Friday, February 27, 2015

Close race also seen by Ipsos Reid

The polls have spoken. The Ipsos Reid survey published Wednesday afternoon by Global News put the gap between the Liberals and Conservatives at just one point, exactly the same margin as recorded by Abacus Data and EKOS Research. Even the support levels are very uniform: 32% to 35% for the Tories and 32% to 34% for the Liberals. For all intents and purposes, the national landscape is now a tie.

Ipsos was last in the field between Jan. 6 and 11. Since that poll, the Liberals picked up three points to move into the lead with 34%, while the Conservatives were down two points to 32%.

The New Democrats slipped one point to 23%, the Bloc Québécois was steady at 6%, and support for other parties (including the Greens, which Ipsos does not prompt for) was down one point to 3%.

Total undecideds numbered 13%, down four points.

None of these shifts were outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples.

Ipsos's last poll was hinting at a Conservative surge. No other survey at the time was suggesting quite the same thing, so it appears that it was just the product of normal sampling error and this new poll is a reversion to the mean. Apart from the sharp decline in Liberal fortunes since the fall, there is no discernible trend in Ipsos's numbers over the last few months.

Indeed, the 'surge' may have been the product of an unusual result among women. That January poll put the Conservatives ahead among this demographic, something that no other poll was showing at the time or has shown since. But this new poll shows a reset of those numbers, with the Conservatives and Liberals swapping six points. The Liberals now lead again among women and the Conservatives among men, putting Ipsos back in agreement with every other poll.

Oddly, Ipsos showed a big uptick in support among the youngest Canadians for the Conservatives, putting them up seven points to 29%, just five points behind the Liberals and one point ahead of the NDP (which was down eight points). This might seem like a counter-intuitive result, but in fact the recent Abacus and EKOS polls have also shown improving numbers for the Tories among young voters. Why this might be, however, is beyond me, as is whether this is a real trend or an anomalous blip.

The regional results are fairly typical, with some small variations.

The Conservatives led in British Columbia with 39%, putting them ahead of the Liberals, who were at 34%. The six most recent polls had put the Liberals ahead, so this is a bit of a reversal. But that other polls were in such agreement in B.C. was, itself, unusual. Ipsos has recorded a drop in NDP support in the province, to 21%, as others have.

The Conservatives led in Alberta and the Prairies with 54% and 45%, respectively, but Ipsos puts the NDP in much better form in the Prairies than other polls at 27%, one point up on the Liberals.

The Liberals and Conservatives were in a tie in Ontario at 37%, which is almost identical to the current polling aggregate. The NDP at 23%, however, is a much better result than the party has seen in most polls in some time.

And Atlantic Canada is the usual, with the Liberals way ahead of the NDP and Tories with 47% to 26% and 24%, respectively.

But what about Quebec? It has been the wildcard in federal polling lately, and this survey is no exception.

As most other polls have it, the Liberals were ahead with 31% to 27% for the NDP. This represented a sizable, but just inside the margin of error, increase for the Liberals. The Bloc Québécois was in third with 26%, while the Conservatives were well behind at 15%.

We've discussed the standing of the Conservatives in Quebec quite a bit, and this Ipsos poll would seem to argue in favour of their gains having been wildly over-stated. I think there is something to that. But if we look at the trends from each of the pollsters that have been active so far in 2015, there is a pattern that emerges. Virtually all of them have had the Conservatives gaining in January and early February, compared to where they were in December. But now the polls seem to be showing those gains tailing back or plateauing. Ipsos is well in line with that, with a three point drop.

The debate, then, is more about the size of the gain and the amount of support the Conservatives really have. The trends seem clear enough, however.

Another notable result here is the 26% for the Bloc Québécois. Coupled with the EKOS poll that put the party in second place with 23% last week, some were saying that the new Quebec narrative should be about the Bloc's rebound. I think that is premature.

This Bloc result is the best the party has had in any poll in a year. But that it comes from Ipsos is significant. The Bloc is only up one point from Ipsos's early January poll, so the number is far from unusual.

In fact, Ipsos has tended to have better results for the Bloc than other pollsters lately. Polls conducted within a week of this most recent survey have averaged 18% for the Bloc, compared to the 26% here. In January, polls taken within a week of Ipsos's 25% result averaged 17%, while polls taken within a week of Ipsos's November poll, which put the Bloc at 21%, averaged 15%. The Bloc had 20% in the Ipsos poll from September, while other polls at the time were averaging 14%.

So, it would appear in this case that we should not get ahead of ourselves in predicting a comeback for the Bloc. As far as Ipsos is concerned, the party is in a better position now than it was in the summer and fall, but is otherwise holding steady. This is the consensus among most other polls as well. Quebec is a confusing place for federal polls, so let's focus on points of agreement when they exist.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

EKOS, Abacus polls show close race

With little over six months to go before the official start of the 2015 federal election campaign, the latest polls from EKOS Research and Abacus Data show the Conservatives and Liberals in a very close race.

The current projection reflects this. The previous update, done on Feb. 17 and incorporating polls in the field to Feb. 10, had the Liberals narrowly ahead with 34.2% support to 32.9% for the Conservatives. Now, that gap of 1.3 points has reduced further to just 0.5 points, with the Liberals at 33.5% and the Tories at 33%.

That, in turn, has widened the margin in favour of the Conservatives in the seat projection: 145 to 126, against 140 to 135 in the last update. The ranges have also become more favourable to the Tories, with 126-164 seats against 107-145 for the Liberals.

The NDP stands at 19.4%, with a range of 47 to 77 seats.

I go over the latest projection numbers and the regional breakdown in my CBC article this week. Please check it out.

Let's look at the two national polls added to the projection (CROP was also added for the Quebec numbers), by EKOS Research for iPolitics and Abacus Data.

Abacus was last in the field Jan. 26-28. Compared to that poll, both the Conservatives and the Liberals picked up two points to reach 35% and 34%, respectively. The NDP was down three points to 21%.

None of these shifts were outside the margin of error of similarly sized probabilistic samples. Indeed, Abacus's numbers have been wobbling back and forth for some time, with no discernible trend.

EKOS, which appears to be reporting on a weekly basis now, was last in the field Feb. 4-10. There was little change since that poll, with the Conservatives up 0.3 points to 32.3%, the Liberals down 2.2 points to 31.6%, and the NDP up 0.2 points to 19.1%. None of these shifts were outside the margin of error.

Both polls showed similar gender breakdowns, with the Tories up on the Liberals by a margin of 40% to 35% among men in the Abacus poll and 36.7% to 30.2% in the EKOS survey. Among women, the Liberals were ahead with 34% to 30% according to Abacus, and 33.1% to 28.4% according to EKOS. Both polls also showed the NDP doing better among women (25% Abacus, 20.9% EKOS) than men (17% Abacus, 17.4% EKOS).

