Monday, November 30, 2015

Final Newfoundland and Labrador projection: Liberal majority

The Liberals under Dwight Ball should be elected with a majority government in today's provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador, with Paul Davis's Progressive Conservatives most likely to form the Official Opposition. The New Democrats under Earle McCurdy should be the third party in the House of Assembly.

The Liberals are projected to take between 53.5% and 60.8% of the vote, with 56.3% being the precise projection. At the maximum and minimum ranges (the most appropriate measure in a province with such small constituencies), the party is projected to win between 25 and 36 seats, more than enough to put it over the threshold of 20 seats required for a majority government.

The PCs are projected to take between 26.7% and 30.9% of the vote, or 28.1% more precisely. The Tories are projected to win between three and 13 seats.

The New Democrats are projected to win between 13.9% and 16.5% of the vote, awarding them between one and six seats.

In the broad strokes, the polls have been generally consistent in that they have pointed to a majority government for the Liberals, the PCs in second, and the NDP in third. But they have been less consistent in terms of the size of the Liberal lead over the Tories.

Early polling in the campaign was more consistent, giving the Liberals between 65% and 74% of the vote, against 17% to 21% for the Tories and 9% to 15% for the NDP.

But polling done in the later part of the campaign has been less consistent, with the Liberals ranging between 52% and 67%, the PCs between 22% and 31%, and the NDP between 10% and 19%.

Forum has been the biggest source of disagreement, after showing almost identical numbers to Abacus's first poll of the campaign. Forum's two polls done on Nov. 24 and Nov. 29, the two most recent polls of the campaign and the only two done entirely after the final leaders' debate on the CBC, have put the Liberals at either 52% or 54% and the PCs at either 29% or 31%, while the two last polls from Abacus and CRA have pegged the Liberals at either 64% or 67% and the PCs at 22%.

The Forum poll of Nov. 24 was not weighted regionally, with an over-weighting for responses on the Avalon Peninsula. But the effect was negligible, by my calculations expanding the Liberals' lead from 23 points to 25 points. The last poll was weighted regionally, however.

We'll see if Forum or Abacus/CRA is on the mark, though in a campaign where the Liberals are leading by such a wide margin and the PCs are so unpopular we might expect Forum's IVR polling to get somewhat more honest responses. The difference could be that shy Tory effect, or the idea that the Liberals need an opposition, one that has only taken hold in the last days of the campaign. Or it could be that Forum is wrong. We'll see soon enough.

It does make a big difference in the potential outcomes. The chart below shows what the model would be projecting if it was only taking into account each individual poll.

As you can see, Forum's polls still give the Liberals a majority but a much smaller one. The polls from Abacus and CRA would deliver a landslide, with the maximum ranges topping out at 38 seats with Abacus and 40 seats (all of them) with CRA.

It will be interesting to see what the results will be tonight. It is a difficult election to predict down to the seat level, with a limited number of polls having been done in the final week and the potential for local factors and candidates to be hugely important. And what impact will the seeming inevitability of the Liberal victory have on turnout? Lots of potential for some surprises — but just around the edges. Anything but a Liberal majority would be a shock.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

For the record

At an event put on by the MRIA last week, four pollsters went over what they saw happening in the last federal election campaign.

According to this report by iPolitics, Darrell Bricker of Ipsos Reid was quite critical of the work done by polling aggregators, such as myself and Barry Kay of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (who was partnered with Global News, Ipsos Reid's media partner). He said:

“I would argue, quite frankly, that these models are as likely to maximize error by putting polls together as they are to minimize it…There’s work to do here and there’s value associated with doing this. But it’s not happening well right now…Sorry, CBC.”

Bricker may very well have a point. Aggregation can certainly be done better, and I and others are always working towards improving it.

But for the record, the error in Ipsos Reid's final poll totaled 1.2 points per party, compared to 1.3 points per party for and the CBC Poll Tracker. Hardly a case of maximizing error. And the aggregation out-performed Ipsos Reid at the regional level in British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. Ipsos Reid only did better than in Alberta.

Ipsos Reid did out-perform in the 2011 federal election campaign. But since then, when changes were made to the aggregation model, has out-performed Ipsos Reid in the provincial campaigns in Ontario in 2011 and 2014, in British Columbia in 2013, in Quebec in 2014, and in Alberta in 2015, as well as in the municipal election in Toronto in 2014.

More broadly,'s aggregation has out-performed the polls in most elections. This site has had a smaller average per party error than the average error of all the pollsters in the field for 15 consecutive federal, provincial, and municipal campaigns, and 16 of 18 campaigns overall.

Aggregation is a way to minimize error in the vast majority of cases.

In terms of seat projections, there is certainly more work to be done and I have already taken some steps to address some of the issues with the model. But I should also take this opportunity to point out that the model itself, divorced from how the polls do, has identified the potential winners in 90% of ridings, and its error in the more narrow likely ranges has been four seats or less — in total, all parties combined — in 12 of 14 elections where ranges were given.

