by elections

Margin of Error

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Featured Posts, Polls | 2 Comments

They were up late counting the votes in Brandon-Souris Monday night. That, despite the fact that the final poll of the campaign showed the Liberals with a commanding 29-point lead. In the end, the Liberal vote was 16 points lower and the Tory vote was 14 points higher. It would have been a shocking result, if Forum’s reputation wasn’t such that pundits were already chuckling about that poll long before the results rolled in.

Before continuing on, I think it’s important to recognize just how far these numbers missed the mark. Some have talked about the “19 times in 20″ disclaimer at the end of every margin of error, writing this off as (yet another) 1 in 20 rogue poll. I won’t turn this into a statistics seminar, but bell curves are such that most misses should be close misses. This weather website predicts that the average high in Brandon ranges from -15 to +13 ºC nine days out of ten in November – but that doesn’t mean there was a 1 in 10 chance scrutineers would be pulling out the Bermuda shorts on election day. That tenth day is usually going to be fairly close to the range.


The reality is, based on Forum’s quoted margin of error and sample size, they were off by around 6 standard deviations. And based on sampling theory, the odds of that happening in a poll from a truly random sample are non-existent. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 million to 1. (So more likely than the Liberals winning Macleod, but still very unlikely)

forum last night

OK, no more math. But I hope I’ve made the point that this isn’t the sort of thing that can happen by chance.

Forum President Lorne Bozinoff has his own theories:

He speculated that the difference between the final Brandon poll and the actual by-election outcome may have been that the Conservatives had a better “get out the vote” ground game than the Liberals. As well, he said some constituents who were angry about the perception of a fixed Tory nomination may have found they just couldn’t bring themselves to vote Liberal once they got into the ballot box.

I absolutely agree the ground game matters. However, you won’t find anyone in politics that believes the difference between the best ground game and no ground game at all is more than 5 or 6 points. Both parties were pumping resources and volunteers into Brandon, so every door got knocked – GotV may very well have been the reason the Tories won, but it doesn’t explain a 15-point swing. If it made that kind of difference, there’s no way the NDP would have swept Quebec last election.

I can somewhat buy last second switches playing a big role in the recent Alberta and BC elections, but it shouldn’t have been an issue in Brandon – especially when Forum showed Liberal support trending up. If that was what happened, then Bozinoff is basically saying that opinion polling is worthless. Because if the electorate is actually going to swing 15 points in under 24 hours, that means a poll showing the Tories at 30% on election day means they’ll finish anywhere from Kim Campbell territory (15%), right up to a majority government of historic proportions (45%).

Instead, what we’re dealing with appears to be flawed methodology. Bozinoff has admitted that some respondents may have been called for 3 consecutive polls, and that likely wouldn’t have happened unless the response rate was in the neighbourhood of 1% (typical for robo-polls, when you don’t do callbacks). Heck, Sunday being the Grey Cup, it may have been even lower. Sampling methodology only works if you assume survey respondents are similar to the public at large – otherwise, these polls are no more accurate than the “self selecting” click polls you see on websites, asking what you think of Miley Cyrus’ antics.

The obvious solution is more regulation on the polling industry, in terms of standards and disclosure. In the absence of that, it’s up to the media to show restraint when reporting what are clearly flawed robo-polls. Yes, they’re free. Yes, they make for an interesting “news” story – and bad polls make for an especially interesting “news” story because they run counter to the common wisdom.

Polls provide information, and information is a valuable tool. However, passing off faulty information as accurate, and giving it what is clearly not a “real” margin of error is dangerous. These freebie polls have shown themselves to be no more useful than “word on the street” anecdotes, and they should not be given any more credibility than that.

Please note – part of this issue, as noted by John Wright, is a lack of disclosure. So, in the interests of full disclosure, I should remind readers that I work at a polling company, albeit one where “robocalls” are considered a four letter word.

Wheat Kings

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections | 23 Comments
Trudeau was so confident in the wake of the Forum poll, that he started waving "Vote PC" signs on the campaign trail.

