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.


  1. It would give me, in terms of seats:

    40 NDP
    29 LPC
    7 CPC
    2 BQ

    The CPC is not gaining as much ground as the latest polls have indicated but are first in the Québec City region, upholding my theory that Québec City is overpolled in the others ans skewing the results. The LPC and the NDP are in a tight race for first and the BQ is still very low and not competitive.

    1. I would imagine pollsters are aware of whether or not they are over-sampling one particular region of the province.

    2. What I mean is, let's say they have 500 respondants, but 250 of them come from Québec City. Of course, they'll balance everything later on, but the rest of the regions will be undersampled and not very representative. And then, depending where you take the rest of your sample for the province, you may get a very skewed picture (say, polling 20 people from Mégantic and representing that sample as Estrie or Lac St-Jean and calling it Northern Québec... obviously over-exaggerated example).

    3. That's possible, but the pollsters are probably ensuring they are calling the right number of people in each area code from the start. I don't think they just randomly dial all area codes in a given province and then weight things, though I suppose that might happen.

    4. Actually, I'm emailing with EKOS about this particular question. I'll let you know what they say.

    5. Nice, I'm interested in their answer. The problem with area codes in Québec is that they are very imprecise to locate someone as they cover huge regions that sometimes don't have much in common (like the 418 having Québec City, Gaspésie and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean to name a few or the 418 having Estrie, Outaouais and Abitibi-Témiscamingue to name a few again). I wonder how that is taken into account when making regional samples, do they ask for the first three digits of the postal codes for example?

    6. So, it turns out the process is simpler than I imagined. The sample is gathered nationally, and then weighted as necessary for each individual province/region. No weighting is done for area codes.

      The sample is random, so simply as a result of the law of large numbers the sample is usually distributed as it should be. There could be flukes now and then, but it wouldn't be plausible for EKOS to have the same "20th time out of 20" fluke occurring in consecutive polls in Quebec.

    7. For huge area codes like the 819 covering vastly different regions, pollsters (if they're savvy enough) can accurately arrow it down by the assigned exchanges. For example the 682 exchange within 819 is one of the many exchanges for Aylmer, 964 is for Kuujjuaq, etc.).

  2. How does a panel work? What is the universe that makes up the panel and how can it be set to reflect the actual universe of Canadian voters.

    How does CROP and the surveys prevent hijacking from political activists?

    The Comment boards at CBC and the G&M would have you believe that Canada is a much more far left country than what we vote.

    It is possible that there are more panel joining left wing activists than Right wing activists. The Left wants more of other peoples money which is by nature a more aggressive attitude.

    1. Panels have several hundreds of thousands of respondents, so a few activists are unlikely to be able to 'hijack' them. And online pollsters know who is taking their polls - they would not allow the same people to be part of their sample over and over and over again. They also know a lot about their demographics, so you wouldn't have the panel skewed towards one demographic over another. They ensure that the people answering their polls are representative of the population.

    2. Thanks for the info

      Do the panels publish the number of people in the panels?

      What % of panelists invited to participate in the survey declining to participate.

      If the panels represent the population as a whole then the decline rate should be really closely correlated with voter turnout.

    3. The number of panelists is usually available. Léger's, for instance, has 400,000 nationwide and 185,000 in Quebec.

      The number who decline to participate is not reported, but I disagree that it should be correlated with turnout. Response rates for IVR polls are 2%, for telephone polls less than 10%. Obviously that doesn't match turnout rates (and they never have - in the heyday of telephone polling, the response rate was still below 50%).

    4. BCVoR
      Just a clarification: if comment boards at the CBC and the G&M seem to be majority left wing bias, that actually DOES reflect how Canadians typically vote, since even the 2011 election saw nominally left wing parties attract almost 50% more votes than the Conservatives.

  3. Éric, I am wondering if you can provide the seat projection with this poll? Also, I noticed that 17% of respondents are undecided in this poll - is this number high compared to other polling firms? Can this potentially have an effect on the voting intentions?

    1. The undecided number is not unusual. As for a seat projection, with the province wide results the model gets:

      NDP 42 (36-48)
      LPC 26 (21-30)
      CPC 9 (8-11)
      BQ 1 (1-2)

  4. Have there been any polls that included FeD yet?

    1. That seems like a glaring oversight.

    2. Yes, it is a party that is simply being ignored. I wonder if Quebecers are doing the same. Hey, a poll on that would be helpful!

