Friday, May 29, 2015

The Federal Election of 2003 that never was

The following is a work of fiction. Going through some old polls, I wondered what a snap election call in the fall of 2003, before the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives merged, would have looked like. With Peter MacKay announcing he will not run for re-election this fall, now is a good time to wonder what might have been. Thanks to Professor Werner Antweiler of UBC for providing the election data that I used to estimate seat counts.


The election call took everyone by surprise, but then again it had been a whirlwind summer for the Liberal Party of Canada. John Manley dropped out of the leadership race to replace Jean Chrétien at the end of July, and Sheila Copps, seeing the writing on the wall, did the same shortly afterwards. With Paul Martin the only name left on the leadership ballot, the party moved up the convention to mid-August and Martin was officially named the party's leader then.

With a caucus revolt brewing, Chrétien no longer saw his planned retirement date of February 2004 as tenable. He stepped down, and Martin became Prime Minister on August 20, 2003.

Liberals knew they had to act quickly. The party was leading in the polls by a comfortable margin, but the right would not be divided for long. Word that Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay, leaders of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, respectively, were talking about a merger forced the Liberals into action.

Calling for a mandate of his own, Paul Martin visited Governor General Adrienne Clarkson on August 24, a Sunday, and asked for the dissolution of parliament. The election date was set for Monday, September 29, 2003.

MacKay and Harper were indeed talking about merging the two parties into one, but the talks were still in a very early stage. While Martin was speaking with Clarkson, MacKay and Harper were speaking on the telephone. They agreed there was no time to formally unite the two parties. Who would be the leader anyway?

What if the two parties agreed not to run against each other, and worked out the merger after the campaign was over? Harper favoured the party that placed ahead of the other in the 2000 election getting the consensus right-of-centre candidate in each riding. And of course he would - the Canadian Alliance captured more than twice the Tories' vote in 2000.

MacKay was not in agreement. The latest polls had the PCs ahead of the Canadian Alliance, particularly in Ontario where Harper's numbers were very weak. MacKay wanted Ontario. But Harper knew that if he gave it to him, the Tories could very well outnumber his party's caucus after the election. And Ontario was key to his electoral hopes for the future.

The two agreed that they would just have to fight one more election as two separate parties. They wished each other luck, and the campaign was on.

This would be both Harper's and MacKay's first campaign as party leaders, as well as Martin's. Jack Layton of the New Democrats was also going to take his first kick at the can. Things were going moderately well for the NDP. After capturing just 8.5% of the vote in 2000, Layton had boosted the party back into double-digits. The party was not yet ready for a breakthrough, but if he played his cards right Layton could give the NDP its best result since 1988.

The only veteran leader was Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois, entering his third campaign as leader. But the party was adrift. In April, the Parti Québécois had been booted out of power with its worst performance in 30 years and the latest polls put the Bloc around 30% in the province. Duceppe needed something to breathe new life into the sovereignty movement. He would eventually get it, but not soon enough.

The campaign

Paul Martin did not prove to be the best campaigner, but things were working in his favour. The internecine fighting the Liberals were known for was virtually non-existent, thanks to the party's strong polling numbers. In Ontario, where the provincial campaign had been delayed in order not to overlap with the federal one, Dalton McGuinty took the extra time to campaign with the federal Liberals, boosting both party's support levels. At the crowded leaders' debate, where the truce between Harper and MacKay seemed to collapse on live television, Martin stood above the fray as the four other leaders bickered.

Stephen Harper had hoped to use the campaign to portray himself and his party as a potential alternative by moving to the centre, but with the polls not moving along with him - and a disaster looming - Harper instead had to turn back to the right to shore up his base.

It was a decision that gave Peter MacKay an opportunity. With his own polling numbers going nowhere, MacKay tried to position his party as the only electable conservative option, visiting winnable ridings in Alberta and Ontario. His numbers did not move enough to turn the tide, and MacKay spent most of the last week of the campaign in Atlantic Canada, where his party was competitive with the Liberals.

In such a crowded playing field, it was difficult for Jack Layton to get his voice heard. But he was making some significant gains in British Columbia and Alberta, and was holding on to Alexa McDonough's support base in Atlantic Canada. However, Quebec and Ontario, his two native provinces by birth and residence, were not swinging over to the NDP.

Gilles Duceppe was also having trouble. A strong French-language debate in which three of the five contestants had less than passable French, dooming any hopes that MacKay had of a return to Jean Charest-levels of support in Quebec, boosted the Bloc at the expense of the other opposition parties. But the Liberals were still supreme. The new Charest government was in the midst of its honeymoon. Seeing where the winds were blowing, Charest even campaigned with Martin. What could Duceppe do? Bernard Landry had just been dealt a humiliating defeat, but the PQ's leader gamely went on the hustings along with Duceppe. The result, though, was to shift the Bloc's campaign focus ever more on the question of sovereignty.

The results

When the votes were counted, it was a massacre. The Liberals formed the largest government in Canadian history, even surpassing (in seat numbers) Brian Mulroney's triumph in 1984.

The Liberals captured 48% of the vote, their best performance in 50 years.

The Progressive Conservatives narrowly finished second with just 15% of the vote, followed by the Canadian Alliance at 12.5% and the New Democrats at 12%.

The Bloc Québécois finished with 35.5% of the vote in Quebec.

The Liberals won 212 seats, or 70% of the 301 seats on offer (the 2003 representation order, boosting the number of seats in the House to 308, was only to go into effect in 2004).

The Canadian Alliance formed the Official Opposition with 34 seats, while the Bloc Québécois captured 20 seats, the NDP took 19, and the Progressive Conservatives won 16.

It was a stellar victory for the Liberals, with 40 more seats than they had won in 2000. The Canadian Alliance saw its seat haul fall by 32 and the Bloc's by 18. The NDP did boost their total by six seats and the Tories' by four, but these were meager offerings compared to Martin's juggernaut.

The Liberals had won every region of the country except Alberta. In British Columbia, the Liberals took 37.5% and 21 seats against 25.5% and nine seats for the Canadian Alliance. The NDP captured 21% and four seats, while the Tories were shutout at just 9% of the vote.

Harper did win his home province of Alberta with 39.5% and 20 seats, but the Tories had prevented him from doing better. MacKay's urban swing through the province paid some dividends, as the PCs took 26% of the vote and two seats. The Liberals, at 18.5%, and the NDP, at 15%, also captured two seats apiece.

The Liberals won the Prairies with 36.5% of the vote, enough to give them 15 seats. The NDP finished second, the only region where they did, with 22% and six seats, while the Canadian Alliance had 18.5% and five seats (all in Saskatchewan) and the Tories had 18% and two seats, both of them in Manitoba.

In Ontario, the Liberals took 56.5% of the vote and 99 seats, leaving just two seats each for the NDP (13.5%) and the PCs (19%). The Canadian Alliance, at just 9.5% of the vote, was shutout.

It was a two horse race in Quebec, but the Liberals dominated. They captured 53.5% of the vote against 35.5% for the Bloc, enough to give the Liberals 54 seats to just 20 for the Bloc. The Tories had 6% of the vote, and managed one seat out of the landslide. The NDP took 2.5% of the vote and Harper just 1%.

Despite MacKay hailing from the region, the PCs finished second in Atlantic Canada with 32% of the vote and nine seats. The Liberals won 44.5% and 19 seats, while the NDP held four seats with 20% of the vote. The Canadian Alliance had just 2.5% of the vote here.

The aftermath

With such poor performances throughout the country, and finishing third in the vote count, Stephen Harper resigned as leader of the Canadian Alliance on the night of the election. He had seen his party's vote share cut in half, as well as its caucus. Leading such a rump party for four more years of Liberal domination was just not worth it. A promising career was cut short.

He was the only leader to step aside that night. Gilles Duceppe requested a leadership review in his election night speech, and won it in December. Jack Layton had just been elected the NDP's leader, and he had increased the party's representation. He would stay on.

The question was whether Peter MacKay would stay. He, too, had just been named PC leader. He had proven a capable campaigner. What's more, he seemed to like it. He had finished second in the popular vote and had MPs in every province except British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island. By comparison, the Canadian Alliance was represented only in Canada's three westernmost provinces. If MacKay could manage it, he might be able to reunite the two parties on his own terms. He pledged to stay on as well.

The election results had been predictable. Everyone in Ottawa had been expecting a Liberal landslide from the day that Martin's leadership of the party looked inevitable. But the federal election of 2003 was where the predictability would stop. The sponsorship scandal, Peter MacKay's fractious coalition government of 2007, the Quebec sovereignty referendum of 2008, and the country's first (short-lived) NDP government were still to come. The Liberal hegemony of the 21st century, predicted by everyone in 2003, would not last the decade.


I've always loved alternate histories, and going through old polling data can only excite the imagination (the numbers for the results are derived from polls done by SES Research, now known as Nanos Research, and Ipsos Reid between August and October 2003).

But this is an interesting counter-factual because it is entirely plausible. The Liberals were dominant in the polls in 2003, before the sponsorship scandal began to tear them apart in early 2004. Had Martin been able to become Prime Minister earlier, and call an election before Harper and MacKay had managed to merge their parties, the Liberals would have almost certainly won a majority government in 2003. That means the sponsorship scandal would have exploded in the midst of a majority government scheduled to rule until 2007 or 2008, rather than before the 2004 election that reduced the Liberals to a minority, and then to the opposition benches in 2006, and gave the Bloc renewed vigour.

