Too Close To Call seat model was close enough in BC

One of the more interesting election websites is “Too Close too Call” – an election forecast site produced by Bryan Breguet, a Ph.D student in Economics at UBC.  I haven’t met him but admire his work.

It seems like he’s beating himself up a bit about his predictions today.  I took a spin on his seat forecasting model and inputted the actual popular vote numbers from BC.  His model extrapolates the final results fairly accurately.  Seat forecast models basically extrapolate the new pop vote numbers on a platform of the previous pop vote numbers (2011).

Here is the result:

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 2.05.47 PM

His accuracy is 81% (34 out 42).  Not bad.  That’s a B in most schools.

What interests me are the differences – why do some ridings break the pattern?

In BC, those eight ridings – based on Too Close too Calls model – are:

  • Cloverdale-Langley City
  • Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam
  • Kelowna – Lake Country
  • Kootenay-Columbia
  • Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon
  • Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge
  • Richmond Centre
  • South Surrey-White Rock

I will offer a theory:

  • These were all CPC seats to begin with
  • Five of eight seats did not have an incumbent seeking re-election.  (Conservatives lost 4 of 5 with new candidates)
  • The Conservatives won two of the seven outliers
    • Richmond Centre – bucked the trend for the CPC because of incumbency advantage.  Possibly retaining stronger support among Chinese.
    • Dianne Watts bucked the trend in South Surrey because she was a much better candidate for CPC than her predecessor.
  • Kootenay-Columbia was going to be close under these circumstances, though the NDP outperformed there, defeating a CPC incumbent in a squeaker.
  • Kelowna-Lake Country was a Liberal surprise, perhaps reflecting changing demographics in BC’s most urbanized Interior City.

Candidates make a difference, especially incumbents.  A closer look at popular vote per riding based against the model would show this too, but it’s the winning and losing that matters most.

Magnitude of Liberal gains highest in 4 western provinces

By order of magnitude, the biggest Liberal gains were in the four Western provinces.

Liberal popular vote increased by 2.6X to 2.8X in each of the four western provinces.  Nationally, the Liberal vote doubled.

Lib magnitude provinces

Sk 2.8
Mb 2.7
Ab 2.6
BC 2.6
Que 2.5
NB 2.3
NS 2.1
Ont 1.8
Nfld 1.7
PEI 1.4
National 2.1

Popular vote increases:

2011 2015 DIFF Magnitude
Sk 8.6% 23.9% 15.3% 2.8
Mb 16.6% 44.6% 28.0% 2.7
Ab 9.3% 24.6% 15.3% 2.6
BC 13.4% 35.2% 21.8% 2.6
Que 14.2% 35.7% 21.5% 2.5
NB 22.6% 51.6% 29.0% 2.3
NS 28.9% 61.9% 33.0% 2.1
Ont 25.3% 44.8% 19.5% 1.8
Nfld 37.9% 64.5% 26.6% 1.7
PEI 41.0% 58.3% 17.3% 1.4
National 18.9% 39.5% 20.6% 2.1

Trudeau’s voter coalition stronger in BC and MB than Chretien’s 1993 win

The last time the Liberals defeated an incumbent Conservative government was in 1993.

Jean Chretien’s Liberals took 41.2% of the vote compared to Justin Trudeau’s 39.5%.  Similar.

The regions tell an interesting story.  Justin did 6.4% better in BC than Chretien, 9.9% better in Nova Scotia, and 10.3% better in Manitoba.  Chretien was higher in Ontario and Quebec (marginally).

In terms of BC, Chretien took six seats in 1993; Trudeau took 17 in 2015.

Chart: Comparison of Liberal Popular vote by province – 1993 and 2015

1993 2015 LIB

1993 2015 DIFF
BC 28.8% 35.2% 6.4%
Ab 24.0% 24.6% 0.6%
Sk 24.7% 23.9% -0.8%
Mb 34.3% 44.6% 10.3%
Ont 49.5% 44.8% -4.7%
Que 36.7% 35.7% -1.0%
NB 56.0% 51.6% -4.4%
NS 52.0% 61.9% 9.9%
PEI 60.1% 58.3% -1.8%
Nfld 67.3% 64.5% -2.8%
National 41.2% 39.5% -1.7%

Lib win ‘over’ the over-under line

I wrote about the Over-Under line for majority and minority governments back on October 1st.

