Sunday, January 25, 2015

Introducing the 2015 federal election projection model

It is hard to believe that 2015 is now finally upon us. The 2011 federal election seems like eons ago. At the time, the prospect of a majority government, after seven years in which four elections were held, seemed like an endless expanse. But we're now finally in the election year, so it is time to get's projection model up and running.

I'll get into analyzing the numbers themselves in the coming days. For now, you can click on the link above or the table above to see the breakdown. For now, let me go over the features of the model, the changes that have been made, and how we got here.

What's been learned since 2011

The roots of the model that will be used for the 2015 federal election, and which has been used in 12 provincial elections that have occurred from coast-to-coast, was first employed in the 2011 federal vote. In some ways, that election was a successful proof of concept. In other ways, it was a failure.

Those who doubt the usefulness of projection models and other critics will undoubtedly point to that failure in 2011. They would not be wrong in doing so, but it would be dishonest. Why? Because the projection model worked very well in 2011.

At least, the seat projection model did. After the election was over, I plugged the results in each region of the country into the model, as if the polls had nailed the call. The outcome was exceedingly close to what actually happened:

The model would have missed the Conservative count by just five seats, and pegged the Liberals and New Democrats to within three. Even the huge breakthrough in Quebec for the NDP would not have thrown the model for a loop - the New Democrats would have been awarded 60 seats and the Bloc Québécois just four (the actual result was 59 and four, respectively).

So the seat projection model proved its ability to translate regional support levels into accurate numbers of seats. This has been proven again and again in provincial elections since. But the call in 2011 was nevertheless missed.

There were two reasons for that. The first was entirely my fault. At the time, I had been basing my model on past elections like those in 2006 and 2008. In each of those elections, the polls in the last weeks of the campaign hardly budged. The swing that occurred over the holidays in 2005-2006 had settled in for some time by the end of that campaign. With those elections as my guide, I calculated that I needed to decay the weight of a poll by just 7% with each passing day.

That was a grave error. It is a system that would have worked well in 2006 or 2008, but utterly failed to capture the late swing away from the Liberals and towards the New Democrats that occurred in 2011. What happened was that, by election day, the projection model was still roughly one week behind where it should have been. Accordingly, it projected a Conservative minority government with 78 seats going to the NDP, 60 to the Liberals, and 27 to the Bloc.

After that disaster, I changed the way the weighting system worked and increased the decay to 35% per day. This has been employed in the past dozen election campaigns and has had no trouble capturing the shifting mood of the public. But that is, of course, if the polls capture it as well. And that is the second reason why 2011 did not go well.

The polls did a moderately good job of things in 2011. They were on the money in Quebec, where the electorate had shifted so dramatically. But at the national level, the polls missed out on the Conservative majority government. With the system in place now, the vote projection model would have given the Conservatives 36% of the vote, instead of the 39.6% they actually got. Both the NDP (31.5% instead of 30.6%) and the Liberals (20.1% instead of 18.9%) would have been over-estimated. The seat projection would have put the Conservatives about a dozen seats shy of a majority government.

This is why, starting with the 2012 Alberta provincial election, I developed a system to estimate likely ranges of support. This system takes into account the potential for the polls to be wrong, and is reflected in the table at the top of the page by the low/high and minimum/maximum ranges. Nineteen times out of 20, the result should fall within the maximum/minimum ranges. There are varying levels of likelihood of the results falling within the other ranges, as explained on the methodological page.

These ranges allowed me to be one of the only people to consider the possibility that Wildrose would not win that 2012 vote.

Starting in 2013, I added another element to the projection model. I found that, too often, people were taking the projected results in individual ridings too literally, as if they were a real indication of support. For that reason I have long thought about not publishing riding projections. But I think it is important to 'show my work', and that is what the riding projections do. They also include ranges that should give people a decent idea of who is and who isn't in play in a given riding.

Still, I wanted to make sure people considered the potential for error. I added probabilities to the projection model, measuring the likelihood that the call the projection model makes in each individual riding will be right.

To take London North Centre, where the Liberals held their two-day caucus meeting last week, as an example, the model currently says that the Liberals would win it with between 43% and 50% of the vote. The Conservatives, at 29% to 34%, are apparently not in play. But the model also says that the Liberals have an 82% chance of winning it. That means that, despite the ranges projected by the model, there is still a roughly 1-in-5 chance that the Liberals will not win the riding.