Bricker is right to point out the amount of polling data that Nate Silver has to work with. Having that much data would certainly make things a lot easier. But our first-past-the-post system and multi-party democracy is also much more complicated. This was shown in 2010 when Silver had just as much trouble as everyone else in projecting the outcome of the election in the U.K. It happened again this year when FiveThirtyEight affiliated itself with a British outfit.

American elections, with their two parties and, at the presidential and Senate levels, very big jurisdictions, are much more predictable. In this past election, the Liberals jumped 20 points and the Conservatives dropped eight from the previous vote. The last time there was a change of government in the United States, the swing between the Republicans and the Democrats was just five points. Almost half of the seats on offer changed hands in the 2015 Canadian federal election. In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, only two states out of 50 changed hands.

There will always be elections that for one reason or another are very difficult to predict without making unreasonable assumptions or leaps, and the 2015 federal election campaign was one of them. Rather than see that as a reason to abandon everything, this unpredictability is something fascinating that tells us a lot about what happened. That's part of the process — experiments that go wrong can be just as informative as those that go right.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Riding results with a preferential ballot

In my column for the CBC today, I looked at what impact a preferential ballot might have had on the 2015 federal election. Take a look at the full article.

The calculation was based on second choice polling data at the end of the campaign, which had been broken down to the region. So, with that information I was able to estimate which party a Conservative voter in British Columbia, for instance, would mark as his second choice. With that data, I was able to re-run the 2015 federal election in every riding.

Of course, this assumes that all else is equal, including how the campaigns would have unfolded. It also assumes that the regional-level second choice preferences apply in each riding, which of course would not always be the case. So a few assumptions have had to be made. But I think the exercise is nevertheless indicative of what impact a preferential ballot might have had, and what impact it would have in the future if the parties do not change their electoral strategies.

Since I ran this exercise down to the riding level and had the numbers on hand, I decided I might as well share the data with readers here. In the tables below, I've shown the results after going through the exercise. Blank results for a party mean it was dropped at an earlier ballot and its support redistributed to other parties. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How the cities went in the federal election

In many ways, Justin Trudeau's victory on Oct. 19 was an urban one, with the Liberals virtually sweeping the urban ridings and winning just enough rural ones to put them over the top for a majority government.

The Elections Canada results page, in addition to showing the breakdown of the results by province, also has the option to show the results in major centres. I'm not quite sure how those are defined (likely any riding within a CMA), and these results are the preliminary results, but they do give us an indication of how each of these major centres voted in the federal election.

UPDATE: The definitions for each major centre can be found here. As you can see, Elections Canada used a wide brush to define these.

In the chart below, I've included all of the major centres that Election Canada defined as having at least three ridings. None of this information is original — but considering the way that Elections Canada has the data organized (you can only see four at a time) I thought it would be useful to compile it all in one place.

The Liberals won big in each of the largest three cities, beating out the Conservatives by 14 points in and around Vancouver and 16 points in and around Toronto, while also edging out the New Democrats by 15 points in and around Montreal. 

But the Liberals also did very well in other big centres, topping 40% in Winnipeg, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Gatineau, Halifax, Moncton, and St. John's. They also managed to eke out victories in Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières, the last two some real signals of how the Liberals broke through in francophone Quebec.

Outside of Atlantic Canada, the Ottawa-Gatineau region was the major centre that voted in the largest numbers for the Liberals.

The party also did quite well in the southern Ontario cities like London, Oshawa, and St. Catharines-Niagara, centres they lost to the Conservatives by narrow margins. 

Surprisingly, the Liberals placed second in Quebec City and Regina. Only in Victoria, Saskatoon, and Windsor did the Liberals finish in third place. And it is something to see the party sitting at just under 30% in Calgary.

The Conservatives won the cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan by very wide margins, and managed to squeeze out the Liberals in London, Oshawa, and St. Catharines-Niagara. The party did very well in Quebec City, winning it by 15 points.

The Tories also had strong second-place showings in Winnipeg, Kingston, and Kitchener-Waterloo. Its numbers in Montreal and Gatineau were unsurprisingly low, but the party also put up poor numbers in Atlantic Canada and in both Vancouver and Victoria, though their Vancouver numbers were enough to place them second.

And that is because the New Democrats were pushed out of the urban centres in big ways. The only city they won was Windsor, with just under 39 per cent, and in only St. John's and Victoria (which the NDP narrowly lost to the Greens) did the party manage more than 30% support. 

In addition to those two cities, the NDP also finished second in Saskatoon, Gatineau, Montreal, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, and Halifax. 

The Bloc had poor numbers in the five major centres in Quebec, putting up their best results in Trois-Rivières and Montreal, where they took over 20% support.

