Atlantic Canada: the source of the majority for the Conservatives?

Everyone pretty much assumes that the Conservatives have to make big gains in Ontario if they want their majority. Indeed, Quebec seems like a dead end for this party and Harper will likely settle for 9-11 MPs there. As for the Prairies, Alberta and BC, the Tories have pretty much maxed out over there. BC has a couple of seats around Vancouver where Harper and its party wish to make some gains, but that's all.

One region I personally think we don't give enough attention is the Atlantic. I'll try to explain here why I think the Conservatives can actually make some important gains over there. Recent polls consistently show that the CPC is higher in this region than it has ever been since 2004 and, more importantly, usually enjoy a decent lead over the Liberals.

This region has traditionally been very liberal. Even Stéphane Dion finished first over there in 2008, with 17 seats, while the Tories got 9 and the NDP 4. But of course, the key for this analysis is to determine if the ABC (Anything But Conservatives) effect of Danny Williams is still there in NF-L. The former Premier was very successfull in building a movement against the Conservatives and effectively managed to wipe them out of his province. So before looking at some scenario, depending on how much of the effect is still present, we need to estimate this ABC effect.

I admit that I worked very hard to estimate my model using the data for the Atlantic. It took me many tries before reaching a model that made sense. The real problem is of course that I have to design my model at the regional-level since polls are not provided at the province-level. One issue with that is that the overall swing a party experiences in the region can be the result of many different swings provincially. It was the case in 2008 where the Conservatives dropped from 32.6% in 2006 to 29.6%. But if you exclude NF-L, the Tories actually experienced a positive swing of 2.2%, with a particularly big increase in NB. Therefore, the huge drop in NFL where the Tories collapsed from 42.7% to 16.6% skewed the regional swing. On the other hand, the boost the Liberals got in NF-L allowed them to partially hide a lackluster performance in the Atlantic.

After some fancy tricks, I manged to estimate the coefficients to translate the regional swing AND estimate the NF-L specific effects. Namely, I found that the ABC effect was -32.7-points for the Tories, + 16.5-points for the Liberals and +8.3-points for the NDP (and virtually 0 for the Gren). If you are surprised to see the boost for the NDP to be so low, you need to remember that I also included a riding-specific effect for St-John-East where the NDP got a giant boost of like 46-points. So this effect alone accounted for a lot of the provincial swing of the NDP.

So whether those effects are still there is crucial in analyzing the current regional swing. Let's look at some scenarios to see that more in details.

1. The effects are still 100% there.
If this is the case, then it means the regional swing is really big. The current projections have the Tories standing at 39.2% in the Atlantic. That would mean a swing of 10-points, applied in all four provinces. With this swing and the effects still there, the current projections would give the Conservatives as many as 21 seats. Don't forget the Liberals are currently projected around 34%, thus slightly below 2008.

2. The effects are completely gone.
If this is true, then it means a large part of the observed regional swing is coming only from the increase in NF-L. Indeed, by jumping 32-points in NF-L and staying stable everywhere else, the Conservatives would now stand at 35% in the Atlantic. Therefore, the provincial swing would be only around 4-points, and not 10-points. With this scenario, the Tories would win 15 seats. Some might be surprised that the party of Stephen Harper is better off having the ABC still there, but it makes sense if you think about it. With the effect still there, it means the CPC is enjoying a big swing everywhere. Thus, big potential gains in NS, IPE and NB.

3. The effects are halfway gone.
This is the scenario I'm currently using. I see it as a compromise. I understand the Conservatives are saying the ABC is gone, but it doesn't mean it's true as some have commented in the past on this site. With this assumption, the CPC is projected to win 18 seats, right in the middle of the two other scenarios. I really like this compromis since it allows me to spread the observed increase of the Conservatives equally between the ABC effect being gone and a regional swing.

In any case, as I said before, Harper can still expect to make as many as 9 gains in the Atlantic. That alone would put the Tories almost in majority territories. Do not think this is negligeable. Yes Ontario is the real battleground, but we might well know whether Harper got his majority after seeing the results of the Atlantic alone. This is also a key region for Michael Ignatieff. It seems he can simply take the Atlantic as granted and a sure source of seats.

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