These probabilities were the last major addition made to the basic projection model, which has been employed with very few changes in the most recent provincial elections in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick. A few new minor features, however, have been added for 2015.

What's new in 2015

While none of the basic mechanisms of the model have changed (see the methodological page for complete details on how it works), there are some differences between the 2015 model and the model that was used in prior elections.

First is something that is gone. In past elections, I've applied a "floor-crosser" factor in ridings where a sitting MP has crossed the floor to run with another party. It has had a mixed record. In some cases, the "floor-crosser" factor was quite effective. In others, it was greatly off the mark. I have decided to drop it as a factor that is taken into account. In its place, the party losing a floor-crosser suffers a 'no incumbent' penalty, and the party picking up the floor-crosser gets a 'star candidate' bonus. In past elections, this would have worked better than the system that had been used.

A new factor that has been added to the model, however, takes into account party leaders. My research has suggested that leaders are far more difficult to defeat than normal incumbents (though it can always still happen, of course) and that an MP running as a leader for the first time perform especially better than other incumbents. The loss of a leader as a candidate in a given riding, in addition, is far more penalizing than the loss of the average MP. So, for example, Gilles Duceppe's old riding will be harder to win back for the Bloc Québécois than the average riding they lost in 2011.

The particularities of the 2015 election

As always, an election has its own particularities that need to be taken into account. The idea behind the projection model is that it can be applied uniformly in all jurisdictions in Canada. But the fact is there are always oddities in individual elections that have to be considered.

The new federal riding boundaries is one thing that will make the election potentially harder to call than would have otherwise been the case. But the model has dealt with new boundaries before. In the 2011 Manitoba provincial election, for example, 56 of 57 ridings were called correctly despite the shifting boundaries. For this election, the model merely uses the transposed results that were calculated by Elections Canada. MPs that have shifted ridings are treated as incumbents. Ridings with no incumbents are left unadjusted by the incumbency factor.

The presence of Forces et Démocratie complicates matters. Normally, new parties have been handled by the model without much difficulty. Their support is awarded equally in all ridings within a given region (with the correct regional results, the model would have been within one seat of Wildrose's result in 2012, despite the party fielding candidates for the first time in many ridings).

But no pollster has included FeD in its surveys yet, so we cannot gauge their support. What I have done, until better data becomes available, is to treat Jean-François Larose in Repentigny as I would any sitting MP running as an independent (he retains a portion of his 2011 vote). For Jean-François Fortin, I have simply decided to adjust his 2011 support levels with the Bloc exactly as Jean-Martin Aussant's PQ support in the 2012 election shifted when he led Option Nationale. He seems like an appropriate example to use as a guide.

The floor-crossing of Bruce Hyer from the NDP to the Greens (via a stint as an independent) is also hard to model. Floor-crossing between the 'establishment' parties is relatively straight forward. Not so when it is the Greens, because their base in Hyer's riding was so small in 2011. Treating him like any other floor-crosser would, I think, under-state his likely support. What I've done for him, then, is to adjust his support levels in the same way that Blair Wilson's support shifted when he crossed to the Greens before the 2008 election. Hopefully a riding poll will be done in the riding to give us a better idea of what is going on, as I fear the system in place is also inadequate.

The last particularity of the 2015 election is the presence of an independent candidate like Inky Mark. In 2011, the model did not make any adjustments for the independent candidacy of Hec Clouthier, a former Liberal MP, in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, who captured a respectable share of the vote. Mark used to be an MP for the riding of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette (now known as Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa) and is running as an independent. So, based on past cases of former MPs attempting a comeback as an independent, Mark has been awarded a portion of the support he had in the last election.

Don't miss the forest

As always, I urge readers to exercise caution when looking at the projections. Consider the ranges very carefully. Don't take the individual riding projections as fact. The model simply cannot take into account the effects of local issues in all 338 ridings, and some will be wrong.

Take, for example, the riding of Outremont. It is currently projected to go Liberal, with the NDP in range of winning it. That is Thomas Mulcair's riding. Do I think he is actually going to lose it? Not for a second. But the model does, simply because of the gains the Liberals have made province wide in Quebec.

