Tuesday, November 25, 2014

More dramatic swings in store in Newfoundland and Labrador?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  1. A very simple reason for this; Newfoundlanders want an Autocratic Dictator, though we want to pick that dictator. Been in confederation for 65 years, and we've only had 4 real regime changes, and the only times with any political confidence is when we have an overwhelmingly majority government.

    What people see now is a government that lost it's touch without Danny, and as soon as a government loses that commandeering touch in NFLD, it starts to cycle through ineffective premiers and we want the government out. Tom Marshall just dealt with 85% of our public debt by reaching a $9.9 Billion deal regarding unfunded public pension liability, had he been younger and more willing to stay in politics he could reverse the damage done by Dunderdale and get another majority for the PCs.

    However, what we're seeing instead is what we see at the very end of every party's rule, with instability and complete reversal of trends regarding votes. With 2 principle exceptions: those of our pre-1949 governments, which we were flipping once a year and by the end we rioted in '32 and tried to burn down the House of assembly; and the collapse of the Smallwood government in 1971, where Joey ripped the Liberal party apart in an effort to cling to power so they didn't get a chance for interim premiers. Speaking of which even 40 years after Joey lost power his name still draws up vitriol and the NL Liberals will never rid themselves of the stain of his cult of personality. Liberal leaders always end up as a reincarnate of Joey so Liberal governments have been shaky in the past even when they had huge majorities.

    I think there's a chance the PCs can keep Humber East on the west coast (they've put a lot of money out there, so much money people out there are getting fed up with so much over-development it's taking long to get all the projects started) But they haven't a chance in Trinity-Bay de Verde. I'd really like to see the margins they win or lose by today

  2. Both ridings now have Liberals ahead by 15-20 percent with over half the polls reporting. In eight years, the PCs have gone from being close to sweeping the province to being completely wiped out.

  3. Even more bizarre is that no one knows a single one of the Liberal's policies. And they're being very secretive about it so I question if they even have a plan.

    Interesting that they've had 7 straight wins without any policy or election promises.

    1. they don't really need to declare a plan. It's business first, as always, same goes for the PCs, with policies announced to meet minor issues as they arise.

  4. Final (unofficial) results:
    Trinity-Bay De Verde 41/41
    Steve Crocker, Liberal: 3,074
    Ronald Johnson, P.C: 1,363
    Tolson Rendell, NDP: 254

    Humber East
    Stelman Flynn, Liberal: 2,263
    Lary Wells, P.C: 1,454
    Martin Ware, NDP: 315

  5. The LPC have swept Humber East in federal elections plenty of times before. Is Trudeau rubbing off on the provincial liberals?

    1. Since when was Humber East a federal riding?

      though, I don't think you understand the disconect in NFLD between Provincial and Federal politics. I campaign for the Federal Liberals and they are the only Party Newfoundland ever votes for, but the provincial liberals are a completely different story. (Provincial PC fan)

      NL PCs are the remnants of the "Self-Government/Dominion status" crowd pre-1949, and the Liberals are the remnants of the Confederation bunch (and back when Newfoundland used to try to repeat the European pattern of one religious sect persecuting the other, the Liberals have traditionally gotten the Catholic vote and the PCs the Protestant vote, though it isn't nearly as pronounced today).

      Their names don't really reflect their politics, as I'm sure the PCs are farther Left than the Liberals.

    2. Btw I meant that the federal liberals do very well in the areas that compose the provincial ridings around the area! Thanks for the info anyhow!


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