Monday, January 30, 2006

Forecast Model Errors

Every election I test the accuracy of my forecasting model by using the actual vote shares as inputs. In other words this exercise treats the provincial vote shares as if they were the perfect opinion poll. This isolates the model’s error from any polling errors. I don’t use the vote shares for each province. I group the Atlantic Provinces into one region and make Manitoba/Saskatchewan as another region, exactly as most national opinion polls do.

The results I measure in detail in two ways. First, did it accurately predict which party would win individual constituencies? Out of the 308 ridings the model accurately predicts the outcome in 279 ridings, and incorrectly in the remaining 29 for 90.6% accuracy.

Secondly I also compare each party’s predicted share with its actual result, turning the pluses and minuses into absolute numbers, and then I average the errors.

The average error by party was:

Liberal – 3.4%
Conservative – 3.2%
NDP – 2.2%
BQ – 2.6%
Green – 0.8%
Other – 1.4%

On the whole this compares favourably with earlier elections. The average error per seat in 2004 was slightly higher. With the two elections closer together this is perhaps not surprising. However, before the election I had thought seat predictions might be less accurate. I was wrong about that.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

It's the economy, stupid...

The economy recently has been booming along so well that this past election was an argument about how to spend the fiscal surplus. Stephen Harper comes to power at a bad time in the sense that, even though the unemployment rate is at a thirty year low and the stock market is hitting new records, he has to hope it is sustained over the next eighteen months since slippage will be blamed fairly or otherwise on him.

So could a recent dramatic slowdown in U.S. GDP growth mean that we are on the verge of a slowing economy, which will pull down both Stephen and George?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Effect of election on same sex marriage

Not surprisingly, there are not enough votes out of Monday's election to overturn same sex marriage legislation. Bouquetsofgray has the details. This is actually good news for Stephen Harper.

Not so this story in today's Globe that Harper ducked his obligation to meet with the ethics commissioner about his role in the Grewal affair. Didn't take long.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A close election

Various observations I would make are:

1. The election did end up being closer than I anticipated. So close indeed that if the Liberals had been two points higher in Ontario and one in B.C. while the Conservatives were correspondingly lower, the outcome would have been reversed even if all other provinces had voted exactly the same way. Overall, had this been the case, the Liberals would have been four points down in the popular vote but ahead (barely) in seats. I was able to do this exercise because I have already built my model for the next election, courtesy of some preliminary data files on the Elections Canada web site. I simply varied the outcome from yesterday just enough to produce a Liberal win.

2. The closeness makes me think that if the campaign accidents such as the income trust affair, and certain stumbles, such as the military ad, had not occurred, this campaign could easily have had a different outcome. Certainly, the Liberal campaign planners made copious errors, while having to cope with an unfriendly media. As one example of the latter, I couldn’t believe the blatant shilling for the Conservatives I sometimes saw on the Mike Duffy show. As one friend noted, at least he wasn’t subtle about it.

3. My forecast model worked reasonably well, but not as well as in 2004 (as I anticipated here). I test the model’s accuracy by using actual vote shares (which are the perfect opinion poll). The results generated were:

C – 124
L – 94
NDP – 31
BQ – 59

The Liberal number, as you can see, did run ahead of the trend and demonstrated great vote efficiency. And Quebec contributed disproportionately to the number of errors.

But I have more work ahead to complete a full evaluation. I also want to do a full evaluation of poll accuracy. As many have noted, SES appears to have been the most accurate. Once again the Quebec pollsters were ahead of their national counterparts in getting Quebec public opinion right, although SES was also close here.

When I apply the average of closing polls to my new forecast model based on yesterday’s results, I get the following:

C – 132
L – 91
NDP – 36
BQ – 48

The largest difference, as it was last time, was in Ontario.

4. In some ways the Liberals will benefit from being out of office, but not far removed from power. This defeat will serve as punishment for the scandal and should end its political impact. Although this may be delayed until the trials are over in the spring.

5. The key for the Liberals is the party leadership. And here it is not at all clear who among all the potential candidates would be the best choice.

6. This election also completes the NDP’s full resurrection from the political graveyard they hung around throughout the nineties. They have picked up some interesting new talent, and have an energetic leader who is becoming progressively better in the role.