    3. I would say it is. I'm following politics and I didn't even know they existed until you mentionned them a few blogs ago. I also don't know anyone who heard of them (of course, my sample is small, but still, not a one).

  5. That's a big gain from 26 for the LPC. I suspect this seat projection is based only on the CROP poll and not an updated aggregate.

    1. What are you referring to?

      The projection has not yet been updated with the CROP poll. I'm waiting for at least two national polls.

    2. Sorry, should have been reply to your comment.

      NDP 42 (36-48)
      LPC 26 (21-30)
      CPC 9 (8-11)
      BQ 1 (1-2)

      Substantially different numbers from the QC seat projection in your last National aggregate.

  6. Before people get overly excited about the Conservatives making "big gains" in Quebec City, let's keep a couple of things in mind. The Quebec City CMA only has a grand total of 8 seats - two of which are currently held by the CPC on the south shore of the St. Laurence. If the whole Quebec City region went 38% CPC and 33% NDP as this poll suggests, you would probably see the two Tories re-elected, the Tories would likely gain the two most suburban seats Quebec City seats that they lost relatively narrowly last time - Louis St. Laurent and Charlesbourg, the NDP would likely retain the three more urbanized seats of Quebec, Louis-Hebert and Beauport-Limoilou and probably also Beauport-Charlevoix which contains a lot of rural areas on the north shore where the CPC and CAQ have never shown much when all is said and done this poll would mean the CPC gaining a grand total of TWO seats

    1. Put a time machine on your comment and move it back 5 years: Before people get overly excited about the NDP making "big gains" in Quebec they have at most elected 2 MPs and if they double their best performance of all time they might get 4

  7. Quebec is always a difficult province to predict, particularly this far out from an election. Look at how fast things changed in the last couple elections. The last federal election had unexpected NDP gains, and last year's provincial election resulted in an unexpected Liberal win over the PQ.

    However, we can see that no one party is really dominating Quebec at this point. The NDP is probably in the strongest position overall because of the Francophone vote and having incumbency in many seats, but they are down about 10-12 points from what they got under Layton in 2011. The Liberals are way up from where they were under Ignatieff, but still have work to do, and the Conservatives have recovered a bit from their low results but also have a lot of work to do, particularly in Montreal.

    Therefore, we are looking at NDP losses, Liberal gains, and possible Conservative gains. But what they final numbers are will be a mystery until October!

  8. Does the CROP poll go into the 308 seat projections for Quebec? Are the regional breakdowns in Quebec used to help predict the seat distribution?

    1. Yes, the CROP will be added to the projection. No, the regional breakdowns are not going to be used.

  9. EKOS with an interesting poll to say the least.

    4 way tie in Quebec??

    CPC leading in the 18-35 age group.

    Liberal leading in the 36-34 age group.

    Graves putting a caveat on the Liberal lead in BC: " In our experience, British Columbian voters’ enthusiasm for the Liberals is always higher in the polls than it is at the ballot booth."

    And then he makes his sample suspect. He has found the debbie downers in Canada that despite statistical evidence of increase personal wealth across all demographics many more people in sample feel they have fallen behind over the last year, 5 and 10 years.

    Perhaps the people that will actually spend the time on doing the survey are a disaffected group that are not representative of the voting population as a whole.

    Hard to believe in a profile of a 18-35 year old that is significantly doing worse this last year who will be voting for the Harper over Trudeau.

    1. BCVoR
      Can you point us to the "statistical evidence of increase personal wealth across all demographics"? Because, with all due respect, that's simply not anything I've encountered. Further, the evidence has been the weakest growth in our history, loss of jobs since 2009, constant reports of the largest debt burdens in Cand history ($1.64 in debt for each dollar in income), some of the world's most over-priced housing... In short, while you may be experiencing a boon, the country as a whole is in measurably much worse shape than before. Perhaps the problem is not those responding to the survey, but that your not acquainted with their reality.

    2. We would need to see if this result is a trend or a blip. Here is a link to the poll, which is now fully visible. ( ).

      The 36 to 64 age range is not that strange to support the Liberals. These include the baby boom and the echo generation who have been given everything they want from government and just expected the debt to pay for it all. Maybe the younger generation (18-35), realize that we are in a Global economy and Canada is doing quite well in the last 8 years, relative to the developed world.

    3. Another interesting thing from the EKOS poll is that people born outside of Canada support the Liberals 48% to 28% for CPC. This does not tell how many are recent Canadians and how many have been here for 50 years and are remembering their romance with Trudeau senior.
      There is also a graph showing that this is a trend and not a blip, although since their graph does not include data points, it is difficult to tell.
      Those whose parents were born outside of Canada, and multi-generation Canadians both seem to support the CPC (about 35% to 30%).