Trudeau was so confident in the wake of the Forum poll, that he started waving “Vote PC” signs on the campaign trail.

On the surface, nothing really happened last night. The Liberals held two safe seats and the Conservatives held two safe seats. Yes, they were counting ballots until late night in Brandon, but the seating chart in the House of Commons is unchanged.

As is so often the case, most of the attention was on Eastern Canada, especially the McQuaig-Freeland battle in the centre of the Centre of the Universe. For the Liberals, the vote totals weren’t overly important, though they did increase their share of the vote in both Toronto Centre and Bourassa. For them, the key was building Team Trudeau by electing two MPs who are fresh faces, but still legitimate Cabinet material.

The news is less encouraging for the Bloc, who dropped a few points and show no signs of life following their 2011 wipeout. If the Tory spin machine is looking for talking points, well, they successfully held off a charge from the Rhinos for fourth place in Bourassa, though the Rhinos could likely have closed the 700-vote gap with a better GotV effort.

The NDP are no doubt disappointed to finish second in both ridings, but the truth is they probably dodged a bullet in Toronto Centre. A win for Linda McQuaig would have given them two weeks of positive headlines, but would have meant 2 years of headaches for Thomas Mulcair. McQuaig is very much an “old school” NDPer whose books all carry titles like “Why the rich are destroying Canada” and subtitles like “PS, I hate oil companies and Americans too“. Mulcair has taken great pains to paint the NDP as a centrist alternative to the Liberals and Conservatives, and McQuaig might prove more difficult to control than his caucus of 20-somethings from Quebec.

More disconcerting for Mulcair is what happened in Manitoba last night. Unlike the two eastern seats, there was no expectation the NDP would win, but they lost more than half their vote in both ridings, falling to third behind the Liberals. Brandon can perhaps be excused – there were clearly local dynamics in play, and Dinsdale’s last name carries some cachet. Provencher was a more boring race, but that makes the result more worrisome. Last election, voters dissatisfied with Stephen Harper went NDP over Liberal by a 2:1 ratio. This time, they went Liberal over NDP by nearly a 4:1 ratio.

I wouldn’t extrapolate out very far. Kevin Lamoureux won one of the safest NDP seats in the country for the Liberals in a November 2010 by-election, and we all know what happened 6 months later. But 30% in two small town Prairie ridings is nothing to sneeze at for the Liberals. Especially when you toss in their strong showing in Calgary Centre last year. For the first time in a long time, there’s reason to believe that Western Canada might not be an abysmal wasteland for the Liberal Party. On a largely “status quo” evening, that’s fantastic news for team Trudeau.

Today in meaningless polling

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections | 6 Comments

I really hate to post the results of a Forum poll. Especially for a by-election, where the stakes are low and turnout will be lower.

But…wow. The fact that the Liberals are even in the game in a riding like Brandon is just stunning. No, they won’t win, but for a party which picked up 5% of the vote there last election and was looking up at Elizabeth May, a strong second would be an impressive show.

Dog Days of August

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Federal Politics | 5 Comments
Georges Laraque claims to be an animal lover. But see if he gets PETA's endorsement once they find out he used to beat up sharks, ducks, and penguins.

Georges Laraque claims to be an animal lover. But see if he gets PETA’s endorsement once they find out he used to beat up sharks, ducks, and penguins.

It’s the third summer of the Stephen Harper majority government. Leadership races have been run, the Cabinet has been shuffled, but we won’t be going to the polls for another two years. Yes, these are the dog days of majority government rule, when our lone bits of excitement comes from Senate Committee meetings. What I wouldn’t give for a good Census controversy, a new attack add, or a Rob Anders slip-up. Hell, even a wafer scandal would feed the soul of policos hungry for news.

Luckily for those in need of a political fix, there are now four by-elections on tap for this fall. Here’s an update on how those races are shaping up.