The Greens won Victoria by the skin of their teeth (and thanks to Elizabeth May), but nowhere else did better than 4.5% support.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

District-level polling in Newfoundland and Labrador, and some news

The province-wide race may no longer be very interesting, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of fascinating races at the district level in Newfoundland and Labrador. A new poll by Abacus Data for VOCM in the district of St. John's West, for example, shows that former MP Siobhan Coady is in good form, while NDP leader Earle McCurdy is in danger of losing.

There will also be a number of polls out from Abacus and VOCM in the coming week for Newfoundland and Labrador, so keep an eye out for those.

You can read my analysis of this latest poll on the CBC's website here.

And that leads me to the next bit of news. Though the federal election is now over, my work for the CBC is continuing. In addition to the kinds of analyses I have written for the CBC (and, in the past, other media outlets) I will also be writing some articles for the CBC that would have normally found a home here on This article about a district poll in Newfoundland and Labrador is a good example.

Work here on will continue, but the pace will be reduced. It will still be a place to host things like the Newfoundland and Labrador projection and other tracking data that would not have a place with the CBC. But since most of my original analyses will be on the CBC's website, I have added a list of links to my latest articles at the top of the right-hand column. This list will be constantly updated.

You can also bookmark my author page at the CBC to keep abreast of all my articles.

I'm also happy to announce that the Pollcast podcast will continue! We'll have the latest episode up hopefully this week, with regular weekly episodes from then on. The focus will still be on polls and polling, but it will cover some other topics. Think of it as the Canadian political geek's podcast. It should be fun!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

First post-election poll is not bad for the Liberals

The first post-election poll is out, and it is a doozy.

Does a poll conducted four years before the next federal election mean a lot? No. Of course, it says nothing about the next election and, really, has no impact on where things stand today. But it is an indication of how Canadians are reacting to the new Liberal government. And before you say "It's only Forum", remember that Forum nailed the election results almost exactly.

Oh, and it marks the first salvo in what will undoubtedly be a barrage of Conservative leadership polling that we will see between now and the date that the next leader is actually chosen.

The poll gives the Liberals the support of 55% of Canadians, an enormous number that the Conservatives never managed in any poll throughout their tenure. My records only go back so far and are incomplete the earlier they go, but even back in the days of 2002 and 2003, when the Liberals faced a divided opposition and the coming Paul Martin juggernaut was poised to deliver Liberal rule for the rest of time, the party was only polling at around the 50% mark.

The Conservatives have dropped down by seven points to 25%, a number they were flirting with in the dark days of the Mike Duffy scandal. The New Democrats have also dropped by a similar amount, down to just 12%, a score that brings them back to the earliest days of Jack Layton.

The numbers in this poll are just astounding: 61% for the Liberals in British Columbia, 56% in Ontario, and 58% in Quebec (the Conservatives, remarkably, are holding firm in Alberta and the Prairies). The NDP takes the brunt of the hit in most parts of the country, down to just 11% in Quebec. All told, these numbers would likely deliver around 245 to 280 seats to the Liberals, with the Conservatives taking 55 to 90 and the NDP less than 10.

This poll does not look like a normal honeymoon poll, or at least not like one the Conservatives ever saw after their election victory. The two post-election polls in 2011 taken at about the same time after the vote as this Forum poll (by Abacus Data and Harris-Decima) gave the Conservatives between 38% and 40% support, identical to the 39.6% they managed on election night. Instead, the NDP was up a little to 33%, dropping the Liberals to 15% to 16% support. There was no honeymoon — just a confirmation of where people stood a few weeks earlier, with maybe a little NDP uptick at the expense of the Liberals.

Polling averages, 2009-2015
The significance of this new poll should not be exaggerated, as its significance is minimal. But there are some worrying signs in these numbers for the New Democrats. Thomas Mulcair's approval rating is now a net -5, after being a robust +17 even in the last week of the campaign. Justin Trudeau has gone from a +9 to a +40, with Canadians approving of him by a margin of 3 to 1.

More problematic for the NDP is that a lot of their supporters seem perfectly fine with the Liberal victory. Fully 53% of current NDP supporters approve of Trudeau, compared to 62% who approve of Mulcair. And 18% of NDP voters say they are very satisfied with the election's outcome. That increases to 72% when we include those who say they are somewhat satisfied.

Of course, much of this satisfaction could merely be with the defeat of Stephen Harper. And Trudeau is at a very high risk of losing much of this new support if he doesn't deliver entirely on his progressive rhetoric. Nevertheless, the NDP has some work to do to convince its traditional supporters that while Trudeau might sound good to them, Mulcair and the NDP remains the real deal.

MacKay leads the name-recognition primary

Perhaps more significant (and we're still talking low significance here) were Forum's numbers on the Conservative leadership race. As he has been in Conservative leadership polling for the entirety of Stephen Harper's time in the job, Peter MacKay was at the top of the list.