9. All elections do generate some clichés in the post-election analysis. One, here on the CBC internet site, discusses an urban-rural divide. While the Conservatives did very poorly in the three biggest cities of Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver, they finished first in all the prairie cities including Winnipeg, as well as Ottawa, Quebec City and St. John’s (see Major Centres results here), so I think some qualifiers are in order.


I will provide an assessment of the results tonight. The headline is that the major influence on the outcome that differed from the pre-election poll averages was greater Liberal strength than anticipated in Ontario. However, there was movement in that direction at the end. SES at first glance seems to have done the best job of picking it up. More later.

Monday, January 23, 2006

These are really the final numbers.

I have now incorporated the final Strategic Counsel and a final Ipsos-Reid poll (done partly online) into the averages and applied them to the seat forecaster in two ways. In the first case I use only the Quebec polling firms for the Quebec numbers (in previous elections Quebec-based polling firms have been much closer the actual result than the national firms); in the second I have used the national pollsters Quebec sub-samples.

With the Quebec polling firm numbers for Quebec
C – 134
L – 77
NDP – 41
BQ – 56

With the national polling firm numbers for Quebec
C – 129
L – 75
NDP – 41
BQ – 63

Here is what Strategic Counsel on its own gives us:
C – 126
L – 75
NDP – 45
BQ – 62

Here is what Ipsos-Reid on its own gives us:
C – 129
L – 74
NDP – 42
BQ – 62

There you have it. Now I am off to watch.

New Poll from Strategic Counsel

We finally have the last poll of the campaign. One came in last night after I posted from Strategic Counsel. I will incorporate it into my averaging and post a final, final set of numbers early this evening.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Final 2006 Campaign Numbers

The final numbers are now available. There were polls released today by Strategic Counsel and SES. The SES included some polling done today. The SES poll continues to reflect movement to the NDP in Ontario and in the West, even while the NDP declined very slightly in the national numbers. SES as usual is slightly more favourable to the Liberals, who finish by climbing slightly while Conservatives decline a bit.

I think this trend to the NDP will offset what often seems to be a small over-counting of NDP support, probably because younger voters who tend to support the NDP disproportionately don’t turn out to vote. If the polls are indeed accurate, the trend to the NDP should prevent the usual election-day drop. Note that I am referring to a broader phenomenon here, not what happened in 2004

All the numbers still point to a Conservative minority government.

I have averaged all the closing polls, including SES and Strategic Counsel, applied them to my seat forecaster and have come up with the following results:

C – 136
L – 78
NDP – 38
BQ – 56

I also applied just the SES numbers. As they were last in the field I thought it worth citing the seat outcome from their poll:

C – 132
L – 86
NDP – 33
BQ – 57

The fact that the NDP is weaker in SES does not contradict what I said above about the trend. SES has generally reported weaker NDP support than other polls throughout the campaign.

Given what seems a clear closing trend to the NDP (and less so the Liberals) and away from the Conservatives, it is possible that the NDP could go over 40 seats, the Liberals over 80 and the Conservatives down a few seats tomorrow, when we shall see if any of this makes sense.

Closing Tick - Strategic Counsel Poll

In the final Strategic Counsel poll out today (or last night) it is clear there is a closing tick to the NDP, not away from it as last time. Some of it at least seems to be coming from the Conservative total. I will post later today in the evening with a full averaging of all the closing polls and a final seat estimate.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Adding SES and NDP gains in Ontario and BC

I did a recalculation including the SES numbers. The only shift is the switch of two NDP seats to the Liberals to give them 78 and the NDP 37. SES has generally found slightly better results for the Liberals and slightly weaker numbers for the NDP in this campaign.

There are between 55 and 60 seats (depending on what poll numbers one uses) where the margin is 5% or less. That is a lot of uncertainty.

I have noticed in other elections a small tendency for the NDP to fall a bit short (I am not including 2004 here) of their poll numbers on voting day. My guess is that it is pollsters oversampling younger voters who then don't vote. It is a small effect in any event.
The NDP is definitely going to do better this time, perhaps much better.

In Ontario, based on the forecast that includes the SES numbers, I have them winning all their current seats plus Algoma-Manitoulan, Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, Hamilton Mountain, Kenora, London Fanshawe, Nickel Belt, Parkdale-High Park, the two Thunder Bay seats, Trinity Spadina and Welland. There are three other seats where the NDP is within a point or two of winning seats from the Liberals - Beaches East York, Davenport and Sudbury. They are also close to taking Oshawa from the Conservatives. With one of the stronger new NDP candidates running in Beaches, Marilyn Churley, I would guess that is likely to tilt the NDP's way. Many of these races are close and a closing tick to the Liberals could still tilt some of the ones I have going NDP back to the Liberals.