What would have happened afterwards is anybody's guess. Would the right have still united? And if so, would it have been under the Canadian Alliance's terms, or the PCs'?

Without having had the ability to chastise the federal Liberals not once, but twice in Quebec, would the 2007 provincial election there have gone differently? It would have taken place not within the context of a Conservative minority government that had opened its arms to Quebec, but in the climate of a tired Liberal majority government ravaged by scandal. Quebecers might have been more concerned with the sovereignty question, or punishing the Liberals, than with identity issues that divided the anti-PLQ vote and boosted the ADQ into Official Opposition status.

The timing of today's post with Peter MacKay's retirement from political life (word is he'll announce it this afternoon) is a complete coincidence. I actually started on this yesterday. But the timing could not be more fortunate. What if an election had been held in 2003, forestalling the merger of his party with the Canadian Alliance on the latter's terms? How would we look back on his career today? It is an interesting question to ponder.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Meanwhile in British Columbia...

People are still reeling over the surprise victory of the New Democrats in this month's Alberta election. But what about the New Democrats next door in British Columbia?

It is interesting to note that, despite the focus on the Alberta NDP, nowhere else is a federal or provincial NDP polling better than in British Columbia, where the provincial New Democrats are ahead of Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals. But memories of 2013 still linger. We've seen this movie before.

The latest poll from B.C.-based Insights West for Business in Vancouver gives the New Democrats 43% support, against 37% for the B.C. Liberals.

The Greens come up in third with 10%, while the B.C. Conservatives registered 6% support.

Other parties garnered 4% support and 18% of the entire sample was undecided.

We last heard from Insights West on the provincial scene in B.C. in early December, and there has been little significant movement since then. But the trends are favourable to the NDP. Over Insights West's four B.C. polls since 2013, the NDP has consistently grown from one poll to the next from a low of 36%.

The Liberals, however, seem to be in a bit of stasis. Their scores over those four polls are the following: 40%, 38%, 36%, and 37%. Stability reigns and, after the 2013 experience, trailing by six points two years before the next election should be a piece of cake for Clark (until it isn't, of course).

The New Democrats led in every region of the province, with 43% in Metro Vancouver, 46% on Vancouver Island, and 41% in the rest of B.C.

The Liberals were second across the board, with their strongest result in Metro Vancouver at 39%. They had just 28% support on Vancouver Island, where the Greens polled at 18%.

Christy Clark's personal numbers are not looking very good. Her approval rating stood at just 30%, down four points since December. Her disapproval rating was up eight points to 62%, and even among 2013 B.C. Liberal voters her disapproval rating was 34%.

By comparison, only 7% of 2013 NDP voters disapproved of NDP leader John Horgan. His overall approval rating was up nine points to 43%, with his disapproval rating dropping eight points to 27%.

Perhaps most troubling for Clark, though, concerns how the opinions of British Columbians have shifted over the last six months. Only 4% said their opinions of Clark have improved, whereas 48% said they have worsened. And it isn't just opposition complainers - fully 33% of 2013 B.C. Liberal voters said their opinion of her had worsened, compared to just 8% who said it had improved.

Horgan's numbers were modest, with 15% of British Columbians saying their opinions had improved and just 8% saying they had worsened. The opposition leader is not registering very strongly, as 30% of respondents had no opinion on whether they approved or disapproved of him.

The Greens' interim leader, Adam Olsen, had an approval rating of 21% and a disapproval rating of 26%, with 53% unsure.

Dan Brooks, the Conservatives' leader, had an approval rating of just 12% and a disapproval rating of 36%. Among people with an opinion, Brooks had the worst approval rating of the four leaders.

But the next election is two years away, and these are not horrible numbers for a government that has been in power for 14 years. And because of British Columbia's warped political scene, there is little we can draw from these numbers to shed any light on the federal race.

If you think Alberta's provincial politics are hard to translate to the federal scene, British Columbia is even worse. Below I've lined up B.C.'s parties on a left-to-right spectrum, and compared it to how the federal parties, on their own left-to-right spectrum, are doing in B.C. in the latest projection.

As you can see, the math dictates a lot of overlap. Not so much with the Green Party, but the B.C. New Democrats gobble up much of the federal NDP vote but also almost half of the federal Liberal vote. The B.C. Liberals are made up primarily of federal Conservatives but also, by necessity, some federal Liberals as well.

Of course, there is not a perfect division along the spectrum and so voters may skip a party of two on it, but it does show how different B.C.'s provincial politics are from the federal level despite the similarity in party names.

Another difference is the static nature of B.C. politics. Since the collapse of Social Credit after the 1991 provincial election, the B.C. Liberals and New Democrats have hardly seen their numbers budge. With the exception of the 2001 vote, in which the Liberals took 58% to the NDP's 22%, over the last five elections the Liberals have always taken between 42% and 46% of the vote, and the NDP always between 39% and 42%. If these slightly different Insights West numbers were repeated on election day in 2017, they would mark one of the most dramatic shifts in B.C. provincial voting intentions in the last quarter-century!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Quebec back in the NDP fold?

Adding (with an exclamation mark) to the narrative of a major NDP surge, the latest poll from CROP for La Presse showed the New Democrats up 11 points in Quebec, the biggest one-month shift in voting intentions recorded by CROP in over two years.

That increase took place since CROP's last poll of April 15-20, and propelled the NDP into the lead with 42% support.

The Liberals slipped four points to 25%, while the Conservatives dropped four points to 15%. The Bloc Québécois was down even further, by five points to 13%, and the Greens were up two points to 5%.

Undecideds numbered 10% of the entire sample, with an additional 7% that either gave no response to this question or said they would not vote.

The last time that CROP recorded a shift larger than this 11-point jump was between March and April 2013, when Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader (the party doubled its support from 19% to 38% at the time). And while CROP has generally had the NDP a little higher than other polling firms, it hasn't had the New Democrats this high in Quebec since June 2012 - in fact, no one has.

The Liberal score seems well within the norm for polls lately. The Conservatives at 15% and the Bloc at 13% is lower than what we've seen in most recent polls, but CROP has often had these two parties lower than the consensus (and the Bloc at 13% on several occasions).

Nevertheless, these numbers are remarkable. If repeated on election day, the New Democrats would likely win between 57 and 62 seats. The Liberals would take between 11 and 15, the Conservatives between four and six, and the Bloc would be shut out.

The shift in voting intentions has occurred primarily among francophones. The NDP is up 13 points among these voters to 47%, their best score since April 2012. The last time the party was consistently polling around that level was in the fall of 2011.

The Liberals were down slightly to 20%, while the Bloc was down seven points to just 15%. That is their lowest score since the 2011 election. The Conservatives were also down, putting them in a tie with the Bloc among francophones.

The Liberals also tumbled among non-francophones from 58% to just 46%. The party has not polled this low among non-francophones under Justin Trudeau. But no one party is taking advantage, with the NDP at 24%, the Conservatives at 14%, and the Greens at 9%. The Liberals would still likely sweep the majority-non-francophone ridings at these levels of support.

The NDP was up a little in and around Montreal, but overall the numbers were relatively stable. On the island, the NDP was narrowly ahead with 38% to 35% for the Liberals and 13% for the Bloc. Around Montreal, the NDP's lead was larger: 41% to 29% for the Liberals and 12% for the Conservatives.

There was more interesting movement in the rest of the province. The Conservatives lost the lead in Quebec City for the first time since November, with 34% support. By comparison, in the last four polls the party had been consistently growing, from 37% to 38%, to 41%, and finally to 42% in April. This may be a sign that the Tory surge in Quebec has abated. The New Democrats were in front instead, with 39%. The Liberals were at 18%.

The Liberals dropped significantly in the regions of Quebec, falling to just 18% support. The NDP moved dramatically into the lead with 46%, while the Bloc only managed 16% support in this region (where both of its current MPs are located). But the drop for the Liberals is what is noteworthy - it is their worst result since April 2012. To put it into context, the Liberals averaged 36% in the 'regions of Quebec' in earlier CROP polls conducted in 2014 and 2015.

On who would make the best prime minister, Thomas Mulcair was first with 37%. That was up 11 points from last month, and his best result since before Justin Trudeau was added to the list. At 16%, this is Trudeau's lowest score as leader in a CROP poll. Stephen Harper's 14% was typical.

If these numbers hold, the New Democrats would be very well placed to supplant the Liberals as the most viable alternative to the Conservatives in the rest of the country. A dozen seats or so for the Liberals in Quebec would be disastrous for their national ambitions.

But we should not get ahead of ourselves. Polling in Quebec is suddenly looking a little volatile. Yes, the NDP's 42% is not dissimilar from the 36% EKOS gave the party in its May 6-12 poll, or the 38% Forum awarded the NDP in its May 12-13 poll. But the most recent EKOS survey pegged the NDP at just 29% in Quebec. The sample was smaller, at under half of CROP's, but even so the respective margins of error (theoretical or otherwise) do not bridge the gap. Quebec is a province to watch closely yet again.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A proposal for electoral reform

I remain unconvinced that our current 'first-past-the-post' electoral system is in dire need of reform or is the best of a list of bad options, just as I am unconvinced that proportional representation is the solution, if there is indeed a problem to be solved. But I've had an idea for a different electoral system rattling around in my head for awhile that, I think, would be a good compromise between the two systems.