Among all Canadians, MacKay was the choice for Conservative leader of 29%, more than double the next most popular candidates.

These were John Baird and Rona Ambrose at 14% apiece, despite the fact that Baird has ruled himself out and Ambrose has been officially ruled out due to her becoming the interim leader.

Next, at 11% each, were two Alberta MPs: Jason Kenney and Michelle Rempel. Scoring below 10% was Kellie Leitch (9%), Tony Clement (7%), and Rob Nicholson (6%).

Among Conservative supporters, MacKay was still well ahead of the pack at 32%, followed by Baird at 18%, Kenney at 16%, and Ambrose at 12%.

Do these numbers mean much? Not really — as the former leader of the Progressive Conservatives and one of the Tories' most high-profile cabinet ministers he should be expected to have the most name recognition. In fact, it is somewhat impressive that Rempel and Leitch, who were both only elected for the first time in 2011, scored as well as they did, beating out such fixtures of Conservative politics over the last decade or more like Clement and Nicholson.

There was some regionalism in the numbers, with the former Nova Scotia MP MacKay scoring best in Atlantic Canada and Kenney and Rempel doing significantly better in Alberta than they did nationwide.

And in terms of gains or losses, if any can be determined, it does seem like Ambrose's rise to the interim leadership of the Conservative Party has helped her. The last Forum poll asking the question in May 2014, if we exclude those who were undecided in that survey (as that was not an option in this one), had Ambrose at 8% among all Canadians, compared to 14% today. MacKay dropped from 38% to 29%, while Kenney, Baird, and Clement (the only other names to be in both of these polls) had no movement of any significance. So, possibly MacKay has lost a little lustre in the eyes of Canadians, or there is just too much apples-to-oranges comparisons here to make anything of it. I'll lean towards the latter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Warning signals for all three big Quebec parties in four by-elections

As expected, the Quebec Liberals held their three ridings and the Parti Québécois its one in the four by-elections that occurred across the province yesterday. But the results were mixed for both parties, with the Liberals putting up big drops in support in two of their three wins while making a big gain in their one loss, while the Parti Québécois had its own drop in support where it was the incumbent and respectable increases in two of the ridings in which it came up short.

Moral and actual victories for both parties, then, if they want to look for them. But nothing for the Coalition Avenir Québec, except a new logo.

Turnout was poor in the two Montreal-area ridings, at just 24% in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne and 23% in Fabre. It was more within the norm for by-elections in René-Lévesque on the Côte-Nord (40%) and Beauce-Sud (43%).

The Liberals increased their vote share in Beauce-Sud, and widened their margin of victory over the CAQ by almost 14 points. At 55.9% support, Paul Busque's score was the best performance for the Liberals in this riding in 18 years. Tom Redmond captured 29.9% of the vote, the lowest number for the CAQ or its predecessor ADQ since 1998. Of note is the performance of Quebec's Conservative Party, which at 3% of the vote finished in fourth place ahead of Québec Solidaire.

Monique Sauvé of the Liberals took 44% of the vote in Fabre, a significant drop since 2014 but better than the party's performance in the riding in 2012. The PQ's Jibril Akaaboune Le-François captured 28.6% of the vote, a big increase from 2014 and a little better than 2012, but well below the 36.8% score the party managed in Fabre in 2008.

In the riding of René-Lévesque, the PQ's Martin Ouellet took 49% of the vote, the worst showing for the PQ in the riding since 2003. The Liberals' Karine Otis surprised with 39% of the vote, the biggest increase any party experienced in any of these four ridings. The last time the PLQ did that well was in 1989. Otis was also the only candidate to have an increase in raw vote totals, as she picked up 848 votes over the party's performance here in 2014. Either Liberal voters turned out, or Otis took a lot of the vote away from the CAQ, which experienced its only double-digit drop in vote share here.

Dominique Anglade managed to hold on to Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne in what turned out to be the closest race of the night. At 38.6%, Anglade nearly matched the Liberals' performance here in 2012 — the last time the Liberals lost an election. The PQ's Gabrielle Lemieux jumped in support to 29.9%, though that was still below the party's performance here three years ago. The big surprise was Marie-Eve Rancourt of Québec Solidaire, who captured 20.7% of the vote, almost double the party's vote share in the last election. Nevertheless, her raw vote count was still down from 2014. The PQ will undoubtedly make some noise about the split of the vote in this riding, as it is the one in which the combined totals of the PQ and QS (two sovereigntist parties) would have been enough to defeat the Liberal candidate.

In my last analysis of these by-elections, I pointed out how these four ridings have, on average, tracked the province wide vote totals quite closely. If these four ridings are still bellwethers when combined, the results do not suggest that Philippe Couillard's Liberals are in much trouble. The party averaged 44.4% across these four ridings, compared to 28.6% for the PQ. That still means a Liberal majority government if those sorts of numbers were repeated on election night. The biggest change, then, would be in the CAQ's tremendous drop in support to just 13.8%.