The two polls were also in lock step in age breakdowns, with the Conservatives narrowly ahead among the youngest cohort (unusual as that is), the Liberals ahead among those aged roughly 30 to 65, and the Conservatives in front among older Canadians.

Regionally, there were few major differences in the two polls in most parts of the country. The Liberals narrowly ahead in B.C., where the NDP is faltering, the Conservatives well in front in Alberta, the Liberals with majority support in Atlantic Canada, and the Conservatives ahead in Ontario (considering the sample sizes, the differences between the Abacus and EKOS polls there are really marginal).

The two polls were in disagreement in the Prairies, where Abacus has the Liberals with 41% to 38% for the Tories and 15% for the NDP. But the sample size, at 95, would carry a margin of error of +/- 10 points with a probabilistic sample. EKOS has more familiar looking numbers, with about 44% for the Tories, 31% for the Liberals, and 15% for the NDP.

The other point of disagreement is Quebec, which has become par for the course in recent polls. It does seem to be a methodological difference, since the online polls are all in agreement and the IVR polls are generally on the same page.

Abacus put the Liberals ahead with 32% to 31% for the NDP, the Conservatives at 18% and the Bloc Québécois at 17%. EKOS, meanwhile, has something very different: 23.6% for the NDP, 23.1% for the Bloc, 22.7% for the Liberals, and 22% for the Conservatives.

That represents some exceptional results. For the Liberals, it would be their worst result in any poll since March 2013, or 124 polls ago. For the Bloc, only two of the last 53 polls have been better.

It is possible that EKOS is on to something, but it looks more likely that this is a bit of an outlier result, which is bound to happen from time to time.

The most recent polls from the province have some points of agreement, but also paint a very confusing portrait of what is going on in Quebec. Here are the latest results (all polls taken between Feb. 9 and 17) with their respective error ranges (assuming probabilistic samples in the case of Abacus and CROP).

For the Liberals and Conservatives, the four polls do not all overlap. Or at least, the three by Abacus, CROP, and Forum do, whereas the EKOS poll does not.

There is only a little bit of overlap with the NDP numbers (at 27%) and the Bloc (at 20%).

With these numbers, we can posit that EKOS was probably a little low for the Liberals and high for the Bloc, and that the Liberals' true support probably lies closer to the high-20s or low-30s in the province. The New Democrats seem to be in the high-20s.

The Conservatives are likely in the high-teens or low-20s, where as the Bloc is most likely in the high-teens.

The province is certainly in flux, and undoubtedly the smaller amount of interest in the federal scene has an influence on how fluid voters are in the province. But with the race becoming a four-way contest, an extremely wide range of outcomes is possible.

If we use these ranges to calculate the best case scenarios for each party, we get an enormous variety of results. The Liberal best case scenario with these ranges gives them 51 seats (14 NDP, 13 CPC, 0 BQ). The NDP could take 54 (16 LPC, 8 CPC, 0 BQ). The Conservatives could win 20 (31 NDP, 24 LPC, 3 BQ). Even the Bloc, topping out at 27%, could win 40 seats (22 LPC, 10 CPC, 6 NDP) if the other parties divvy up the remaining vote.

Consider how Quebec alone could cause a huge swing. If we use these seat ranges and apply them to the current projection, assuming all the other provinces go as projected, the Conservatives would be at 137-149, the Liberals between 118-153, and the NDP between 33-81. The stakes in Quebec are laid out quite clearly here: probably not too significant for the Tories, but the province decides whether the Liberals win or place second, and whether the NDP stays as a strong party or returns to pre-2011 days.

The polls did a good job calling the federal election in Quebec in 2011, better than anywhere else in the country. It might not prove so simple in 2015.

Friday, February 20, 2015

So are the Conservatives gaining in Quebec or not?

The poll that many of us were waiting for finally arrived yesterday, as La Presse published the latest numbers from Quebec-based pollster CROP. The poll would settle once and for all the question we've been asking for weeks: are the Conservatives really making inroads in Quebec?

The answer the poll provided was: maybe, but certainly not to the same extent as we've seen in other surveys. But that is a boring answer. The answer a lot of people saw in this instead was: "welp, so much for that idea."

I think that is a very simplistic way to look at the results of this poll. I'll get into that in more detail below, but first let's just take a look at the overall numbers.

CROP was last in the field between Dec. 10-15. They have not recorded any statistically significant shifts in support since then (at least, if these samples were probabilistic).

The Liberals dropped four points to 33% in Quebec, while the New Democrats were unchanged at 30%.

The Bloc Québécois was also steady, at 17%. The Conservatives picked up three points to hit 16%, and the Greens were unchanged at 4%.

The Liberals have been wobbling back and forth in CROP's polling for some time, as shown in the last six polls from the company: 38%, 34%, 37%, 32%, 37%, 33%. This recent drop would seem to fit into that oscillation.

But what about the Conservatives?

The increase of three points is within the margin of error (or would be, of similarly sized probabilistic samples), so it could just be a statistical fluke. I think, however, that with the gains we have seen in other polls it stands to reason that it isn't a statistical fluke. In CROP's previous 10 polls, for instance, the Conservatives averaged just 13%.

And the Tories made gains throughout the province. They were up among francophones and non-francophones, made a significant increase on the island of Montreal, and inched upwards in Quebec City and the regions of Quebec. Only in the 'couronne', where they fell by a single point, did the party take a step backwards. And 15% of respondents picked Stephen Harper as the preferred person to be prime minister, his best result in a CROP poll since at least June 2013.

Nevertheless, that 16% is well below the current aggregate of 21%, and the 23% to 26% we've seen in the last two polls by EKOS. That would seem to settle it, then, yes? Much ado about nothing in Quebec. A large sample poll from a Quebec-based company showing a marginal increase is a very strong argument against Conservative gains in the province.

But I don't think we should stop there. A lot of people have accepted this CROP poll as the be-all-and-end-all of polling Quebec. I think that is a bit much. CROP is a good pollster. But they are far from the decisive and conclusive voice.

Consider that CROP hasn't been tested all that much in recent elections. In the 2011 federal election, the final CROP poll exited the field on April 20, almost two weeks before Election Day. In the 2014 provincial election, CROP was out of the field on March 16, more than three weeks before Election Day. In recent contests, only in 2012 did CROP put out a late campaign poll. But it was one conducted over the telephone, which tells us little about the accuracy of their online panel.

Much is also made of the large sample size. In this poll, CROP gathered the opinions of 884 decided voters. A standard national poll would have less than 250 responses from the province.