And that brings up something I am concerned about in the 2015 election. Polls have shown strong gains for the Liberals in Quebec. They have roughly doubled their support in the province since 2011. The model, then, doubles their support in every riding. That means the party is in a good position to sweep Montreal, where they had a decent base in 2011.

But regional polling by CROP has shown disproportionate growth for the Liberals outside of Montreal, meaning that the model may be inflating the party's numbers too much in Montreal and not enough outside of it. This is why, for example, it could be very wrong about Outremont.

The overall seat count for the province, however, is likely to be accurate. Using the polls from CROP, I made projections for the province at the sub-regional level. The end result was not much different. At the riding level, there would be some important differences - more Liberal wins outside of Montreal, fewer around the city. But the sum total of the seat count remains the same - particularly when we consider the ranges. This is why I beg readers not to miss the forest for the trees. The individual riding calls are not nearly as important as the overall regional and national projections.

You might wonder why I don't adjust the model to project sub-regionally in Quebec. The issue with that is that no other pollster is releasing sub-regional numbers for the province. And in 2011, CROP exited the field over a week before the end of the campaign. It would seem unwise to turn the Quebec portion of the model into a sub-regional one, when in all likelihood I won't have information to plug into it.

That about covers everything. I reserve the right to make some adjustments between now and the start of the campaign, though I don't suspect anything but tiny tweaks (perhaps to the values of the 'factors', for example, if I have time to plug some more data points into my calculations). If you notice anything that looks fishy, or even typos, please do alert me to them as errors could have crept in.

Though the model is fully automated, the graphics aren't. They can take quite some time to pull together, so at this stage I'm not sure how frequently I will update the projection. At least weekly, certainly, but updates with every individual poll, as I was doing for the running poll averages, may be too much. And just to make things clear: no, I am not changing the name of the site to ThreeThirtyEight or some variant of that. Consider the name of the site as a historical monument to when it was launched, during an era of seemingly endless minority governments.

Are we heading back to that this year? The current projection, with the Conservatives at between 117 and 155 seats and the Liberals between 107 and 144, would seem to say yes. But more on that later this week.


  1. Éric,

    Outstanding work as always. I will look forward to updates in the coming days!

  2. Fascinating Eric and I'll be checking in at least weekly from now until October. The one thing of interest to me above is the Green's Min/Max range is currently at 2 across the board. I would have thought it would be 1 at the min and 3 at the max (for Thunder Bay, which I think the Greens will have a shot at holding). Any slim outside chance of the Greens maxing at 4 due to strong provincial performances (e.g. in Guelph)?

  3. Thank you again Eric for your fine and thorough work. I'll be checking in at least daily.

  4. Is a model such as this able to take into account particular variables about a riding that may have changed since the last election? Eg. Is the Acadie-Bathurst seat still likely to go NDP now that Yvon Godin is retiring? Will the BQ be able to take back La Pointe De L'Ille now that it appears BQ Leader Mario Beaulieu may run there? Presumably the model is using regional numbers that may not be able to determine what happens when a particular candidate changes for a riding.

    1. The model does take into account the value of incumbents. Of course, it takes into the account the AVERAGE value of an incumbent. Some incumbents (or lack of them) will be worth more than others.

    2. Yes, as you pointed out in your discussion of the model's methodology, it cannot predict all of the individual variables & local factors in 338 ridings across the country.

      It can be hard for a model to predict which party may have an edge in turnout, ground operations or candidate quality in particular ridings just based on regional numbers. Theoretically a model may show a party picking up seats in a province, but if the party doesn't carry through on Election Day, the model will be allotting seats to a party that might not really be in contention to win them.

      There is also the factor that at the moment the Conservatives appear to still have a financial and organizational advantage over the Liberals & NDP (except perhaps in Quebec) and so although the model may show the Cons losing certain seats, they may be able to hold them if they have the better operation in place.

  5. Éric, is there any way you can somehow incorporate or correlate your election projection to the surveys Nanos publishes. Nanos Research publish something called "Federal Party Power Index". Since they conduct these every week, it is interesting to see whether Nanos gets it close on the election day. Also, do you plan to rename this site to "threehundredthirtyeight" after the next federal election?

