Monday, May 5, 2014

PCs gain as campaign begins

A new poll by Forum Research for the Toronto Star had a startling headline. The Progressive Conservatives held a five-point lead over the Liberals, but it was the Liberals who would form the next government. An aberration caused by our electoral system, or a problem with Forum's seat projection model? Probably both.

The PCs have increased their vote and seat count in the projection, leading now with 36.3% support (or between 35% and 40%) against 33.2% for the Liberals (or between 32% and 37%). The Tories have moved into a tie with the Liberals in seats, with 43 apiece, but their range now gives them a bigger advantage: 40 to 52 seats against 35 to 49 for the Liberals.

The New Democrats slipped to 22.9% (or between 21% and 25%) and between 16 and 23 seats. The Greens also dropped, to 6.5% (or between 5% and 8%). The extreme ranges no longer envision a Green seat. For the other parties, however, both the Liberals and PCs could potentially win a majority, or a minority government. Only the PCs can reasonably bank on finishing second or better.

But let's look at the Forum poll for the Toronto Star, which kicked off the polling for the 2014 Ontario provincial campaign. There are a few issues worth noting.

The overall numbers show little change from Forum's previous poll of April 7. The PCs held steady with 38%, the Liberals increased by two points to 33%, and both the NDP and Greens dropped one point to 22% and 6%, respectively.

All of those shifts appear to be within the margin of error. However, the New Democrats have dropped in three consecutive Forum polls going back to February, when the party was at 26% support. The Liberals and Tories have been wobbling to and fro since then. A drop in Andrea Horwath's approval rating, to 36% from 40%, and an increase in her disapproval rating, to 41% from 34%, may be of some concern for her party.

Before we get to Forum's seat projection, let's look at the sample itself. I have highlighted some of the sampling issues with Forum's polling before. Most pollsters have issues with surveying younger Canadians, but none seem to have it to such an extent as Forum.

The sample

This survey of 1,845 Ontarians included 1,689 who answered Forum's voting intentions question. Whether this is the product of their weighted sample or the number of decideds (which would imply about 8% undecideds) is not explained in their report. But what the report does show is that 69% of those 1,689 respondents were 55 or older. That is a bit of a problem, as only about 36% of the electorate in Ontario is 55 or older.

Why did this happen? Only 5% of the sample is made up of voters aged 34 or younger, for a grand total of 83 respondents. The actual proportion of the electorate in this age group is about 26%.

This does not mean that the overall poll results are inappropriately skewed towards older respondents. The Forum report explains that "the data has been statistically weighted by age, region, and other variables to ensure that the sample reflects the actual population according to the latest census data." This means that the 69% sample of older voters would normally be reduced to the appropriate 36%, and the 5% of younger voters would be inflated to 26%.

But that is not exactly what happened. The report in the Star stipulates that "Forum uses a weighting formula, which has been shared with the Star, to more accurately reflect the broader electorate." We can surely trust that the demographic and polling experts at the Star approved of this formula, if they exist.

So that means that Forum is not necessarily inflating that 5% young sample to represent 26%, nor that the 69% old sample has been deflated to 36%. If Forum's "secret sauce" under-represents younger voters and over-represents older voters, we can expect the proportions to be different. What they are, we don't know (but the Star does).

Even so, that sample of 83 younger voters is a bit of a problem. The results for that demographic were 35% for the Tories, 27% for the Liberals, and 23% for the NDP. Younger voters, then, are flocking to the Tory banner. That is counter-intuitive, to say the least. No worries: a sample of 83 has a margin of error of +/- 11%. So, roughly speaking, the PCs could actually be anywhere between 24% and 46%, the Liberals between 16% and 38%, and the NDP between 12% and 34%. Knowing what we know about young voters, the Tories are probably at the lower end and the other two parties (particularly the NDP) at the higher end.

But that sort of assumption wouldn't be made when Forum applies its weighting formula. Those 83 respondents would instead be inflated to whatever Forum's formula says it should be. Let's say it was inflated three times to represent just 15% of the electorate. If that 35% for the Tories should have instead been 24%, that means the PCs may be getting a bonus of one to two points overall, due to the sampling error. Those 83 respondents are now meant to represent a sample of 249, which would normally have a margin of error of +/- 6%. If it had been a sample of 249, then the difference for the Tories due to maximum normal sampling error would have been less than a point.