There are a few good things about our current system. Regional representation is important in a diverse county like ours, and being able to have MPs that represent regions and communities is a positive feature of our electoral system. Being able to directly elect, or directly defeat, our representatives is another one. MPs are accountable to their constituents, not a party leader who can choose where to rank them on a party list.

At the same time, our system is woefully undemocratic in that it can give parties a majority government with far less than majority support. And because of the quirks of first-past-the-post, parties can received far more or far fewer seats than their popular support warrants. 

A recent example is the British election that just came to a close. UKIP won 13% of the vote, but just 0.2% of the seats (one). The Scottish National Party, meanwhile, won just 5% of the vote but 9% of the seats. It will be the third-largest party in the British House of Commons, despite taking far less of the vote than either UKIP or the Liberal Democrats.

Some might argue that the FPTP system gives us more stable governments, and that might be a compelling argument for some. But even if that was the goal, does it need to come at the price of these other perverse effects?

Proportional representation has no such oddities, and if voters want a stable majority government they can give a majority of their votes to one party (or group of parties). But a closed list with the names determined by the party is, in my opinion, a very significant flaw. We are supposed to elect people to represent us, not just any warm body that will vote according to party lines. Lists remove the ability for voters to directly elect or directly defeat individuals who deserve it. 

Yes, parties may suffer (or benefit) from having good or bad names on their list, and they can be held accountable in that way. But that is a very indirect form of accountability. It also means that individuals who are very good local representatives, but not important enough to warrant a high rank on a national list, can fall by the wayside. Or very bad local representatives with too low a profile to negatively effect a party's national chances may find themselves re-elected because they are useful in the legislature.

The ideal system, then, would seem to be one that retains proportionality and individual accountability.

There are a few electoral systems that try to bridge this gap. In my view, they all have problems.

Proportional representation with an open list can be terribly complicated, requiring voters to cast a ballot for multiple candidates, or just some candidates and then generally for the party, or variations of that. It's just too much. 

With single-transferable vote, voters rank their preferred candidates. The effect can sometimes be as bad as FPTP, at least in terms of proportionality, though there are some ways to re-jig things to avoid that. Still, being a second or third preference is different from being a first choice. Update: As some commenters have pointed out, I have simplified STV to the point of being misleading. STV systems can be (but not always are) quite proportional, though they can have the non-proportionality of FPTP when they take the form of instant run-off voting (which is a form of STV when it is applied to single-member ridings). PR-STV and IRV are two different systems, and I mistakenly equated them too much here.

Mixed-member proportional representation gives people two votes, which again complicates things. Voters cast a ballot for an individual, and a party. Proportionality is achieved by 'topping up' parties via a list. So, again, we're stuck with a list of candidates whose rank is determined by the party. Update: More clarifications prompted from the peanut gallery - some MMPR systems require only one vote instead of two, and in some systems the list of candidates is an open one, with various methods of determining who makes it on the list. To sum up - there are a few different electoral systems, but each of those have a multitude of variations.

My solution is very simple, retains many of the positive features of FPTP, such as individual accountability and regional representation, as well as proportionality. We wouldn't have to change the way we draw boundaries or the number of seats each province receives. 

(A cursory search did not find any system like this elsewhere in the world. If there is one, my apologies for trying to re-invent something that already exists!) Update: Another one! I have made the very grave error (unforgivable, even) of overlooking the good people of Baden-Württemburg, who use a system similar to, but not identical to, the one I propose below. 

How it works

This system, which for simplicity's sake I'll call '308PR', does not do away with ridings and does not change how people vote. Their ballot would look identical to the way it looks now, and they would mark it in the exact same way. Parties would nominate one candidate per riding, as they do now. But what voters are doing is not directly electing an individual representative, but rather creating each party's list.

308PR is proportional representation, divided up into Canada's 10 provinces and three territories. To keep things simple (and avoid constitutional negotiations), we'll award each province the number of seats they had in the last election. So, 106 for Ontario, 75 for Quebec, and so on. Each province is handled separately for the purposes of the calculation, so that each party receives the proportion of seats equal to the proportion of votes they received in each province.

The minimum threshold I've used for 308PR is 3% of the national vote. It could be any other number, but I think 3% is a reasonable threshold to use.

Every party that receives at least 3% of the national vote wins the proportion of seats in each province that their vote in each province warrants, rounding up or down as necessary. If, at the end of the distribution of seats to each of the parties, there are seats leftover, those seats are then distributed proportionately. If any province is awarded more seats than it should have, the lowest-hanging candidates are dropped.

Let's use, as an example, the 2011 election. With 308PR, the Conservatives would have been awarded 126 seats (123 via straight proportional representation, plus three top-ups), the New Democrats would have been awarded 95 seats (94 + 1), the Liberals would get 59 seats, the Bloc Québécois would get 18 seats, and the Greens would get 10.

Who gets to fill those seats? The voters get to decide.

Under this system, the Conservatives would have been awarded 12 seats in Quebec (75 seats x 16.5% = 12.4 seats, rounded down to 12). The list of 12 Conservatives would be formed by identifying the top 12 Conservative candidates in Quebec's 75 ridings, according to vote share. 

This process would be repeated for every party in every province. In other words, each party's provincial list is populated by the candidates that took the largest share of the vote in their respective ridings.

Provincial MPs with local responsibilities

What this does is allow voters to vote for (or against) individuals to be their representatives. The local connection is retained, and the party list is formed according to who voters wanted most. But it avoids having to ask voters to select, in effect, their top 12 Conservative candidates from a list of 75 in Quebec. Even with smaller districts, it would still require a lot of knowledge. With 308PR, voters don't have to know any more than they already do when entering the ballot box. If your local candidate gets enough votes, he'll be high enough on the party's list to be elected.

In Quebec, Maxime Bernier would have placed first on the Conservatives' Quebec list with the 50.7% of the vote he obtained in the riding of Beauce. But once he gets to the House of Commons, he would be considered just a Quebec MP, and not one particularly for the Beauce. He would be one of 75 Quebec MPs, coming from all five major parties.

But how Bernier would act as an MP would be up to him. While representing Conservative voters throughout Quebec, Bernier would still owe his re-election chances to the people in the Beauce riding. He'd probably still have his constituency office in the Beauce. He would be the local representative in practice, if not officially. 

Parties would be required to assign each of their MPs a 'region' of their province (a group of ridings, drawn up by the parties themselves) to act as its main representative, ensuring that every part of every province has a representative from each party. How the MPs fulfill their jobs would be up to them - and the incentives would be high to take their role seriously. Someone like Bernier might need to worry only about the Beauce, but an MP that took less of the vote will need to ensure that enough voters from their assigned region cast a ballot for their party in the next election in order for the list to get long enough to include them.

Resignations, small parties, and independents

There would be no by-elections in 308PR. When an MP resigns or passes away, the next person on the list from that MP's party takes their place immediately. If that person declines, the next name on the list is invited to take a seat in the House of Commons, and so on.

Independents or representatives of very small parties would still have a chance if local voters want them in the House of Commons. The system would award a seat to any candidate who wins a riding in the traditional FPTP way, if the party that candidate represents does not reach the 3% national threshold.

To avoid gaming the system, a party would not be able to win more seats in this fashion than a party that receives 3% of the vote. A party would be capped at 3% of the seats in the legislature if they don't hit 3% of the vote, or nine seats in the case of the 308-seat map. So, a party could not put all its resources in 20 seats and not run a single candidate anywhere else. If they did so, they could still win no more than nine seats.

And in 308PR, Elections Canada would be given powers to prevent colluding between candidates who, by officially registering as independents, hope to get around this rule. Independents would be forbidden from colluding or helping candidates of an official party or other independents in other ridings in any way.

Pros and cons

This system provides proportional representation as well as local accountability without any gimmicks or complicated voting methods. It's simple and easy to understand. If people are more interested in voting for a party than an individual, their vote does that. If they are more interested in voting for the local candidate than the party, their votes does that too. The only 'strategic vote' that comes into play would be if you are particularly fond of a local candidate that might come from a different party. That isn't a bad thing. Very few votes are 'wasted' - in the case of 2011, just 1%.

If there is one problem with this system, it is that a handful of ridings would elect more than one candidate. In theory, as MPs are elected to represent their province, this is not a problem. The ridings just populate the lists. 

While some ridings might get better served than others, this happens anyway with our system, which has ridings that can be taken for granted and others that are battlegrounds. And parties would be running a risk by focusing energy on these double-represented ridings - better to try to get votes where there is less competition in order to boost the party's overall numbers.

In any case, to me it makes more sense to have two candidates that had very wide support in the legislature than one that only won because of a divided vote. There are more than a few MPs in the House of Commons today who received far less of the vote share in their riding than some defeated party colleagues did elsewhere.

The 2011 election under 308PR

By now, I'm sure you've identified some holes in the system or some problems you have with it. I hope you'll post your thoughts in the comments section. But for now, let's look at who 308PR would have elected - and defeated - in 2011.

In the charts below, I've listed the MPs who would have been elected and the vote share they received in their ridings. Candidates with an asterisk are those who would be elected under 308PR, but were not under FPTP. You can click on the charts to magnify them.

The Conservatives would have won 126 seats, with 52 in the West and North, 48 in Ontario, 14 in Atlantic Canada, and 12 in Quebec.

Ed Fast would have topped the list in British Columbia. James Moore would have been elected with no trouble. But other notable candidates, like John Duncan, James Lunney, and Nina Grewal, would not have made it onto the list.