In BC I have the NDP gains as New Westminster-Coquitlam, Southern Interior, Surrey North, Vancouver Kingsway, Vancouver Island North, and Victoria. I think they could also take Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca but my numbers show the Liberals hanging on there. They are also close, as are the Liberals, in Newton-North Delta. I see about nine very close races in B.C.

When one applies a mathematical projection model, "close" means we are essentially describing races too close to call. Same goes for many of the races noted above in Ontario.

Conservative Minority Government

It will be a Conservative minority government on Monday night.

I have averaged the final polls from all the polling firms except (and this may seem odd) SES and Strategic Counsel. The last SES is tomorrow and I will wait until then to add them in to mix. Strategic Counsel's final regional numbers aren't available on their web site. I may yet try to incorporate them. For now consider this as a preliminary count:

C -137
L - 76
NDP - 39
BQ - 56

I will post with more details later. Given that SES and Strategic Counsel national numbers are similar to the others, I don't expect this calculation to change much.

More to come.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

This Weekend

I intend to calculate an average of the closing campaign polls and use it estimate a seat distribution. In 2004 this effort misfired for me and all others as opinion shifted over the weekend. There is always a similar risk this year, but I will undertake the exercise regardless.

Strategic Counsel Polls for Globe

I think that Strategic Counsel, the pollster for the Globe and Mail, is asking for trouble in some of its methodology. And by trouble, I mean inaccurate results. It seems to me their warm-up questions may encourage a Conservative response once the ‘who-are-you-going-to-for’ question is posed.

Its first survey question in its latest release is:
From what you can tell, which party, if any, is gaining the most popularity and momentum leading up to the election. Is it the ...?

The momentum question could tempt respondents simply to echo media coverage. At the same time by focusing on who is doing well there is at least the possibility of a bandwagon effect. It might only be that way for a small percentage of respondents, but there is no reason not to ask a dead neutral question such as: What are the key issues in the current campaign?

Then they ask:
Some people have been saying it’s time for a change and that a new government should be voted in. Other people have said that now would be the wrong time to make a change and we should return the Liberals to power. Which one of these two views best represents your own?

This question is more troublesome. Change has been an important campaign theme for the Conservatives and there it is, even if in neutral language, all laid out just before the ballot question is asked.

Strategic Counsel has had the lowest national finding for the Liberals so far in the campaign, 24% in the poll numbers out yesterday. Is their methodology causing them to overstate Conservative support or are they going to be right (or lucky)? We will find out Monday.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Today's SES

The seat numbers in today’s poll have the weakest Conservative showing in some time. However, I am certain that today’s report has the Conservatives too low in the west.

The seat numbers I calculate are:
C – 122
L – 97
NDP – 29
BQ – 60

We have an ongoing phenomenon of volatility and disagreement among the polls.


The race in Toronto continues to favour the Liberals. The question is to what extent the surging national Conservative campaign can break into the stronghold.

Such numbers as have appeared from time to time have all put the Liberals, at the very least, in first place in Toronto. However, there are no large sample polls of what is happening. What I hear is that the NDP, like last time, seems headed for victory in Trinity Spadina and Parkdale High Park in addition to Toronto Danforth. I am guessing that the NDP will also pick up Beaches-East York. Former provincial MPP Marilyn Churley is running, and she is one of the most effective political figures in this city. The next riding to watch is Davenport, which has traditionally been safely Liberal. The race there looks very close this time. Liberal overall weakness and what appears to be a strong NDP campaign could tip it.

