New Forum poll puts the Conservative ahead, really?

Alright, I guess I can,t avoid talking about the most recent Forum poll. If you weren't on the internet yesterday (or were too busy following the results of the German election), the latest numbers from Forum have the CPC in first place with 39%. The Liberals are second with 35%, then come the NDP at 15%, the Green at 4% and the Bloc at 5% (22% in Quebec).

If you've been following Canadian polls, you know that this poll is different. I mean, just a couple of weeks ago I had an article showing that Justin Trudeau would be overwhelmingly favourite to win an election held tomorrow. So, did something happen or is this poll just an outlier? Let's take a look and use this poll to discuss the possible scenarios for the Tories.

First thing first though: for some reasons Forum still get laughed at. I had people yesterday on twitter simply saying "who cares, it's Forum?". I don't get that. It's like this firm had one crazy bad poll in the by-election of Brandon-Souris and some people never forgot. Forum's track record since 2012 for provincial and federal elections is fairly good (they were even the best for a while). Just recently in BC and NS, they did very well (in BC though, their final numbers were good but they did one at least one weird poll during the campaign). All that to say that I don't see Forum as the gold standard for Canadian polling firms, but I also don't have any reason to dismiss their numbers right away. Quite frankly, I think it's stupid to do that.

Ok, so how different is this new poll? It kinda depends what we are comparing it to. Compared to previous Forum polls, the Tories are up 4 points while the Grits are down by 7. Big variations but Forum has had the Conservatives higher than most other firms for a while now. Not sure why but it's definitely there. Can we find reasons as to why the Liberals would be down by 7 in one month? The obvious candidate is the proposed tax reform that is generating a lot of noise (I'm sure you have a couple of independent workers friends on facebook who expressed their discontent with the reform). 7 points only for that? I don't know. But the nice thing doing my job is that I don't have to justify the numbers, so let's just accept the notion that Trudeau has had less positive press recently and it might have affected his number.

Compared to the other pollsters? The CPC is 9 points above the most recent Nanos (which is super slow to adjust because it's a rolling average over four weeks!) and 7 above the latest Mainstreet. it's also 8 points more than according to Abacus. For the LPC, the situation is similar but inverse obviously. So it certainly looks like this Forum poll is an outlier, at least compared to the poll average.

What if we look at the provincial numbers? In Ontario, Forum has the CPC at 42% and the Liberals at 37%. Compared to Mainstreet and its 44-36, it's not that different once we account for the large margins of error and could indicate a tight race in this province. Compared to Abacus (28-51 respectively) and it's obviously very different. But Abacus' Ontario numbers actually look more outliers than Forum's. Campaign research was showing a situation very similar to Mainstreet. So, all in all, Forum has numbers in Ontario that are different from the average but nothing we couldn't expect with small sample sizes.

In Quebec, The Liberals's lead over the CPC has been +22 at Abacus, +27 at Mainstreet, +28 at Nanos and +33 at Campaign! For Forum? It's +14 only!

You get a similar situation in most provinces. Some of the differences could be due to the small sample sizes (in fact, I'd argue that the other pollsters are too similar to each other, especially in Ontario) but it gets harder to explain once you realize this is the case in every province. Random variation could cause the CPC to be higher in Ontario (compared to other polls) but you'd expect the CPC to be lower in others.

At the end of the day, it's clear this poll is different and if the election was tomorrow, I wouldn't bet money on Andrew Scheer winning the most seats. Forum seems to be the only firm using IVR to collect the data, this could explain why they seem to often be different from the other pollsters. But as I've said, Forum has been right enough time that they earned the benefit of the doubt. Personally, I think this Forum poll has weird numbers because it's a combination of a decrease in popularity for Trudeau (confirmed by the decrease in the rolling average of Nanos) and some random variations due to sampling (i.e: Forum got the one sample with higher CPC numbers - plus the possible "house effect" of this firm). I guess the truth is most likely that the Liberals are ahead but maybe not by 9 points as other polls have shown.

If we only use these numbers (something not very smart but interesting for the sake of an article), we get the following projections:

Voting intentions; Seat projections with confidence intervals; Chances of winning most seats

I won't analyze province by province. I'd rather use this poll to discuss the path to victory that Scheer has. Ever since he won the leadership contest, his numbers haven't been very good and a fair share of Canadians still don't know him. At the same time, he has kept the base together (the 30% of voters they had in 2015), included in Ontario. The main problem for this party is the incredible lead the Liberals have in Quebec. This is especially problematic as there is no obvious contender who could go and take votes away from Trudeau in the french-speaking province. Andrew Scheer was able to gather the rural voters to defeat Bernier but that won't be enough in a general election. Harper worked super hard in Quebec but saw how difficult it was to get over 20%. The NDP? It depends partially on the leader they'll choose. But none of the candidates appear likely to be able to do better than Mulcair. If anything, staying at the score of 2015 would already be great. The Bloc? We have seen this party bouncing back in the past but I don't see any reason to believe the Bloc will suddenly return to its score above 30% like before (separatist parties in Quebec aren't doing great right now even though the PQ seems to improve in the last month at least). This poll shows, however, that a combination of small increases of the Bloc, NDP and the CPC in Quebec could be enough to cost many seats to the Liberals. They'd still win the most seats but keeping them around 40 MPs makes the task of beating them a lot more feasible.

Scheer has a narrow path to a plurality (most likely a minority). He needs to retake the lead in Ontario (something possible as the Tory vote didn't collapse there in 2015). He could be helped there by the NDP if they were to choose Singh as leader for instance. His charisma and profile could split the left vote, especially in the GTA. Scheer also needs Trudeau to come down in Quebec. He simply can't beat the current PM if Trudeau keeps two regions (the Atlantic and Quebec) with total domination. Scheer can compensate for the Atlantic with Alberta. As for Quebec, we discussed it above.

This leaves BC. Forum has them at 40% over there. Given the recent provincial elections, I can't see the Tories really be that high. The BC Liberals, whose electors are mostly a mix of CPC and LPC at the federal level, got around 40% in May. There as well, Scheer's best shot might be for the NDP to elect a leader capable of splitting the vote.

What I'm trying to say here is that the CPC does have a narrow path to victory in 2019. I'm not in the camp of those who believe Trudeau can't lose even though I'm obviously aware that he's favourite. This poll gave us pretty much the perfect scenario for Andrew Scheer and the Tories. And in this perfect scenario, the CPC would only win 155 seats and have a 29% chance of a majority. Not ideal. On the other hand, take this Forum poll, average it with the numbers of my previous article and you get a race with the Liberals at 178 seats and the CPC at 122. Chances of winning for Trudeau would then "only" be 89% (67% for a majority).

So right now, the scenarios for the Conservatives range from 69% chance of winning the most seats (the best case scenario given by Forum) to 0.1% chances if we exclude this poll. If we average the polls, the chances are roughly at 10%, a number that seems sensible to me. So don't take this single poll are the definite illustration that Trudeau is falling. Take this poll as what a best case scenario would look like for Scheer. And while the numbers look good, it still means that even in the best case scenario, the chances are "only" of 69%. Of course, we are still 2 years away from the next election and the NDP still hasn't elected  anew leader.

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