Stephen Harper would finish in the middle of the table in Alberta, along with Ted Menzies, Jason Kenney, Rona Ambrose, Deepak Obhrai, and James Rajotte. Rob Anders would have been the last name on the list. Not on the list would be Lee Richardson, Peter Goldring, Laurie Hawn, and Tim Uppal. Mike Lake, Devinder Shory, and Michelle Rempel would get added to the list with the resignations of Menzies, Brian Jean, and Rob Merrifield later on in the term.

Tom Lukiwski and Kelly Block would not make the list of eight MPs from Saskatchewan, though Gerry Ritz, Lynne Yelich, and Andrew Scheer would.

Candice Bergen and Vic Toews would top the list in Manitoba, but Joyce Bateman would not make it. Rod Bruinooge would replace Toews after his resignation, and Shelly Glover would stand in for Merv Tweed.

There would be a big list of names that would not make it among Ontario's 48 Conservatives. But topping the list would be Mike Chong. Peter Van Loan, Peter Kent, Jim Flaherty, Patrick Brown, Julian Fantino, Tony Clement, Lisa Raitt, Pierre Poilievre, Rob Nicholson, Paul Calandra, Diane Finley, Dean Del Mastro, and Kellie Leitch - they'd all make it, and Joe Oliver, among others, would come in later on in the term. There would be some big absences, though: John Baird, Chris Alexander, Bal Gosal, Roxanne James, and Eve Adams.

The Conservatives would get seven extra MPs from Quebec than they did with FPTP, including Josée Verner, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, Lawrence Cannon, and Larry Smith. They are probably happy that Saulie Zajdel, though, did not make it.

Mike Allen would top the list in New Brunswick, but Keith Ashfield. Bernard Valcourt, and Robert Goguen would not be on it.

All of the Nova Scotia MPs elected in 2011 would be elected with 308PR, along with Cecil Clarke. In Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, Tim Ogilvie and Fabian Manning would join Gail Shea and Peter Penashue. 

And the Conservatives would win both of the single-district territories they did in 2011.

John Ottenheimer would replace Penashue after his resignation (though he resigned to run-again in actual fact, so who knows how this would have worked).

Most of the Conservatives' top bench makes it to the House of Commons, with some notable absences. The extra MPs from Quebec would have certainly come in handy, though. But the question is whether these Conservatives would have been on the governing or opposition benches, as the Tories would only hold a small plurality of seats.

The New Democrats would also lose seats with 308PR, being awarded 95 instead of 103, with 27 in the West and North, 28 in Ontario, 32 in Quebec, and eight in Atlantic Canada.

Outside of Quebec, Jinny Sims would be the only current NDP MP that would not have been elected under this system. In fact, Zeni Maartman would have replaced Denise Savoie after her departure rather than Sims. The rest of the list in B.C. is full of familiar names like Libby Davies, Nathan Cullen, Peter Julian, and Fin Donnelly.

Linda Duncan would have been joined by four other MPs in Alberta: former provincial leader Ray Martin, as well as Mark Sandilands, Lewis Cardinal, and Nadine Bailey.

Instead of being shutout in Saskatchewan, the NDP would have been awarded five MPs, led by Nettie Wiebe, Noah Evanchuk, and Lawrence Joseph.

In addition to Pat Martin and Niki Ashton, the NDP would elect Jim Maloway and Rebecca Blaikie in Manitoba.

Jack Layton would head the party list in Ontario, joined by other NDP luminaries like David Christopherson, Olivia Chow, Paul Dewar, Charlie Angus, and Peggy Nash. Joining the historically elected MPs would be a few other names that were not so lucky, including Taras Natyshak who won election as an NDP MPP in 2014.

The biggest difference for the NDP would be Quebec, where instead of winning 59 seats (or 79% of the seats) the party would take just 32 (or 43%). Thomas Mulcair, Françoise Boivin, and Nycole Turmel would all make it. But we would not have been introduced to Quebec New Democrats like Claude Patry, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Lise St-Denis, and Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

In New Brunswick, Yvon Godin would be joined by Rob Moir and Shawna Gagné, while all the MPs historically elected in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador would win under 308PR. 

The NDP would have been awarded a seat in Prince Edward Island, but with two seats going to both the Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP had the lowest-hanging candidate and was bumped from the province.

Brian White, Trevor Haché, and Marc Laferriere would have been the replacement Ontario NDP MPs for Layton, Chow, and Glenn Thibeault.

Overall, the NDP ends up with a similarly-sized caucus as under FPTP. But their parliamentary group would be less artificially weighted towards Quebec than it is currently.

Along with the Bloc and the Greens, the Liberals would benefit most from this sort of system - at least in 2011. They were beneficiaries of FPTP in the past.

The Liberals would win 59 seats, with 11 in the West, 27 in Ontario, 11 in Quebec, and 10 in Atlantic Canada.

Joyce Murray and Hedy Fry would still win in B.C., but they would be joined by Ujjal Dosanjh, Sukh Dhaliwal, and Taleeb Noormohamed.

Three Liberals would have been elected in Alberta: Cam Stewart, Mary MacDonald, and Janice Kinch.

Ralph Goodale and Kevin Lamoureux would have still made it in the Prairies, along with Anita Neville.

Many of the Liberals' incumbents in Ontario would not have been defeated under this system. Along with those who were in fact elected would be Rob Oliphant, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, Martha Hall Findlay, Joe Volpe, Mark Holland, Navdeep Bains, and Michael Ignatieff, to name a few. Ignatieff would have just avoided not making it on to the list. But you can see that there were many defeated Liberals who took more of the vote in their own ridings than some victorious Liberals.

Not so in Quebec, where the top seven all come from actually-elected MPs. In addition to them, headed by Stéphane Dion, would be Marlene Jennings, Bernard Patry, Pablo Rodriguez, and Noushig Eloyan.

Jean-Claude D'Amours would join Dominic Leblanc as the Liberals' New Brunswick representation. 

In the rest of Atlantic Canada, Scott Andrews, Sean Casey, and Geoff Regan would all come up short. 

Alexandra Mendès would stand-in for Denis Coderre when he ran for mayor, while Yasmin Ratansi and Omar Alghabra would be the Ontario replacements.

With 18 MPs, the Bloc would have hardly been considered dead. In fact, the FPTP system exaggerated the Bloc's defeat in both senses. In 2008, the Bloc won 49 seats. But with 38.1% of the vote, they deserved just 29 of them. In 2011, the Bloc won four seats, but with 23.4% of the vote deserved 18 of them. The drop from 29 to 18 seats would not have been seen nearly as dramatically.

In addition, Gilles Duceppe would have avoided defeat. Other heavy-hitters for the Bloc, like Michel Guimond, Pierre Paquette, Bernard Bigras, and Daniel Paillé would have avoided defeat as well. More than enough of a nucleus to rebuild the party back to its former glory.

Finally the Greens, who would have won 10 seats under 308PR. That still penalizes them a little, but that is due to the low vote share they took in Atlantic Canada and in Saskatchewan - too low to warrant a seat. But the party would have won five in the West, three in Ontario, and two in Quebec.

Only Elizabeth May and Adriane Carr might be familiar to you. They were also the only Green candidates to take more than 15% of the vote in any riding outside of the Yukon.

But this would have been an interesting parliamentary group, include two Quebecers and one MP from Alberta.

Alternate history

Interestingly, these numbers do not make it so easy to figure out what kind of government would have been formed. The Conservatives would have had difficulty finding another dancing partner with just 126 seats, but theoretically could have come to terms with the Liberals to put together a majority.

If the Liberals teamed-up with the NDP instead, the two would together have had 154 seats. They'd probably need the Greens or a few floor-crossers to have a shot at a stable government.

And what would have come before then if a system like this was in place? A Paul Martin-Jack Layton government in 2006? A rainbow coalition with the NDP and Greens under Stéphane Dion in 2008? Jean Chrétien and the PCs in 1993 and 1997, or with the NDP in 2000? How about an anti-free trade John Turner-Ed Broadbent government in 1988, Pierre Trudeau-NDP coalitions throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, a John Diefenbaker-Social Credit coalition in the 1960s... An interesting counter-factual history. But will a future with the first-past-the-post system endure?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Methodological note on today's projection update

I've received questions and noticed some discussion concerning the weights applied to the newest polls added to the model. I wanted to take a moment to clarify things for readers.

There are three polls that have been conducted recently that have been added to the projection: EKOS/iPolitics (May 6-12), Forum/Toronto Star (May 12-13), and Nanos/CTV (April 17-May 14). EKOS has the largest sample at 2,177, while Forum surveyed 1,286 Canadians and Nanos a total of 1,000.

In terms of the weighting, EKOS and Forum have a similar weight while Nanos has a heavier weight in the projection. Some readers have wondered why that is, considering that Nanos's poll was taken over a period of four weeks, and so includes a lot of much older data than either the Forum or EKOS polls.

Three things are taken into account when weighting a poll: the sample size, the field dates, and the track record of the polling firm. Nanos has had a very successful track record (though it has participated in fewer elections than either Forum or EKOS, and who knows how Nanos would have done in Alberta in 2012 or British Columbia in 2013 had it participated), and so has a heavier weight.