Put simply, there is the potential to magnify the effects of sampling error if the sub-samples need to be re-weighted to such a great extent. In essence, it also increases the overall margin of error of the sample. This poll of 1,845 Ontarians is not as valuable as a poll of 1,845 Ontarians that had a more representative sample. That does not mean the Forum poll is wrong - merely that there is a greater chance that it could be than might otherwise have been the case.

The seat projection

Forum's seat projection for their poll grabbed a bit of attention. Despite the decent PC lead, the Liberals were projected to win 49 seats, with just 45 going to the PCs and 13 to the NDP.

Maybe I am less qualified to speak about polling than the experts who work in the field, but I certainly know a thing or two about seat projection models. And Forum's seat projection model has always puzzled me, since the methodology has never been published anywhere. When I have asked, I've been told it is a normal swing model. Outside of Ontario, Forum's numbers never look too strange (they gave the Quebec Liberals 85 seats in their final Quebec poll, rather than the actual 70, but that was due to their over-estimation of the Liberal vote by 3.5 points). But their provincial projections for Ontario have never made much sense to me, as they have always under-scored the New Democrats to a significant degree.

When I plug Forum's regional numbers into my model (which means I am using the exact same data that Forum is using, with the same regional distribution), I get 45 seats for the PCs, 41 for the Liberals, and 21 for the New Democrats. It is very difficult to fathom how Forum can get the NDP at just 13 seats with 22% support - exactly where they were in 2011 - with the PCs up just two points over that election and the Liberals down almost five. In fact, I'd have to have the NDP at around 18% support before I'd project them to have 13 seats.

To put that into context, if Forum's vote and seat numbers were exactly what happened in an election, it would rank as my model's 11th worst performance over 13 elections.

And this is not even the most egregious example of under-scoring the NDP. In a January 2013 poll, Forum gave the NDP the lead with 35% against 32% for the Tories and 27% for the Liberals. The seat projection? A tie at 40 seats apiece - for the Liberals and Tories. The NDP would win just 27 seats and finish a distant third in the seat count, all the while holding a province-wide lead in support. A poll in September 2012 put the NDP in second but 15 points ahead of the Liberals - who would win just one less seat than the NDP!

Certainly, part of this is a product of our electoral system. My current projection gives the PCs a three-point lead but puts them in a tie for seats. We have seen real-world examples of this in Manitoba and Quebec. But the electoral geography is not so greatly stacked against the PCs that they can't win a plurality of seats without a much larger lead in the vote share. As a rule of thumb going forward, I'd suggest increasing the NDP's seat share that is estimated by Forum by 50%, all at the expense of the Liberals. Or just focus on the vote intention numbers. Those of us who don't work for the Star don't quite know how Forum comes to them, but their 'secret sauce' was the most successful in the 2014 Quebec election, as well as the last election in Ontario. I leave it to you to decide how much this blurs the line between polling and modelling.


  1. Great analysis Eric.

    Brings into question (or at least focus) the relationship between polling firms and media outlets and the political parties.

    Forum and the Star have a firm relationship where inside information is shared and kept from the general public.

    The Star has a clear mandate to in it's charter to support socialist political views and parties. I love the clarity.

    This give the appearance that Forum, working with the Star, is supporting either the NDP of the the Liberals -- whoever is the chosen Leftest alternative.

    The next logical question is whether the pollsters, like its ally the Star, are involved in the process, a wing of the OLP or NDP or is actually an unbiased measurer of public sentiment.

    An unbiased pollster should have no problem sharing their secret formula to normalize to the universe and justify why they are using adjusted methods if it is not standard statistics..... ( attempting to account for likely voters?) If polling was a regulated industry this sort of disclosure would be mandatory.

    when they have a dramatic divergence in their polling numbers and their seat projection how can they NOT explain their methodology in detail to maintain their credibility.

    1. There is no reason to believe that Forum's efforts are anything but sincere.

    2. BCVOR - I'm guessing you thought the crack allegations against Rob Ford were a plot by the Toronto Star too lol.

    3. The worst part is that it appears Ford was in on the plot!

    4. Hahaha. Is Rob Ford a secret socialist, working to destroy the conservative movement from within?

      If so he's doing a pretty good job.

    5. hahaha.

      That's a cruel joke all y'all have played with Rob Ford. You shouldn't toy with a man's health like that!

    6. This is some tin-foil-hat level conspiracy theory here. I don't know what "charter" you are talking about, but if you mean the Atkinson Principles, the word "socialism" doesn't appear there. But then again, you are the kind of person who thinks anyone to the left of Atilla the Hunn is a socialist.

