By-Election Barometer

By-elections are the only electoral tests that parties face between elections. But being hyper-local, they can be unpredictable. The By-Election Barometer serves as a measure of what might be expected in by-elections and of what actual polls are showing, in addition to providing a basis for comparing expectations to results.

A record of forecasts vs. results can be found below - the barometer has only made the wrong call four times in 46 federal and provincial by-elections since 2012, for an accuracy rating of 91.3%.

Three of the four errors have occurred in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the Liberals have gone from a tiny share of the vote in 2011 to big by-election victories. In one of the ridings, there was a swing of almost 90 points between the Tories and the Liberals.

In the other error, the Progressive Conservatives won the Alberta riding of Calgary West by 2.8 points over Wildrose, who were favoured. In the model, Wildrose was given a 65% chance of winning, with the Tories at 35%.

What the By-Election Barometer is

The By-Election Barometer tracks all scheduled and upcoming federal and provincial by-elections. The percentages shown in the charts represent margins, colour-coded according to the standards adopted by this site. The first set show the results of the last two elections.

The second set of margins are those that the projection model churns out when each regional/provincial poll is applied, using the same system as ThreeHundredEight's standard seat projection model. These are a way to demonstrate what might be expected in the riding, based on regional trends. The rolling 30-day average calculates an unweighted average of these projections with the last 30-days of regional polling.

The third set of margins, when available, represent the results of actual polls of the riding that have been released.

Finally, ThreeHundredEight's Forecast is calculated by taking the projected range of results from the average of the last 30 days of polling, including any polls done for the riding itself, and comparing how the ranges for each party overlap. The amount of overlap that potentially puts a party in a position to win is then tallied, the result being a percentage "chance" of that party winning the riding.

A Strong result means a 95% to 100% chance of winning, Likely is a 75% to 94% chance, Lean is a 60% to 74% chance, and Toss-Up means the chances of a party winning are 59% or less.

The Wildcard section describes any factor that could make the result unpredictable.

What it isn't

The By-Election Barometer is not a poll, the section titled "Margin after application of swing from regional polls" is not a list of riding polls, and the 30-day average is not a projection. By-Elections are notoriously hard to call, and the Barometer is not a tracking of actual voting intentions. The forecast is also not an opinion. As always, I am tied to what the numbers show.

Upcoming By-Elections

A by-election is scheduled for February 5 in the Ontario provincial riding of Sudbury. By-elections have yet to be called for the federal ridings of Peterborough and Sudbury and the provincial ridings of The Pas in Manitoba, and Richelieu in Quebec.

The abrupt resignation of Joe Cimino of the NDP means Sudbury will have held a by-election within eight months of the general election that was held in June.

After being a safe seat for the Liberals, over the last few years Sudbury has been a close race. Rick Bartolucci routinely won the riding by comfortable margins after his first victory in 1995, topping out at 69% of the vote in 2003. That fell to 59% in 2007, 42% in 2011, and then 39% when Andrew Olivier tried and failed to hold the seat for the Liberals.

Cimino won it instead with 42%, little different from the 41% the party took in its losing bid in 2011. So the riding is likely to be another close NDP/OLP battle.

The PCs should not be much of a factor, having captured just 14% in each of the last two elections (and just 8% in 2007). The party did hold the riding in the 1980s. In fact, Sudbury has been a swing riding for most of its history, having voted PC, Liberal, and NDP on multiple occasions (even CCF in the 1940s).

The first poll of the campaign, by Mainstreet Technologies, suggested it will be a close race, with the OLP at 35%, the NDP at 32%, and the PCs at 17%. Polls by Forum Research agreed, giving the NDP the edge with 42% to 40% for the OLP and 13% for the PCs on January 13 and the Liberals the lead with 33%, the NDP at 30%, and Olivier, the independent candidate, at 22% on January 21.

However, polls by Oraclepoll Research paint a very different picture. In polling done between January 12-15, Thibeault had a comfortable lead with 39% to 26% for the NDP and 19% for Olivier. A poll of January 20-22 showed similar numbers, with Thibeault at 42% to 26% for the NDP and 20% for Olivier. Oraclepoll is a local company.

The provincial polling that has been done since the last general vote has been generally favourable to the Liberals, in that they have mostly kept their place while the NDP has slipped back. That should make Sudbury liable for a flip, but the race has been so close over the last two elections that it stands to be the case again when the by-election is called. It also stands to be dominated by local factors, as is often the case in northern Ontario.

In particular, the candidacy of former NDP MP Glenn Thibeault. At issue is that he has defected from the federal NDP to the provincial Liberals, and that there is some internal discord within the OLP over Thibeault's candidacy at the expense of Andrew Olivier, who ran in 2014. He will stand as an independent candidate. The question is whether Thibeault is an asset for the Liberals or, due to his floor-crossing and nomination issues, a liability.