Toronto Centre
Outlook: Likely Liberal, but possible NDP pickup

The media love stories about by-elections and the media love stories about the media. So what’s better than a by-election featuring 3 former journalists? That’s easy – a by-election featuring three former journalists smack dab in the centre of the Centre of the Universe.

Although the riding is seen as a Liberal stronghold, Bob Rae only took it by 11 points in 2011 and it sits squarely between a pair of NDP seats. As such, the NDP nomination (now set for September 15th) figures to be a hotly contested battle between journalists Linda McQuaig and Jennifer Hollett. Hollett is a former MuchMusic VJ and helped design an App, so she’s seen to have youth appeal (do kids these days still watch MuchMusic?). If Hollett wants to put her tech skills to the test for the nomination battle, I suggest she design a “random Linda McQuaig book title generator” app – possible outputs would include “50 Shades of Greed in the USA“, “How the Rich are Destroying Canada“, and “How the Rich (and big oil) are Destroying Canada“. She’s well at home in the NDP.

The Liberals, meanwhile, emboldened by the success of the Michael Ignatieff experiment, have coaxed Chrystia Freeland back to Canada to run. This prompted John Ivison to write scathingly that Trudeau’s leadership promise of “open nominations have fallen at the first hurdle“, which would be a damning indictment of Trudeau, if it were true. In reality, there are now three Liberal candidates running in an open nomination. Other candidates include Todd Ross and Diana Burke, neither of whom are journalists so we likely won’t be hearing much about them.

Outlook: Likely Liberal, but possible NDP/Green pickup

This riding held off the orange wave last election, but that was on the strength of Denis Coderre’s name and organization. With Coderre gone, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen here, though the Liberals pulled off quite a coup in recruiting provincial MNA Emmanuel Dubourg.

Stepping into the ring for the Greens is Big Georges Laraque. Laraque is sure to get a lot of press, but this campaign is likely to end about as well as Laraque’s final season in Montreal.

The more likely upset candidate here remains the NDP. The party who couldn’t find live bodies to fill out its slate in Quebec in 2011 now has five people running for the nomination, including former Statistics Canada employee Larry Rousseau, who is 32.6% confident he can capture the nomination. If he does, that would leave us with three Haitian-Canadians as the frontrunners.

Despite some friendly taunting, it does not appear that Bloc leader Daniel Paille will be trying his luck here.

Outlook: Safe CPC

You should never take by-elections for granted. Weird things can happen in even the safest of seats. Not far from Provencher, not too long ago, the Liberals picked up Judy Wasylycia-Leis’ seat, despite finishing over 50 points behind the Dippers in the previous election.

Yes, anything can happen. But don’t expect it to.

Outlook: Safe CPC

See Provencher.

Byelection Results Roll In

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Ontario Politics, Polls | 2 Comments

With most of the results in, it appears the Liberals have held Scarborough-Guildwood and Ottawa South, with the NDP winning Windsor-Tecumseh and London West, and Doug Holyday squeaking it out in Etobicoke-Lakeshore.

On the surface, this is a disastrous result for Kathleen Wynne, losing three seats and seeing her party’s vote fall by an average of over 15 points. The Liberals finished a distant third in Windsor and London, two ridings they won handily in 2011.

But byelections are all about expectations, and this is roughly what people expected from the Liberals. So it’s Tim Hudak who, despite scoring a long sought-after breakthrough into fortress Toronto, finds himself being declared the “loser” of the night by many. Go figure.

While I would never dispute that Tim Hudak is a loser, he didn’t receive much help in the expectations game from Forum research, which had the PCs leading in 3 ridings – and up by 16 points in Ottawa South. Consider this another reminder we really didn’t need to put much stock in superficial robopolls answered by 1 in 100 numbers called, in byelections where under a third of of public votes.

By-Election Day In Ontario

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Ontario Politics | 1 Comment
Holyday isn't going to lose any votes because of the scandal surrounding the truck behind him. But he might because of the guy to his left.

Holyday isn’t going to lose any votes because of the scandal surrounding the truck behind him. But he might because of the guy to his left.