The CAQ had the worst night, averaging a loss of 6.9 points across the four ridings. By-elections are often difficult for the CAQ, particularly in ridings where the party is not a factor. The ADQ also used to have this issue, so an argument could be made to shrug off their performances in three of these four ridings. But for the party to drop over eight points in Beauce-Sud, where the CAQ was the only other party with a chance to win the riding, is very problematic. And whereas the CAQ has been dropping support to the PQ at the provincial level, in this case it seems to have been primarily to the benefit of the Liberals. If the CAQ is not competitive in a riding like Beauce-Sud, they have few prospects for gains.

The drop in support for the Liberals in the two Montreal-area ridings was significant, and is perhaps something that could be a sign of a deeper problem for the Quebec Liberals in urban ridings. But in both cases the turnout was anemic, so it could have merely been the case that voters did not bother turning out to vote in by-elections that everyone considered a foregone conclusion.

The PQ's increase in both Fabre and Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but again the low turnout lessens the impact of the party's performance. More concerning for Pierre-Karl Péladeau should be the performance of the PQ in René-Lévesque, a riding the PQ routinely won with over 50% of the vote in bad elections. This is just the kind of riding that should be embracing the PQ if the party is heading in the right direction. Instead, the Liberals put up some big numbers in a riding that has traditionally not been friendly to them. There are some echoes of the federal Liberals' performance in Quebec in this: they took 29% of the vote and finished second in the riding of Manicouagan, of which René-Lévesque forms a part at the provincial level.

This is why the results are a mixed bag for both parties. The Liberals can be happy to see that their vote share, overall, hardly budged from their big victory last year. And the strong performance in the two rural ridings is a sign that the party is doing well among francophones. But their losses in the Montreal area, where perhaps the politics of austerity resonate more, show some underlying weakness in a traditionally safe area.

For the PQ, modest increases in the Montreal area is a positive sign for the party, but losses in a stronghold region of their own, particularly under a new leader, also suggests some underlying weaknesses.

Though François Legault certainly has reason to be concerned, both Couillard and Péladeau can breathe a sigh of relief with these results. They held their ridings and can each point to some strong second-place showings. But Fabre and Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne indicate that Couillard can't get too comfortable, while René-Lévesque shows that Péladeau is far from following in the footsteps of that riding's namesake.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Liberals start Newfoundland and Labrador campaign with huge lead

The provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador was kicked off yesterday and will come to a close on November 30, but it is not setting up to be as exciting as the federal campaign that just came to an exciting finish. Instead, the campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador starts with the Liberal Party under Dwight Ball enjoying a 47-point lead over his nearest rival, the incumbent Progressive Conservative government of Paul Davis.

This is from the latest survey from Abacus Data. And with the start of the campaign comes the launch of the projection model for the Newfoundland and Labrador election, the first to use the three-election swing model I outlined earlier.

This campaign poses a few problems for the projection model. Before taking a look at the Abacus poll, let's go through them.

The first is the redistribution of the province's 48 districts into just 40. That represents a great deal of change and the combination of old districts into these smaller new ones. Because of the enormity of the changes, it makes it a tricky election to call with this three-election swing model.

Luckily, Kyle Hutton provided me with the transposition of the 2011 results onto the new boundaries. And the spreadsheet he designed helped me calculate the transposition for the 2003 and 2007 elections as well. So thanks to Kyle for that. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The second and third difficulties are compounded by the first: there were a large number of by-elections in the last legislature, and they featured some incredibly massive shifts in support. There were also a number of floor-crossings, which is doubly complicated in Newfoundland and Labrador due to the importance of the local candidate.

Now that these by-election results and floor-crossing incumbent MHAs have been split among multiple ridings, it makes it difficult to know what impact they will have within the new district boundaries. I have tried to estimate what the results would have been throughout the new ridings when a by-election took place within its boundaries, and have applied the floor-crossing factor as I would normally.

Then there is the matter of Newfoundland and Labrador's small population. It makes it much more difficult to project outcomes when a riding has a smaller population that can more easily swing in one direction or another, particularly when we're seeing such a massive shift in support as we are in this election.

Taken together, this leads me to encourage readers to exercise a great deal of caution with the seat projections, and to rely more than ever on the seat ranges. And as there are a relatively small number of ridings considered at play in the likely ranges, I'd also suggest concentrating on the 95% confidence interval — so the maximum and minimum ranges.

My urging of caution is doubly so for the riding-by-riding projections, which are primarily there to show how I come to my province-wide totals.

So where does that put us at the start of this campaign? It suggests the Liberals could win between 29 and 39 seats, putting them well over the 20-seat mark required for a majority and putting a near-sweep within their grasp (even the likely ranges top out at 38 seats).