But the last three Forum and EKOS polls that have shown the Conservative gains in Quebec sampled a total of 1,037 decided voters. So sample size is not the issue. The reliability of the sample is another question entirely, however. Whether it be some 900 panelists or some 1,000 Quebecers willing to take an automated telephone survey, if the sample itself is of poor quality it doesn't matter how many people are interviewed.

And this brings up another interesting question. Is there a methodological difference in the results? Since the beginning of 2015, the Conservatives have averaged 23% support in Quebec in six IVR polls. In four online polls, they have averaged just 17%. Could this be a sort of 'shy Tory' effect in Quebec, an issue Joël-Denis Bellavance mentioned last week on CTV's PowerPlay? Is there a reason that online panels would be influenced by that while IVR polls would not be? In 2012, the closest thing to that would have been a 'shy Charest' effect, and the online polls did post lower Liberal numbers than Forum's IVR surveys.

All of this is not to say that CROP's results should be discounted - far from it. But it should make you ponder whether one poll really has such a monopoly on the truth. Instead, each poll adds to what we know, and CROP gives us a very good piece of information. It tells us Forum and EKOS have probably been too high for the Tories. But CROP might still be too low. Methodological influences and house effects can be very important.

Take, for example, the last time CROP was in the field in December. At around the same time, six other polls had been conducted. Look at the differences between the consensus of those six polls (the average) and CROP's findings:

There was little real difference that couldn't be explained by normal sampling error for the New Democrats, Bloc Québécois, and Greens. CROP was high on the Liberals, however, and low on the Conservatives.

Does this mean the exact same thing could be happening with this latest poll? Not necessarily. And does it mean that CROP is wrong while the others are right? Again, no. What it does mean is that each pollster has what is called a 'house effect', a methodological bias caused by any number of sources: mode of contact, the people sampled, the questions asked, the weightings applied, etc.

This is the benefit of using an aggregate of polls. It can iron out these differences, and get us closer to what might be the truth. CROP's polls are very valuable for their large samples, regional breakdowns, and local knowledge. But that doesn't mean other polls are clueless - in fact, the non-Quebec-based pollsters did very well in Quebec in 2011.

The regional breakdown

Let's get back to the poll itself.

The New Democrats held on to the lead among francophones with 32%, narrowly ahead of the Liberals at 29%. The Bloc was at 20%, while the Conservatives were at 15%. Note, though, that for the NDP they are polling quite a bit lower than the 35% to 39% recorded by CROP in polls done between June and November of last year.

Among non-francophones, the Liberals had a 13-point drop to 49%, with the NDP steady at 19% and the Conservatives at 18%. The Bloc made a big jump of 10 points to 10%, suggesting that in this case we may be looking at a statistical anomaly since it seems unlikely that about 1 in 6 non-francophones surveyed in December decided to de-camp from the Liberals and head to the Bloc.

The Liberals led in and around Montreal, with 34% on the island and 44% around it. The New Democrats were not far behind in Montreal with 31%, though they dropped eight points to 24% in the 'couronne'. The Conservatives placed third on the island of Montreal with a jump of 11 points to 18%, but were in fourth behind the Bloc (20%) with 9% in the suburbs.

The Conservatives held the lead in Quebec City, though, with 38% support. That was virtually unchanged from December, and the Tories have not polled so highly here in two consecutive CROP surveys since the beginning of 2012. The NDP was at 33%, while the Liberals were down to 16% support.

In the rest of the province, the NDP was narrowly ahead with 31% as the Liberals dropped to 30%. The Bloc was steady at 20%, while the Conservatives were at 14%.

On who would make the best prime minister, Thomas Mulcair was in front with 25%. Justin Trudeau experienced a big tumble, dropping five points to 23%. As mentioned, Harper was up to 15%, a three-point increase.

If we ignored what other surveys have been saying, how would we look at this poll? For the most part, we'd consider it par for the course. These are the sorts of numbers CROP has been putting out for months. A close race between the NDP and Liberals, but with the NDP ahead among francophones. The Conservatives up slightly, which we'd consider just a wobble, but good numbers in Quebec City. The Bloc continuing to flounder.

Overall, we'd probably consider it a decent poll for all three federalist parties. The Liberals still lead, and look well-positioned for gains in and around Montreal (the drop they experienced on the island was due to those odd results among non-francophones, which are sure to be reset with the next poll). The NDP still leads among francophones, and so should retain the bulk of their seats. The Conservatives could make big gains in Quebec City.

But in light of other polls, we can look at this in two ways. The first is to consider that the Conservatives may not be making the gains other polls have suggested they are, and that their hopes need to be tempered. The second is to see in this the same trends that other polls have recorded, and that Quebec will indeed be a battleground for all three national parties. As usual, time will tell.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Liberal recovery or blip?

The projection was updated yesterday, reversing the first instance of the Conservatives leading in both the vote and seat projection. The Liberals are now back on top in the polling average, and have closed the gap in the seat count to just five. Does this mean the Liberal slide has come to a halt, or is it just a blip?

The Liberals lead again with 34.2%, up a point from the last update incorporating polls done to Feb. 3. The Conservatives dropped 0.6 points to 32.9%, while the NDP was down 0.7 points to 19.3%.

In terms of seats, the Conservatives have dropped three to 140, and their range has gone from 128-162 to 125-158. The Liberals have increased their seat tally by 13 to 135, and their range from 106-140 to 114-152.

The New Democrats have dropped 12 in the seat count, and their range has fallen from 53-81 to 43-77. This was due primarily to a drop in Quebec, where the party is down seven seats from the Feb. 3 update.

The bulk of the Liberals' gain, however, came in Ontario, where the gap between them and the Conservatives widened from 0.5 points to 2.9.

Let's look at the two polls that prompted the update. They were by EKOS Research for iPolitics and Forum Research for the Toronto Star. Both left the field on Feb. 10, but the EKOS poll had a longer tail.

Forum was last in the field from Jan. 27-28, and recorded a relatively large shift in voting intentions since then. The Liberals were up five points to 39%, re-taking the lead from the Conservatives, who were down three points to 32%. The NDP was down three points as well to just 17%.

The increase in Liberal support is outside the margin of error, whereas the drop for the Conservatives and NDP is not. But before Liberals get too excited, consider their recent trend in Forum polling: 36% - 41% - 37% - 34% - 39%. On average, Forum has had the Liberals wobbling by about four points from one poll to the next. This would suggest to me that this bump in Liberal support is more house effect than anything real.

That is, at least in terms of its size. EKOS also recorded a modest rebound by the Liberals, which argues that perhaps the party is indeed recovering from their recent slide.

EKOS was last in the field Jan. 28-Feb. 3, and put the Liberals up 1.6 points to 33.8%. The Conservatives were down three points to 32%, while the NDP was up one point to 18.9%.

