Monday, August 05, 2013

The Ontario By-elections: a strong result for the PCs

The title of this post is at odds with the received wisdom about the by-elections. That is simply because the five by-elections went 2 Liberal, 2 NDP and 1 PC.  All five had previously been held by the Liberals but the PCs thought they could win as many as four of the five so gaining just one seemed a disappointment.

PC Leader Tim Hudak
However, when we look closely at the voting and I apply my reverse vote estimation model we get a different story.  The model essentially takes a single by-election and tells us what it would mean if blown up (by a mathematical conversion) to apply to the province as a whole. While the results should be taken with a grain of salt, I think they do give us some insight into current trends.

In the case of every constituency, the projection from this model would mean a PC majority: a Tim Hudak government.

If we do a simple average of the province-wide vote estimate including all five ridings, we get the PCs with a huge lead in vote share:

Liberal PC NDP GP Other
Average Vote Projection 22.4% 40.9% 29.7% 3.9% 3.2%

This would give us the following outcome in terms of seats:

Liberal PC NDP GP Other
Average Seat Projection 12 65 30 0 0

The PC vote share average is driven up by an exceptionally strong showing in the riding they won: Etobicoke-Lakeshore.  However, in every other riding their result is quite consistent with the 34 to 36 per cent they have been getting in provincial polls. The projected PC majority is clearly a product of the vote splitting between the Liberals and the NDP and has echoes of the 2011 federal results in Ontario when the Harper Conservatives won over 70 seats in Ontario.

Here is a table of the overall vote shifts from 2011:

Party Shifts from 2011
August 1 2013 Byelections
London West-29.8%3.3%20.2%1.8%4.5%
Ottawa South-6.5%5.2%0.9%-0.1%0.5%

The by-election results were actually very bad for the Liberals, despite their two victories.  These were Liberal held seats, and most had voted Liberal by substantial margins in 2011. The Liberal Party lost ground everywhere. In two seats, London West and Windsor Tecumseh, there was clearly a huge shift from Liberal to NDP, while the PC vote share remained relatively stable. The NDP also appears to have gained significantly from the Liberals in Scarborough-Guildwood.

Note that there was the appearance of a large shift in vote share from both the NDP and Liberals to the PCs in Etobicoke-Lakeshore where Doug Holyday, a long-time popular Etobicoke municipal politician, captured the seat for the PCs.  However, one can never know for sure in any election whether there could be a double shift happening where, for example, some NDP voters switch to the Liberals at the same time as Liberals are switching to the PCs. In terms of vote share Etobicoke-Lakeshore was the best Liberal result, and their second smallest vote loss, so it seems at least a possibility that something like that happened here: a polarization that led to NDP losses to the Liberals, partially offsetting significant Liberal to PC vote shifting.

Of the five seats it appears that two, Etobicoke-Lakeshore and London West, where New Democrat Peggy Sattler vaulted the NDP from third place in 2011 to first, strong local candidates played a critical role in determining outcomes (one reason why the vote projections above should not be taken too literally). Windsor-Tecumseh was a big win for the NDP.  It continued a long-term trend in the motor city from Liberal to NDP.  In Ottawa South and Scarborough Guildwood, despite winning, the Liberal party registered a loss of vote share from 2011.

The by-elections also continued the trend of shaky polling results.  This 308 blog post sums up the situation well.

The by-elections may predict a change in the next provincial election but they are not a completely reliable indicator.  In October 1978 there were fifteen by-elections across Canada following a decision by Pierre Trudeau not to go to the polls (among the victors in those by-elections was a young Bob Rae). Taken at face value the overwhelming message coming from the 1978 results suggested an impending large PC majority. Instead in 1979 the Joe Clark PCs, while victorious, secured only a minority government. Among the PC winners in 1978, five would go on to lose to Liberals in 1979.

The Kathleen Wynne Liberals should be considered down but not out.