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Canadian federal politics appear to be entering a period of significant change, with serious challenges facing all three major parties. That’s according to a series of recent polls, including a Forum Research poll today which suggests that a Justin Trudeau-led Liberal Party would win 41% of the vote and an overall majority in the House of Commons:

Forum Poll 8 Feb 2013 with Trudeau

What’s even more striking is the difference once Mr Trudeau’s name is removed from the poll wording – the very same Forum Research poll had figures of Lib 30% Con 32% NDP 26% when Mr Trudeau is not mentioned – a remarkable difference of 11 points and 78 seats for the Liberals:

Forum Poll 8 Feb 2013 without Trudeau

Of course all polls come with health warnings and this one may be somewhat understating NDP and Conservative support, while overstating Liberal support – at least according to the most recent ThreeHundredEight federal polling average.

However, the opinion polls are not the only evidence that, assuming Mr Trudeau wins the leadership, the Liberal Party could be looking at a significant boost in the polls heading into the summer. Mr Trudeau has also been drawing large crowds in places such as Kamloops in BC that are not exactly traditional Liberal turf.

600 people to see justintrudeau in #Kamloops, BC. Six. Hundred. People. For a #Liberal. #lpcldr

— Gerald Butts (@gmbutts) January 22, 2013

With the Liberal leadership election taking place on 14 April, it will be some time before we know whether the electoral promise of a Trudeau leadership matches up to the reality. In the meantime, it’s a sure bet that Messrs Mulcair and Harper will be working hard to shore up their own support, particularly on the Liberal-facing flanks of their support bases.

The next federal election is still two and a half years away, and there will be plenty of water under the bridge by then. What does seem clear is that those two and a half years will be anything but dull!


Season’s Greetings and happy holidays to all my readers.

Blogging here has been sparse recently – this is due to the fact that I’ve recently moved home, not just across the country but across continents. I am now living in Vancouver in the beautiful province of British Columbia, Canada.

Normal service shall resume in the new year – in the meantime, enjoy that eggnog!

Canadian federal politics got rather more exciting this week, as Papineau MP Justin Trudeau confirmed that he will enter the Liberal leadership race. Mr Trudeau will formally announce his entry at an event in his riding on Tuesday, and he is already the prohibitive favourite to win the leadership next April.

Forum Research have been in the field to ascertain the potential impact of a Trudeau-led Liberal Party on the Canadian federal scene. The remarkable results of their opinion poll will surely have alarm bells sounding among NDP and Conservative strategists – according to Forum, a Trudeau-led Liberal Party would win 39% of the vote, the Conservatives 32%, and the NDP just 20%.

Now this is just one poll, taken at a time when it’s simply too early to tell what impact Mr Trudeau will have on federal politics should he win the leadership next April. For example, Mr Trudeau is already facing pressure to set out his stall more clearly on major national issues – and it may be that, when he does so, his support levels decrease.

That said, while we should never read too much into a single yet-to-be-corroborated poll, a possible swing of this magnitude – with the Liberals being catapulted from a distant third to a strong first place – is really quite remarkable.

Instinctively, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that, with this much smoke there’s surely a fire out there somewhere. Perhaps the potential Liberal swing won’t be quite so large as this Forum poll suggests, but I would be surprised if future polls do not confirm at least some increase in Liberal support under a future Trudeau leadership.

I ran a seat projection based on the Forum poll to get a better idea of the potential impact a Trudeau-led Liberal party would have on the future shape of the House of Commons:

Forum’s headline party support figures of Liberals 39%, Conservatives 32% and NDP 20% would completely transform the shape of the House. An election contested on the existing 308 ridings would result in a likely Liberal minority government – with the Liberals winning 130 seats (+96 seats from 2011), the Conservatives 115 (-51), the NDP 56 (-47), the Bloc 5 (+1), and Others 2 (+1 – Elizabeth May and André Arthur).

Broken down by province, the Liberals would win big in Ontario, taking 64 seats (+53) to the Conservative’s 33 seats (-40) and the NDP’s 9 (-13). In Québec the NDP lead with 36 seats (-23) to the Liberal’s 25 (+18), the Conservative’s 8 (+3), the Bloc’s 5 (+1) and Others 1 (+1).

