Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nova Scotia Election - Can the Liberals Win?

The Nova Scotia campaign is underway and the Liberals have a clear lead in the one poll released just ahead of the election call by Corporate Research Associates. The poll has the Liberals ahead with 41% followed by the NDP at 31% with the PCs at 25%.  However, the Liberals have been ahead in every CRA poll since September 2012, Liberal leader Stephen McNeill is preferred as premier by 30% of the electorate compared to 19% for Darrell Dexter and more Nova Scotians are dissatisfied with the NDP government (45%) than satisfied (42%).  So should we conclude that we are looking at a probable Liberal government?
Not necessarily. The most important point about this is that voter preferences are usually quite soft, softer than the bare numbers in any survey indicate. And as we know from B.C. and Alberta recent polling in provincial elections has not done a good job of helping us accurately anticipate the result.  That said, I was favourably impressed by the analysis of polling methods offered by Don Mills of Corporate Research Associates in this interview with 308, particularly the following:
308: While other firms have moved to online panels and IVR polling, CRA continues to use live-callers. Why have you stuck with this methodology?
DM: The methodology has stood the test of time. Our industry standards do not allow the use of margin of error for online research which are considered samples of convenience. Many companies violate industry standards in this regard. We agree with that standard.
308: What do you consider the strengths of telephone polling with live-callers compared to other methodologies?
DM: Its ability to produce random representative samples is still the biggest strength in my opinion.
Simple but to the point. Many of the surveys in BC and Alberta were online polls. Such polling should always be distrusted but particularly so in a small province such as Nova Scotia where the size of the online panel must be quite small. I hope we don't see any.  
There has been a seat projection from 308 based on this survey which says a 10 point Liberal lead would give the party just a two seat advantage over the NDP.  His numbers are Liberal 22 seats, NDP 20 and the PCs 9.  TC thinks the Liberals would actually do much better in seats with these poll numbers.  I have it as the Liberals at 28 seats, the NDP 15 and the PCs 8.
But their performance depends on running a successful campaign and make no mistake about it, the election campaign will matter. My impression from afar is that Stephen McNeill has been the type of opposition leader who tries always to take a position opposing almost everything the government does or says.  He may have difficulty offering good reasons to vote for the Liberal Party (something he must do) during the campaign.
The NDP has governed cautiously and conservatively (and did not have an ambitious platform in 2009). They have focused a great deal on austerity and budget balancing, meaning they inevitably took measures that were unpopular to get to the balanced budget they projected in the spring.  This included previously raising the HST by two points, something they now promise to cut. One can understand why they have encountered political difficulties.

However, the recent record is of most incumbent provincial governments winning some sort of re-election. Since 2011 this includes Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. (Quebec in 2012 was an exception). This suggests we should not be the least bit surprised if the NDP wins again, although to do so I have little doubt it means coming from behind.