto - something would normally be unexpected. This could be a developing trend to keep an eye on.

For the rest of it, we still don't have much of an idea of where things stand in Ontario. But the evidence seems to point to a PC advantage of some sort, with the Liberals possibly making gains. This is as good as it gets in terms of discerning what is going on in this campaign right now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

And the pendulum swings back again

The see-sawing of the polls is causing a bit of whiplash, but we should beware not to get too caught up in how the numbers are changing from one poll to the next. The new poll by Forum Research for the Toronto Star is a good example of that, as they now show the Liberals ahead of the Progressive Conservatives.

The projection has accordingly swung violently back to a tie in the seat count and a near-tie in the vote projection. This is what happens when there are spaces of three days between individual polls being conducted: the weight of the previous poll is automatically reduced by almost three-quarters. That may sound like a lot, but this sort of weighting has proven its worth time and time again.

The PCs continue to hold the lead in voting intentions, however, with 36.5% support (or between 35% and 40%). The Liberals follow closely behind with 35.7% (or between 34% and 39%), while the New Democrats trail in third with 22.4% (or between 21% and 24%).

(As always, you can find the detailed regional breakdowns, riding projections, and tracking charts by clicking on the chart at the top of this page, or clicking here.)

In terms of seats, the PCs and Liberals are back in a tie with 43 apiece, though the Liberal range (36 to 53 seats) is slightly better than the Tories' range (34 to 52 seats). The New Democrats are back to 21 seats, or between 17 and 23.

The Forum poll added to the projection is, again, not without its issues. The sample is just as skewed as it was last week, with 66% of the sample 55 or older and just 6% of it 34 or younger. The appropriate proportions, if this raw sample was representative, would be closer to 36% and 26%, respectively. When Forum increases the weight of the small sample of younger voters (which gave the Liberals a wide lead over the Tories, with the NDP in a distant third), there is the potential that the errors that crept in due to the small sample size become magnified.

There is also the issue with the seat projection that Forum reports: 68 seats for the Liberals, 26 seats for the Tories, and 13 seats for the NDP. In other words, with the results of the election virtually identical to the last one in 2011, the Liberals are able to win 15 more seats, 11 coming from the Tories and four from the NDP. That is simply not plausible.

When I plug Forum's regional numbers into my model - which uses the exact same regional definitions as Forum - I instead get 48 seats for the Liberals, 39 for the Tories, and 20 for the New Democrats. If I was a betting man, I'd most definitely bet that mine would be closer than Forum's. Most observers of Ontario politics would do the same, I'm sure.

But let's look at the poll itself. Forum was last in the field on May 2-3. Since then, the Liberals picked up five points to move into the lead with 38%, with the PCs dropping three points to 35%. The NDP and Greens each slipped one point to 21% and 5%, respectively.

The jump in support for the Liberals is outside the margin of error, which Forum chalks up largely to Tim Hudak's promise to cut 100,000 jobs in the public service. Their poll reported that just 26% of respondents thought that was a good idea.

The Liberals have picked up support in two consecutive Forum polls now, while the New Democrats have dropped in four. That is a trend worth keeping an eye on, though it should be pointed out that Ipsos Reid, for example, has shown the exact opposite and the Innovative Research Group has shown Liberal stability over the same period.

The Tories do seem to have a turnout advantage, but perhaps not to the extent suggested by other recent polls. The PCs were ahead 47% to 34% among voters aged 65 and older, but the Liberals led among voters between the ages of 55 and 64, by a margin of 39% to 35%.

Kathleen Wynne has seen an uptick in her personal approval ratings, jumping four points to 38%. This came primarily from voters who formed an opinion of the Liberal leader, as the number of 'don't knows' fell from 15% to 12%. She was also up four points on who would make the best premier, to 32%.

Hudak's approval rating slipped to 23%, but his disapproval rating soared by eight points to 59%. This was, again, due to a drop in 'don't knows', from 23% to 17%, while 22% of respondents said Hudak would make the best premier (unchanged).

Andrea Horwath's numbers were stable, with an approval rating of 35% and a disapproval rating of 43% (the lowest of the three, below Wynne's 50%). Just 15% said she'd make the best premier.

At the regional level, the Liberals seem to have made significant gains in the 905 area code and the southwestern part of the province. In the 905, the Liberals jumped nine points to 45%, followed by the Tories at 29% (down nine points) and the NDP at 21%. In southwest Ontario, the PCs still led with 39%, but the Liberals were up eight points to 30%. The NDP was in third at 20%.

The Liberals led in Toronto with 39% to 32% for the Tories and 24% for the NDP, while they were narrowly ahead in northern Ontario with 37% to 36% for the PCs and 22% for the NDP.

The Tories led in eastern Ontario with 45%, followed by the Liberals at 36% and the NDP at 15% (down eight points).

With the polls unable to agree on the province wide tally, we really do need to focus on the trends from one poll to the next from the same pollsters. Innovative and Ipsos are, so far, showing stability in the race. Forum is recording a move to the Liberals, in the short term at the expense of the PCs but over the last few months at the expense of the NDP. We will have to see if the other firms corroborate these trends, whether or not they show the same topline numbers. At this point, though, the best we can say is that the race remains a toss-up - primarily because we just don't know any better.