Elsewhere the Conservatives retain the lion’s share of the seats west of Ontario – taking 67 seats (-5 from 2011) to the Liberals’ 16 (+12) and the NDP’s 8 (-7). In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals would take 22 seats (+10) to the Conservative’s 7 (-7) and the NDP’s 3 (-3).

The overall projection assumed a uniform national swing, so the projected provincial results should be taken with a bit of a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, these results run counter to the commonly held view that a Trudeau-led Liberals would be a greater danger to the NDP in Québec than to the Conservatives in Ontario.

These numbers suggest that Mr Trudeau poses a very serious threat to the Conservatives in Ontario, which is shaping up as the key battleground – particularly given that Ontario will have 15 extra seats by the time the next federal election rolls round in 2015. Conservatives tempted to rub their hands in glee at the prospect of a Liberal -v- NDP slugfest in Québec should think again – their majority depends on holding their ground in Ontario where their position looks really quite precarious.

I look forward to seeing whether future opinion polls corroborate the results of this Forum survey – we could be in for a fascinating couple of years in Canadian federal politics.

Three days out, the result of Tuesday’s Québec election remains impossible to call. We’ve seen a flurry of polls over the past week, all of which indicate the Parti Québecois holding on to a lead of between 4 and 5 points. With the single exception of a 20 August Forum poll, the polling evidence is remarkably consistent about party support levels – the PQ on 32-33%, the PLQ on 26-28%, the CAQ on 27-28%, Québec Solidaire on 7-9%.

A seat projection based on these polling averages yields a fascinating result – the PQ are on a projected 67 seats, just over the 63 they need for a majority:

  • Across the province, the PQ win a majority with 67 seats, the PLQ win 33 seats, the CAQ 23 seats, and Québec Solidaire win 2 seats.
  • In Montréal, the PLQ are projected to win 20 seats, followed by the PQ with 18 seatsQuébec Solidaire with 2 seats and the CAQ with 1 seat.
  • In Québec City, the CAQ are projected to win 7 seats, with the PLQ and PQ winning 2 seats each.
  • In the Rest of Québec, the PQ are projected to win 47 seats, with the CAQ winning 15 seats and the PLQ 11 seats.

What makes the end result so difficult to call are the large number of closely contested seats. No fewer than 25 of the 125 ridings have a projected margin of victory of under 5%. Of these 25 close races, the PQ lead narrowly in 14, the PLQ lead narrowly in 8 and the CAQ in 3:

The PQ are either ahead or within 5 points of the leader in 24 of the 25 close ridings – meaning they could win as few as 53 seats or as many as 77. The PLQ are projected to win between 25 and 39 seats, the CAQ between 20 and 32 seats and Québec Solidaire 2 seats with an outside chance of a third.

There are still three days to go, and Alberta showed us that a lot can happen in three days. I’ll be keeping a close watch on the final polls of the campaign for any signs of a last minute Alberta-style swing to one of the parties.

With so many ridings this close, a late swing of just a percentage point or two could make all the difference. It’s all shaping up to be a very exciting election night on Tuesday.

Angus Reid have now released the results of their poll which looked at how some form of ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’, bringing together the BC Liberals and Conservatives, might fare against the BC NDP in next year’s election.

Angus Reid’s party-by-party results show the BC NDP well ahead on 50%, followed by the BC Liberals on 23%, the BC Conservatives on 19% and the Greens on 6% – figures very much in line with the 2 May poll from Forum Research.

If these numbers are reflected on election day, the NDP would clearly win a landslide majority. My seat projection last week, based on very similar numbers from Forum Research, had the NDP on 68 seats, the Liberals on 9, the Conservatives on 6 along with 2 independents.

Where the Angus Reid poll gets particularly interesting, however, is where voters are asked who they would support if the Liberals and Conservatives come together in a ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’. A coalition led by current premier Christy Clark would win support from 20% of British Columbians, to 33% for the NDP. (A coalition led by finance minister Kevin Falcon would have 21% support, and one led by Conservative leader John Cummins would have 17%).

Significantly, the number of undecideds leapt up from 16% on the traditional party support question, to 35% when asked to consider a coalition. With over 1 in 3 undecided, any projection has to come with a major health warning. The poll also has ‘Others/Independents’ on a relatively high total of 7% compared to 2% on the traditional question.