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. @Thinganabob Source Stats Canada

      median total income
      2008 2009 2010 2011 2012

      68,860 68,410 69,860 72,240 74,540

      and that just covers the median.

      You would be very hard pressed to find any individual whose wage and net worth have not substantially increased in the last 10 years. For all people in public sector unions/teacher/ nurses/ police.... there will not be anyone making less than they were 10 year ago. A 10 year teacher/nurse/police/public servant makes a lot more than a 1st year equivalent and not as much as a 20 year veteran, It is very common knowledge that the last 5 years of most people's careers are significantly higher than their first 20 or so. Pension plans are designed to reflect this.

      There is no chance that a person who owns real estate in Canada (69% of all Canadians) over the last 10 years has not seen the equity in their property increase.

      The boomer cohort is filled with with us middle classers (500,000) who would not answer the EKOS survey as we are too busy golfing in our snowbird destinations for 3-6 months of the year trying to reduce the next generations inheritance.

      We do have a spending problem permeating society where misapplied Keynesian economics says that we have to borrow to stimulate during bad times..... but all times are bad time.

    6. You are aware that inflation erodes the dollar value of everything people earn year after year, right?

      Also, nice job cherry-picking only the years since the deepest point of the latest recession. Of course there will have been income growth since then.

      What about the ongoing shift to part-time/contract precarious jobs in Canada? What about the continued downward pressure on the benefits that used to come with those jobs? Straight base income statistics don't take that into account.

      As for real estate, there is no way it can skyrocket in perpetuity. A correction will come, and with the stagnation and downward pressure on wages and benefits, when it hits it will do so that much harder.

    7. BCVoR
      I was attempting to explain why you cannot understand some of the polling results. My point is that you make rationalizations based on a subset of the data which make you feel better about questioning the beliefs of Canadians who could care less about cherry-picked statistics and timelines. These Canadians care about their actual ability to pay bills. "Median income" is neither the only measure, nor a particularly good one.
      Calling civil servants better off because they now have 10 years more seniority is irrelevant, and beyond ridiculous. Especially given how the government supposedly benefitting from warm and fuzzies due to the increased well-being of these folks has actually axed more than 25,000 of them in the last 2 years. So... a few more dollars in your pocket due to seniority increasing, but far more threatened by the potential of immediate job loss and interference in the contract process... the math is pretty easy.
      Calling property owners better off is to ignore the nature of the current property market, which has been identified by the OECD as amongst the most overinflated in the world, due in large measure to foreign and super wealthy ownership at the very top end. A painful correction may or may not be in the cards, but it could be around the corner thanks to cratering oil prices. At that point, the amount of debt leveraged by equity will become a serious problem, as the equity will disappear.
      Your comments about boomers are simply mindless generalizations, bias and smear.
      A Keynesian problem? No sir, not by a long shot. For their to be Keynesianism at work, we would need to have an activist government engaged in stimulus. We had stimulus between four and six years ago, much of it spent in unproductive vote-buying rather than developing infrastructure. We have an austerity problem, which, like the stimulus before it, is focused on vote buying rather than governance.
      My point is this: you may be unable to understand the underlying reality, because you do not seem to accept that it is reality.

    8. I really appreciate that you are attempting to influence this discussion with facts.

      1) The civil servants personally do not have any job worries .. they will get either great severance, great early retirement or possible go on extended stress leave,

      2) The universe of government paid workers far exceeds the civil servants.... Nurses, teachers, Hospital administrators, police, Fireman, Transit workers, Government Liquor store employees and on and on

      There is a huge portion of the working population that has tremendous job security and have been getting increases to their wage scale as well as seniority increases every year.

      3)The top end buyer have little to no impact on the median real estate price. I bought my current house in 2004 for around 180K, it is now valued at $450K. My daughter bought her house in 2004 for just over 100K and it is now worth more than 200K. These were bought before 2009 and the world wide generational depression,

      I bought a house in Calgary in 1999 for 240K. It would be worth around $800 k now.... so if the Oil price craters the Calgary market it might in a massive melt down go down to 400K. I repeat that the 69% of Canadians that own their homes are much better off today than 5 - 10 years ago.

      4)In discussing Keynesian economics: stimulus is supposed to happen in tough economic times and debts paid down and reserves built up in economic up cycles. Government programs are added for stimulus and then go on forever.