Ontarians head to the polls in five ridings today, to replace five outgoing Liberal MPPs.

The fate of the government does not hang on these by-elections. If the Liberals hold all five seats, they’d be one floor crossing or resignation away from a majority, but that would take a small miracle. As such, the by-elections will likely be spun as a referendum on Kathleen Wynne’s first 6 months in power, even though we have binders full of case studies showing that byelections are almost always about the local candidates and local dynamics.

With that, here’s my guess at how they’ll unfold tonight.

Windsor-Tecumseh: This one looks like the only seat that isn’t really in play, with the polls and pundits in agreement that Dwight Duncan’s old riding is going orange. Windsor is NDP country, and the ongoing economic troubles there leave the ground fertile for Andrea Horwath’s message.

London West: Chris Bentley took this riding by 8,000 votes in 2011 and 14,000 votes in 2007. So when labour leader and former NDP member Ken Coran decided to run for the Liberals, many called him an opportunist. But wouldn’t you know it? His candidacy has crumbled, and the riding as now viewed as a PC-NDP toss. My guess is it will go PC, but we shouldn’t be surprised by anything there tonight. Hell, Al Gretzky is running for the Freedom Party – and who would vote against freedom or a Gretzky?

Ottawa South: This riding has been red, federally and provincially, since 1987. A lot of McGuintys have won a lot of elections during that time. With the Liberals running Dalton’s constituency aide John Fraser, I initially had this pegged as a Liberal hold on the strength of their ground game, but I’m going to revise my prediction to the PCs. Not so much because of the polls (though they do point that way), but because of the ongoing controversy surrounding the riding’s former MPP. Just as Calgary Elbow voters sent a message in Ralph Klein’s old riding in 2007, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Ottawa South voters make a statement tonight.

Scarborough-Guildwood: It appears that Adam Giambrone is heading for a richly deserved third place finish. And with the NDP failing to gain traction, it seems unlikely the Liberals will bleed enough to lose a riding Margaret Best won by 20 points two years ago.

Etobicoke-Lakeshore: This has turned into the most interesting contest, with Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday taking on councillor Peter Milczyn. It’s a tough race to call, with two high profile candidates, a retiring MPP scarred by McGuinty’s war with the teachers, Rob Ford injecting himself into the campaign, and a silly scandal around a garbage truck. All of this in a very unique riding that is part “Ford country” and part a wall of waterfront glass condos. So your guess is as good as mine but, for me, “sitting councillor” beats “out-of-riding Deputy Mayor” more often than not. Doug Holyday may be competent, but he’s not a political superstar by any means.

Add it all up, and you get 2 red, 2 blue, and 1 orange seat tonight, but I wouldn’t be surprised to be surprised. A few robocall polls don’t shed a lot of light on things when one in a hundred surveys are completed and one in three eligible voters bother to cast their ballot. Politics is the last thing on the minds of Ontarians right now, so it may very well come down to which campaign is best able to drag their supporters to the ballot box kicking and screaming.

Bob Rae Steps Down

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Federal Politics | 12 Comments


This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but Bob Rae is resigning as an MP.

I wrote my praises of Rae’s career and time as interim leader back in April so I won’t rehash them here. Although he never fullfilled his dream of becoming Liberal Party (permanent) leader, if there was a “Political Hall of Fame” in Canada, Rae would certainly be a first ballot inductee.

No doubt, Twitter will be rife with speculation about Rae running for Mayor of Toronto, but that seems largely idle. We’ve been hearing rumours of an Olivia Chow candidacy for over a year, and given the anonymous chatter around Rae’s “almost-bid” for permanent Liberal leader, I assume we would have heard something by now if the Mayoralty was in his sights. Rae has never shown much interest in municipal politics during his 35 years in public life, and today’s anouncement feels a lot more like a retirement than a campaign launch. If Bob still had the political itch, recent polls would surely have him dreaming of being named Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2015.