Only the Conservative drop was outside the margin of error, but both Forum and EKOS recorded similar trends for the Tories and Liberals. For EKOS, this poll halts a series of surveys showing Liberal/NDP decline and Conservative growth.

Can we reconcile the two polls? One wonders whether we should bother, considering Forum's history of volatility. But if we extend the polls' results to their respective margins of error, we get the following:

As you can see, the ranges for the Conservatives and NDP overlap quite comfortably. The ranges for the Greens do not, and the Liberals only meet at 36%. I do not think that this is coincidental. The Greens are generally higher in EKOS's polls than in any others, while the Liberals are generally higher in Forum's.

The two polls suggest that the shift in voting intentions may have occurred among men. Forum recorded a jump of six points for the Liberals among men, outside the margin of error, while EKOS also showed a statistically significant jump of 4.6 points for the party. Both showed the Conservatives sliding by four to six points. Together, it puts the Liberals at either 34% or 40% and the Conservatives between 34% and 35% among this demographic. There was no similarly consistent shift among female voters.

One anomaly of the Forum poll was in British Columbia, where the Liberals were up 15 points to 47%, the Conservatives were down 11 points to 24%, the NDP was up six to 23%, and the Greens were down nine to 5%. That is a lot of movement, particularly in the context of EKOS finding no party shifting by more than a handful of points. EKOS put the parties at 31%, 29%, 21%, and 16%, respectively.

In Quebec, the province everyone is keeping an eye on, both Forum and EKOS showed a bit of a reversal for the Conservatives. Forum had the party down to 21% and EKOS had them down to 23%, though both of those shifts were inside the margin of error. They are both still, however, relatively high numbers for the party in Quebec. The Liberals appeared to take advantage in both polls, Forum recording a significant jump of eight points (but EKOS just two).

The Liberals increase nationwide coincided with a drop in Justin Trudeau's disapproval rating, from 44% to 38%. His approval rating was up slightly to 48%.

The Conservatives' decrease, meanwhile, coincided with worsening numbers for Stephen Harper. His approval rating was down four points to 36%, while his disapproval rating was up five points to 56%, the worst numbers EKOS has recorded since November. This may not be too worrying for the Prime Minister, though, as his approval rating was up in Ontario and down in the West, where he is at little risk.

Thomas Mulcair's numbers were fairly steady, at 51% approval to 36% disapproval. Regionally, his numbers improved west of Quebec and worsened east of Ontario.

It would be helpful to have a third (and fourth?) poll weigh-in on this, preferably one which uses a different mode of contact. Has the Liberal slide been reversed? Is the Conservatives' momentum coming to a halt? Or will this prove to be just a pause in the trends that have been building for the last few months? We'll see.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Eglinton-Lawrence, Joe Oliver, and Eve Adams

You've heard the story by now. On Monday, Conservative MP Eve Adams, apparently denied her nomination papers by the Conservative Party, crossed the floor to the Liberals and has decided to try her hand at being a giant slayer, taking on Minister of Finance Joe Oliver in the Toronto-area riding of Eglinton-Lawrence. She'll have to win the Liberal nomination in the riding first, and that is far from a sure bet.

But if she does win the nomination, or even if she doesn't, can Joe Oliver secure re-election in Eglinton-Lawrence?

Based on current polling trends, and all else being equal, Eglinton-Lawrence is a riding that the Conservatives would have a very hard time keeping from the Liberals. Oliver won it in 2011 with 47% of the vote, defeating Joe Volpe, who had taken 38% of votes cast. 

Volpe had held the riding since 1988, and the Liberals before that since its creation in 1979. Never before 2011 had the party captured less than 40% of the vote in the riding, and even the Liberals' last win in 2008 was the first time Volpe had failed to capture a majority of the vote.

At the provincial level, Eglinton-Lawrence has voted Liberal in every election since 1999 when the boundaries were changed to match the federal ones. In every election but 2007, Mike Colle took a majority of the vote. Last year, he took 55%.

With the Conservatives having dropped to about 37% in the province, and the Liberals having increased their support to 37% as well, Eglinton-Lawrence is a riding that the Liberals should be able to win. The current projection gives the Liberals 50% of the vote. Joe Oliver would come up short with 37%, and this includes his incumbency bonus. Of the 50 ridings currently projected to be won by the Liberals, there are 12 that are considered less likely wins for the party than Eglinton-Lawrence.

The incumbency bonus awarded to Oliver is worth 8% of his support. That is to say that what the unadjusted swing model would give him is boosted by a factor of 1.08. In order to be projected to win the riding, that factor would need to be increased to 1.46. Only one incumbent MP whose party had dropped in support managed to resist regional trends by such a factor in the 2011 election. He just happened to be Justin Trudeau.

The model estimates that for Joe Oliver to win, he would need about 44% support. The factor of 1.46 is required to get him there, but that assumes the Liberals are also boosted by current trends. The model then has to rejig the numbers to get everyone's projected results to add up to 100%, so the standard of 1.46 is not a fair one to apply to Oliver.

Instead, let's use the mark of 44% to be Oliver's baseline. With that number we are assuming that, with current polling trends, Oliver will lose the riding if he can't manage 44% of the vote. At 43% or less, the math suggests the Liberals are winning the riding.

Stripped of all adjustments, Joe Oliver would be projected to take 38.8% of the vote in Eglinton-Lawrence due to the Conservatives' drop in Ontario. To reach 44%, he would need to out-perform expectations by a factor of at least 1.14.

The odds are against that happening. 

In the work I have done to try and estimate how to adjust the projections in order to take incumbents into account, I have identified 797 incumbents seeking re-election in the 2006, 2008, and 2011 elections. Only 116 of them, or 14.6%, have managed to out-perform the proportional swing by a factor of 1.14 or more.

This means that, all else being equal, Oliver's odds of getting 44% of the vote or more, on current polling trends, are about 14%. That makes it a bad bet to wager on Oliver's re-election if we think of him as a generic incumbent.

Of course, Oliver is not just any incumbent. Before we consider that he is the Finance Minister, let's consider that he is an incumbent seeking re-election when his party is losing support. 

There is a great deal of difference between the performance of an incumbent when the party is increasing its support province wide and when it is dropping. Out of those 116 incumbents who over-achieved by a factor of 1.14 or more, 105 of them were representing parties that were losing support. In this context, Oliver's odds improve: 23% of incumbents representing parties losing support managed to out-perform expectations by a factor of 1.14 or more. Just 3% of incumbents representing parties on the upswing managed the same feat. This is why the projection model treats incumbents differently based on whether a party is up or down in the polls.

Nevertheless, Oliver's odds are now just a little worse than 4 to 1. But just who were the 38 incumbents in 2011 who bucked the trends by 1.14 or more when their party was losing support?