When I average a batch of recent polls and apply them to my seat model, I find the Conservatives ahead of the Liberals 53 – 41 with the NDP at 12 in Ontario as a whole. Of the 53 Conservatives, however, none are in the 416 area code. I noted in my earlier post that with unusual demographic shifts, the 2004 patterns may not apply. I think the Toronto seat most likely to fall to the Conservatives is Etobicoke-Lakeshore where Michael Ignatieff is running. It has nothing to do with the nomination controversy there. It is simply an area of relative Conservative strength. Given a spike upwards in the support of the affluent for the Conservatives the other ridings that could be in play are Don Valley East and Don Valley West, Pickering-Scarborough East, Etobicoke Centre, and possibly St. Paul’s. It also possible, given what appears to be renewed Conservative weakness in Ontario, that the Conservatives won’t win any seats in 416. They will pick up seats in 905 such as Oakville and Burlington, affluent lakeshore suburbs that have been Liberal since 1993 as well as others.

Liberal success in Toronto would appear to be essential to blocking a Conservative majority so the races here are all of considerable importance. And it does look like the Conservatives will need a better than 10 point lead in Ontario to break into Toronto in any significant way.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Seat predictions

I think election prediction models like mine are going to be weaker in this election than previously. I see from pollsters stories of asymmetric shifts, for example unusually large gains for the Conservatives among the affluent. My guess is that we will see some ridings where there are very large swings that overwhelm the capacity of any formula to foresee them.

I am also guessing there is going to be increased strategic voting of all sorts – last minute switches from NDP to Liberal, some Liberal to NDP where appropriate, even Conservative to NDP to block Liberal wins. This too will be damaging to accurate seat forecasts.

It seems to me the same basic pattern of voting has existed since 1993 and we are witnessing a sea change, not necessarily as long-term as in 1993, but on a significant scale.

There is plenty of disagreement among the polls, and now among the seat predictors. Andrew Coyne has helpfully assembled most of them into one place here:

I crunched the numbers today on the latest Ipsos-Reid Online poll with its massive sample size. My numbers are very different from theirs.

Ipsos Reid Seats
C – 149 to 153
L – 64 to 68
NDP – 29 to 33
BQ – 57 to 61

TC Norris Seats
C – 137
L – 72
NDP – 37
BQ – 62

I don’t see how Ipsos get the Conservatives as high as 149 to 153 on the strength of a four point lead in Ontario and a performance in B.C. very close to the last election. Strategic Counsel has the Conservatives up seven points in Ontario and eleven in B.C., numbers that inevitably produce much better seat numbers for Harper. My intuition is that I may have the NDP too high.

However, my real hunch is that all the egocentric seat predictors like me could wind up looking foolish on the morning of the 24th.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Different Messages Again

The most recent polling data comes from SES, which releases fresh numbers each day about mid-afternoon. Today’s release shows strength for the NDP (SES polls earlier in the campaign reported weakness for the NDP), a little bit of weakness for the Conservatives, and one encouraging sign for the Liberals that being a lead for Paul Martin in one of their leadership measures (Harper leads in the other).

The bottom line is a Conservative minority.
C – 133
L – 81
NDP – 32
BQ – 62

On the other hand, Strategic Counsel points to a Conservative majority, probably. The numbers below are partially a guess as I don’t have Atlantic regional numbers from that outfit to input into my little seat number cruncher. However, this is what I estimate:
C – 157
L – 72
NDP – 22
BQ – 57

Because I don’t have accurate Atlantic numbers you can add or subtract 6/7 seats from the Liberal and Conservative totals, perhaps one for the NDP.

Which do I believe? The answer is both and neither. I am troubled about the lack of a consistent message from the polls. A clearer picture should be now emerging this close to the end of a campaign. It is true their national numbers aren’t that far apart, but Canadian elections are decided in the regions, and there are some large differences when it comes to results at that level. The only thing that is clear is that the Liberals will lose control of the government.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What is happening in B.C.?

This is a key question in determining the final shape of this election but the polling data is somewhat opaque.

Part of the problem in making an assessment is that B.C. is the most competitive political environment in Canada – in other words a three way race where tiny vote shifts or poll errors have huge consequences.

Nevertheless, there are a few things one can say:

1. Looking at the several polls available from the past week, one sees an apparent decline in support for the NDP from a high of 27% in an Ipsos-Reid internet poll from last weekend to 20% in the January 10-11 poll for Strategic Counsel. However, they are at 24% and 25% in the two polls out yesterday from Ekos and Ipsos-Reid. SES, which has consistently reported weak results for the NDP, has them at 21% during the past week. In 2004 they received 26.8% so the polls suggest their performance this time will be at least a little weaker, assuming these surveys are anywhere near accurate, an unsafe assumption in B.C. The prospects for the NDP in terms of seats are maximized by relatively even split between the Liberals and Conservatives and minimized if the latter have a sweep.