Rae’s departure will trigger a by-election in Toronto Centre, a riding the Liberals are almost guaranteed to hold. So the real intrigue will be on who they nominate. No doubt there will be much attention on high profile names like Hall Findlay, Holland, Kennedy, Takach, and Smitherman – but with the Liberals riding high in the polls, Toronto Centre may offer Trudeau a chance to bring in a star candidate from outside the political sphere.

In either event, given his leadership promise to hold open nominations in every riding, you can be sure membership forms are being sold as we speak.

Great Moments in Spin

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Federal Politics, Great Moments in Spin | 38 Comments

The Onion Conservative Party reacts to their by-election defeat moral victory:

As we know, majority governments do not usually win by-elections.

In fact, Liberals have won the riding of Labrador in every election in history except for two, so we are not surprised with these results.

What is surprising is the collapse of the Liberal support during this by-election. When this by-election was called the Liberals had a 43-point lead in the polls. Since electing Justin Trudeau as leader and having him personally campaign there, they have dropped 20 points in Labrador. That’s a significant drop in only a few weeks. Labradorians were able to see firsthand how Justin Trudeau is in over his head.

Liberals Will Try to Retrieve Labrador

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections | 7 Comments

Given how obstinant Stephen Harper is about sticking behind Cabinet Ministers embroilled in cotroversy and how disdainful the Tories have been any time Elections Canada suggests they’re in the wrong, it was a bit of a surprise to see Peter Penashue not only step down as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, but resign his seat so that he can try to legitimize his mandate in a by-election. I’m left trying to deduce some kind of sinister motive in all of this but maybe, just maybe, the Tories and Penashue decided to do the right thing. I know, I know – it feels weird typing that.

Losing Penashue as Intergovernmental Affairs Minister is not a big blow to the Harper government – over the past 7 years, there have been more Bigfoot sightings than Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs sightings. The bigger loss would be the by-election, and given Penashue only won by 70 votes last time, that’s a very real possibility.

Penashue (CPC) 40%
Russell (Lib) 39%
Larkin (NDP) 20%
Barrett (Green) 1%

Russell (Lib) 70%
Artiss (NDP) 18%
Lewis (CPC) 8%
McLeod (Green) 4%

Russell (Lib) 51%
Goudie (CPC) 40%
Larkin (NDP) 9%
Zwicker (Green) 1%

The 2008 outlier reflects the success of Danny Williams’ ABC campaign, so most people are expecting a close Liberal-CPC battle. Of course, the NDP is on the rise provincially and 20% is not an insignificant base to build from. Toss in local issues and dynamics, and you’ve suddenly got the makings of a very interesting by-election.

One imagines the media narrative will be that this marks “Justin Trudeau’s first test”, but given the circumstances around Penashue’s resignation, I would think it’s more likely to play out as a referendum on the current MP. When Sheila Copps resigned over the GST in 1996, she was re-elected but saw her share of the popular vote dip by 22 points. Penashue’s margin is far narrower than that, but the two case studies are so different and by-elections are so unique that it would be foolish to assume anything.

Indeed, all signs point to a very competitive by-election that any of the three parties could take with the right candidate. Given the rest of 2013 figures to be a slow one politically, the Labrador by-election will certainly be worth watching.

Old Habits Die Hard

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in by elections, Federal Politics | 13 Comments

“I’d like to thank the voters, my volunteers, and, of course, David McGuinty.”

In all my years blogging about Calgary politics, I never thought “Liberals blow by-election” is a story I’d have to write. “Liberals lose” is a common headline for a party that hasn’t won a seat in Calgary since 1968, during the height of Trudeaumania (the first round of Trudeaumania that is). But while some Liberals have come down with “candidate’s disease” over the years (symptoms include house hunting in Ottawa), the reality is the Liberal Party is never even in the game; there hasn’t been a Liberal candidate within 20 points of victory in Calgary this century. Usually, getting your deposit back and beating the NDP is reason enough to pop the champagne on election night.