    1. No, the Nanos index can't be incorporated into the model (I need vote intentions info), and the site will not be changing its name.

  6. I know many of us appreciate your rigorous approach to collating and analyzing the data. I continue to follow polls, but I would be interested to know if there is any way to judge the possible effect that polls and polling have on actual votes or voter intentions? I know I wish that the media, for instance, spent more time on substantive issues rather than horse race issues, but is there any reason to believe that frequent polling would have a measurable impact on outcomes?

    Great work as always.

    1. My view is that polls can have an effect, but that it is not necessarily a bad thing. Without polls, people would have an inaccurate view of the political situation, basing it entirely on what the media is saying is happening (and they would have little to base it on themselves) or what your friends and family are saying.

      Polls are able to record what is going on and actually tell people the current political situation. The media picks up on that and amplifies it, but at least they are amplifying something that is real and measurable, rather than, say, the energy at a controlled photo-op.

      Think of Quebec in 2011. Would the media have really taken seriously the potential for an NDP breakthrough in Quebec without the polls? What a story that would have been missed! The public would have been misinformed if all they heard from the media is that people were chattering a little more about the NDP in Quebec, that maybe the party could win another seat or two. No one would have taken seriously the idea that the Bloc was en route for a crushing defeat. The polls helped illuminate the major political story of that campaign.

      I get that people want the media to write about policy issues. But most reporters do actually write about stuff like that. It is columnists and people like me who write about the horserace. In my case, at least, I am allowing other members of the media to focus on other issues (i.e., at the CBCm the person who might have written about polls before they hired me can now do real journalism).

      As for columnists, I don't think for a minute that they would stop writing about strategy, tactics, and the horserace if there were no polls. At least with polls they have some real information to work with.

    2. Good points. Let's hope that when the election comes, the polling is clear... and correct!

  7. I have to question the sort of your table. You've listed the Liberals first, even though you're projecting them to win fewer seats.

    The objective in the election is to win seats. The overall share of the vote literally does not matter. I suggest that if you're going to sort the table you should put the party with the highest seat projection at the top.

    1. This is the standard I've applied in other elections. My reasoning is that the poll averaging is the more important function of this site, and so takes precedence over the seat projection. The seat projection is my estimate, but the poll average is the poll average.

      And as the poll average is something more tangible than the seat projection, the order there is more important when we consider the seat ranges.

    2. That makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.

  8. I take it that the FD is included in "other" and that the model projects both incumbents losing? If so, who wins those ridings?

    1. Yes, FD is part of the other at this point (if polls start regularly including them, I may add them). I do have both losing, but you'll see that the max projection is for three 'other' seats, the third being Rathgeber's.

      You can see the individual riding projections at the projection page. If memory serves, though, I have the NDP retaining Repentigny and the Liberals picking up Avignon-etc.

  9. Leaders are harder to beat in general, but it is interesting that in the last 4 years we have actually seen a spike in leaders being defeated both federally (Ignatieff and Duceppe) and provincially (Charest, Clark, Dexter, Marois)

    1. True. Although it seems to be more of a provincial phenomenon. Ignatieff & Duceppe lost federally, but it took a massive wipeout of both of their parties for that to happen. I think they were the first Federal leaders to lose since PM Kim Campbell in 1993.

      Premiers have definitely had more trouble winning their seats lately. Although in the case of Clark, it was different than the others in that she actually won the election but just didn't choose a good seat to run in (she later easily won in a by-election).

    2. Christy picked a fine seat to run in. Gordon Campbell won Point Grey 3 consecutive times (and he was far less popular). Clark made the mistake of not campaigning and taking her voters for granted.

      On your list of defeated leaders, I'm pretty sure you should include John Tory.

    3. Clark also faced an excellent NDP candidate in David Ebe. Years earlier, I attended a debate hosted by the Fraser Insititute wherein Ebe debated Liberal cabinet minster Wally Uppal about the civil rights costs of hosting the Olympics, and Ebe destroyed Uppal. Even the staunchly conservative FI crowd largely thought that Ebe had won.

    4. first off it is Wally Oppal.

      Secondly, while Eby may be of high calibre in terms of NDP standards he was also a carpet bagger who didn't live nor have strong connections to the riding. Clark should have won her seat. Eby was helped by the fact many students were still in town for the election and the fact the NDP put far more resources into his campaign than a single seat would usually warrant. I doubt he will be re-elected as it is a usual Liberal/Socred riding.