      When , in your opinion were the good years.... over the last 50 years since Trudeau the elder went the big government route?

      There has been no government , included Harper, that has built up a reserve or paid of the debt.

      It seems that individuals have followed government philosophy in spending as much as they can earn and borrow.

      5) "Your comments about boomers are simply mindless generalizations, bias and smear." You lost it with that statement. Of course my personal experience introduces biases to my view of life as does your own limited world view. I happen to think my view and experiences are shared by more Canadians than yours,

      There are somewhere around 1 million Canadian snowbirds. They are almost all boomers. There are around 6 million Canadians aged 55-70....

      In Florida alone there are 500,000 Canadians mainly from Quebec that own property in Florida.

      There are only 8 million people in Quebec.

      Eric and the other Quebec commentators on this site will know dozens of Quebecers that own and/or vacation in Florida. ... if they are not part of the boomer/snowbird demographics themselves.

    9. @Walter, you said "The 36 to 64 age range is not that strange to support the Liberals. These include the baby boom and the echo generation who have been given everything they want from government and just expected the debt to pay for it all. Maybe the younger generation (18-35), realize that we are in a Global economy and Canada is doing quite well in the last 8 years, relative to the developed world."

      Maybe the 36-64 age category remembers how the Liberals paid down the national debt by over $100 billion and left the country with a $13 billion surplus that the Conservatives "successfully" managed to eliminate well before the "crash" in 2008. In the last 8 years, Canada's been the "least bad" amongst the G8, not amongst developed nations overall, and racked up over $170 billion in debt (and possibly still counting). Even though Canada's been the least sucky, within the G8, compared to other developed nations (e.g. Sweden, Norway, etc.) we're total laggards. It's easy to look 'good' when your peer group contains the likes of Italy and Japan.

      Also, you said "have been given everything they want from government". Since I'm within the 36-64 age echelon, oh please do tell what "everything" refers to. Is it CPP? OAS (which I'll be 67 or older before I get it compared to your 65)? Is it the paved highways that rapidly expanded over the past 50 years? Is it actually getting a government department like Service Canada to answer the phone at their call centre like I've tried about 50 times to no avail over the past week to the the lack of call centre staff from the past 8 ''glorious'' years Canada's gone through? I'm really curious to know.

    10. @BCVoR, those are household numbers, not individual earnings. For individuals the medians are ’08: $28,920, ’09 $28,840, ’10 $29,250, ’11 $30,180, and ’12 $31,320. Year over year this represents -0.3%, 1.4%, 3.1%, and 3.8% for a total of 8.3%. However, over the same period the CPI inflation index was: 1.3%, 1.8%, 2.9%, and 1.5% for a total of 7.7%. That equates to a yearly increase of 0.15% in real terms. While better than nothing, it’s not solidly “an increase in personal wealth”, especially when compared to the rest of the decade 2000-2004 0.81% real increase per year, 2004-2008 2.38% real increase per year.

      As for paying down the debt, from '95 to '08 combined federal and provincial direct debt decreased from 99.6% of GDP to 52.5%. Even when GDP growth is taken into consideration (50.2% over the period), it's still a drop of 26.3%.

  10. I wonder if we look at the polls about Bill C-51 vs the voting intent if maybe we get a better idea of just where the CPC really is ??

  11. Another thought. If Harper has to withdraw, say a heart attack, who takes over and runs the party ?? I don't see any person ??

  12. Abacus poll released today that shows a problem with their sampling out of their panel.

    On Eve Adams the "aware" people were asked if she 1) was unwanted by the Tories or 2) was uncomfortable with Harper's leadership.

    As she was basically fired by the Cons and had no riding she was allowed to run in this is similar to asking is water wet.

    Only 23% of Liberal supporters thought she was unwanted by the Cons.

    1. It could be that the sample is fine, and just the fact that people are indeed that ill-informed.

      After all, if only 56% of people had heard of her crossing, almost any result is possible.

  13. BCVoR
    You can't get there from here.

  14. @YOWzaa, you said "The 36 to 64 age range is not that strange to support the Liberals. These include the baby boom and the echo generation who have been given everything they want from government and just expected the debt to pay for it all."

    Do you expect anyone to believe any of this nonsense? The entirety of your post is a series of generalizations and stereotypes with little relation with reality.

    1. Da, It was Walter who actually made the statement you're objecting to. YOWzaa was merely quoting him (and also objecting, incidentally).


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