Thursday, July 23, 2015

Are the Harper Conservatives really the best bet to win?

Recently a west coast political commentator with ties to the BC Socreds and B.C. Conservative Party named Will McMartin published a commentary in the Tyee arguing that Harper was still the best bet to win this year.

He acknowledges there are polls putting the NDP in first place but states: "In fact, Harper is near-certain to be our next prime minister unless the NDP makes significant further breakthroughs in key parts of Canada."

He goes on to say that those "predicting" Harper's defeat are wrong, further asserting that he is "just the number crunching messenger here".

The numbers he crunches, however, appear to be entirely based on the 2011 election results. He may be basing some of his observations on polls but does not say so. While polls can be subject to error on the whole they get things right.  The polls, for example, correctly anticipated the result in Alberta this year.

The problem with basing his analysis only on 2011 is that the Conservatives are currently averaging a lot less support in 2015 than in 2011. Their average support in July polls is 30.1 per cent compared to Harper's 39.4 per cent of the votes in 2011, about 24% less, all of which has gone to other parties. So it is minus nine percentage points for the Conservatives and plus a like amount for the opposition, an eighteen point swing.

He argues that the new expanded House of Commons "has made the Tories' task much, much easier. This is because when votes from the last election are transposed onto the newly drawn electoral districts, Harper's Tories pick up an extra 22 seats, compared to the NDP and the Liberals adding just six and two respectively."

He makes a logical error previously made by others (it is also a feature of the 2013 book The Big Shift, pollster Darrell Bricker and Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson). The Harper "gains" from redistribution only occur if he receives the same number of votes.  With far fewer votes there would be far fewer Conservative seats not the same.

Ontario is getting 15 of the new seats many in the suburban belt of constituencies surrounding Toronto. In the 2011 federal election the Conservative Party did indeed sweep almost all of those suburban ridings. In Ontario – except for the north – federal and provincial constituency boundaries are identical. Provincially most of the ridings swept by Harper have now voted twice for the provincial Liberals. In fact, 40 constituencies that elected a member of Stephen Harper’s 2011 caucus sent a Liberal to Queen’s Park on June 12, 2014. Another seven 2011 federal Conservative ridings went NDP provincially. Voter preferences here are not frozen with the colour blue. They vary over time.

Current polls and my seat estimation model make it clear that most of these same suburbs would now elect Liberal or NDP members not Conservatives. McMartin seems to assume the 2011 results somehow apply automatically to 2015. They do not.

His regional commentary analyzes what to expect in the various regions across the country but it suffers from the same inability to acknowledge that to date the Conservatives have suffered losses of support. The Conservatives have lost ground everywhere except Quebec where they had their weakest showing in 2011 and now average about the same level of support. His seat estimates are all therefore faulty for the same reason. He sees only five or six seats lost in Atlantic while I make it ten. He thinks the Conservatives will hold 18 of 22 seats in Manitoba and Saskatchewan while I think they will only keep 14. In Alberta he sees no losses while I estimate they will lose six.  The federal Tories are really getting hit hard in B.C. where I see them currently dropping to 7 seats while McMartin thinks they will get 20.

His estimate in Ontario is less precise but he thinks they will get well over 60 while I have them currently at 52 (this would represent a loss of 31 seats from the 2011 transposed results in this province alone).

It is perhaps better to look at the analysis as representing an optimistic view of what might be possible for the Conservatives in 2015 if somehow all goes well (headlines about economic and fiscal troubles will clearly not help).

The Conservatives do have a realistic chance of having the most seats, but if they do they will almost certainly be far, far short of a majority, and very much on life support post-election.

I found one part of the commentary I do agree with: "A riding to watch is the newly created Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas. (my emphasis) Transposed results from four years ago show the Conservatives with 42.4 per cent of the vote, closely followed by the New Democrats and Liberals with 28.2 per cent and 24.9 per cent respectively."

Right now I have the NDP ahead in this constituency just ahead of the Conservatives and the Liberals, all parties with around 30/31%. Not clear who will win but it does illustrate that having a big lead coming out 2011 is no guarantee of success in 2015.