No government has won a majority with less than 38.5% of the popular vote in the past 60 years.  One government (Pearson) had a minority with 41.5%, so the over-under line was described as 38.5% to qualify for a majority and 41.5% to guarantee it.

The Liberals led by Justin Trudeau garnered 39.5% of the popular vote, falling within the range of many other majority governments in Canadian history, garnering the seats without needing to cross the 41.5% threshold.


First Nations representation: following in Len Marchand’s footsteps

In 1968, Len Marchand became the first “Status Indian” to be elected to the Parliament of Canada, from the riding of Kamloops.  He went on to become the first to be a member of the federal cabinet as well.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 2.57.05 PMOnly eight years before, Len – along with all Status Indians – was ‘granted’ the right to vote by the Parliament of Canada.

1960.  Can you believe that?  That’s not that long ago.

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was in power.  His government took action where previous Liberal and Conservative governments had not.

An agronomist by training, Len’s political activism led him to elected office in 1968, 1972, and 1974 as a Liberal.  He was swept out in 1979 when the Liberals were defeated.  He was the last federal Grit to be elected from the BC Interior.  We’ll see if that changes tonight.

To my knowledge, Len was the last First Nations person to be elected from BC as well.  41 years ago. (note: I’m distinguishing First Nations from Metis)

This election, there are First Nations candidates that could take a seat in Parliament from BC.  Here’s a list of all aboriginal candidates in Canada for each party.

Jody Wilson-Raybould stands an excellent chance of being elected from the riding of Vancouver-Granville.  A lawyer, former Crown Prosecutor, and former Regional Chief for Assembly of First Nations.

Trent Derrick of the NDP appears to have a solid chance at the riding of Cariboo-Prince George.  The NDP have two other First Nations candidates – Carleen Thomas in North Vancouver and Kathi Dickie in PG-Peace River-Northern Rockies.  Thomas and Dickie are longshots to win.

The issue of why there are not more First Nations elected from BC to the Parliament of Canada and the BC Legislative Assembly is a topic for a future blog post, one that I intend to take on properly after the election.  Len and others have done a lot of work in this area and, this election, there is increased advocacy from indigenous groups compared to previous elections.

When one looks at the career of Len Marchand, you realize the tremendous potential for First Nations perspective to inform federal and provincial decision-making.  While this insight is presented in other forums and bilaterally from First Nations to government, having that insight on the floor of the House, in the caucus room, and at the cabinet table is something that would strengthen our parliamentary institutions.


Len’s book “Breaking Trail” is a great political bio and record of an era of politics from the 1960s through the 1990s.

To predict, or not to predict …

Let’s start my election prediction with a little bit of Hamlet:

Now whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on th’ event—
A thought which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward—I do not know
Why yet I live to say this thing’s to do,
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do’t.

In other words, I’m pretty sure I am overthinking this election!

I have written about many aspects of polling over the course of this election and will apply them to what we may see tonight.

I’m going to borrow from the poll aggregator 308 to show the trends in this election and the aggregated outcome.  The Liberals separated from the NDP around September 20th and never looked back while the Conservatives held steady but never able to grow their market share (according to the polls).

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.48.24 AM

Polls schmolls.  They are often wrong.  Even the blended numbers provided by the aggregators  have been wrong time and again.

Here are factors I apply to these numbers:

  • Turnout by age – older people vote at a higher level.  This is a traditional Conservative advantage.  Some polls (EKOS, ANGUS REID INSTITUTE) show an age advantage, but others (NANOS) are showing the Liberals with big gains among seniors.  Moreover, with increased voter turnout, which is likely to happen this election, the proportion of seniors as an overall share of the electorate will likely drop.  It will still be significant and have the highest turnout rate, but the gap between seniors and younger voters won’t be as dramatic.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 10.56.07 AM

  • Shy ConservativesScreen Shot 2015-10-12 at 11.08.00 PMwe saw this in spades in the UK where no one detected a David Cameron majority.  All the polls suggested ‘Hung Parliament’ yet the Cameron Conservatives triumphed in stunning fashion.  Part of this may relate to “won’t says” – the estimated 8% of voters who just won’t cooperate on surveys when asked the ballot question.  My view is that they probably skew Conservative.  There is also a theory that people stick with the incumbent and “hold their nose” if they are fearful of the alternative.  In BC, we used to call them “10 second Socreds”.
  • Cultural Bias – My view is that media polling does not accurately reflect Canada’s diverse multicultural population.  Those who struggle with English are much less likely to cooperate in a telephone, IVR, or online panel.  In fact, online panels are the least representative, culturally speaking, unless they are done in-language.  There can be major differences in perspective culturally and they, ideally, should be reflected in polling.  I wrote about this recently with regard to the Chinese-Canadian community.  In BC, Chinese make up about 10% of provincial electorate and about 20% in Metro Vancouver – a huge factor.  My view is that the under-representation of Chinese in BC likely means Conservative support is under-represented.  I have seen no data in this election that tells us what’s going on in this community specifically.
  • Ambivalent respondents –

    Some survey respondents really don’t have a clue… and some still use flip phones!