The model weights each poll on a weekly basis, depending on where a poll lands in the model's weekly blocks of time. If a poll straddles two weekly blocks, it is considered to have been conducted in the block in which the majority of the polling took place. When there are multiple weeks that fit that definition, the most recent one is selected. For that reason, Nanos and EKOS are considered to have been conducted in the same weekly block ending on May 11, while Forum is in the most recent block ending on May 18.

The model is designed this way so as not to put too much importance on differences of a day or two between polls, since the election is so far away and shifts in voting intentions are slow to occur. When the election campaign begins, the model switches over to a daily weighting scheme.

But is it fair to consider the Nanos poll as recent as the EKOS poll, considering its field dates run back to mid-April? On the face of it, it isn't. This is a quirk of the model that is being exposed by Nanos's abnormally long polls (no one else is conducting polls taken over more than a week). During the election campaign, this would not be an issue as no pollster would release such a poll.

So why not consider Nanos an older poll? The guiding principle behind the model is uniformity and objectivity. All polls are handled by the same set of criteria, and no adjustments are made by me. This is what makes it a model in my view - once you stick your thumbs into it based on your gut or intuition, you are just making an educated guess.

I used to weight polls by their median date, rather than by the last day of polling. This was meant to reflect how some polls had older data in them than others, even if they finished polling on the same day. But this had a perverse effect. If I weighted these three polls by their median date, Forum would have been weighted for May 13, EKOS would have been weighted for May 9, and Nanos for May 1. Forum would be considered four days 'newer' than EKOS, despite EKOS leaving the field only one day before Forum did.

It would reward Forum's flash-polls taken over one or two days, and penalize polls conducted over (reasonable) longer periods. The Nanos example is an extreme, but the EKOS example is very relevant. EKOS is polling over a longer period, is less vulnerable to daily blips based on the news-of-the-day, and has the opportunity to call-back people who did not pick-up the first go around. Polls taken over a day or two have no such opportunity, and run a higher risk of being unrepresentative.

Because of this, I abandoned the median-date weighting. But because I apply things uniformly, the Nanos poll is treated as far newer by the model than common sense would dictate.

Five months (to the day) from the next election, this is not a big deal. During the election campaign, no such oddity would be very likely to occur again. In any case, it hasn't had much effect on the projection, which moves slowly this far out from the vote. If the Nanos poll had been weighted for May 1, the median date, the projection would be little different: 31.8% for the Conservatives, 30.3% for the Liberals, and 25% for the NDP.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Three-way federal race?

This week's EKOS poll, with the preliminary results leaked to the Ottawa Citizen before EKOS was forced to publish their final results a day early yesterday, has a lot of tongues wagging in Ottawa. Why? The poll put the New Democrats right in the middle of a three-way race, with the Liberals bringing up the rear. Are we in the midst of a re-alignment, or is this a blip?

This far out from the election, the projection still turns like a big ship (as it should at this stage). Nevertheless, it has recorded a sharp uptick in NDP fortunes with the addition of this new EKOS poll (as well as an Insights West poll for British Columbia, which had similarly good news for the NDP, and the previous week's EKOS poll).

The Conservatives still lead with just under 32% support, enough to give them between 121 and 159 seats. The Liberals are in second with 30% and between 87 and 125 seats, while the NDP is in third at 24% and between 74 and 101 seats.

Both the Tories and Liberals have dropped since last week's update. The Conservative low range has fallen by eight seats from 129, and its high range has dropped five seats from 164. The majority mark is now 11 seats away at the high end, rather than just six last week.

The Liberals' seat range has moved less, falling from 94-128 last week. But most significantly is that the NDP's likely range now overlaps with the Liberals. Last week, the NDP topped out at 88 seats, six below the Liberals' low range. Now, the NDP tops out at 101 seats, 14 seats above the Liberals' low range. This is a big shift, and it could be the start of something even bigger.

There was word from Twitter that a Forum poll also showing a three-way race is forthcoming, and I have heard of an internal poll showing the same thing (take this with caution, though, since there could be plenty more internal polls showing no such thing that I have not heard about). Coupled with the Insights West poll in British Columbia, a Forum poll in Ontario showing gains for the provincial NDP (due to Patrick Brown winning the PC leadership, Forum implausibly explains), and the party's big win in Alberta last week, things are looking up for the New Democrats.

We'll only know if this is a momentary blip or something enduring in the coming weeks or months. If it is a blip, we'll know sooner rather than later.

But let's take a look at this EKOS poll in detail.

The Conservatives led with 30% support, virtually unchanged from where the party stood in EKOS's polling the previous week.

The New Democrats were up a remarkable 4.9 points, vaulting them into second place with 29.1% support. The Liberals were down 2.6 points to 27%, though that shift was just inside the margin of error.

The Greens were at 8% and the Bloc Québécois at 4.1%, while support for other parties was at 1.8%.

That last number is noteworthy, since EKOS's previous poll from April 29-May 5 had support for the Others at 4.5%. That was an unreasonably high number, and for EKOS to now have them below 2% is certainly out of character. I'm not sure why that happened this week, but it freed up 2.7 points that seems to have gone to partly to the Greens and mostly to the NDP.

This poll sets off alarm bells because of the dramatic shift it is highlighting - not in the sense that it makes the poll unreliable, but in the sense that we need to sit up and pay attention to what is happening. Is it an outlier or the first poll to catch a new trend?

As it marks the first time the Liberals have placed in third in any poll since March 2013, over two years ago, it definitely stands out. And this is indeed a bad poll for the Liberals, as they lead only in Atlantic Canada. Their scores were low in Quebec and Alberta. They were also low in Ontario, though so were the Conservatives.

The Tories certainly aren't coming anywhere close to a majority government with 33% support in Ontario and 29% in British Columbia. EKOS also seems to be pointing towards a deflating Tory balloon in Quebec. Something to watch as well.

The NDP numbers were only unusually good in Ontario and Quebec. The party has not held such a wide lead in Quebec for some time, and being in a close three-way race in Ontario is something new. The party was already competitive in B.C. and doing well in Alberta, so those are well within the norm. It is the surge in Ontario and Quebec that is behind this second place finish for the NDP, so we need to keep an eye on the NDP's numbers in these two provinces over the next few weeks.

But if these numbers became reality on election day, the House of Commons would look like nothing we've ever seen before. The Conservatives would win about 131 seats, the NDP would take 110, and the Liberals would win 94, with the Greens and Bloc winning the remaining three seats.

It would be close enough that, if these were what the polls were showing the day before the election, the model would project 113 to 153 seats for the Tories, 98 to 131 for the NDP, and 71 to 108 for the Liberals. That means the NDP would, potentially, be able to win a plurality of seats.

Is this where we are heading? This is such a large change in the political landscape that we need to stand back and exercise a little patience. Maybe these numbers are completely real, and we're now in a three-way race. Maybe these numbers are just a bout of post-Alberta zeal that will fade away in a matter of weeks. Maybe no polls aside from EKOS and the (apparently) forthcoming Forum will show these kinds of results, and we'll return to the status quo. For now, we just don't know. Watch this space!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Are conservative parties under-estimated in the polls?

A column by La Presse editorialist André Pratte was recently pointed out to me, in which he discusses the 'problem with polls'. You can read the article, in French, here.

Pratte argues that polls quasi-systematically under-estimate centre-right parties, most recently seen in last week's election in the United Kingdom. He also cites the provincial election in Alberta, the 2012 election in Quebec, as well as the Scottish referendum and the most recent vote in Israel.

He posits two explanations for this problem: conservative parties are supported by older people, who are less apt to express their views to strangers on the telephone; and right-wing views are portrayed unfavourably by journalists, artists, and intellectuals, who are important players in the public sphere. People don't want to publicly go against the grain.

We could add to this theory that if centre-right parties are disproportionately supported by older voters, they should disproportionately benefit at the ballot box, since older people vote in bigger numbers.

It is not a bad argument. Anecdotally, it certainly seems right. It feels right. But is it right?

I've looked at federal and provincial elections over the last 10 years to find out. I've compared each party's average performance in the last week of polls to the actual election result. I've included all major conservative parties (in addition to the PCs and federal Conservatives, I've included the ADQ/CAQ, the Saskatchewan Party, Wildrose, and the B.C. Liberals).

And since Pratte included them in his list, I have also included the Quebec Liberal Party. In the context of Quebec politics, the PLQ is arguably a centre-right party, and the 'shy Tory' effect Pratte cited has often been used to explain the Liberals' sometimes surprising electoral performance in Quebec.

The verdict? While there does seem to be a generalized under-estimation of conservative parties in the polls, the effect has been exaggerated and, in too many cases to make it a rule, has not happened at all.

You can see in the chart above that, in most cases, conservative parties do indeed out-perform the polls. But you might also notice that there are more than a few cases where they under-performed the polls, as well as many cases where they came so close to the polling average that we can chalk it up to sampling error rather than a methodological bias.

In fact, the average error for conservative parties has been just 1.6 percentage points. That isn't nothing, certainly. That is particularly the case when we compare this performance to that of the largest non-conservative party, which polls have over-estimated by an average of just 0.2 points (in other words, negligibly).

Perhaps most importantly, in 14 of the 24 elections I looked at there was no real effect on the outcome whatsoever due to any under-estimation of centre-right support. It didn't change the winner or the order of the major parties. In another two elections, it only changed who finished second and who finished third. In only three cases did it flip expectations of which party would actually form government, and in just two did it turn a minority victory into a majority one.

This means that in five of 24 elections, or just 21% of cases, did an under-estimation of centre-right parties in the polls have a major, lasting impact on an electoral outcome.