Most of them were Liberals, of course, as the party dropped support throughout the country. The Bloc Québécois makes a few appearances as well. But you can see that a lot of the names tend to be some of the better known incumbents. At the top of the list is Justin Trudeau, who did better than any other incumbent.

Also high on the list are big names like Denis Lebel, Christian Paradis, Denis Coderre, Marc Garneau and Joyce Murray. Most of those at the top of the list survived the cull, and secured re-election.

Those at the bottom of the list, however, were less lucky. And Joe Oliver's target over-performance of 1.14 would put him at the bottom of that list. While about half of incumbents who out-performed expectations by 1.14 or more were re-elected, 79% of those whose factor was 1.20 or more were re-elected. Those with 1.20 or less were defeated 68% of the time. 

This would suggest that Joe Oliver's true odds for re-election only start to get better at a factor of 1.20 or more, which means about 47% of the vote. That would be a tall order, considering that he secured 47% of the vote in the Conservatives' high-watermark election of 2011, against the Liberal Party's worst performance in its history.

Oliver, however, is a cabinet minister - and not just any cabinet minister. As Minister of Finance he is generally recognized as the No. 2 in the government. That should give him a serious boost.

It did help Ralph Goodale in 2006, but he out-performed the swing by a factor of 1.13, just below Oliver's benchmark. When the Conservative Party was gaining, Jim Flaherty out-performed the swing by a factor of 1.04 in 2008 and just 1.01 in 2011.

But let's compare Oliver to other Conservatives, rather than other Finance Ministers. In 2011, the Conservatives only dropped support in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. They had no incumbents in the latter, so let's look at how Conservative incumbents in Quebec performed.

Half of the 10 Quebec Conservative incumbents did better than the model's generic factor of 1.08, and half did worse. Of those who did better, four were re-elected. Of those who did worse, only one was.

These numbers are relevant for Joe Oliver, because it sheds some light on the performance of Conservative cabinet ministers in the context of a sinking party.

Four of these 10 were full cabinet ministers. Christian Paradis was Minister of Natural Resources, Lawrence Cannon was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josée Verner was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs (and for La Francophonie), and Jean-Pierre Blackburn was Minister of Veterans Affairs.

Being in cabinet did not seem to help Blackburn, who had a horrible performance. Verner was also on the lower end. It did help Paradis and, to a lesser extent, Cannon.

I think Lawrence Cannon is a good example, as his portfolio was the closest in profile to Joe Oliver, and his riding of Pontiac was generally a very Liberal-friendly one (though not to the extent of Eglinton-Lawrence). Cannon out-performed the swing by a factor of 1.18, above Oliver's lowest benchmark but short of the 1.20 he would probably need to win again. That might be ominous.

Of the other Conservative MPs in Quebec, Denis Lebel was a Minister of State and Jacques Gourde, Daniel Petit, and Sylvie Boucher were parliamentary secretaries - the title Eve Adams held before she crossed the floor.

And that brings us, finally, to Adams. She is not a traditional floor-crosser, as she is seeking re-election in a different riding. The model, then, would not treat her differently from any other candidate.

But will local voters? It seems that Liberals in Eglinton-Lawrence are not too thrilled about her candidacy, so she may not get the nomination to begin with. And if she does, I am not convinced she will be an asset for the Liberals. If anything, I'd wager she would do less well than a generic Liberal candidate.

So there are a few things working in Oliver's favour. His is a name we'd more likely see at the top of the list of over-achieving incumbents, rather than under-achieving ones. As Minister of Finance, his profile is the highest he could have without being party leader. He may face a controversial Liberal candidate. And the local factors in the riding, for example the large Jewish population (Oliver is Jewish, the large Italian community was also important in Volpe's wins), may play in his favour. Those are all of the intangibles. But Eglinton-Lawrence is, at its core, a Liberal riding. On paper, the odds would be against his re-election.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Conservative Blue Arrow?

In 2011, the Conservatives won a majority government with just five seats in Quebec. The electoral math was stark. With 166 seats, the Conservatives could have formed a majority government without a single vote, let alone a single seat, from Quebec. And, it has been assumed, that was something the Conservatives were taking for granted. Better to win Ontario than to waste time and energy on the enigmatic Quebec voter.

But the Conservatives were not writing off Quebec entirely. Early last year, The Globe and Mail reported on Conservative plans to win a 'Blue Arrow' of seats in Quebec, some 15 in all. It seemed unlikely at the time, considering the party was at 13%.

I wrote about how the Conservatives' chances in Quebec are looking a lot better lately, and why, for the CBC. Check out the article.

Here, let's take a look at what this 'Blue Arrow' might look like, using the current seat projections. Note that this is about where the parties are now, not necessarily where they will be in October.

At the moment, the projection awards 16 seats to the Conservatives in Quebec, or a likely range of between 13 and 18 seats. The maximum range extends to between nine and 22 seats. Where are they?

There are nine seats that are currently considered to be very likely Conservative wins. At neither the likely nor maximum ranges does another party overlap with the Tories in these nine ridings.

Of course, five of these are the seats the Conservatives currently hold: Beauce (Maxime Bernier), Bellechasse - Les Etchemins - Lévis (Steven Blaney), Lac-Saint-Jean (Denis Lebel), Lévis - Lotbinière (Jacques Gourde), and Mégantic - L'Érable (Christian Paradis).

Three other seats were won by the New Democrats in 2011, but had been held by the Conservatives prior to that vote. These are Jonquière (now occupied by NDP-turned-Bloc Claude Patry, who will not be running again in 2015), Louis-Saint-Laurent (where NDP MP Alexandrine Latendresse will not be running for re-election), and Montmagny - L'Islet - Kamouraska - Rivière-du-Loup (where Bernard Généreux is seeking to re-take the seat).

The last on the list has no recent Conservative history. It is Richmond - Arthabaska, which had been held by André Bellavance of the Bloc from 2004. But the Conservatives did finish a strong third in 2011 with 25%, and the riding was formerly held by André Bachand of the Progressive Conservatives. With Bellavance not running again, Richmond - Arthabaska is an open seat. It also next door to Paradis's riding of Mégantic - L'Érable.

Here we can see the arrow the Conservatives are taking about. It starts in the Lac-Saint-Jean region and stretches down to Quebec City and over the St. Lawrence into Bernier's riding. From there, it stretches to the west towards Richmond - Arthabaska, and to the east to Montmagny.

There are four likely Conservative seats, as they only overlap with another party at the maximum ranges. These are all ridings currently held by the New Democrats.

Two of them are again in the Quebec City region: Charlesbourg - Haute-Saint-Charles, formerly held by Conservative MP Daniel Petit, and Portneuf - Jacques Cartier, formerly the riding of independent (but Conservative aligned) MP André Arthur.

