Saturday, September 18, 2021

And the winner is....

This election campaign has left a sour taste in everyone's mouth. It was unnecessary and has let loose a wave of anti-social behaviour, particularly on the part of PPC adherents and anti-vaxxers. It appears the Liberals will win the most seats, likely somewhere in the 140-150 range with the Conservatives somewhere in the 120-130 range. Almost all seat projections would yield a Liberal plus NDP majority in the House of Commons. It is quite possible that vote shares for the two leading parties will wind up lower than their respective vote shares than in the 2019 election. For the Liberals a minority outcome would be a result comparable to the bitter fruit the party tasted at the time of the 1965 election.

It also appears the election has not been kind to the Conservatives; they have been forced on the defensive on issues including ranging from vaccinations to health care to abortion to gun control. Erin O'Toole has quite skilfully tried to come down on both sides of contentious issues without appearing opportunistic. To me he has simply appeared to be dishonest and untrustworthy - not just dishonest in the dissembling way one normally expects from political speech but beyond that.

One party that is clearly doing better this time is the NDP, benefiting in part from dissatisfaction with the two leading alternatives, particularly the Liberals. It is possible, if everything went the NDP's way, they would end up somewhere in the 40-50 seat range. More likely is something in the 30-40 seat range, still a large improvement on the 24 seats they captured in 2019. NDP support is disproportionately young, the demographic with the lowest turnout. In today's Nanos poll the NDP leads in the 18 to 34 age group with 34% of the vote to 22% for the Liberals and 20% for the Conservatives.  Another factor is that some who prefer the NDP nonetheless vote Liberal to prevent the Conservatives from achieving success. 

A key reason the Conservatives are having a tough time ousting the Liberals is that relatively few non-Conservatives cite them as a second choice.

A poll conducted by Leger for the Earnscliffe Strategy Group produced the following finding:

In January 2019, 22% of Liberal supporters named the CPC as their second choice, falling to 16% in October of that year. Now, just 2% would support the CPC, while over half (58%) give their second-choice support to the NDP.

If we go back over the decades it is the Liberal Party and Conservative Party (in its various iterations) that have provided alternative governments to Canadians. Is that era coming to an end? It is too soon to say, but this evolution in public opinion seems significant.

The other big problem for the Conservatives is that they are no longer the big tent party on the right. The gains of the PPC this time are almost certain to be modest, but most of their votes are coming from the Conservatives.  Nick Kouvalis, a pollster and Conservative strategist - he worked for Rob Ford and is currently working for Doug - blames the PPC for the likely Liberal victory in the latest press release issued by his polling firm Campaign Research. It is reminiscent of the nineties and the split between the Reform Party and the former Progressive Conservative Party, albeit on a more limited scale. However, it would take just a few percentage points to deny Erin O'Toole's Conservative Party a good result.

Because there has been a great deal of voting this year by mail and special ballots, results which won't be known until Tuesday, we might not learn the final shape of the House of Commons until the next day. However, polling from Nanos suggests the gains post election day will not go to the Conservatives:

According to Nanos Research’s nightly tracking data conducted for CTV News and the Globe and Mail, which was released on Friday, those Canadians who plan to vote by mail-in ballot are four times more likely to vote for the Liberals than the Conservatives...

Of those who rated their likelihood to vote by mail as a nine or 10 on the scale:

             47 per cent would vote Liberal; 

            26 per cent would vote NDP;

             12 per cent would vote Conservative;

              6 per cent would vote Bloc Quebecois;

             6 per cent would vote Green Party; and

             2 per cent would vote People’s Party of Canada

In 2019 the polls significantly underestimated the Conservatives; every major polling firm understated the Andrew Scheer Conservatives by an average of 2.6 percentage points nationally; in Alberta it was 11.1 percentage points. Will it happen again? Have the polling firms made adjustments to reflect 2019 experience? We don't know. One party that has a lot riding on this is the NDP.  As things stand now, the party is poised to make significant seat gains in Saskatchewan and Alberta, but a repeat of the same polling phenomenon could negate those potential wins. The pandemic has not been kind to Jason Kenney or Scott Moe. That could be an offsetting factor as could the rise of the PPC. 

The 2020 election in the United States produced significant polling error. A key explanation that emerged later was that there was increasing distrust on the part of the political right in institutions including polling. It could be repeated here.