Forecast history: Was TOSS-UP (NDP/OLP) at Cimino's resignation. Became LIKELY LIBERAL on January 9 and LEAN LIBERAL on January 16.

NDP MLA Frank Whitehead resigned his seat of The Pas in May, meaning the riding is due for a by-election soon.

The Pas is a very solid and very safe NDP riding in Manitoba. It has been held by the party since 1969, and since 2003 has been won with at least 65% of the vote. Whitehead captured it with 73% in 2011, little different from the 75% he took in a 2009 by-election.

The Progressive Conservatives took just 23% of the vote in 2011, with the Liberals at an infinitesimal 3%.

Despite the NDP's sharp drop in the polls, that margin is still too wide for the Tories to overcome. By-elections can be strange beasts, of course, and perhaps the Tories' momentum combined with a strong showing by the Liberals, who have put up good numbers in recent by-elections, could make it close. But the riding is considered a STRONG NEW DEMOCRAT.

Forecast history: Was STRONG NEW DEMOCRAT from Whitehead's resignation.

Élaine Zakaïb may be going from one sinking ship to another, resigning from the PQ caucus to try to save the retail chain Jacob. That leaves Richelieu vacant.

Though Zakaïb's vote share dropped between 2012 and 2014, from 43% to 39%, her margin actually increased by a little more than a point and 600 votes. And Richelieu has been safely in the PQ camp since 1994.

After tanking, the PQ's support in the polls has reset somewhat. Nevertheless, it leaves the riding vulnerable to a flip. The CAQ is doing well enough in the polls, and though its support fell from 32% to 27% here over the last two elections, it remains in the best position to capture the riding from the PQ. The Liberals, who took 26% of the vote, could also make some noise in a close three-way race, but the polls do not suggest the party is poised to make gains. It leaves Richelieu to be a likely CAQ/PQ contest, and a test of the PQ's ability to remain the alternative to the Liberals in rural francophone Quebec.

Forecast history: Was TOSS-UP (CAQ/PQ) from Zakaïb's resignation, became TOSS-UP (PQ/CAQ) on October 31. Became STRONG PARTI QUEBECOIS on November 21 and LIKELY PARTI QUEBECOIS on January 9.

In order to avoid a suspension that was likely coming after being convicted of electoral fraud, Dean Del Mastro resigned as the MP for Peterborough.

There is some speculation that the by-election will never be held, with the date for the vote instead being set to coincide with the next federal election.

Peterborough is the kind of riding that could swing to the Liberals in the next election. Del Mastro won there three times, increasing his vote share from 36% in 2006 to 47% in 2008 and finally to 50% in 2011.

It used to be a safe Liberal seat, however, being won between 1993 and 2004 with between 44% and 48% of the vote each time. The Liberals fell to third in 2011 with 21% (the NDP moved into second with 25%) but with their strong polling numbers in Ontario are poised to be competitive here again.

Unlike other ridings in the wider GTA, Peterborough is one of those on the bubble, rather than one that should swing strongly to the Liberals. If a by-election is held, it could be a close one. But with the Conservatives on an uptick in Ontario, they could retain it.

Forecast history: Was TOSS-UP (CPC/LPC) at Del Mastro's resignation, became TOSS-UP (LPC/CPC) on November 14. Became LIKELY CONSERVATIVE on November 28.

As NDP MP Glenn Thibeault resigned his seat of Sudbury in order to run in the provincial by-election there, a vacancy has opened up.

Considering that the federal election campaign is scheduled to begin in about eight months, the by-election may never be held.

But if it is, it could be a close one. The riding was a close contest between the Liberals and NDP in 2008, and the two parties were the main competitors in 2004 and 2006. But in 2011, as the Liberals tanked, Thibeault won with 50% of the vote. The Conservatives, at 28%, finished second. The Liberals took just 18%.

Liberal fortunes are on the upswing, though, and they have had a good run of by-election results. This puts Sudbury on the bubble as a riding that could go either Liberal or NDP.

A poll by Mainstreet Technologies says it would be a Liberal landslide, though, with 46% for the Liberals, 29% for the NDP, and 22% for the Conservatives. That alone might prevent an election call from being made - the Conservatives have no interest giving the Liberals a victory on the eve of a federal vote.

Nevertheless, considering the fundamentals of the riding and the province-wide polling, Sudbury is considered a toss-up, with a very slim edge going to the Liberals over the NDP.

Forecast history: Was a TOSS-UP (LPC/NDP) at Thibeault's resignation.