The riding of Pontiac in the Outaouais (far from Blue Arrow territory) is also a likely Conservative pick-up. This was Lawrence Cannon's seat prior to 2011.

Finally, there is Chicoutimi - Le Fjord. This riding has not voted Conservative of any stripe since 1997, but here again the party was a strong third in 2011 with 26% of the vote.

Here, we're starting to see why the Conservative gain in the province could be a lot of trouble for the New Democrats. All of the Conservatives' losses in Quebec came at the hands of the NDP in 2011, and if trends continue positively for the Tories their gains will come at the expense of the NDP in 2015. At the same time, a Conservative increase is a problem for the Liberals, as it reduces their chances of winning new seats from the NDP as well. In this batch, that means Pontiac.

The next batch of ridings are ones that are currently projected to go Conservative, but where at least one party is overlapping with them at the likely ranges. These are seats that are leaning Conservative, but could easily go another way.

All three of these are in or around Quebec City, ground zero for any Conservative breakthrough in the province.

Two of these ridings are in Quebec City itself and were formerly held by the Conservatives: Beauport - Limoilou (Sylvie Boucher) and Louis-Hébert (Luc Harvey). In both ridings the Conservatives will be vying with the NDP for the seat, while the Liberals are also in play in Louis-Hébert.

Beauport - Côte-de-Beaupré - Île d'Orléans - Charlevoix, along with being ungodly long as a riding name, is a large riding stretching from just east of Quebec City to beyond the Saguenay River. It has not voted Conservative recently, but with the re-distribution the riding has become slightly more Conservative (the party took 23% of ballots cast in the new riding in 2011). Boucher will try her luck here, rather than in her old riding. Along with the NDP, the Bloc is in play here.

There are two ridings in which the Conservatives are not projected to win, but where their likely ranges overlap with the favoured party. Both of these are not in that Blue Arrow territory, suggesting that we're now heading well off the map.

The first is Abitibi - Baie-James - Nunavik - Eeyou, currently held by the NDP's Roméo Saganash. This riding, which spans all of northern Quebec, last voted for the Tories in 1988. But the party finished second here in 2011, with 23% of the vote. That was 22 points behind the NDP, but with the party dropping in the polls it puts the riding potentially in play for the Conservatives. Intuitively unlikely, perhaps.

The other riding is a complete toss-up: Saint-Maurice - Champlain in the Mauricie, where Lise St-Denis (the NDP-turned-Liberal) will not run again. The Conservatives finished third here with 17%, behind the NDP (41%) and Bloc (29%). But because of the shift in voting intentions since then, the riding could go any which way.

Saint-Maurice - Champlain is a good example of how confused the political landscape could become in Quebec. The current projection gives it to the NDP with 25%, with the Bloc, Liberals, and Conservatives all at 23%. This is what happens when you have no party with over 30% support province wide, and demonstrates nicely how the first-past-the-post system can get very strange when pushed to its extremes. I don't know if Saint-Maurice - Champlain will actually divide up so cleanly between the four parties, but I am certain that unless things change we will see a number of MPs elected in Quebec with less than 30% of the vote.

Finally, we get to the marginal Conservative seats, all but one of them well outside the Blue Arrow. These are ridings in which the Conservatives overlap with the projected winner at the extrme ranges.

Two of them are in western Quebec: Argenteuil - La-Petite-Nation, which occupies much of the border between Ontario and Quebec east of Gatineau. The riding has no particular Conservative history, but the party did finish second there in 2011 with 23%. The Tories will have to fight off the Liberals and NDP to win it.

The other riding in the west is Vaudreuil - Soulanges, which would be an interesting pick-up for the Conservatives. You may recall that this is the riding Michael Fortier tried to win a few elections back. In 2011, the party took 18% of the vote. They would have to make up a lot of ground, but it could be one of their better chances at a Greater Montreal area riding. The Liberals and NDP are the parties more likely in play here, though.

The last part of the Quebec City puzzle is the riding of Québec, which forms the downtown core of the city. It resisted the Conservative blue wave in the provincial capital in 2006 and 2008, before being wrestled away from the Bloc by the NDP in 2011. The Conservatives took 18% of the vote at the time.

Finally, there is the eastern Quebec riding of Gaspésie - Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The party took 19% of the vote here in 2011, but it was one of the marginal NDP pick-ups. Philip Toone won it with just 34% of the vote on the original boundaries. On the new ones, he would finish second with just 29%.

This is well outside of Quebec's conservative heartland, but the federal Tories did take 32% of the vote here in 2006. A more likely winner, though, is the Liberal Party, which has more of a history in the Gaspésie (particularly at the provincial level) or the Bloc, which benefited greatly from the redrawing of the boundaries. But if Conservative fortunes continue to improve, this riding and the ones above would start to move over into the party's column.

A Conservative breakthrough in Quebec turns everything on its head. If the party can capture 10 more seats in Quebec, losses in Atlantic Canada are suddenly much more palatable. And Quebec is the province where the Liberals desperately need to win seats to counter the Conservative advantage in the West. It is also the province the NDP needs to win to have a chance at holding on to its Official Opposition role, let alone to form government.

But as you can see above, 16 of the 17 seats the Conservatives could potentially gain on current support levels come from the NDP. They stand to lose the most by the Conservative increase - at least in terms of the current map. The Liberals lose a lot of opportunity, as they are in play in six of those 17 potential gains. They would be in play in a lot more of them if the Conservatives hadn't gained at their expense.

And the fact that the Conservatives are now first in the national polling averages owes a lot to Quebec. The party has gained about eight points in the province since early November, equally at the expense of the Liberals and NDP. Without those gains, then, the Conservatives would instead be at around 32% nationwide, with the Liberals holding a two-point lead (and the NDP at 21%). Of all the scenarios that might have been envisioned to cause the Liberals to lose the national lead in the polls, I don't think many of us had wagered on a Conservative breakthrough in Quebec. The province continues to surprise us.

Monday, February 9, 2015

January 2015 federal polling averages

Polling completed in January, which included five national polls surveying over 10,000 Canadians, showed the Liberals leading in national voting intentions for the 22nd consecutive month. But with that lead at its narrowest, and polling at the tail end of the month turning sour, could this month have been the last in Justin Trudeau's winning streak?

The Liberals led in January with an average of 33.5% support, a drop of 1.4 points since December and their lowest level of support since June 2014. The month also represented the sixth consecutive one of decrease or relative stagnation for the party, which was polling at 39% as recently as July.

(For the uninitiated, these monthly averages are different from the current projection at the top of the page, as all polls taken within a single month are treated equally, rather than decayed depending on how old they are. Polling track record is also not taken into account, only sample size.)

