Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Liberal minority is in prospect

We highly personalize politics now and many will attribute a Liberal government, most likely a minority, to Justin Trudeau.  However, his leadership numbers, while they have gone up substantially over the course of the campaign, have trailed party preference. This is neither surprising nor new. It has happened before, notably in 1993 when Jean Chr√©tien went from yesterday's man to PM over a two month campaign. This result as in 1993 appears signficantly driven by negative considerations on the part of voters. Regardless, Trudeau will become prime minister

Personalities were front and centre yesterday when Stephen Harper attended an event in Toronto organized and sponsored by the Ford brothers, Rob and Doug. Normally the ever astute Harper would avoid relying on the polarizing Ford brothers, but times for him are desperate. He hoped for some boost from the Fords that might pull out a few extra blue collar, low education, low information Tory voters from Ford Nation.  By doing the event he effectively conceded that his Finance Minister Joe Oliver would lose his seat. A significant percentage of Oliver's riding was one of the areas of Toronto that most strongly supported John Tory and its residents have nothing but distaste for the Fords so you know Harper has given up on it. It was symbolic of the campaign closing that Harper's campaigning with the Fords was about despair rather than hope (but it did give the cartoonists a field day).

My estimate of likely seats won based on average of the closing polls is below:

I think all seat projections need some qualifications that can't be quantified. Others such as 308 present seat ranges. I regard such error estimates as meaningless. Probability error for polling results is based on statistical theory (assuming the sample is genuinely random). Error ranges for seat projections make no real sense to me (with one exception I won't go into).

Seat projection is as much art as science and errors are likely to be greater in some circumstances, some of which are present in this election:

  • First, the Liberals are going from third to first and large changes may break in significant ways from previous voting patterns. 
  • Second this election is fundamentally about strategic (better described as tactical) voting - anybody but Harper. Strategic voting may elect a slightly larger number of NDP MPs (all would be incumbents) across the country than the trend would suggest. In my 1999 study on this topic the overall trend suggested just one New Democrat should win. Nine were actually elected. 
  • Third, if micro-targeted strategic voting is truly effective, it may mean fewer Conservatives will win than the trend suggests.
  • Fourth, Quebec broke radically from its past last time and now seems to be experiencing a series of idiosyncratic shifts that may well produce a number of surprising outcomes.
  • Fifth, the Liberal surge is strong enough that it could produce a few perverse effects, letting Conservatives win in a circumstance where a New Democrat might otherwise have been successful and the more appropriate strategic choice.
I have previously written that the campaign hinged on the mid-September niqab announcement.  As a counter-factual what if  we suppose there had been no such development. Instead on the same day the Gagnier story had broken. What might have been the impact? Now I actually I think that from what we know of the Gagnier affair, it was not likely going to have much impact, but lets presume it had been more scandalous than now appears. Might it have overwhelmed the other factors that had helped the Liberals up to that point. We will never know, but it is clear that sheer chance can have an outsized impact on election outcomes. What is not due to chance is the sheer size and scope of the distaste that most Canadians have for the Harper government. That is the most important factor determining the outcome of this election.