In 20 of the above 30 cases, a conservative party was over- or under-estimated by more than a point, meaning that in one-third of cases the polls were close enough that we can't seriously identify a systemic problem with the methodology.

But still, in 20 of 30 cases the conservative party was under-estimated by the polls. That means that if you're placing a bet, you'll be more right than wrong if you guess that the conservative party in the election will beat its polls. That still means, though, that you could be wrong one-third of the time.

In many cases, assuming that the polls will under-estimate the conservative party, as Pratte suggests journalists should do more often in the future, will lead you astray.

Let's say you assume that the polls will under-estimate the main conservative party by about four percentage points (Pratte cites, with numbers, the PLQ in 2012 and PCs in 2015 in Alberta, where the error was about that large). Here are some of the errors you would have made:

- Progressive Conservatives victories, rather than defeats, in Ontario in 2011 and 2014, in Manitoba in 2011, and in New Brunswick in 2014.
- The Official Opposition role, rather than third place, going to the Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia in 2009.
- Conservative majorities in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections, rather than minorities.
- Landslide victory, rather than a closer result, for the B.C. Liberals in 2005 and 2009.
- Minorities, rather than majorities, for the Liberals in 2007 in Ontario and Quebec.
- Would hardly have been helpful in Alberta in 2012, since the race was between two conservative parties.

Even if you assumed the under-estimation would be more modest, you'd still make many of these errors. Enough to make up for the successes? Really, it's a wash based on an assumption that is only marginally more right than it is wrong. Complicating matters is that some pollsters already apply weighting to their numbers to try to take this into account, so for some polls you may be doubling the effect.

So where does that leave us? These sorts of discrepancies are already taken into account in's projection ranges.

More broadly, it is certainly something which should be considered when looking at the polls in the final stages of a campaign. The conservative or centre-right party might indeed be under-estimated, and there is more of a chance of that happening than the main centrist or centre-left party beating its polls. But it won't happen every single time, and it isn't a rule.

If you assumed the federal Conservatives would beat their polls, you would have been right in 2008 and 2011, but wrong in 2006. If you assumed the Quebec Liberals would beat their polls (as virtually everyone does in Quebec), you would have been right in 2012 and only marginally so in 2007 and 2014, but you would have been wrong in 2008.

A more responsible approach for journalists would be to remind readers that this can happen, rather than assure them that it will. If polls and human behaviour were so predictable, no one would ever get it wrong.

Monday, May 11, 2015

April 2015 federal polling averages

Believe it or not, while pollsters were furiously surveying Albertans throughout the month of April, they also managed to conduct some 10 national and two regional federal polls, surveying over 23,000 Canadians in all. The results mark a continuation of a trend we saw last month, namely the Conservatives holding the lead as the Liberals falter.

The Conservatives averaged 32.4% support in the month of April, up a bare 0.1 points since March. Removing rounding errors, this was their first outright lead since March 2013 - the month before Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader.

The Liberals were down one point to 30.5%, their worst since March 2013. It was also their ninth consecutive month of decrease or stagnation, from a high of 39%.

The New Democrats made the biggest jump, picking up 1.8 points to average 23% support, their best since October 2014.

The Greens were down 0.5 points to 7.4%, while the Bloc Québécois was also down 0.5 points, to 4.3%. Another 2.4% of Canadians said they would vote for an independent candidate or another party.

There has not been much change in the range of results the Liberals and Conservatives have managed in the polls (29% to 36% for the Tories, 28% to 35% for the Liberals), but the NDP's range has improved. From 19% to 23% in March, the NDP ranged between 21% and 25% in April.

The Conservatives maintained their lead in British Columbia with 30.8% support, up 0.6 points from last month. The Liberals were down 0.1 point to 28.5%, while the New Democrats were down 0.9 points to 24.7%. The Greens put up their best number since March 2014, with a 0.6-point gain to 13.6%.

The shift in provincial voting intentions in Alberta was echoed somewhat at the federal level, as the Conservatives plummeted 5.4 points to just 43.6%. That is their lowest I have on record since at least January 2009, and likely very long before that. The New Democrats were up 6.3 points to 23.5%, their best on record, even better than in 2012 when the party was leading in national polls. The Liberals, down 1.2 points to 22.9%, fell to third place for the first time since January 2013. The Greens were down 0.7 points to 5.9%.

There was little movement in the Prairies, where the Conservatives were up 0.6 points to 41.8%. The Liberals were up 0.8 points to 30.1%, while the NDP gained 1.1 points to reach 20.3%. The Greens were down 2.2 points to 6.1%.

The Conservatives have been holding steady in Ontario for the last six months, averaging 36.7% in April (an increase of 0.5 points since March). The Liberals were down 2.6 points to 33.5%, their worst since July 2013. The NDP posted its best result in six months, with a gain of 1.8 points to 20.2%. The Greens were down 0.4 points to 7%.

The New Democrats led outright for the first time in Quebec since June 2014, with a gain of 2.4 points to 28.4%. The Liberals were down 0.4 points to 26.2%, their worst since March 2013. The Conservatives were up 0.3 points to 21.1%, and have posted results around 20% to 21% for the last four months. The Bloc was down 1.6 points to 17.8%, while the Greens were down 0.6 points to 4.9%.

In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals were down 3.7 points to 45.2%, their worst since the end of 2013. The Conservatives were unchanged at 24.4%, while the NDP was up three points to 20.7%. The Greens were up 0.8 points to 8%, their best since August 2011. Coming just before the Green Party elected its first MLA in Prince Edward Island, this might not be a coincidence.

Based on these support levels, the Conservatives would win about 143 seats, down one seat from March. The Liberals would win 113 seats, a drop of four seats, while the NDP would win 79, a gain of nine. The Greens and Bloc would win two and one seats, respectively.

The Conservatives dropped seats in Alberta, but made them up in Ontario.

The Liberals were down in Ontario and Quebec.

The New Democrats made gains in Alberta and, especially, Quebec.

This was a bad month for the Liberals. Though the Conservatives widened their national lead, it was primarily by default. The Tories dropped significantly in Alberta and only made modest gains in the rest of the country. The Liberals, though, were down by more than a point in Alberta, more than two points in Ontario, and almost four points in Atlantic Canada.

The beneficiary was the NDP, with big gains in Alberta, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, as well as respectable pick-ups in the Prairies and Ontario. A drop in British Columbia is a bit of a problem, as it should be a decent province for the party, but this is the first month since July 2012 that the NDP has averaged at least 20% in every region of the country. The question is whether they can maintain these strong numbers - but the party is certainly positioning itself well for the coming election.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Redemption for the pollsters, revolution for Albertans

It was an historic night in Alberta, as the Progressive Conservative dynasty was cut short at 43 years and Albertans elected an NDP government for the first time. And they did so in dramatic fashion.

Others will parse what this means for Alberta and the New Democrats more generally. But let's talk about how the polls did.

The sigh of relief you might have heard was from pollsters from coast-to-coast. Whether or not they were involved in either the 2012 Alberta or 2013 B.C. elections, the credibility of every pollster was chipped away by those misses. With the success last night, the ghosts of the 2012 result have finally been put to rest.

It was all the more a relief because it was Alberta, and because what the polls were saying could happen was so outlandish that everyone bent over backwards to try to explain why they were wrong. There were a lot of people ready to gloat last night before the votes were counted. It was a terrifying prospect.

But in the end, as I pointed out in my final analysis, the polls could argue for nothing but an NDP landslide. They were right. Individual pollsters had good nights. They were even better in the aggregate - though what they missed on, as marginal as it was, is revealing.

I was pleased with how's projection performed, and I'll get into that more below. But one thing I was disappointed with was the assumption I made about the support of the Liberals and the Alberta Party. I penalized them for not running full slates, and distributed those lost votes to the other parties proportionately. This had the effect of boosting, above all, the NDP, and overall made the projection less accurate than it could have been.

As you can see, an adjusted projection would have performed better than any pollster except Léger. With the adjustment, finished fourth.

The winner of the night was Léger, with a total error of just 1.6 points per party (for the purposes of this calculation, I've lumped AP together with the others). A bit of luck played into this, though, as Léger's final poll was out of the field seven days before the vote. It was the only pollster that was not active over the final weekend to not finish behind those who were.

Only its estimates for the Liberals and other parties was outside of the (theoretical) margin of error, and Léger was one of only two pollsters to put the Progressive Conservatives in second place.

This is an important point, as I think it is very revealing of what happened last night. All but Léger under-estimated PC support, by margins of four to eight points. It is unlikely to be coincidence. The Tories either benefited from better turnout (relatively speaking), had harder-to-reach supporters, or experienced a bit of a ballot box boost that might have been worth some four to five points. I think a combination of all three is likely.

Insights West and EKOS Research also had good nights, though both had the PCs outside the margin of error and EKOS had the NDP a little high.

Forum Research and Mainstreet Technologies performed well, but both had the NDP high and the PCs low.

Ipsos Reid had the Liberals too high and the PCs too low, while ThinkHQ only had the NDP within the margin of error. Return on Insight had way too much support for the Liberals and other parties, which had an effect on their overall estimation.

But Ipsos Reid, ThinkHQ, and Return on Insight were out of the field a week before the vote, so they may have simply stopped polling too early to catch a collapse in Liberal support that benefited the Tories (though Léger did not have the same problem). They get a bit of an asterisk.

