Monday, February 21, 2011

The recent poll shift

The recent Conservative ad blitz has shifted the polls in the direction of the Harper Conservatives.  However, TC does not perceive this success as foreshadowing a Conservative majority. With all their wealth the Conservatives have had the paid media airwaves to themselves and have reportedly been spending a great deal of money. It moved the polls a few points in their direction. However, the opposition parties, while quiet today, will all be on the air with paid media during the next campaign.

A recent American comparison recommends itself. Meg Whitman, the former CEO and founder of EBay, was defeated in her effort in 2010 to be elected Governor of California despite spending a record $177 million on her campaign, compared to the $36 million spent by her Democratic opponent Jerry Brown. Despite being outspent overall Brown matched Whitman's spending on television advertising at the end of the campaign. Her loss was about much more than just money, but the point stands that Conservative television advertising will be much more evenly matched by their opponents during and especially towards the end of the impending Canadian campaign. And other factors will be important as well.

I have averaged three recent polls and came up with a seat estimate of C - 152, L - 78, NDP - 26, BQ - 51 and Other -1. This suggests to me that the opposition parties are likely too far behind for any of them to pull ahead of the Conservatives, but it also doesn't look like we should be anticipating a Conservative majority. We also shouldn't forget that strange and dramatic shifts have happened in the middle of previous campaigns (it is what makes them fun to watch): a Liberal lead in 1984 turned into a PC landslide; Turner almost caught Mulroney in 1988 before falling back; David Peterson started the 1990 campaign way ahead then proceeded to lose to the NDP led by Bob Rae; Jean Chr├ętien was labeled "yesterday's man" before proceeding to three consecutive majorities. And there have been many other examples of unexpected upsets.  

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Polls and Elections in Ontario and Manitoba

In a first past the post system the party leading in the polls may not be the one that winds up with the most seats.

There are provincial elections due in both provinces in early October this year, on Oct. 6 in Ontario and Oct. 4 in Manitoba. Recent polls suggest both races will be tight but, interpreted at face value, the polls potentially provide misleading guidance about what to expect.  In both provinces the Progressive Conservatives currently hold narrow leads in the polls, but in neither province would it be enough to win the most seats.

In Manitoba a December 20, 2010 Probe Research poll gave the opposition PCs are four point lead 42-38 overall but they trail by ten points in the City of Winnipeg.  The PCs "waste" thousands of votes in the first past the post system in rural constituencies.  A much more efficiently distributed NDP vote leaves the outcome in Manitoba very much in doubt. My seat projection model translates the Probe poll into a narrow NDP victory in terms of seats: NDP - 29, PC - 26, L - 2. However, there would be several close outcomes, enough to leave the final outcome in doubt. The Manitoba PCs have consistently trailed in the City of Winnipeg and that is their greatest obstacle to success. If trends continue they are likely going to be still counting votes in Manitoba when the polls open in Ontario 36 hours later.

A similar scenario applies in in Ontario where there is the distinct possibility that the election will produce a minority government. A recent Ipsos poll puts the McGuinty Liberals just three points behind the opposition PCs who have 38% to the Liberals' 35% with the NDP at 17% and the Greens at 9%.  However, TC's model suggests this would produce a virtual dead heat with the Liberals having 45 seats to the PCs' 44 with the NDP at 18, and with razor thin margins in several seats.  Clearly, both races are too close to call and it is not obvious from current polls which party will have the most seats when the votes are counted..