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.