This by-election however, represented a genuine opportunity for victory. After all, this was Calgary Centre, and downtown Calgarians have a lot more in common with downtown Torontonians than they do with Nanton ranchers. Progressives in the riding elected Joe Clark in 2000, routinely send Liberal MLAs to Edmonton, and voted overwhelmingly for Naheed Nenshi during the 2010 mayoral election. The Conservatives nominated a polarizing and unpopular candidate, and the Liberals had a good one in respected conservationist Harvey Locke. With polls showing Locke on the cusp of a breakthrough, Liberals threw everything they had at the campaign. Yes, it was still a long-shot – but that’s the best shot the party has had in Calgary in a long time.

Then, as they always seem to do, things fell apart. If anyone ever wants to modernize the myth of Sisyphus, I’d suggest a better punishment than forever pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down would be forever volunteering on Alberta Liberal campaigns.

One week before the vote, David McGuinty accused Conservative MPs of being “shills for the oil industry”, telling them to “go home to Alberta”. Bob Rae apologized, McGuinty resigned his critic portfolio, and Justin Trudeau, fresh off his second tour of duty helping the Locke campaign, made it clear where he stood:

“My entire campaign has been about bringing people together, about not pitting region against region and about being a strong representative and a voice that says the same thing in Chicoutimi as we say in downtown Calgary as I’ll say in Toronto as I’ll say in B.C.”

The problem, as we would learn the next day, is that he hadn’t always been saying the same thing in Montreal:

“Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work,” Trudeau told interviewer Patrick Lagacé.

When asked whether he thought Canada was “better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans,” Trudeau replied, “I’m a Liberal, so of course I think so, yes. Certainly when we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th century, those that really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec. There was Trudeau, there was Mulroney, there was Chrétien, there was Paul Martin. We have a role. This country, Canada, it belongs to us.”

Many Liberals rushed to his defense, dismissing the attacks as a Conservative smear job and arguing that Justin’s 2010 comments had been “taken out of context”. However, it was clear to anyone who watched the full interview that the quotes were properly translated and represented. There really is no way to defend Trudeau – and not just because he feels Brian Mulroney is one of this country’s “great” Prime Ministers. In no uncertain terms, he belittled an entire province.

These comments might not have been the decisive factor – after all, the final results were close to polls taken before the controversy. It would be especially unfair to pin this one on Trudeau, given Locke may have only have been in the game in the first place due to the life Trudeau has injected into Liberal support levels from coast to coast. And both Liberal MPs were trying to make perfectly valid points when their comments “slipped out” – in McGuinty’s case, that national politicians should think of the good of Canada rather than just their own backyard, and in Trudeau’s, that francophones can thrive inside Canada.

However, it’s partly because these were throw-away off-the-cuff lapses that they’re so unsettling. Both comments suggested to voters that no matter how often the Liberal Party says all the right things and tries to reach out to the West, deep down inside, they’re still against Alberta. All it takes is a heated exchange in the House of Commons or a candid interview without talking points for their true nature to rise to the surface.

In all honesty, the Liberal Party has written off Alberta for decades, so it’s only natural for attitudes like this to become ingrained. You can’t simply flip a switch and ask your MPs to suddenly play nice because there’s a by-election going on. Even if they do, voters have long memories – to some extent, Stephen Harper is still paying for the sins of the Reform Party vis-a-vis Quebec and Atlantic Canada in the 90s.

The good news is, voters will eventually forgive if they see a genuine change in attitude. Bob Rae’s swift response to McGuinty’s misstep, and Justin Trudeau’s pro-oilsands positions are evidence that the Liberal Party is changing. Nearly every Liberal leadership candidate I’ve talked to has made growing the party in Western Canada a key theme of their campaign. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also good politics, with 12 new Western seats coming into play next election.

Last night, Harvey Locke received 32.7% of the vote, squeaking past Bev Longstaff’s post-1968 Calgary Liberal “record” of 32.6%. Locke’s campaign energized local Liberals, and showed the federal party why they can’t write off Alberta. If the LPC takes that message to heart, there’s every reason to believe they can snap their 44-year Calgary losing streak.

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