    5. I'm a hardcore libertarian (hence why I was at a Fraser Institute event), and I voted for Eby.

    6. Eby was also wrong on the Olympics as the subsequent referendum and overwhelming popular support demonstrated.

    7. I'm not a populist. I don't care what popular opinion says. The Olympics were a terrible idea. They wasted mountains of money, for both the province and a number of municipalities (particularly Vancouver and Richmond)..

    8. Live a little Ira! The Olympics were a great time!

      Considering I pay for some suburbanite to drive on freeways I'll never see a bit of cash for a new skytrain line and a Olympic Curling Centre now a community centre isn't such a bad deal. Government wastes mountains of money, the system isn't perfect. But spending cash on the Olympics is no better or worse than spending money on methadone clinics or homeless shelters or the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holding Society. The system is not perfect and disagreements about how money is spent are healthy.

  10. In case anyone was interested in a visual for this,

    Eric, I'm a longtime reader - please never stop! I love your blog.


    1. Thank you for this. Graphics are awesome. This one really brings out how much the split between the parties is a split between the metropolitan areas and the smaller centers.

  11. Mulcair may be in trouble in Outremont with the new redrawn boundaries.

    The Little Portugal portion from Laurier-Ste-Marie in 2011 is now part of Outremont for 2015, that is the most Liberal Red portion of the Plateau Mt-Royal.

    Combining the Portuguese community from the Plateau with the Jewish community in Outremont = Mulcair loses his seat.

    The hipsters in the Mile-End won't be enough

    1. Mulcair has incumbency advantage, leader advantage and probably a big organization in Outremont.

      I think it's possible the Liberals could win Outremont back after Mulcair retires, but it's probably a little early for you to predict Mulcair being defeated in his own riding. He'll probably lose some votes to the Liberals and see his margin go down from what he got in the Orange Wave, but he's not in danger of losing yet.

    2. Do not understatement to Trudeau brand among 1st gen and 2nd generation immigrants and children of immigrants in Montreal.

      Both Mulcair and Mouriani have redrawn ridings that have Liberal red voters spill into their ridings for 2015.

    3. I don't think immigrants or the children of immigrants have any more pre-disposession to vote for a Trudeau than your typical Canadian. Many Chinese from Hong Kong came to Canada when Mulroney was PM but, no assumption exists that Hong Kong immigrants or their children will vote Conservative. If someone produced a study demonstrating "Trudeau immigrants" have a disposition to vote Liberal I would read it but, I have never heard or read such evidence.

    4. I'm specifically talking about Montreal

    5. It applies everywhere in Canada. Will immigrantsand their children who settled in Montreal during Haper's premiership have a tendency to vote Conservative? I think there is an assumption that immigrants have a tendency to vote for the party that "let them in" but, have not reviewed any evidence to prove this theory. Frankly the theory is borderline offensive as it pre-supposes immigrants have a duty to be thankful or loyal. In fact we know that this theory is not based on fact and is unlikely to be correct. Immigrants who settle in Quebec during periods of Parti Quebecois government overwhelmingly vote for federalist political parties.

      Why would children of immigrants who likely don't remember the Trudeau years hold a pre-disposition to vote Liberal in greater proportion than the average population? If it is the case that "Trudeau immigrants" vote Liberal why then are the Liberal seats concentrated on the West Island?

      People undoubtedly vote for a party or candidate for a variety of factors but when one paints all people of a certain group with the same brush the potential to unfairly stereotype greatly increases.

    6. I think you show a misunderstanding of the situation in Québec. For many years, you had two options: the Liberals or the Bloc. The Conservatives were nowhere near being in a position of taking seats, and the NDP was even further. Since most (almost all) immigrants are federalists, they voted for the only viable party that offered them that option, the Liberals. And now, as with most families, the political affiliation has been handed to their children. It doesn't really have anything to do with who let them in and a whole lot more with who can win between federalists and separatists. Should the Bloc really disappear, that may change, but with the next election, I wouldn't count on that just yet.