2. The Conservatives are ascendant but the range of their support is from 47% to 30%. The differences are enormously consequential. The Conservative average is 38%. In 2004 they received 36.3% of the votes

3. The Liberals show narrower variation with three polls putting them at 28% and one as high as 34%, although this latter number seems improbable to me. The average is 31%, better than their 2004 showing of 28.6%.

4. Once averaged, the polls suggest seat distribution will be Conservatives - 21, Liberals -11 and NDP - 4. I do not make this as a prediction. The races in many ridings are extremely close and make these outcomes highly uncertain. I just can’t tell what is going to emerge at this point.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

If the Conservatives don't win a majority...

We might look for the explanation in Ontario, particularly Toronto. The city is the place where the Conservatives have the furthest to go to win seats.

Perhaps it because at least some in Ontario and Toronto remember the Harris-Eves years, which brought us Walkerton and Ipperwash, the Hydro and Highway 407 privatization fiascos, forced municipal amalgamations, the hollowing out of public transit, shambolic education “reforms”, eroding public health care, concealed fiscal deficits accompanied by pious, hypocritical sermons of fiscal rectitude, and all finished off in April 2003 by Ernie Eves speaking out in favour of George Bush’s war of empire in Iraq. And that is not a complete list.

A week to go....

The Conservatives still look short of a majority. I averaged today’s Ekos and Ipsos- Reid numbers (both surveys done January 10 to 12) and used them to calculate this seat total:

C – 137
L – 83
NDP – 26
BQ – 62

A couple of observations about the NDP in the polls:

1. NDP seems to be gaining in Atlantic Canada and Ontario in recent polls, but appears to be seriously tanking in Western Canada.
2. It is but a footnote, but they are running well ahead of their 2004 total in Quebec in all the polls, doubling their support in some surveys.
3. I think there is considerable volatility affecting the NDP, some of it likely related to contemplated strategic voting but I suspect there is more to it than that.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Globe Seat Forecast

Just one comment on today's seat predictions by the Globe. The story says of Strategic Counsel's Allan Gregg:

"Mr. Gregg, who did not publish seat projections in 2004, said the main reason pollsters got it wrong last time was because the main premise of projections is that previous elections are the strongest indicator of how the next election will turn out.

Unfortunately for pollsters in 2004, there was no previous election that involved the newly formed Conservative Party.

Trying to blend results from the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties threw off the formulas."

He is wrong. The principal problem for seat predictions in 2004 was that the last published polls in Ontario did not capture a last second and very substantial movement to the Liberals. Combining the Alliance and Conservative vote to create a base for the new party was at worst a minor issue, certainly for me.

My model performed no better or worse that it ever had when I inputted the actual vote shares after the election.

Back to the campaign, I still am not seeing the consensus on poll numbers that I expect to see at the end of a campaign, so it is still somewhat fluid. That is reflected in varying seat forecasts. I will do one with the Globe's numbers when the Strategic Counsel posts them to the web. They have not yet done so. However, one point is clear: the polls don't yet show a Conservative majority.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Today's SES Poll & the NDP

Today's SES poll when converted to seats is:

C - 148
L - 78
NDP - 19
BQ - 63

It is close to a majority but still short. SES has lower estimates for the NDP than other pollsters, something that could have a significant impact on those numbers, especially possible NDP gains from the Conservatives in the west where the two parties are head to head in many ridings.
I continue to think the NDP should have a simple, clear persuasive anti-Conservative message in the west , something that appears from this Canadian Press report via CTV to be missing. Hitting at the Liberals, who are now approaching their core vote, is a waste of time. But there are a lot of recent soft Conservative converts who could still be pried away.

Duffy vs Duffy - A Question

Much ado has been made of the exchange between Liberal strategist and spinner John Duffy and CTV host Mike Duffy, which can be found here, link on the lower right side of the page.

I have a question that either Duffy could answer: what exactly did John Duffy say to attempt to "intimidate". That word implies a threat. What was the threat? Having raised the issue Mike Duffy should tell us, but I would be happy to hear John Duffy's side of the story.

This is considered a moment that symbolizes the crash of the Liberal campaign. It would be nice to know all the details.