With both these major caveats duly noted, here goes. If you allocate the undecideds proportionately to the other parties (and assume that ‘Others’ do as well as they did in 2009), the FEC would be on 34%, the NDP on 57%, the Greens on 7% and Others on 2%. This would result in a sweeping victory for the NDP:

Perhaps a more realistic scenario may be to split the undecideds equally between the ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’ and the NDP (while giving a small portion to the Greens and again assuming that ‘Others’ only do as well as they did in 2009) – this would result in headline support figures of FEC 39%, NDP 53%, Greens 6% and Others 2%. This scenario would result in a closer but still solid NDP win:

Despite numbers like these, the NDP can’t afford to take anything for granted. The 35% undecideds are the crucial factor – if they were to swing decisively towards a coalition, the NDP’s hopes of a majority could be dashed. It’s also worth noting that NDP support among all voters (including undecideds) is about 42% when all parties are listed – but drops to 33% of all voters when the prospect of a coalition is put on the table.

That said, for advocates of a coalition, the Angus Reid findings don’t offer much more by way of encouragement. The poll puts the combined BC Liberal and Conservative support on 42% – but support for a coalition between the two parties falls well short of that figure.

It may be that should a coalition actually be formed, it could prove more attractive to voters than these numbers suggest. But there’s not much hard evidence in this poll to support that proposition – hard evidence which coalition advocates will surely need if their project is to gain momentum.

BC’s next election is scheduled for just over a year from now on 14 May 2013 – and the province is already in something of a political ferment, with Premier Christy Clark’s governing BC Liberals having recently lost two of their electoral strongholds to the NDP in by-elections.

A big reason for these Liberal losses was the split in the centre-right vote due to the surge in support for the BC Conservatives, a party which won just 2.1% of the vote in the last election back in 2009.

Last time out the BC Liberals won 49 seats to the NDP‘s 35, with Independent Vicki Huntington picking up the remaining seat in the 85-seat legislature. The BC Liberals had a narrower win in terms of percentages in 2009, winning 45.8% to the NDP’s 42.1%.

The opinion polls reflect just how much things have changed in British Columbia politics since 2009. The most recent poll is from Forum Research who were last in the field on 2 May:

The headline figures of NDP 48%, LIB 23%, CON 19%, GRN 8% may seem eyebrow-raising – but are pretty much in line with those from other pollsters who have also shown the NDP with a hefty double-digit lead over a BC Liberal Party struggling to stave off the surge from the BC Conservatives.

When these poll results are broken down by region and fed into my BC seat projection model, the NDP would unsurprisingly win a sweeping majority:

The NDP would win 68 seats with the Liberals being reduced to a rump of just 9, the Conservatives winning 6, and independents 2.

(For ridings where the BC Conservatives did not stand a candidate in 2009, my seat projection model allocated them a notional support value somewhat lower than that of their weakest ridings in the region.)

With the NDP polling this well with barely over a year until the election, many on the right are urging the Liberals and Conservatives to bury the hatchet and form some kind of alliance, coalition or even a merger. What might happen if the BC Liberals and BC Conservatives did join forces in this way?

Well, with the NDP polling just a couple of points below the 50% mark, even a straightforward addition of the BC Liberal and BC Conservative support base would not be enough to prevent an NDP majority:

The NDP would still come out on top, winning 47 seats to a projected 36 seats for the Lib/Con pact. That said, it would be a close race in much of the province, and the NDP would have Vancouver Island to thank for their majority.

Of course, a straightforward addition of BC Liberal support to that of the BC Conservatives is very unlikely to be how things would actually pan out in the event of a merger. Some supporters of both parties would be alienated by the prospect of working with the other. For example, some moderate BC Liberal supporters may feel they have more in common with the Greens or with the NDP than with the Conservatives. A ‘free enterprise coalition’ could prove less popular than the sum of it’s parts.

Angus-Reid reportedly have a poll in the field looking at how attractive a ‘Free Enterprise Coalition’ would be under a range of different prospective leaders. When these figures are published we’ll start to get a better idea of what support for a centre-right merger or alliance would look like – I’ll run a new seat projection based on the results when they are released.

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.

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