Is a minority government possible in BC?

British Columbia isn't used to minority governments. To be fair, our electoral system usually produces majorities (that's one of its advantages, at least if you believe its partisans). In the BC case, the main reason has been a lack of a consistently strong third party. However, things could be different this year with the rise of the Green Party.

Before going further, let me mention the updated projections. I have added the Ipsos poll. This is the second consecutive poll placing the BC Liberals ahead of the BC NDP. Is there really a trend or is it only due to the fact they are polls with an online-based sample? Hard to tell until we get IVR polls (Forum, Mainstreet). But notice that both Justason and Ipsos previously (2-3 weeks ago) had the NDP ahead. So they definitely show the same trend (Liberals up, NDP down and Green up) if not the exact same numbers (Ipsos has the Green much lower).

With the new polls added to the average, the projections are now closer than ever. There is a real possibility that the final projections won't be able to make a better call than the flip of a coin.

Anyway, let's go back to the topic of the day: is a minority possible?

Based on the most recent projections, we see that there is a 17% chance of this happening, almost perfectly divided between a NDP or Liberal minority (and a 3% chance of a tie). So, why is this election so close (both in terms of votes and seats -at least if you believe me) and a majority is still the most likely outcome? The answer is that the Greens aren't currently winning enough seats. So we still essentially have a two-party race for the 87 seats (or 84 if you remove the 3 relatively safe Green seats). So whichever party finishes first usually gets a majority. There really are only a couple of combinations that give us a minority. I'm talking here of scenarios of 43-41, 42-42, etc.

So what exactly would it take for BC to have a minority government next Tuesday? Let's take a statistical look.

I used the simulations to try to answer the question. Specifically, I calculated the probability function here below. It's showing you the probabilities of a minority government as a function of the share of votes of the Green Party.


As you can see, it seems the chances of a minority government are a positive function of the vote share of the Greens. That makes sense. We also see that the probability function isn't very steep. In other words, the chances of a minority will remain low until the Greens could somehow reach 30% or more. And remember, this graph is assuming the BC Liberals and BC NDP both remain around the 39-40% mark. If one of them was to surge or collapse, then the chances of a minority would become almost zero.

Maybe a better way to look at it is as a function of the seats, not the votes. It's simply a mathematical property that there can't be a minority until a third party wins seats. The graph below shows this probability.


A minority becomes the likely outcomes if the BC Green Party can win more than 8 seats. Can this party achieve this? Well it's possible but that would be a pretty major surprise.

In the most recent projections, the chances of more than 8 Green seats are less than 1% -the absolute best case scenario is 11 seats by the way. It'd require a perfect scenario for this party. We are talking of a massive underestimation by the polls as well as a crazy vote efficiency. Imagine a scenario where there is a Green surge around Victoria and the Green can win pretty much every riding. If you look at the detailed projections, you see that 7 Green seats is far from impossible. But 9 and more? This is really a stretch.

Still, let's go with a realistic best case scenario for Andrew Weaver and his candidates: 7 MLAs. The chances of Weaver to have the balance of power would therefore be 40%. Those are not bad odds. But getting to 7 MLAs is no easy task.

At the end of the day, the current chances for a minority scenarios are low and they'll remain low until the end of this campaign. There are only a few scenarios (Green winning many seats, NDP and Liberals being close to each other) that lead to a hung parliament. Interestingly, the Ipsos poll has questions regarding the expected outcome and people are doing a fairly good job. 35% expect a Liberal majority, 29% expect a NDP majority and 18% expect something else. So either these respondents were very well informed, or they got lucky.

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