  2. @ Ryan

    How does Rob Ford enter at all into my comments?

    Are you questioning my statement that the Toronto Star has a leftist lean.

    from the Torstar web site:

    The Atkinson Principles include:

    A strong, united and independent Canada: Atkinson argued for a strong central government and the development of distinctive social, economic and cultural policies appropriate to an independent country.
    Social Justice: Atkinson was relentless in pressing for social and economic programs to help those less advantaged and showed particular concern for the least advantaged among us.
    Individual and Civil Liberties: Atkinson always pressed for equal treatment of all citizens under the law, particularly minorities, and was dedicated to the fundamental freedoms of belief, thought, opinion and expression and the freedom of press.
    Community and Civic Engagement: Atkinson continually advocated the importance of proper city planning, the development of strong communities with their vibrant local fabrics and the active involvement of citizens in civic affairs.
    The Rights of Working People: The Star was born out of a strike in 1892 and Atkinson was committed to the rights of working people including freedom of association and the safety and dignity of the workplace.
    The Necessary Role of Government: When Atkinson believed the public need was not met by the private sector and market forces alone, he argued strongly for government intervention.
    These six principles provide the Toronto Star with an intellectual framework to guide editorial policy and constitute an important part of the newspaper’s history.

    The Atkinson Principles are confined to the operations of the Toronto Star and do not extend to Torstar's other publications or businesses.

    - See more at:

    1. Yes, but you are confusing the editorial stance of the Star with their journalism. The two are not the same. I write for the Globe, which endorsed the Conservatives in 2011. I had nothing to do with that, nor has it had any effect on how I write for them or what I've been asked to write about.

    2. Eric

      The Globe has also endorsed Chretien in (2000) and Martin in 2004.

      The Star has only ever endorsed one Conservative in history (Stanfield in 1974).

      You are confusing a mission statement and an editorial stance. The reason for existence of the Star is to follow the Atkinson principles .... all writer's working for them understand this. You would have to follow these principles if you were to write for them.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Deleted my previous comment, as it ended up being more of an attack on BCVOR than intended.

  3. @ Eric

    The Forum efforts may be sincere but they with a tight ties to only share their methodology with the Toronto Star threaten the appearance of an unbiased effort.

    Toronto Star states it is biased and provides the rationale.... Great concept and execution.... wish more news media and agencies did the same.

  4. What is the precedent in the event the Liberals and PCs tie in their number of seats won?

    1. If I'm not mistaken, as the incumbent the OLP would have the first crack of forming a government.

    2. Yes that is correct, they would get first shot at it.

    3. Mathew L,

      The Government of Ms. Wynne will remain in office until defeated on a confidence measure in the House. If so defeated it will be up to the Lieutenant Governor to determine whether another party or parties have the ability to form government for a reasonable period of time, most importantly will they be able to pass a budget.

    4. The Lieutenant Governor would likely listen to what the ONDP has to say in that case too.

  5. This election is going to be interesting to watch.

    If I had to guess, I would put the most likely scenario as a PC minority, but I wonder if long-term that's really in the PCs best interests. It seems to me Tim Hudak is someone with a low ceiling, is well-established, and has the lowest approval ratings of the 3 leaders. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of room to grow from there. I don't think this election is close if a moderate PC runs it, and I do think the impression Tim Hudak left last time is one that's going to be hard to get past because it has been for 2.5 years judging by leader approval ratings.

    It might be tempting at first glance to compare him to Stephen Harper and say that worked out okay for him, but the dynamics aren't the same in Ontario as they were federally for Harper. Harper burned all bridges to the Liberals and NDP, but that worked out alright because at the time the Bloc was taking 50 seats and basically ensuring a Conservative minority's longevity.

    And if the PCs do win the popular vote, but not the most seats, as polls suggest might occur, what kind of democratic legitimacy would people attach to a Liberal government that ensued?

    Of course, all this assumes the NDP can't win, which I tend to assume too. But while unlikely, I would say that the necessary conditions for the NDP to win are at hand: a Liberal party people are tired of, and a PC leader people don't like. If they could put together a good campaign and credible platform, they may do better than people think.

  6. In fact it doesn't really matter whether the PCs have one seat more, one seat less or the exact same number of seats as the Ontario Liberals - unless another party wins a majority by virtue of being the incumbent Premier Kathleen Wynne automatically has the first crack at forming a government. In fact i strongly suspect that if we had a PC 45, Libs 41, NDP 21 result - its very likely Wynne and Horwath would make some sort of a deal (perhaps a formal coalition) to kep Hudak out of power.