Meanwhile charges against the Conservative candidate in Southern Interior will hand the seat to the NDP. Harper is cornered and therefore says he stands behind the candidate but it naturally makes it clear that he is a hypocrite to do so.

Ralph Goodale, not charged with anything, should resign but Mr. Harper's candidate should not?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Strategic Counsel Seat Numbers

I have now had a chance to estimate the impact of the Strategic Counsel poll conducted between Saturday and Monday night. The firm has not yet posted the results of the poll reported in the paper this morning to its web site.

SC does not yet give us a Conservative majority although the poll reported this morning would move them closer. They are actually a little further away than I guessed yesterday. The numbers I calculate are: L - 85, C - 135, NDP - 27 and BQ - 61. The numbers are similar to a pre-debate Ipsos-Reid internet poll completed on Sunday. For this poll I have the numbers as L - 70, C - 138, NDP - 35 and BQ - 65.

I do note from the morning paper that the Conservatives still trail substantially in the Toronto area. Perhaps this is all that stands in the way of a majority.

Despite my earlier post saying a Conservative majority was possible, because Quebec will not elect many Conservatives, we may have to wait until election night to find out if they can go over the top. I also feel there remains potential for NDP gains that could prevent a majority, but they should cease and desist attacking the Liberals. At this stage of the campaign it has become pointless and possibly counter-productive.

Some morning thoughts...

1. There is almost no downside now in NDP leader Jack Layton switching his attacks to Stephen Harper. I was thinking as I watched him attacking Martin last night that he was beating a dead parrot. He now has to peel anti-Liberal votes from Harper from those who might have second thoughts about voting Conservative. One angle that could be pursued by opponents or media is the maddening vagueness of the Conservative platform. Time to pin them down on just exactly they would do as a government.

2. The Strategic Counsel poll in this morning's Globe confirms Ekos and has the Conservatives in the range of a majority. (My guess on Ekos was about 157 seats.) However, Strategic Counsel does one thing that could cause them to overestimate Conservative strength. The question on momentum could act as a feedback loop where respondents merely echo what they hear in the media, while at the same time acting as a stimulus to then adding a Conservative vote preference when it is asked later in the survey. The effect of this would be small, but be in the direction of slightly overstating Conservative support.

3. The media is overestimating how much the Conservatives can get in Quebec, especially with all the emphasis on momentum, etc. The Globe is guilty of this but so was the CBC this morning. The PQ in Quebec is currently getting in the mid-forties provincially and that represents a bottom for the BQ. It is also where Léger Marketing placed the BQ last week (at 45%), having earlier in the campaign had them at 50%. The Liberals are going to keep some anglo support in Montreal, so the effect of splitting the federalist vote is going add seats to the BQ total in this election even if the party winds up with a lower percentage than in 2004.

4. The CBC made an error this morning when it said that negative advertising was started by the Liberals. How would one describe all those sponsorship scandal ads the Conservatives have been running since just after Christmas? Extolling the positive virtues of the ideas in their platform?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Liberal Negative Ads

There has been some media discussion today of a new round of negative Liberal ads. I think such ads are, more often than not, effective. However, the Liberal brand in this election is severely tarnished. The Liberals may not intend it but one likely impact of such ads, should they prove potent at knocking Harper down a notch, will be to divert anti-Liberal votes from the Conservatives to the NDP.

As well, the decline of the Liberals and strong rise of the Conservatives is very likely to eliminate strategic voting as a problem for the NDP as voters, with some exceptions, will have no expectation by voting day of defeating the Conservatives.

Tory Majority Possible

I was about to write that the debate changed nothing, and that this campaign now had the feel of Ontario in 1995. Then I checked the Toronto Star web site and saw the headline on an Ekos poll that says the Conservatives are heading for a majority. I am inclined to agree. Sometimes campaigns just flip and the electorate collectively moves massively in one direction. This appears to be one of those times. It is therefore like 1984 or 1993.

It is important to note that the Bloc will still dominate in Quebec. That means Harper must have a 1984-scale win in English Canada just to achieve a small majority. It also means a hiccup in the last two weeks could cause them to fall short of a majority. In that sense the Star headline is clearly premature, but it does look like the folks who brought you the Walkerton disaster will soon hold the keys to the Langevin Block.