Nevertheless, for the worst performance to be an average error of just 3.8 points per party is absolutely stellar. And no pollster presented a narrative that was wrong. They all suggested the NDP was headed towards victory, and probably a majority one, while Wildrose and the PCs would fight it out for second place. In the end, they under-estimated the Tories in the popular vote, but their view that Wildrose would fill the Official Opposition role proved correct. Albertans were not misled by the polls whatsoever.

A few other revealing insights from these polls: all but Insights West and Forum Research over-estimated the Liberals, to the tune of one to six points. So perhaps my assumption that this is what would happen was not wrong (it was just too penalizing).

The polls in the field before April 29 all under-estimated NDP support (by two to four points), while all the polls in the field after April 29 over-estimated that support (by one to four points). There was a bit of bandwagon effect in the final days, perhaps, but also a bit of a deflation in the final moments.

Wildrose was estimated just about correctly by everyone, and certainly in the aggregate. But why was Wildrose able to win more seats than the PCs, despite winning fewer votes?

Wildrose benefited from a very efficient vote outside of the two main cities.

The New Democrats did, in the end, win Calgary. But the margin was a lot tighter than expected, with 33.1% of the vote instead of the 35% to 41% the projection model awarded them. The PCs were the largest beneficiary, taking 31.5% of the vote (instead of 25% to 29%). Wildrose under-performed, at 23.8% instead of 26% to 29%.

But despite this performance by the PCs in Calgary, they just didn't win many seats out of these numbers. With only a 1.6-point advantage over the PCs, the NDP managed to win 14 or 15 seats in Calgary, with the PCs winning just seven or eight. The Liberals won one and the AP won another of the 'Calgary'-named ridings.

Why did I say 14 or 15 seats? Oh, nothing. Just that the riding of Calgary-Glenmore had a freaking tie at 7,015 votes apiece for the PC and NDP candidates!

The New Democrats dominated Edmonton, taking 57.6% of the vote. That was just about as expected. The PCs over-achieved a little at 22.7%, while Wildrose under-achieved at 13.6%. Probably not too much of a surprise - in both Calgary and Edmonton there seems to have been a small coalescing of the conservative vote in the PCs' favour.

In the rest of Alberta, though, there was no such coalescing. And that was the death-knell for the Tories. Wildrose won the rest of the province with 35.2%, just about as expected. While the PCs did take a little more of the vote than projected, with 29.3% in this region, they still finished in third. The NDP dropped from a range of 34%-40% to 30.6%, but it was enough. The party won a few rural ridings, as well as sweeping Red Deer and Lethbridge. The PCs just came up short everywhere. Their uniform support was disastrous when the NDP had the advantage in the cities and Wildrose everywhere else.

Overall, I was very happy with the performance of the projection. All parties but the Liberals (who nevertheless had a maximum of one seat) fell within the likely ranges, and very comfortably so.

The NDP and Wildrose fell just short of the low range in the vote projection (but within the minimum range), and the Liberals outside of the maximum range, but this was in large part due to my penalizing of the Liberals. The PCs fell within the high-to-maximum range. No party but the Liberals ended up outside the 95% confidence interval anywhere, which is a very happy result.

The model did very well at the riding level. The winner was called correctly in 74 to 75 ridings (depending on how Calgary-Glenmore, projected to go NDP, turns out), for an accuracy rating of 85% to 86%. This is a good result considering the number of incumbents who were defeated.

More importantly, the ranges identified the potential winners in 80 to 81 ridings, for an accuracy rating of 92% to 93%. The average confidence in the ridings that were missed was just 63% to 64% (and four of them were 50/50 toss-ups), and the margin in these incorrect ridings averaged just 1,033 votes.

This election was an usual example, though, of the model actually doing slightly worse with the real results plugged into it. This, too, is revealing. It shows just how inefficient and unlucky the PCs were.

Had the polls been exactly right, the projection would have awarded 26 to 52 seats to the NDP, 15 to 25 to Wildrose, 12 to 43 to the PCs, zero to two to the Liberals, and zero to one for the other parties.

All results would have been within the 95% confidence interval, and only the PC and NDP results would have fallen outside of the likely vote ranges. But we would have headed into election night far more uncertain about the NDP's potential victory.

Many of the errors would have occurred in Calgary, giving NDP seats to the PCs. Again, this demonstrates how inefficient the PC vote was in the city. Nevertheless, the correct winners would have been identified in the likely ranges in 79 of 87 ridings, for an accuracy rating of 91%. That is a perfectly acceptable result.

This is where I think post-mortems using seat projections come in handy. It tells us a lot about what happened. The PCs did a lot worse than they should have in many ridings, while the NDP did a lot better. Wildrose performed up to expectations.

Kudos go to the pollsters, who called this election boldly and correctly. Lesser men and women would have balked at re-entering the field in the final days in such an unusual campaign. But because they did, we knew that the NDP was on track to win a majority government. People just needed to see it to believe it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Final Alberta projection: NDP majority

Rachel Notley's New Democrats are on track to win a majority government in Alberta's provincial election tonight, according to the polls and's projection. Brian Jean's Wildrose will likely form the Official Opposition, while Jim Prentice's Progressive Conservatives should finish as the third party in the legislature. Greg Clark's Alberta Party could win one seat, and David Swann's Liberals should be shut out.

This being Alberta, though, we should be ready for anything tonight.

The likely outcome

The New Democrats are projected to win between 48 and 61 seats, putting them comfortably over the 44-seat mark required for a majority government. They are projected to take between 40.9% and 47.6% of the vote. Even at their lowest range, the NDP is projected to win by almost 13 points. The NDP has a higher probability of finishing within the low to average band of seats (48 to 55) than they do in the upper band of 55 to 61 seats. The precise projection awards 55 seats and 44.5% to the New Democrats, which would mark the party's best performance in its history (by far).

Final projection
Wildose is projected to win between 17 and 31 seats and between 24.6% and 28% of the vote. Wildrose has a higher probability of finishing within the average to high band of 25 to 31 seats. The precise projection, of 25 seats and 25.9% of the vote, would be a mixed bag for the party. It would give them the most seats they have won in their short history, but represents a significant drop from Wildrose's 34% from the 2012 election.

The Progressive Conservatives stand to suffer the bulk of the seat losses tonight, and are projected to win between four and 17 seats, with between 22.5% and 26.1% of the vote. There is a much stronger probability that the party will win between six and 17 seats, however, than between four and six. The precise projection of six seats and 23.7% would represent the party's worst performance since 1967, in terms of seats, and 1963, in terms of votes.

The Liberals are projected to win no seats and between 2.9% and 3.4% of the vote. The precise projection of 3.2% represents the party's lowest share since 1982.

The Alberta Party could potentially win one seat. Along with other parties and independents, this group is projected to take between 1.9% and 3.2% of the vote.

Expecting the unexpected

The polls in the final days of the Alberta campaign have been absolutely unanimous, so in normal circumstances we would not be entering into today's vote with much uncertainty. The only real question would be whether Wildrose or the PCs would finish second.

Projection ranges
But because of what happened in 2012, and particularly since this projected outcome is so out of character with the province, we do need to pay attention to the projection's wider bands. These are meant to reflect 95% of potential outcomes, assuming the polls perform as well (or as poorly) as they have in other recent elections.

At these ranges, a series of outcomes are plausible. The New Democrats could win between 31 and 70 seats. That low end still represents their best result in the party's history, and would almost certainly put the NDP in the Official Opposition role (and give them largest opposition contingent Alberta has ever seen).

For Wildrose and the PCs, a victory is still plausible. It requires the polls to be about as wrong as they were in 2012, causing a swing that would still give the NDP the most votes but penalize them in the seat count. The NDP finishing second in the popular vote falls outside of the 95% confidence interval.

Wildrose could win as many as 44 seats, which technically gives them a majority. But that is at the extreme edge of the range, and so extremely unlikely. The PCs top out at 40 seats, meaning a majority is not in the cards for them. Altogether, only the NDP has a realistic chance of winning a majority of seats.

The projection maxes out at one seat for the Liberals, though I suspect they could do better than that (more on this below).

As for the minimum ranges for the PCs and Wildrose, both would be disastrous (one and nine seats, respectively). Both are unlikely to occur in conjunction, though. If the PCs end up that low, Wildrose has likely made some gains. And vice versa.

So, we should not rule out entirely a plurality of seats for either Wildrose or the PCs. But it is unlikely, going by the numbers. There was far more overlap in the projection between the Liberals and the PCs, in Ontario, and the Liberals and the PQ, in Quebec, when both Liberal parties won big majorities in 2014.

Regional breakdown

The New Democrats are projected to finish first by wide margins in both Calgary and Edmonton, while the race is tighter in the rest of the province.

Regional projections
In Calgary, the New Democrats are projected to win between 34.9% and 40.6% of the vote, giving them between 14 and 18 seats. The party has been making gains in the city throughout the campaign, finally moving in front at the end of April. Wildrose is projected to finish second with between 25.7% and 29.3%, winning two to seven seats. While the party is expected to place second in the vote, it will likely finish third in the seats. The PCs are projected to win between four and nine seats, with between 25.2% and 29.1% of the vote. The Liberals should take between 4.6% and 5.4% of the vote, while the Alberta Party could win its one seat here.

