Friday, May 1, 2015

An NDP majority in Alberta?

Yesterday was poll day in Alberta. First Return on Insight and Léger reported in the morning, then ThinkHQ surprised everyone with some new numbers. EKOS put their poll out in the early afternoon, and finally Ipsos Reid weighed in. Add this morning's Mainstreet poll, and we've seen six surveys in the last 24 hours.

While that would normally be unusual enough, as each poll landed the skepticism people had that the New Democrats were leading in Alberta was chipped away. Of those six polls, not a single one gave the NDP less than 37% support, and only one put the gap between the New Democrats and the second place party in single digits. The others showed a lead for the NDP of between 11 and 19 points. In Alberta.

The projection has now lurched from a largely minority situation between either the NDP or Wildrose to a likely majority victory for the New Democrats. The party leads with a projected 42% of the vote, enough to win them between 43 and 58 seats. Their minimum seat haul is projected to be 25 seats - which would count as a historic best.

Wildrose is narrowly in second with 26% and between 16 and 28 seats, while the Progressive Conservatives stand at 25% and between five and 23 seats.

The Liberals, with two to three seats and 5% of the vote, bring up the rear.

Yes, these are shocking numbers. But a few things should be kept in mind.

First, a lot of the seats the NDP needs to win to get to majority status are marginal. Seven of the 52 seats projected to go to the NDP are projected with less than 60% confidence - a toss-up. We cannot discount the importance of incumbency, and the potential for a snap-back as Albertans consider the prospects of an NDP majority (they could, of course, also like the idea).

Second, the NDP is projected to take slightly more than the average of the most recent six polls because of the projected over-estimation of the Liberal vote (as well as for the Alberta Party). This is due to the number of candidates these parties are fielding. The polls are averaging 7.6% support for the Liberals, which the projection reduces to 4.7%. They are averaging 4.7% for the other parties, including the Alberta Party, which the projection reduces to 2.7%.

As the New Democrats are topping the polls, and those extra votes are distributed proportionally, they get the lion's share. But the polls back this up. The second choice preference for Liberals and supporters of the Alberta Party is the NDP by a wide margin.

We'll see what the weekend and Monday has in store for final polls. It will be very interesting to see if these trends continue, or if they shift. If they do not shift, the NDP could still have problems overcoming their incumbency disadvantage and a lack of a ground game outside Edmonton and a handful of other ridings. However, the NDP didn't have any trouble with that in Quebec in 2011. Is this a wave election?

The tide is definitely shifting in the four polls released since yesterday morning.

Only Mainstreet was a returnee to the field, and showed a remarkable swing to the New Democrats. From 31% in the immediate aftermath of the debate, the NDP jumped to 44%. Wildrose fell six points to 26%, while the Tories were down five points to 21%.

Overall, the polls were very consistent. The NDP was between 37% and 42% in the three polls done over several days between April 25 and April 29. Three of the four polls had Wildrose at either 26% to 27%, while the PCs were in a tight range of between 20% and 24%.

That is a great deal of agreement for such an oddball election. We also have different methodologies at play here, with EKOS and Mainstreet using IVR and ThinkHQ and Ipsos Reid using both live-callers and the internet. Return on Insight used just live-callers, while Léger used their online panel.

And when we take into account the margins of error (assuming a probabilistic sample for argument's sake), we see there is even more agreement.

With the exception of the Mainstreet poll, which is the newest, a range of between 38% and 41% fits within the margin of error of all of the polls. They all top out at 41% or higher.

There is less agreement for Wildrose and the PCs, but the numbers are nevertheless consistent: mid-20s for Wildrose, low-to-mid-20s for the Tories.

The polls also saw eye-to-eye at the regional level, capturing some startling results.

The New Democrats, of course, led in every poll in Edmonton, with the PCs running second and Wildrose third. Looking at all six, the NDP ranged between 53% and 73%, the Tories between 16% and 22%, and Wildrose between 7% and 17%.

Most surprising is Calgary, though. I have read a great deal of skepticism surrounding the NDP's chances in the city, but the polls really can't back that up. The NDP finished in first place in the city in four of the six polls, and in second in the remaining two. They ranged between 25% and 35% (only one poll had them lower than 29%), compared to 23% to 33% for the Tories and 24% to 28% for Wildrose.

The New Democrats also led in four of the six polls in the rest of Alberta, with the PCs finishing third in five of the six. The NDP ranged between 32% and 39%, Wildrose between 28% and 33%, and the PCs between 22% and 35% (and only one poll had the PCs higher than 23%, which is disastrous for the party).

ThinkHQ, which had a more detailed breakdown for the area outside of Calgary and Edmonton, put the NDP ahead in northern Alberta, Wildrose ahead in central Alberta, and the two parties neck-and-neck in southern Alberta. The PCs weren't competitive anywhere.

Despite all of this, Ipsos found that 50% of Albertans still think the Tories will win, with just 21% thinking the NDP will win. Mainstreet, slightly newer, found it more of a split: 32% thinking the PCs will win and 29% giving the nod to the NDP. It would be interesting to see how that might change in the coming days.

And what effect might it have? It could be exaggerated. ThinkHQ found more Albertans concerned about a PC victory than either a Wildrose or NDP win.

By the election, there will have been five full days of campaigning between the most recent poll and the vote. That makes for a lot of time for opinion to shift. It shifted in that amount of time in 2012, so hopefully we won't be left in the dark again. Because something is happening in Alberta - and missing a whole week of it could be a big mistake for the pollsters.