The Conservatives averaged 33.1% in January, an increase of 0.7 points and their best result in two years. It is also the closest they have come to the Liberals since Trudeau became leader.

The New Democrats were also up 0.7 points, to 21%. The Greens were down 0.2 points to 6% and the Bloc Québécois was up 0.4 points to 4.7%. An average of 1.7% of respondents said they would vote for another party or independent candidate.

The polls were generally in agreement in January. With the exception of the first poll of the year by Forum Research that put the Liberals at 37%, all polls pegged that party between 31% and 34%. The Conservatives registered between 31% and 35%, while the NDP was placed between 19% and 24%.

The Liberals narrowly held on to the lead in British Columbia, dropping 3.6 points to 31%. That put them 0.4 points ahead of the Conservatives, who were up 1.9 points. The NDP was up 1.1 points to 24.7%, while the Greens were up 0.2 points to 11.3%.

In Alberta, the Conservatives gained 0.2 points to lead with 54.5%. The Liberals increased by 2.4 points to 25.6%, while the NDP was down 1.5 points to 12.9%. The Greens, at 5%, picked up 0.2 points.

The Conservatives slipped two points to 40.7% in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, while the Liberals fell 4.7 points to 29.1%. That was their worst performance since May 2014. The New Democrats were up big, surging nine points to 25.4%. Could this be a reset for the party? It was polling at 24% to 26% between July and October 2014, before tumbling in November and December.

In Ontario, the Liberals were up 0.1 points to 38%, where they have roughly been for the last three months (and 12 of the last 16). The Conservatives were down one point to 36.4%, but their 36% to 37% score of the last three months has been their best since before Trudeau's leadership victory. The NDP was up 1.9 points to 17.9%, while the Greens were down 0.4 points to 6.1%.

There was a lot of movement in Quebec last month. The Liberals put up their lowest numbers since March 2013 (pre-Trudeau), falling 4.3 points to 28%. The NDP had its lowest score since December 2013, falling for the third consecutive month to 27.1% (down 1.9). The Conservatives made a big gain of five points, hitting 20.6%. That is their best since August 2011, and the first time since then that Stephen Harper's party has placed ahead of the Bloc Québécois. Nevertheless, it wasn't a bad month for the Bloc, as the party was up 0.6 points to 18.5%, its best since May 2014 and its third consecutive month of gains. The Greens, meanwhile, were up 0.1 points to 4.1%.

In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals were down 4.6 points to 49.4%, while the Conservatives were up four points to 26.2% (their best since August 2013). The NDP was up 1.6 points to 18.4%, while the Greens were down 1.1 points to 3.9%.

In terms of seats, the Conservatives would win 137 on these support levels, a drop of two seats since December. The Liberals dropped six seats to 124, while Thomas Mulcair's NDP was up seven seats to 72. The Bloc and Greens would win three and two seats, respectively.

Regionally, the Conservatives were up seven seats in Quebec and two in Atlantic Canada, but dropped three in the Prairies and eight in Ontario.

The Liberals were up three seats in Ontario, but down one in British Columbia, two in the Prairies, three in Quebec, two in Atlantic Canada, and one in the North.

The NDP was down five seats in Quebec, but up one in British Columbia, five in the Prairies, five in Ontario, and one in the North.

We could be in the midst of some significant political shifts. The Liberals could lose the lead in national polls in February for the first time in almost two years, largely driven by an unexpected Conservative surge in Quebec. And that surge could also have implications for the NDP, who have the most to lose to the Tories in the province. Such an unusual turn of events (despite the narrowing of the gap nationally, the Liberals have actually improved their position in battleground Ontario) could change the dynamics of the electoral math. It will be interesting to see what, if any, effect this will have on the party's strategies.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Breaking down the Sudbury results

The provincial by-election in Sudbury culminated in a somewhat anti-climactic fashion, with Glenn Thibeault (the NDP MP turned Ontario Liberal) prevailing by a little more than six points over the NDP's Suzanne Shawbonquit. The wildcard in the race, Andrew Olivier (the Ontario Liberal turned independent), took less of the vote than expected. But was he really a spoiler?

Let's first take a look at the shift in vote share since the 2014 provincial election.

Thibeault captured 41.2% of the vote, increasing his party's share by 1.9 points. Shawbonquit finished with 34.9%, a drop of 7.3 points over the NDP's victorious performance in 2014.

Olivier took 12.3%, not a bad performance by an independent candidate, but well below expectations.

The Progressive Conservatives' Paula Peroni saw her vote share (she ran last time as well) fall 6.3 points to 7.5%, while the Greens' David Robinson was down 0.4 points to 3.2%.

On the face of it, it would seem that Olivier drew votes from the NDP and the PCs, suggesting he could have been a spoiler for the NDP. But the New Democrats would have had to hold virtually all of their vote to beat Thibeault, a tough assignment considering that many Sudburians used to voting for Thibeault the New Democrat might have been willing to vote for Thibeault the Liberal.

In terms of actual votes, no party made any gains. The total number of voters dropped by some 8,000, as turnout fell to around 34%.

Of the three major parties, Thibeault saw the smallest drop, of 2,670 votes. Peroni fell 2,730 votes while Shawbonquit saw the largest slide, from 14,274 votes to 8,985 (a drop of 5,289).

Overall, turnout had dropped to about 76% of what it was in 2014. That means Thibeault outperformed that baseline, retaining 80% of the votes that the Liberals took in 2014.

Robinson retained 68% of 2014 Green voters, while Peroni retained just 41%. The problem for the NDP was that Shawbonquit retained 63% of her voters, when she needed at least 74%. In other words, the NDP just needed to tread water in order to hold off Thibeault, but they disproportionately lost voters, and so the by-election.

Was Olivier the cause? Quite possibly. If the number of votes cast had dropped uniformly across the board due to falling turnout, Shawbonquit would have won with about 10,900 votes and a lead of 700 or so over Thibeault. Instead, she under-performed that mark by about 1,860 votes. Peroni also under-performed, by about 1,610 votes. In total, these two parties took about 3,470 fewer votes than they should have, all else being equal. Perhaps not coincidentally, Olivier captured 3,177.

Just looking at the math, it doesn't seem like many Liberals went over to Olivier's camp. Undoubtedly some did, but they were more than made up for by New Democrats and PCs who voted for Thibeault. It seems more likely that Olivier drew support from the NDP, reducing their chances of victory. Or, at the very least, he did not draw enough Liberals to make up for the number of New Democrats who followed Thibeault across the metaphorical aisle.

Mixed results for the by-election polls

Polling in by-elections is risky business. It becomes even riskier when word that the OPP believes the Liberals did something under-handed to try to get Olivier out of the race drops on election day.