    7. I understand the situation just fine Thierry. What I object to is this unsubstantiated generalised notion that immigrants will vote a certain way. I understand to some degree why immigrant communities had a tendency to vote Liberal in the past but, the situation has changed so what is the rationale immigrants and children of immigrants will continue the behaviour? Why would an immigrant who didn't arrive in Canada until after Trudeau still feel a loyalty or affinity to PET? Because they heard he was a good person?

      If we assume it has more to do with who can win between federalists and separatists then it is a pretty safe assumption the immigrant vote will be split 3 ways in Quebec depending where the immigrant lives. In fact not adapting defeats their supposed reason for voting Liberal (federalist win).

      When I read a comment that implies immigrants vote or should vote a certain way if no evidence is given for this gross generalisation I have to question the reason for the statement. Is the author trying to demonstrate a logical argument or is he trying to influence others into acting in his preferred manner?

  12. Ahoy, I have found my 338 seat model! I have updated it with the latest 2 by-elections and it is now ready for the 2015 federal campaign! So, using the average here, I get:

    136 CPC
    118 LPC
    76 NDP
    7 BQ
    1 GPC

    23 LPC
    6 CPC
    3 NDP

    32 NDP
    27 LPC
    12 CPC
    7 BQ

    55 CPC
    47 LPC
    19 NDP

    16 CPC
    6 LPC
    6 NDP

    29 CPC
    4 LPC
    1 NDP

    British Columbia:
    18 CPC
    14 NDP
    9 LPC
    1 GPC

    2 LPC
    1 NDP

    This is not the final version, there are a few things that have to be accounted for, but it is very close to final. I'll mostly be working on the Québec part of the simulator because of the resignation of Bloc MPs, and also, because it is the part I know most. For example, I can't really evaluate the impact of leaving MPs such as Yvon Godin since I don't know enough about that area to know if Mr Godin himself was attracting votes or if the NDP did.

    As for the predictions, they are very much in line with Eric's here. One notable difference is the second GPC seat, which I have as a NDP win, but by less than a third of a percent. I'm still not sure how to implement by-elections (that is, they are implemented, I'm not sure the weighting is fine), so it may just be a small question of finding the right coefficient.

  13. Thank you very much for providing this detailed description of your methodology with the individual riding calls. I have seen the riding number used in far to many instances now as partisan tools to sow misinformation. Your post here will greatly increase the transparency of how these are used by others. Thank you for all the work you do!

  14. Éric, with polling over the last 4 years being somewhat suspect how does your model compensate in the event of bad polls? Is it just are the mercy of data from pollster X or do you have a some kind of fail safe to insure the model's integrity?

    1. The average projections (the central numbers in the chart) are what the polls are saying. The high/low and max/min ranges are meant to estimate the likely errors in the polls.

    2. But if the data has errors aren't the high/low and min/max ranges also effected by the base numbers?

    3. Yes, but if we knew exactly what the numbers would be we wouldn't need the ranges in the first place.

    4. Of course you're right. I guess what I'm asking is if the high/low ranges are effected by the base data how are you making those high/low calculations with any measure reliability? I had taken to understanding the purpose of the high/low was to show the possible range of support not to compensate for poll errors. Since instead the point of high/low is to show the polling data with errors accounted for, how can you calculate the actual (or probable) ranges of support let alone have a seat projection? I hope that made sense.

      On another note, I think you stated before that while each poll is added to the data, each pollster is rated based on reliability and success which effect's how much power their polls have on the over all average. Have you ever released how you rate the pollsters themselves and if not can you with your reasoning?

    5. I'm not quite sure how to answer your question. The seat projection is based on the polls. The ranges are based on how polls have been off in the past. The polls will never be 100%.

      The methodology page does explain the method for rating the pollsters. I have not published each pollster's actual rating, however. I think it is a fair way to evaluate the pollsters for my purposes, but I don't want it used as a ranking system for business purposes. Pollsters would not like that very much.

  15. Postponing major policy issues might leave Tories vulnerable in Commons:

    Chantal Hébert


    1. Peter,

      Anybody viewing this page has access to the internet. They don't need you reminding them the Toronto Star exists-they get enough unwanted advertising in their lives.

      If you must advertise perhaps some personal insight about the article would be helpful; is it well written? Why are Hebert's points important? The benefits of reading the Star on line instead of in print?


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