Regional tracking
As they have throughout the campaign, the New Democrats are projected to have a massive lead in Edmonton and its surroundings, with between 55.3% and 64.3% of the vote. That should give them between 23 and 28 seats, leaving only zero to four seats for the Tories and one to four seats for Wildrose. The PCs should take between 17.8% and 20.6% of the vote, with Wildrose in third at between 14.4% and 16.4%. The Liberals are projected to take between 3.5% and 4.1% of the vote.

The seat projection in the rest of Alberta has little relation to the popular vote. The NDP is likely to finish first in the region with between 34.2% and 39.8% support, but place second with between 11 and 15 seats. Wildrose should take between 32.1% and 36.5% of the vote, but between 14 and 20 seats. For the Tories, they are squeezed out horribly. They are projected to win between zero and four seats, despite having between 24.2% and 28.0% of the vote. The Liberals, with between 1.1% and 1.3% support, should finish behind the Alberta Party.

The polls

Polling in Alberta has been remarkably consistent. In the final set of polls, which all left the field on or after April 28, the NDP has registered between 37% and 45% support. In fact, in the last five polls - all taken on or after April 29 - the NDP has registered between 42% and 45%. That is a very tight grouping.

Polls making up at least 95% of the projection
In that very last set of polls, Wildrose has been the consensus second place finisher with between 23% and 27% support, compared to a range of between 21% and 23% for the PCs. It is hard to argue with that sort of agreement.

Not that this will stop anyone. There is no arguing with what the polls are saying - the only argument can be with whether or not to believe them at all. There is no reasonable way to look at these polls and conclude that Alberta is a three-way race, or that anybody but the NDP will win. That argument could be made using a whole slew of other factors, but the polls cannot be one of them.

Vote projection over time
The trends are an important reason for that. The New Democrats have only been gaining. Not once since the projection was launched at the start of the campaign has the NDP dropped in support. The NDP started the campaign at 20%, which promptly grew to 25%, then 30%, then 35%, then 40%, and now 45%.

The PCs, by contrast, have been nothing but flat, with a slightly downwards tilt. The party is showing no signs of momentum in the final days. The same goes for Wildrose, which took a hit after the debate and has been stuck in the mid-20s ever since. If there is to be a late swing, it will have to be sudden and not based on any previous movement.

How the leaders fared

For a provincial election so dominated by the leaders, and with a relatively high number of polls, there hasn't been much leadership polling. But what there has been has echoed the voting intentions surveys - great for Notley, middling for Jean, bad for Prentice.

Notley's numbers have been stellar, with about half of Albertans saying their opinion of her has improved throughout the campaign (less than 1-in-10 think otherwise). She has topped all of the polls on who would make the best premier, and her approval rating is through the roof.

Prentice, by contrast, has seen his personal approval ratings plummet. His campaign has had the opposite effect of Notley's, worsening voters' opinion of him in a majority of cases. His approval rating rivals that of Alison Redford before she resigned in disgrace.

For the other leaders, the campaign has not had much effect. Jean and Swann roughly split on approval ratings and whether they have improved or worsened voters' opinion of them. This argues against any sort of advantage for them going into the ballot box.

Riding projections
The most confident prediction I can make is that Rachel Notley will win her seat of Edmonton-Strathcona. In fact, the projection model gives this a 100% probability. Her projected vote share, of between 84% and 98%, is almost certainly exaggerated. The PC candidate, Shelley Wegner, is projected to take 7% to 8% of the vote. I think she'll do better.

Brian Jean will have a closer race in Fort McMurray-Conklin, which he is projected to win with just 56% confidence. His vote share is projected to be between 35% and 40%, with the NDP's Ariana Mancini taking 32% to 37%. The PC incumbent, Don Scott, comes up third with between 25% and 29%. I imagine there will be more of a movement towards Wildrose from anti-PC voters who could instead be wooed by the NDP.

Jim Prentice is expected to win his riding of Calgary-Foothills with 90% confidence, and between 50% to 58% of the vote. Wildrose's Keelan Frey is projected to take between 27% and 31%.

Liberal leader David Swann could be in tough in Calgary-Mountain View, where the NDP's Marc Chikinda is favoured by the projection with 37% to 42% of the vote. Swann is awarded 24% to 28%. I think it will be closer than that, and Swann could defy the model (Liberals have done that before in Alberta).

The most interesting race may be in Calgary-Elbow, where Alberta Party leader Greg Clark is narrowly favoured with between 20% and 33% of the vote. PC incumbent Gordon Dirks is expected to take between 26% and 30%. The projection is a literal toss-up. The wildcard will be Wildrose and NDP supporters.

A note on the Liberals

One major assumption the model has made in this campaign is that the polls will over-estimate the Liberals by about the proportion of candidates the party is not running in this race. As a result, the projection drops the Liberals' vote considerably, as the party is running less than a two-thirds slate. But the latest round of polls have had the Liberals very low already. Perhaps Albertans are more aware of whether or not there is a Liberal candidate in their riding than other voters have proven in other elections where a party did not run a full slate.

If I did not penalize the Liberals as I have done, they would be projected to take 4.9% of the vote province wide (6.1% in Calgary, 4.6% in Edmonton, and 3.4% in the rest of Alberta). This would award them between zero and two seats, with the maximum range going up to three.

I have also done the same thing with the Alberta Party, which did not run even half a slate of candidates. The party is expected to take around 1.5% of the vote. If, instead, I relied on the polls, I'd give the Alberta Party and the other parties a total of 5% support, reducing (in conjunction with removing the penalty from the Liberals) the NDP to 42.7%, Wildrose to 24.9%, and the PCs to 22.7%. The seat projection would be virtually unchanged.

2015 not like 2012 or 2013, but could have its own surprises

The PC dynasty about to meet its maker? Sounds like 2012 in Alberta. The NDP projected to win in a western province? Sounds like 2013 in British Columbia.

Oh, did you not know the polls missed those two elections? I'm reminded every day - apparently I keep forgetting!

There are a lot of reasons that this election is nothing like those two examples.

In the 2012 Alberta election, Wildrose held a lead of eight points over the Progressive Conservatives, on average. In this election, the NDP's lead has averaged 17 points over Wildrose, and 18 points over the PCs. Obviously, that is quite different. The degree of error, or the size of a late swing, needs to be at least twice as large as it was in 2012, and that election was exceptional enough.

But if there was a late swing in 2012, there were few pollsters to capture it. In an election that occurred on a Monday, all but two pollsters dropped out of the field on Thursday or earlier. This time, however, the last three days of the campaign had three pollsters in the field (four polls in total), and the numbers held steady. In 2012, by contrast, the final Forum poll showed the gap between Wildrose and the PCs shrinking to just two points - a hint that something big was about to happen?

No such hint has been given this time.

The dynamics of the campaign were different as well. Anecdotally, there seems to be a lot more anger and fed-uppedness with the Prentice Tories than there was with the Redford Tories. There seems to be more genuine interest and energy surrounding the NDP campaign than the Wildrose campaign in 2012. The last week of the Wildrose campaign in 2012 was a very bad one. This time, the only party that had a particularly bad last week was the PCs.

Rachel Notley is polling better than Danielle Smith was, and Jim Prentice is polling worse than Alison Redford was. There are three parties garnering a lot of support, giving vote-switchers from these three parties two viable alternatives. In 2012, there was only one alternative.

The only commonalities between the 2012 and 2015 elections are that they are elections in Alberta, and the PCs are trailing. That's it.

In the 2013 B.C. election, the New Democrats held a lead of only eight points over the B.C. Liberals, again half the size of the lead the Alberta NDP currently enjoys. And the B.C. Liberals had spent the entire campaign closing the gap. Here, the PCs have spent the entire campaign widening it.

In B.C., Christy Clark had moved neck-and-neck with Adrian Dix on who would make the best premier, and her party was polling better than the NDP on the economy. Now in Alberta, Notley is polling about twice as high as Prentice on the premier question, and is beating him on the economy.

Notley's polling numbers are far better than Dix's were. Clark's were also better than Prentice's.

And with the NDP ahead, many voters seemed comfortable voting for the Green Party. An exit poll showed that British Columbians expected the NDP to win. In Alberta, no party is filling that equivalent spoiler role.

But there are factors related to this election that could make the results tonight different from what the polls are suggesting.

The most important one is history. The Progressive Conservatives have been in power for almost 44 years, and change is a scary thing. A lot of voters may finally balk in the ballot box, with both Wildrose and NDP voters flipping back to the PCs. The polls give no indication that something like this will happen (in some polls, Wildrosers choose the NDP as their second choice, and New Democrats choose Wildrose), but theoretically it could. A lot of Albertans with infinitely more knowledge of the local situation than I believe it will happen - but that opinion cannot be based on any of the data I am seeing.

The biggest danger for a surprise result may be in the seat count. Things are still close enough in Calgary that a marginal swing could flip a lot of seats. Ditto for the rural parts of the province. Give the PCs seven-points' worth of NDP support, and you have a PC plurality. Give them even less, but a sprinkling of Wildrose support, and you have the same result.

So hold on to your hats. The polls are unanimous. In any other jurisdiction we'd all be very confident in the result. But this is Alberta, and not only is the polling history mixed but decades upon decades of experience are arguing against this surprising result. If you listen to your gut, to your anecdote, to conventional wisdom and assumptions, maybe you see the PCs pulling it off. If you want to go by objective, cold, unapologetic numbers, though, the NDP has it.

If I was a betting man, I'd go with the numbers. But then again, my gut has been feeling uneasy all week.