Monday, January 09, 2006

My Pre-Debate Instinct

I have concluded from the polls and anecdotal evidence that the Conservatives are headed for some type of victory. The exact shape is not clear (the Strategic Counsel poll appears to put the Conservatives at about 135 seats), and all those new Tory adherents aren't firmly committed yet. But it does seem to me that the Liberals are being rejected wholesale.

I think the negative Conservative ads focused on the Gomery scandal must be doing great damage. And the media stories on income trust and this new but old Quebec 1995 story are really taking their toll.

I continue to think that much of this is unfair to the Liberals in the sense that all the Gomery stuff seems very minor to me at worst (I don't think any wrong doing will be uncovered in the income trust business), and completely trivial compared to the impending Abramoff scandal in the U.S., but life is sometimes unfair.

The debate could still alter the landscape significantly, but I doubt that it can save the Martin government. It could make an important difference to the distribution of preferences (it could boost the NDP for example), and is therefore worth watching.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Converging Numbers

Numbers are beginning to converge in this campaign. I have done a weighted average of the Ekos, Léger Marketing and Ipsos-Reid polls released this week, and applied my seat forecaster.

There is a clear Conservative lead that would produce a minority government with the NDP almost holding the balance of power.

The numbers are:

Conservative – 127
Liberal – 92
NDP – 27
BQ – 62

The problem for the Conservatives is holding this lead. My guess from looking at the polls is that they have minimal upside potential. They are already at 40% in English Canada and while they have been successful in Quebec in taking support from both the Bloc and the Liberals, they don’t have much room left for growth. In any event, the Conservatives are a long way short of a majority.

Now they begin to face the questioning. Today’s column in the Globe by Jeffrey Simpson directly challenges their likely budget path, and the Star’s Thomas Walkom has an excellent assessment of Harper, which notes the following from the Conservative Leader’s statement that supposedly endorses medicare: We must treat all patients equally for essential health-care services, regardless of ability to pay; anything less is un-Canadian. Sounds good but there is a tiny almost unnoticed qualifier, “essential health-care services”. When a National Citizens’ Coalition type conservative uses a phrase like that, it is potentially weighted with great meaning. The other parties should be asking pointed questions about this.

I noted earlier today the admission by the Conservatives that they would eliminate one of Martin’s tax cuts. Conservative bloggers like this one protest that this is all “much ado about nothing”. Why? Because in his December 1 2005 statement promising a GST cut Harper said: We would suspend their future measures in order to deliver broad-based and responsible tax relief…. These are pure weasel words that leave the impression that only some future tax cuts would be cancelled. I suspect that many of the other Conservative press releases are full of similar language.

This is precisely the sort of campaign tactic that, whatever its short term benefits, is sure to bring grief in the long run should they make it into government.

It is clear that the damage to the Liberals is mainly the result of the income trust affair feeding the ‘Liberal corruption’ narrative. It came at a time when Canadians had just tuned in to the campaign and become engaged, and it is mainly helping the Conservatives who have trumpeted this theme far more strongly than the NDP.

The Conservative lead is deeply threatening not just to the Liberal government, but also to the NDP. Strategic voting would not show up in the polls at this time. Remember most of those decisions were made in the last weekend of the 2004 campaign.

However, if there becomes a consensus that the Conservatives would win anyway that might deflate some of the strategic voting, and if the race ends up being exceedingly close between the Liberals and the Conservatives, that represents an ideal scenario for a third party provided its support is not bled away.

I do think the Globe’s lead story today on the Conservative campaign and its successes is worth reading. I think the one part of the Harper campaign that impresses me the most is its strategic use of small, targeted promises aimed at either a particular segment of the electorate (the article mentions fishers) or is of symbolic value (for example the urban transit pass tax credit) even if it isn’t actually of much real value.

In a real sense it is the end of week one of a three week campaign. There are two to go.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Liberal Troubles/ Conservative Weakness

There have not been many political campaigns that have encountered as many misfortunes as the current Paul Martin Liberals have. While many of their problems are of their own making, scandal investigations and headlines beyond their control seem dominant. It is therefore a sure indication of the fundamental weakness of the Harper Conservatives that they are merely statistically tied with the Liberals rather than way ahead.

I feel confident that if Joe Clark or Bill Davis or John Tory or some other moderate were leading the party, they would be virtually coasting home to victory.

But in fact it is Stephen (hidden agenda) Harper at the helm, and so the election is still competitive, and more than ever dependent on next week’s debates.