The New Democrats are projected to win five seats, but that is up against their very maximum: instead, their range puts them between one and five seats, within the Tories' band of between zero and eight seats. As the incumbent government, however, the PCs have a better chance of winding up in the average to maximum range (one to eight seats) than does the NDP. So despite the average projection, I'd still call the PCs the favourites to form the Official Opposition at this stage.

The Abacus poll gives the Liberals 66% support, almost exactly where the federal Liberals ended up on October 19 and higher than any other result the NL Liberals have recently managed (their previous high was 60% to 62% a year ago).

At 19%, the PCs are at their lowest ebb, while the 15% for the NDP puts them back to where they were for much of 2014.

There is no good news at the regional level for any party but the Liberals, who scored their lowest support levels on the Avalon Peninsula and still managed 59%. The PCs had their best result, 26%, in central Newfoundland, where they are the incumbents in every riding, and 21% on the Avalon Peninsula. The New Democrats had their best result on the Avalon Peninsula and in St. John's, where all of their seats are located. If their vote is concentrated enough, they can win a few seats with these numbers.

Across the board, the numbers in this Abacus poll were stellar for the Liberals. Fully 73% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians would consider voting for them, compared to just 37% for the NDP and 32% for the Tories. A majority of voters would not consider voting for either the PCs or the NDP. And three-quarters of people in the province think the Liberals will win, including half of PC voters and two-thirds of NDP voters.

While Dwight Ball has very good personal numbers, he isn't beating Paul Davis because the premier is unpopular, who has a positive rating of 32%, with just 25% having a negative impression of him. Earle McCurdy also has a net positive score, with 26% having a positive impression of him against 22% who have a negative one.

But Ball is head and shoulders above both of these, with 50% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians holding a positive impression of the Liberal leader. Just 10% hold a negative view.

The trump card for Ball, though, is that 60% of voters think it is "definitely" time for a change of government, while another 25% think a change would be good but is not necessarily important. Only 9% think the PCs should be re-elected.

So it will take some doing for the Liberals to lose this one. For now, the thing to watch is whether either the PCs or NDP can do something to avoid the election turning into a complete landslide. The federal Liberals went 7-for-7 on election night in Newfoundland and Labrador. Something very close to 40-for-40, with these sorts of numbers, is likely for the provincial Liberals on November 30.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Four Quebec by-elections a mid-term test for Couillard and Péladeau

Quebecers in four ridings will be heading to the polls yet again on Monday, as four by-elections are being held in the province to fill vacancies in the National Assembly. And based on the history of these four ridings, the results may provide a telling glimpse of where voters stand in Quebec about 19 months into Philippe Couillard's mandate.

Two of the by-elections are being held in the Greater Montreal region, while the other two are being held in the eastern part of the province. They each have something for the four major parties in Quebec.

In Beauce-Sud, a riding hugging the border with the United States and anchored by the town of St-Georges, the Liberals are hoping Paul Busque can hold the seat after the departure of Robert Dutil, a cabinet minister during Jean Charest's government. They will face their biggest challenge from Tom Redmond, a municipal councilor for St-Georges and the Coalition Avenir Québec's candidate.

At the west end of Laval lies the riding of Fabre, vacated by the Liberals' Gilles Ouimet. Monique Sauvé will be looking to hold it for the party, which should not prove difficult.

At the other end of the province in the Côte-Nord, including the towns of Forestville and Baie-Comeau, is the riding of René-Léveseque. The Parti Québécois's Marjolain Dufour gave up the seat, and the PQ has put up Martin Ouellet to retain it. Though it is unlikely the PQ would lose this riding, the biggest challenge will likely come from Baie-Comeau municipal councilor Karine Otis of the Liberals.

The last riding, the working class Montreal riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne, was left vacant by the departure of former cabinet minister Marguerite Blais of the Liberals. The only real 'star' candidate of these by-elections is Dominique Anglade, former president of the CAQ, who the Liberals are hoping can keep the riding for their party. The PQ's Gabrielle Lemieux will likely put up the biggest fight, though Québec Solidaire is gunning for a strong performance with their candidate Marie-Eve Rancourt, who ran for the party here in 2008.

These four ridings, individually, are not particularly interesting. The smallest margin of victory in these four in 2014 was 12.3 points in Beauce-Sud, while the other three were won by margins of 30 points or more. Only in Beauce-Sud is an upset a serious possibility, as the margin has averaged just 5.4 points in the riding over the last three elections. The average margin has been 15 points or more in the other ridings.

Together, however, these ridings are quite interesting. That is because they have actually managed to be ridings that, combined, matched the province-wide outcomes quite closely.

As you can see in the table above, the average result in these four ridings has never differed very greatly from the overall results in the province. They have been very close for the Parti Québécois in particular, which means these by-elections may serve as a good indication of how Pierre-Karl Péladeau is doing as the PQ's new leader.

