Making sense of the polls

Making sense of the polls

Liberals storm to surprise majority in Canadian election

At today’s Canadian election, the centre left Liberals have won 184 of the 338 Canadian seats, 14 more than required for a one party majority. The Conservatives won 99 seats, the pro-labour New Democratic Party (NDP) 44 seats, the separatist Quebec Bloc 10 and the Greens one seat. Pre-election seat models were giving the Liberals the most seats, but well short of a majority, so the election outcome was a surprise.

Vote shares were 39.5% for the Liberals (up a huge 20.6% on 2011), 31.9% for the Tories (down 7.7%), 19.7% for the NDP (down 10.9%), 4.7% for the Quebec Bloc (down 1.3%) and 3.4% for the Greens (down 0.5%). The seat changes are magnified by the First Past the Post system and tactical voting by the anti-Tory parties. In 2011, the Tories had won 166 of the then 308 seats, to 103 for the NDP and 34 for the Liberals, so today’s results represent a 150 seat gain for the Liberals, and losses of 67 for the Tories and 59 for the NDP.

The Liberals’ majority was a result of taking all 32 seats in Atlantic Canada, and 80 of 121 in Ontario. There was a huge shift towards the Liberals during the campaign in Quebec, where the NDP had started out with a massive lead. Final polls in Quebec showed a tight race between the Liberals and NDP, but the election results had the Liberals winning 35.7% of the Quebec vote, to 25.4% for the NDP, 19.4% for the Quebec Bloc and 16.7% for the Tories.

Had the Quebec vote been reasonably close between the Liberals and NDP, incumbency benefits would have helped the NDP retain most of the 59 Quebec seats they won in 2011. As it was, the Liberals won 40 of Quebec’s 78 seats, to 16 for the NDP, 12 Tories and 10 Quebec Bloc. This Quebec performance helped the Liberals to secure an overall majority.

In the later stages of the election campaign, the NDP faded in the polls as the Liberals consolidated the anti-Tory vote. This trend continued right up to the election; two polls conducted the night before the election had the Liberals on about 39.5%, the Tories on 30% and the NDP on 20%. The Tories were about 2% higher than where these polls had them, with the Liberal and NDP shares accurately predicted.

Unlike the UK election disaster, this was a good election for the polls. The problem with the seat models was that they did not completely adjust to the final election eve polls, and still included older data that had the Liberals doing worse.

New PM Justin Trudeau promised during the campaign to replace the First Past the Post system with proportional representation or Australian style preferential voting. Electoral reform is in the left’s interest in Canada, as the conservative vote is currently concentrated in one party, while the left parties are more split.

Turnout for this election will be at least 68.5%, a 7.4% increase on the 2011 turnout.