Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Breaking down the seat numbers

The current federal projection puts both the Liberals and Conservatives in range of winning a plurality of seats, but neither appears capable to assemble the numbers for a majority government at this point. Let's take a closer look at this.

First, though, I invite you to check out my article today for the CBC. I've delved more deeply into the numbers for British Columbia, an interesting three-way race with multiple sub-regional contests, and Alberta, where some surprises could be in store for 2015.

Despite being behind in the vote projection by 1.3 points, the Conservatives are currently being awarded 136 seats. That puts them 34 seats short of an outright majority (169 seats is the threshold for 50%, but unless a sitting government wants to have the Speaker be from one of the opposition parties, 170 seats are needed).

Conservative ranges
If we look more broadly at the likely ranges, the Conservatives have between 117 and 155 seats. That still puts them 15 short of a majority government, a big gap to overcome. The polls would need to be off by a fair bit, and a lot of the close races would have to fall in their favour, for a majority government to be won at this stage of the game.

The chart on the left breaks down the Conservative ranges over the last three weeks. I've removed the Liberals and NDP ranges for clarity. Below I've done the same for the Liberal and NDP numbers.

If we extend things even further to the maximum ranges, the Conservatives are in play in 189 seats. That gives them a cushion of 19 for a majority government, but would require the polls to be significantly off the mark. The maximum projection, for instance, is based on national support of just over 41%.

The Conservatives' hopes of a majority government really come down to Ontario and British Columbia. Even in the best of circumstances, where the party takes 41% of the vote, their seat total would only be increased by 16 outside of these two provinces. That isn't enough. Instead, it is British Columbia, where they could boost their haul by nine seats, and particularly Ontario, where they could take 24 more seats, where a majority government will be won or lost.

However, that is not the situation the party currently finds itself in, well short of a majority and neck-and-neck with the Liberals in the seat ranges. Even if the party does manage to end up at the high end of their current range, or 155 seats, the Liberals and New Democrats would likely end up with a majority between them. Would a Conservative minority government really last very long?

Liberal ranges
The Liberals, currently at 126, are well short of a majority and are even short of the Conservatives for a plurality. But their likely range puts them between 107 and 144 seats, and so capable of placing first in the seat count. A majority government does not appear in the cards at the moment - the maximum for the party is 165, five short of the mark.

For the Liberals, whether they end up on the high end of the range depends almost entirely on Ontario and Quebec. They are currently close to their maximum in British Columbia, Alberta, the Prairies, and Atlantic Canada. Even if the party ends up at the maximum range of their likely support, they can only pick-up six extra seats in these regions.

These regions are actually more in danger of being disappointing. If things go badly, they could finish with 18 fewer seats in these regions than they are currently slated to take.

Ontario is the big prize, though, with the current range being between 45 and 63 seats. That accounts for roughly half of their national range.

There is slightly less potential for a breakthrough in Quebec, but it is nevertheless important as the party currently sits at between 20 and 30 seats there. The maximum goes up to 35. What this means is that if the Liberals are slightly under-performing in Ontario and Quebec, they cannot make up those losses with better performances in the rest of the country. Their election chances live and die in Ontario and Quebec.

For the New Democrats, placing first or second is currently not envisioned. Their overall take is slated at 72 seats at the moment. While that is down 31 seats from what they managed in 2011, it would still rank as their second-best performance in party history. But their sights are set higher than that.

NDP ranges
The ranges suggest the party is unlikely to return to pre-2011 levels, with between 54 and 87 seats. The lower end of the scale, however, would lead to more gains for the Bloc Québécois. This has the potential to complicate the arithmetic in a minority legislature. With the Bloc at a half-dozen seats or less, the NDP and Liberals can form a majority on their own. Once the party starts creeping closer to 10 seats, that becomes less likely. And the only route for a stronger Bloc is through the NDP.

The maximum ranges for the party do suggest it could end up with as few as 30 seats, but that assumes a major collapse, particularly in Quebec. Their higher range of 109 seats is more interesting, as it would likely lead them to finishing second in the seat count. Though the NDP's highest range is higher than the lowest range for the Liberals and Conservatives, it is not conceivable that all three can occur at the same time. If the NDP is as high as 26%, for instance, the Liberals are likely down quite a bit - which means the Conservatives win more seats. At this stage, an outright NDP victory does not seem plausible.

Quebec really is where everything will be decided for the NDP. Stronger performances outside of the province would only add six seats to the current projection of 72. A strong performance in Quebec could add nine seats alone (or 16 if things go very well). A poor performance in Quebec could drop the party by nine seats. A really bad performance could drop them by 22.

Ontario is also important for the NDP, but more in terms of avoiding a serious drop in seats. They are considered to be in play in just 18 ridings there at the moment, but could drop to eight with even a slight under-performance. Ontario is more about salvaging things for the NDP than making gains.

That about sums up the lay of the land at this point, with the likely ranges serving as a good guide to where things could potentially go in the coming months if no major shifts take place. The maximum ranges tell us what could happen if those major shifts take place. If that happens, of course, the numbers will be re-calculated to see where things could go from that new vantage point. It will be an interesting year.