Today’s SES poll, which continues to trouble me (see here), tells us that the race is simply too close to call.

My seat estimate based on today’s poll is:

Conservatives – 113
Liberals – 107
NDP – 27
BQ – 61

It is partly an impression, but I am increasingly of the mind that even if Harper does finish first and form a government, he is laying the foundation for trouble of all sorts after forming a government. For one thing, I suspect his budget numbers don’t add up. This matters a great deal if it is a minority since an early meeting with the electorate again is a distinct possibility if not probability.

UPDATE: This admission by the Conservatives that they would scrap one of the Martin tax cuts having previously given the impression that they would not is an example of what I am talking about. I have the feeling they are not being candid at all about a lot of plans that could mean trouble for them, especially in government.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Spring Forward/ Fall Back

The Conservatives having leaped forward over the past few days, have suddenly fallen back a little in today's SES poll.

From 128 seats yesterday they would now win only 119. SES calls it a statistical tie. On this score, they are right.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wednesday January 4 SES Poll

In today’s SES poll the Conservatives have a clear lead. The results are:

Conservative – 36
Liberal – 33
NDP – 15
BQ – 13
Green – 4

In seats, my estimate based on SES is:

Conservative – 128
Liberal – 98
NDP – 17
BQ – 66

Intuitively, I have reacted to the SES poll during this campaign with a good deal of scepticism. I just find some of the numbers they produce very difficult to believe. For example, earlier in the campaign, I was sure they had found too many Liberals in the West. Similarly, I think they are generally underestimating support for the NDP. These are just hunches. The general trend away from the Liberals and towards the Conservatives is confirmed by other polling data but the specifics leaving me feeling doubtful about their overall reading.

For example, looking at today’s poll, my intuition is that they have a reasonable estimate for the Liberals in the West, but too much support for the Conservatives and not enough for the NDP.

I also note that on the equivalent day of the 2004 election campaign, June 9, the national SES numbers were:

Conservative – 37
Liberal – 32
NDP – 17
BQ – 10
Green – 5

My sense of this campaign (endorsed my others directly involved) is that the public has not until now been engaged, but with the last three weeks beginning earlier this week that is all changing. There is still a long way to go and a new round of leaders’ debates next week.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Scandals to the South

For all the fuss being made about the "scandals" in Canada, they don't begin to compare to the emerging Abramoff affair in the U.S. Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist with close and numerous ties to Republicans in the U.S. Congress (including former House Majority Leader Tom Delay) entered a number of guilty pleas today as part of a deal with prosecutors. Why? Well look at this excerpt from the Washington Post:

The guilty plea by Abramoff provides a major boost to federal prosecutors in an influence-peddling investigation that could become one of the largest corruption scandals in recent memory, involving as many as a half dozen lawmakers, a former top official at the Department of Interior and former and current congressional aides.

The rest of the story is here.

Liberal Swoon

An email reminded me today that the Ipsos-Reid poll released just before Christmas was little different from the one released on New Year's Day.

Nonetheless, it is clear from looking at the combination of the SES polls, today's Strategic Counsel poll and the Ipsos-Reid poll that the Liberals have slipped, perhaps significantly. This campaign is beginning to resemble 2004 in this respect. Will we now see the mid-campaign Liberal recovery we saw last time?

Monday, January 02, 2006

Putting the Conservatives Ahead...

A new Ipsos-Reid poll now has the Conservatives one point ahead (within the margin of error of course) of the Liberals. However, it is not all good news for Mr. Harper. Although the Conservatives are ahead in Ontario in this survey, they are in third place in B.C. And a Decima Survey that preceded Ipsos-Reid still reports the Liberals ahead.

My seat calculation based on Ipsos-Reid is Conservative – 112, Liberal – 91, NDP – 39, BQ – 66. This would permit a Conservative minority government to achieve majorities by combining with any one of the opposition parties.

This does set up the classic strategic voting paradigm: a narrow Conservative lead, a possible Tory government but a plentiful supply of NDP first choices that can be appealed to by the Liberals to switch. To be activated strategic voting will take more than just this one poll. But the 2004 end of campaign scenario is beginning to appear again.

One should note that Ipsos-Reid polls in this election have generally found more support for the Conservatives than others, as the current comparison with Decima illustrates.