the numbers guy

Alberta projection post-mortem after PCs storm to victory in stunning upset

Posted on: April 24, 2012

Well, that was unexpected! Nobody anticipated last night’s result. Even the most optimistic of PC supporters were hoping for, at the very best, a slim majority. Not a single pundit or political analyst predicted a PC landslide on the scale Alison Redford pulled off last night.

Every single pollster also got it wrong. Sunday’s final Forum Research poll did capture a last minute swing to the PCs – but still had the Wildrose ahead 38-36. On the night, the PCs won with nearly a 10 point lead over Wildrose.

With pollsters unanimous in predicting a Wildrose victory, it’s not surprising that the seat projection models were well off the mark too. The closest was ThreeHundredEight, not least because its final projection placed significant weight on Sunday’s Forum Research poll.

Still, even ThreeHundredEight projected a Wildrose victory – although you can almost sense the uncertainty in nearly every paragraph of 308 author Eric Grenier’s  Final Alberta Projection. Mr Grenier, more than anyone else I read in the hours before polls closed, seemed to sense that something was in the air and that a PC win might be on the cards.

My own seat projection model relied more heavily on Friday and Saturday’s polling figures which unanimously had Wildrose well ahead – my seat projection was therefore out by a country mile. I’ll get on to some of the reasons why – and the lessons learned – in a moment, but first here are some obligatory humble pie charts:

Political analysts will speculate for months about the reasons behind the last minute withering of the Wildrose surge – Josh Wingrove makes a start in this morning’s Globe and Mail.

From my perspective, I’m more interested in learning more about how the pollsters could have been so wrong. There was a 9.5% lead for the PCs on the night. The most favourable final opinion poll for the PCs had them 2 points behind. Such a huge differential in a heavily-polled major election contest is almost unprecedented in recent times.

The final numbers from most other pollsters had the PCs even further behind. A Wildrose majority seemed all-but-certain, a landslide highly possible. I can’t recall a provincial or federal election – in Canada or even in other Commonwealth countries – in which the pollsters were so far off the mark in terms of the final result. Even with last year’s federal election, while few predicted a Tory majority, some of the final polls did pick up the last minute Tory surge in Ontario’s 905 region.

My focus will also be on improving my seat projection model as we look ahead to the next provincial elections in British Columbia and Quebec. The model was basically designed to translate polling figures into seats. Polling figures that are way off the mark will inevitably translate into seat projection figures that are also way off the mark.

Nevertheless, next time I will pay much closer attention to the last minute final-day polls and will weight them accordingly. Among other initial ‘lessons learned’ are the need to incorporate an adjustment for strategic voting – where supporters of minor parties end up shifting their vote to a leading party in the final hours (or indeed on election day itself).

A further factor was how well incumbents performed last night – particularly cabinet ministers and also well-entrenched minor party incumbents such as the Liberals’ David Swann in Calgary-Mountain View and Laurie Blakeman in Edmonton Centre. Swann and Blakeman each bucked the province-wide trend for their party, winning their ridings comfortably despite predictions they were in danger of losing their seats. Adjustments will need to be made to future seat projection models to reflect this.

All in all, it was an absolutely fascinating election night – and analysts, pollsters, pundits and political junkies from coast to coast to coast will be poring over the evidence from Alberta 2012 for many months ahead.

2 Responses to "Alberta projection post-mortem after PCs storm to victory in stunning upset"

Imo, the biggest factor were the “undecideds,” for whom when push came to shove, voted for the status quo they have always had, as they saw no strong unified centre-left to vote for. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” nonsense.

I have to laugh; already, this morning the hyper-partisans on the centre-left are already lining up behind their narrow little parties for the never-ending, rallying call with their fists in the air, “Next time, we’ll do better!”

I guess you can bring your horses to water, but you can’t make them think.

Good point on the undecideds. There were some polls out with even just a week to go that had them over 20%, and leaning (marginally) to the PCs.

On progressive voters, I get the sense there was actually a fair bit of strategic voting going on – not just in terms of people voting for the progressive they thought could win, but also in terms of people extending that to the PCs in areas where they wanted to stop the Wildrose.

The G&M had an interesting anecdotal piece on one such rural NDP voter who ended up voting PC on election day itself –

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