The average result across these four ridings may be the most interesting number to look at on Monday night. But let's return to each of the four races.

Though attention has primarily been on the race in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne, the by-election in Beauce-Sud could prove the closest. It was a very tight race between the Liberals and the CAQ (represented here by the ADQ's results in 2008) in 2008 and 2012, and was actually won by the ADQ in 2007. The CAQ's vote here has slipped a little over the last few elections, but it is nevertheless robust. 

The Liberals have dipped in the polls since the 2014 election, which may open up an opportunity for the CAQ here. But the CAQ has also dropped in support, primarily due to the arrival of Péladeau on the scene. That still gives the Liberals the best odds of holding on, but the CAQ's hopes are lying in Beauce-Sud.

There is little doubt that Fabre is a riding the Liberals should have no trouble retaining. They have easily won the riding over the last three elections, and saw their vote increase significantly in Fabre in 2014. The PQ's share has dropped consistently here over the last few campaigns, while the CAQ's strong showing in 2012 was due in part to the candidacy of Anglade, who is no longer available to the party. The ADQ did come relatively close here in 2007, but even that was when the Liberals were in a much poorer state than they are currently.

Polls suggest the Liberals are doing very well in the Montreal region, so this riding should hold firm for them. The question may be to see whether the PQ's Jibril Akaaboune Le-François can make some inroads in order to demonstrate that Péladeau's PQ can woo voters around the island of Montreal.

If Fabre is safe territory for the Liberals, then René-Lévesque is a stronghold for the PQ. With the brief exception of an ADQ by-election victory in 2002, the PQ has held this riding without interruption since 1994. In the 1995 sovereignty referendum, almost three out of every four voters in the riding opted for independence.

Support for the PQ has been over 50% in each of the last four elections, including the 2007 and 2014 campaigns when the party had the worst provincial performances in its history. Even in 2014, Dufour won the riding by just over 33 points. Considering that the Liberals are not in a better position in the polls today than they were a year ago, it is extremely unlikely that they can overcome that gap. In fact, it will be a disappointment for the PQ and Péladeau if they do not improve upon the 55% that Dufour managed in 2014.

Since its creation in 1994, the riding of Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne has only ever voted for the Quebec Liberals. Any change from that would be a tremendous upset.

The Liberals won this riding by just over 30 points in 2014, and still managed to win it by just over six points in 2012. Even under the best of circumstances, it is a stretch to imagine the PQ being able to wrest this riding away from the Liberals — particularly with Anglade on the ballot. 

But the riding does serve as a bit of a test for the PQ and QS. For the results to be good news for the Parti Québécois, they would like to see their numbers be back over 30%. More interesting might be the numbers for Québec Solidaire, which has managed double-digits in this riding over the last two elections. The party is also doing quite well in the polls, registering as high as 13% province-wide and nearly 20% in the Montreal region. A strong sign that QS is heading in the right direction would see its results top 20% in Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne, though that might be a high bar to meet.

The safe money in these four by-elections would be on the four incumbent parties holding on. The CAQ could potentially pull off a victory in Beauce-Sud, while if things go well for the PQ they could get the Liberals nervous in Fabre and Saint-Henri–Sainte-Anne. On the whole, however, the defeat of any incumbent party would be big news.

So instead the interest in these four by-elections will be on the overall performance of the parties, and whether they can out-perform expectations. They will primarily serve as tests to Couillard and Péladeau. Is the Liberal government in trouble or on the right track? Has Péladeau's leadership of the PQ led to any real gains for the party? Real ballots, and not just polls, will give us a clue on Monday night.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A different approach to seat projections

One lesson learned from the 2015 federal election is in the difficulty in projecting outcomes when the voting base of a party has dramatically shifted from one election to the next. In this case, it was the Liberal Party that attracted new and lapsed voters to the polls. Many of these voters appeared in unexpected numbers and in unexpected places, which is why virtually all seat projectors estimated that the Liberals were on track to win only a minority government, with a majority government being possible but unlikely.

Turnout in most elections does not dramatically shift from one campaign to the next, making it much easier to project outcomes at the seat level based on regional or provincial changes in support. It is no accident that the model has performed best when changes in turnout were lowest, while it has struggled more in elections with big changes in turnout.

But this is not all about new voters. More people voted in 2006 than in 2008 or 2011, meaning that a lot of people who voted in the 2006 election stayed home in the next two elections as the Liberals plummeted in public support. The Liberals did attract a lot of first-time voters in this campaign, but they were also successful in bringing back a lot of voters that just stayed home in 2008 and 2011.

Though there were a few surprises, the vast majority of the ridings the Liberals won in this campaign were ridings they had held in the past. Many of their pick-ups in Quebec, for instance, were won by the Liberals in 2000.