    Innovative Research Group has done interesting research on those who answer survey questions.  There is a continuum between strongly consistent to strongly ambivalent.  The Conservatives do better among consistent respondents (ergo likelier voters) and weaker on ambivalents.  Angus Reid Institute had similar findings along the lines of vote firmness.  See my post on “Why Conservatives have hope”.  Liberal support has been growing among consistent respondents.

  • Gut – What does the tummy feel?  Hamlet would have had a real quandary figuring out these poll results.  The problem with the gut is that has a built in bias based on the echo chamber it lives in.  I am wondering if I’m drinking too much of my own bathwater, but my gut is pulling me in directions based on conversations with family and friends, and seeing indicators that may show how voters are behaving that are not reflected in the polls.  A big gut check is momentum.  That is something that Nanos has detected in the final three nights of polling.  Liberals on the rise.  Is it real?  I’m consulting my gut.

When I think about election surprises over the past few years, I’m comparing this election to those.  What is lacking in this election for the incumbent Conservatives is an overall narrative that gives voters a positive vision.  Negativity is an important part of campaigns – or you can call it contrast.  Parties are fighting over market share and the market has a ceiling of 100%.  It’s a zero sum game.  Parties must contrast themselves from their competition.  I have no problem with that and you can go back to the 1800’s for examples that would make today’s ‘attacks’ pale by comparison.  However, there must be a either a strong vision for the future, a stark choice, or a sense of renewal and change.

In both Alberta 2012 and BC 2013, these were female premiers in their first general election.  They were new, different and both were offering a proposition to voters.  In Alison Redford’s case, she was contrasting against a more conservative Wildrose brand and she was proposing to address issues on the progressive side of the ledger.  Christy Clark put forward an economic vision based built on a platform of fiscal responsibility that contrasted sharply with the NDP.  In the UK, David Cameron morphed fear of the Scottish Nationalists and the perceived weakness of the UK Labour leader to drive English Liberals to the Conservatives.  The reasons, in hindsight, are apparent for those election surprises.  I don’t see it here.  The case for Conservative re-election has seemingly slipped away over the last week.  While it may have been too late in the campaign to change much, the Ford family-Stephen Harper photo op on the weekend may have provided an added push for “time for change” Tories to jump ship.

The Upshot

While there are many factors – turnout, cultural, and polling bias – that mitigate in favour of a better Conservative outcome – which I am accounting for, my gut pulls me in the other direction.  I believe “red Tories” and soft NDP voters are going Liberal and the polls are seeing a glimpse of that.


I’m throwing away the calculators and the models and the spreadsheets.

Hearkening back to Hamlet, three parts cowardice, one part wisdom would have led me to predict a Liberal minority.  I have put aside the cowardice and perhaps the wisdom, and decided to be bold.

I don’t think Canadians are going to be wishy washy tonight.  I think it’s a Liberal majority… by a hair (which would be ironic… “nice hair” they’ll say).

And though 38.5% has been the minimum to attain a majority in past 60 years, I think the Liberals may do it with less this time because of the vote splits.

The math for the Libs:

Atlantic and West/North:  50 seats

Ontario and Quebec:  120 seats

Libs 170

In BC, I think the NDP have jumped the shark.  Bringing out warhorse Stephen Lewis, last seen promoting the Leap Manifesto, to stump shows they are doubling down on their core vote.  The Liberals are going to win some seats that no one, including them, thought they had any business of winning.

BC seat count:

Libs 15

CPC 14

NDP 11

GREENS 2 (yes, not sure if it’s Victoria or Nanaimo)

This post will not impact a single vote so it’s all just fun and games.  When we are sitting around tomorrow reading about a shocking Conservative win, I will begin my tour of shame with my Conservative friends who will no doubt remind me of this post forever more.