It is impossible to know the effect that news might have had on the outcome. Many voters may not have heard the news when they cast a ballot - certainly those who voted in the advanced polls, and potentially most of the voters who cast a ballot on election day itself (not everyone checks the news as frequently as you or I may). And maybe even the news wouldn't have had much of an effect, merely confirming what people were already thinking. In the end, the OPP appears to be looking at some individuals within the Liberal Party, not Glenn Thibeault. Voters may have compartmentalized the two - something they probably would not have been able to do if Thibeault wasn't already a known quantity.

So that is one thing to keep in mind when looking at how the polls performed. Another thing to keep in mind is the effect of the polls themselves. All of the polls over-estimated Olivier's support. Might voters who were aware of the polls have decided to cast a ballot for one of the two front runners, rather than the all-but-guaranteed third place finisher? Lastly, even the most recent polls were out of the field on Monday, three days before election day in a topsy-turvy campaign. So, some mitigating factors.

Nevertheless, none of the three final polls published in the last stages of the campaign did particularly well. But two of the three did correctly identify the winner.

Mainstreet Technologies had the smallest amount of error, totaling 14.1 points for the five major candidates (or 2.8 per party). Mainstreet had the gap at five points, close to the 6.3-point gap that actually occurred. But the results for Thibeault, Olivier, and Peroni were all outside the margin of error for the sample of decided voters (and taking into account the estimated support of the each candidate). However, the story Mainstreet's poll told was closest to the truth.

Forum Research's poll had only a little more absolute error, but the story it told was false. Two of Forum's three polls throughout the campaign had Shawbonquit ahead of Thibeault, including the last one.

Total error for Forum was 17.3 points, or 3.5 points per party. Again, though, Thibeault's result was outside the margin of error, as was Peroni's and Robinson's. Forum was the only pollster to get Olivier's support within the margin of error.

Oraclepoll Research had the largest degree of total error at 20.1 points (or four points per party). But it has to be rated ahead of Forum for not having pushed the narrative of a very, very close race that the NDP had better than even odds to win. Oraclepoll always had Thibeault ahead, and he ended up winning.

Oraclepoll was the only firm to get Thibeault's score within the margin of error, as well as Peroni's. But the results for Shawbonquit were well off the mark, as were Olivier's. Note, however, that Oraclepoll was out of the field the earliest of the three. It finished polling on Saturday.

So, not exactly a terrific performance by any pollster. At the same time, however, the polls were far better than what we have seen in some other by-elections. Mainstreet and Oraclepoll both said Thibeault would win, and he did. Forum said the race would be close, and it wasn't a landslide. I think, considering the drama of the campaign and the amount of time between the final polls and the results, we can give the polls a passing grade.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Conservatives and Liberals effectively tied

Two new polls, both showing the Conservatives and Liberals only one point apart (and to the advantage of the Tories), have nudged the vote projection into a virtual tie. That means the Conservative seat lead, which stood at 10 on Jan. 13, has now increased to 17. Nevertheless, the Conservatives are no closer to majority territory, and in fact still overlap a great deal with the Liberals.

The Liberals are still narrowly ahead in the aggregate, with 33.4% support to 33.2% for the Conservatives. That is a small drop of 0.3 points for the Liberals since the last update, and a gain of 0.8 for the Conservatives. The New Democrats are up 0.7 points to 21.3%.

In terms of seats, the Conservatives still lead with 139 (up three), or a range of between 122 and 155. Interestingly, the high range for the Tories has not moved at all. Instead, only the lower range has increased, from 117. It means the odds that the Conservatives would win fewer seats than the Liberals on current polling levels have lessened, but the Tories are no closer to the magic number of 170.

The Liberals have dropped four seats and their high range has fallen from 144 to 138. Their low range of 107 seats, however, is steady.

The NDP is up two seats to 74, but its low and high ranges have narrowed from 54 to 87 seats on Jan. 13 to 60 to 84 seats now.

The Bloc's high range has slipped from nine to four seats.

Let's take a look at the two new polls added to the model.

The poll by Forum, published in the Toronto Star on the weekend, put the Conservatives up two points (since Forum's last poll of Jan. 5-6) to 35% and the Liberals down three points to 34%.

The NDP was unchanged at 20%, while the Greens and Bloc were each up one point to 6% and 5%, respectively.

None of these shifts were outside the margin of error.

Abacus showed similar stability, with the Conservatives and Liberals each down one point to 33% and 32%, respectively, since Abacus's last poll of Dec. 18-20. The NDP was up two points to 24%, while the Greens were down one to 5% and the Bloc was unchanged at 4%.

All of these shifts were also within the margin of error (of a probabilistic sample of similar size), but it is clear from both Forum's and Abacus's trend lines that the Liberals are drooping to the benefit of the Conservatives (if not in absolute terms, at least in relative terms).

This is also the first time since Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader that two consecutive polls by two different pollsters have shown a Conservative edge.

Forum does have a regional oddity in its numbers, though. In Quebec, Forum gave the Conservatives 26% support, putting them in second place ahead of the NDP (25%) and behind the Liberals (27%). That is absurdly high for the Conservatives (you need to go back to before the 2008 election to find the Conservatives routinely polling at that level), but Forum has often had higher numbers than usual for the Conservatives in Quebec. And broadly speaking, the Tories have been experiencing an uptick in the province, so perhaps this is a product of that.

Both Forum and Abacus showed a close race in Ontario, the Conservatives ahead in B.C., Alberta, and the Prairies, and the Liberals in front in Atlantic Canada. Quebec was the bone of contention.

The projection model is showing some interesting regional fluctuations as well. In British Columbia, the Liberals have now fallen to second place, though they are unchanged at 31%. The Conservatives are up 3.1 points to 31% as well, and are narrowly ahead of the Liberals. Their seat range has improved from 13-18 to 15-22. The NDP has dropped by 2.2 points to 24%, and their range from 10-13 to 6-11.

The Liberals are sliding in the Prairies. They are now at 29%, and have been consistently dropping since mid-December, when they were at 34%. The NDP has benefited, improving from 17% in mid-December to 23% now.

Vote projection in Quebec
In Quebec, the Liberals dropped 1.2 points (and from 20-30 seats to 19-26 seats) to 28%, putting them narrowly behind the NDP, which was up 1.6 points to 28% (and from 29-47 seats to 34-46). The Liberals have been sliding here as well, having had 34% support in mid-October.

But it is the Conservatives who have taken advantage, up from 13% in early November to 20% now. They have pushed the Bloc into fourth place, and are now estimated to be in play in 11-16 seats.

A couple regions to keep an eye on, then. Overall, things remain quite close. The Conservatives are inching up in the national tally, but have actually dropped a little in Ontario. That is what is keeping them from pulling ahead more decisively in the seat projection.