Taken together, this suggests that looking further back into a riding's history than just the most recent election can tell us a lot about how likely a riding is to go one way or another in the next election. If the basic principles of the swing model can work when looking at just one election, then they should be able to work when applied to elections further back in time, swinging the results from two or three elections ago according to where the polls are today.

This is what I tested with the 2015 results, swinging the results in each riding over the last three elections. I tried various weightings (looking at just the last two elections, giving all three elections equal weighting, trying proportions of 4/2/1, etc.), but the one that worked best was also the one that was most intuitive. It weighted the three elections with a proportion of 3/2/1, or 50% for 2011, 33.3% for 2008, and 16.7% for 2006.

As shown below, the results were very positive.

Using the actual provincial and regional vote shares (which is the real test of the projection model), the old model would have delivered the Liberals 154 seats, the Conservatives 120 seats, and the NDP 56 seats. The actual results for the Liberals and Conservatives would have fallen outside of the likely ranges, and into the maximum and minimum ranges.

But with the new model, the Liberals would have been projected to take 166 seats, the Conservatives 116, and the New Democrats 45. It would have been almost right on the mark for the NDP, and exactly on the mark for the Bloc Québécois. Most importantly, the Conservatives and Liberal results would have fallen within the likely ranges — the Liberal result falling well within that mark.

The regional projections would have been improved significantly, particularly in Quebec. The actual result there was 40 seats for the Liberals, 16 for the NDP, 12 for the Conservatives, and 10 for the Bloc. With the new model, it would have given 38 seats to the Liberals in Quebec, with 18 going to the NDP and 12 to the Tories. Only in Atlantic Canada would the results have not fallen within the maximum and minimum ranges, with the Liberals topping out at 30 seats and the NDP bottoming out at two. Peter Stoffer and Jack Harris would have still been projected to survive.

Even considering where the vote projection model stood on the eve of the election, this new seat projection model would have given the Liberals a range of between 128 and 177 seats — meaning their final tally of 184 seats would have fallen outside the likely range, but the potential for a Liberal majority victory would have been a big part of the final analysis (rather than the marginal part it was actually given).

Accuracy would have been higher at the riding level, increasing from 81.4% to 82.5%. But most significantly, the potential winners would have been identified in the high-low ranges in 91.4% of cases, meaning in only 29 ridings would the potential winner have been missed, compared to 43 with the old model.

This new model requires a few other changes, including some judgement calls in terms of how to handle special cases. This involves ignoring the results of some past elections, such as the 2006 and 2008 elections in Saanich–Gulf Islands, where Elizabeth May did not run, or cases where an independent took an out-sized portion of the vote (as in 2006 in Portneuf–Jacques-Cartier, when the Conservatives ran a candidate against independent André Arthur, or in 2008 when Bill Casey ran as an independent in what is now Cumberland–Colchester).

In addition, the incumbency effect built into the model is now a redundancy, as the results of the previous elections already take into account an incumbent's ability to withstand wider trends. Losing an incumbent, however, is still applicable.

Note that I do intend to run this new model through more tests as time permits to ensure that its improved performance isn't due to a fluke related just to the 2015 federal election. But time is an issue, because the next provincial election is just weeks away.

The next test: Newfoundland and Labrador

This new model may never be tested for real at the federal level, as the next election may not be decided according to the first-past-the-post system. Elements of it could be part of a model designed to project the outcome of a ranked ballot election, however.

The real tests will come in the provincial elections that will still use the first-past-the-post electoral system. And the next one is coming very soon: Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are heading to the polls on November 30.

How would the new model have performed had it been used back in 2011? Again, it would have done a better job.

The actual results of that election delivered 37 seats to the Progressive Conservatives, six seats to the Liberals, and five to the New Democrats. This despite the NDP finishing ahead of the Liberals in the popular vote by over five percentage points.

With the actual results plugged into the 2011 model, it awarded 41 seats to the PCs, four to the Liberals, and three to the NDP. Not a bad showing, considering it still would have given the Official Opposition nod to the Liberals. But the riding-level accuracy of just 75%, or 36 out of 48 ridings, left a lot to be desired.

The new model would not have improved upon the 2011 performance, at least in the top-line numbers: it still would have been 41 Tories, four Liberals, and three New Democrats. But the riding-level accuracy would have increased to 81.3%, with correct calls in 39 out of 48 ridings.

The election in Newfoundland and Labrador will pose a few problems, in that the number of seats has been reduced from 48 to 40. There have also been a large number of floor-crossings and by-elections since 2011, further complicating matters. These are the sorts of things that can throw any seat projection model for a loop.

But I will put the new model to the test nevertheless and see how it does. The same principles behind what has been, I believe, a very effective model (which has been used in 17 provincial and federal elections) are still in place, so I consider this a refinement rather than a wholesale change. We'll see how it does soon.