  7. Yes Eric they will have that first choice

  8. Re: Forum's track record, I think it's worth noting that they have the best track record from the BC and Alberta elections too.

  9. In an earlier post after the BC Elections, Eric, I believe you said that eliminating the under 30 vote entirely and doubling the +55 vote would have provided a more accurate picture (sadly). I'm wondering if focusing more towards older voters at the expense of young voters may work towards Forum's benefit, given what gross disparities we've seen before.

  10. You're all right to say that Wynne will have first crack at forming a government after the election – I believe this is true no matter what the result, even if the PCs came away with a majority. It is extremely unlikely and somewhat absurd to think the Lieutenant Governor would countenance that, but it wouldn't actually be illegal if he did. The process is such that, should even a badly-losing OLP gain the permission of the LG to proceed with forming government, they could do it. In practice, such an attempt would be utterly DOA, as the majority opposition would simply overrule it on Day One. But the point is that, to see a change in government, the incumbent must offer her resignation to the LG and request him to approach another party to form government. It’s not an automatic function of losing.

    The UK's hung parliament example in 2010 demonstrates the same (in a more plausible context, where no one had the majority). The incumbent Labour government came second, but then spent the best part of a week trying to cobble together a coalition that could outnumber the Conservative plurality. People wouldn't have much liked the idea, which is a big reason why Labour finally stopped trying... though it would have been perfectly legal (if unwieldy), it's perhaps better in the long run to lose nobly than to be seen to win ignobly.

    1. Apparently they would have pulled it off if Brown had agreed to step down as leader.

    2. If a premier offers his resignation he or she no longer has the right to request or advise the Crown on any matter.

      It would be unusual for a premier to advise a Governor on his replacement unless the replacement is from his own party. Usually a defeated premier simply resigns and the Crown chooses his or her replacement.

    3. Ryan,

      I do not think Labour could have pulled it off. Labour plus Lib-Dems equaled only 315 seats 10 short of a majority. They could probably counted on the SDLP for support to bring them up to 318 but, by the time you take away a couple seats for the Speaker and deputies you still end up with a 10 seat deficit.

  11. Eric wrote, "As a rule of thumb going forward, I'd suggest increasing the NDP's seat share that is estimated by Forum by 50%, all at the expense of the Liberals."

    So, rather than PCs 43, Libs 43, and NDP 21, would we get the following? --> PCs 43, Libs 33, NDP 31

    (PCs 43*1; Libs 43-(NDP 21*0.5); NDP 21+(NDP 21*0.5)

    1. No, I said to apply that to Forum's seat projection, not mine.

  12. It may that I am in error, but my understanding is that the current government both federally and provincially has the right to meet the new legislature. If there has been a non government majority elected in the government's place, the government would be defeated and it would be up to the GG to ask the leader of the majority party to form a government. This assumes the GG would ignore a request from the minority party for another election.

    In fact tradition dictates that government resign when they lose to a majority of another party. When there is a minority parliament or legislature the government continues to have the right to meet the legislative body to see if it can pass legislation or face defeat on a matter of confidence.

  13. The "first crack" or "kick at the can" analogy going round is technically incorrect and really rather misleading.

    It implies a new government is formed-that is not the case. The Government whether they win the election or not has the right to meet the Legislature-they do not form a new government. By speaking about "kicks at the can" the inference is a sequential order exists regarding government formation. This is not the case. If different parties had sequential "kicks" then Harper would have become PM in 2005 when Martin lost a confidence vote instead of fighting an election.

    Other than the constitutional convention that the premier resign if another party wins a majority at the election no hard rules exist regarding government formation. It is a matter for the Crown and the Crown alone.

    Once a premier resigns he no longer has the right to advise the Crown and if a government is defeated on a confidence matter a Governor is no longer obligated to follow the advice of the premier, so he would be unable to ask the Crown for a dissolution. A premier who has not yet lost confidence in the House but, also has not clearly gained confidence is in a caretaker role (a convention developed in New Zealand) and the Governor is not obligated to follow his or her advice. The Crown may rescind a premier's commission at any time and while in almost every circumstance the Governor allows a premier to resign, in the past, most notably, Sir Charles Tupper and Gough Whitlam in Australia their commissions were terminated.

    The Gordon Brown example above is a good demonstration of how government formation works. Brown did not immediately resign and contemplated meeting the House. When it became clear some three days later he did not have the votes he resigned and the Queen asked Cameron to form a government.


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