Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Liberals likely to win Canadian election on Tuesday (Melb time)

The Canadian election will be held tomorrow, with polls closing on Tuesday morning and afternoon Melbourne time. The current Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) poll tracker has the centre left Liberals leading the Tories by 36.4-31.3, with 22.5% for the pro-labour New Democratic Party (NDP) and 4.5% for the Greens. In seat terms, this is 140 of 338 seats for the Liberals, 120 for the Tories, 74 for the NDP, 3 for the Quebec Bloc, a separatist Quebec party, and 1 Green.

The Liberals’ rise has been driven by Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. At the 2011 election, the Tories won 44.4% of the vote in Ontario, and the left vote was badly split, with the Liberals and NDP both taking between 25 and 26%; this resulted in the Tories winning 73 of Ontario’s 106 seats.

In this campaign, Ontario was initially a three-way race, but the NDP faded. There was then a tight contest between the Liberals and Tories, but the Liberals have pulled well clear in Ontario in the final days, and now lead the Tories by 10.5% in that province. Ontario’s 121 seats are now projected to go 65 Liberal, 41 Tory and 15 NDP.

There were large differences in the various seat models. Proportional seat models assume that if a party’s vote doubles in a province, it will double in every seat within that province. Uniform swing models assume that if a party’s vote increases by 15% in a province, it will increase by 15% in every seat within that province. Proportional swing models gave the Liberals more seats than uniform swing models.

The most pro-Tory seat model is the Canadian election watch model, as it projects that Tory voters are 10% more likely to vote than Liberal and NDP voters, thus increasing the Tories’ overall vote. I think left voters will be very keen to vote at this election, and that proportional swing models are more reasonable given the current party standings, but these concerns are legitimate.

A key issue is whether the Liberals or the Tories win the most seats. If the Liberals win the most seats, they will be able to form a minority government. However, if the Tories win the most seats, but are short of a majority, there will need to be a formal agreement between the Liberals and NDP to oust the Tories.

Even Canadian election watch now only has the Tories three seats ahead of the Liberals on its projection, while all other seat models have the Liberals well ahead. Unless there is either a massive late swing or poll error, the Tories will not win a majority of the seats. The Tories could still win more seats than any other party, but in that case Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is still very likely to become PM with the support of the NDP.

At the last election, Canada’s First Past the Post (FPTP) system allowed the Tories to win a clear majority with 39.6% of the vote, despite the Liberals, NDP and Greens winning a combined 53.4%. At this election, there were concerns that the same thing could happen until the Liberals’ recent rise. However, FPTP has not always benefited the conservative side of politics in Canada.

There were many comments on my last Canadian article lamenting the demise of the Progressive Conservatives (PCs), and their replacement with Harper’s more right wing Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). The 1993 election effectively finished the PCs as a political force, when they were reduced from a governing majority to just two seats out of 295 - one of the few times in national elections that a governing party has been all but wiped out.

The PC wipeout in 1993 is partly explained by the rise of the hard right Reform Party, which won 52 seats at that election. Vote splitting between the PCs and Reform gave the Liberals an easy victory. The PCs never recovered from this wipeout loss, and it was not until Reform and the PCs were merged in 2003 into the CPC that conservatives became competitive in Canada again.

Poll closing times

Canada is a large country that spans 4.5 hours of time zones. All polls are open for 12 hours on Monday, but synchronised closing times are used for the Eastern to Pacific time zones, so that polls in these time zones close at nearly the same time. Here are the poll closing times on Tuesday Melbourne time. There are 338 total seats.

10:30am: Polls will have closed in all 32 Atlantic Canada seats. There are several small provinces here, and the Liberals are expected to perform strongly in this region.

12:30pm: Polls close in the rest of Canada, except for British Columbia.

1pm: Polls close in British Columbia (42 seats)

According to Antony Green, Canada uses many small polling booths, so counting will be quick. In previous elections, there was a media ban on reporting any results until all polls had closed, but Twitter has made such a ban impossible to enforce, so media will be able to report early results.

If the Liberals do very well in Atlantic Canada, it does not necessarily mean they will do well elsewhere in Canada.