Best, worst and other scenarios as of day 12 of the 2018 Ontario election

Alright, it's not super easy to come up with articles to write when we get few polls and the overall situation isn't really changing. Still, let's look at some of the possible scenarios based on the most recent polls and projections. This will also allow us to see how much uncertainty there is currently.

I added the new Ekos poll to the average as well as yesterday's Mainstreet tracker (for the daily tracker, I update daily but I thus remove the one from the day before, otherwise I'd be double counting some of Mainstreet data).

As I was saying, the overall situation is mostly unchanged. Maybe the only thing worth mentioning is how the Liberals have stabilized. If anything they seem to have slightly rebounded (in terms of votes, not seats however). This means the NDP is still far from being a true challenger to the PC of Doug Ford.

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

When it says "chances of winning" above, it is referring to the chances of winning the most seats. Still, in our electoral system, remember that you can technically win the most seats but not ""win" and become Premier. Obviously, in the current election, that could only happen if Ford was to fail to get a majority. The graph below shows you the various scenarios.

The "others" is really just one scenario: a tie between the PC and the NDP. This occurred 2 times out of 10,000 simulations.

Also, no, I didn't forget about the OLP. This party simply can't win based on the current information (polls, etc). Not even a minority. The Liberals can, however, be tied with the NDP (22 times out of 10,000). I understand some of you might say "but polls have been wrong before" and they'd be right. But my simulations already include very big variations. Also, the probabilities have proven to work in past elections. So no, I really believe the Liberals would have no chance if the election was tomorrow.

The possibility of a PC minority is interesting. What would actually happen depends on many factors. Would the NDP try to get the support from the Liberals? All the leaders currently say no to a coalition but if the PC was to win a small minority, it wouldn't be surprising to see a possible change of attitude from Horwath for instance. Again however, it'd depend on many factors.

Which leads us to the question: can the PC actually win a small minority only? Yes, it's possible. here below is the distribution of the possible number of seats for each party.

The absolute worst scenario for the PC is at 40 seats. The chances of winning 50 seats and fewer are less than 1%! So right now, even in a scenario where the polls had overestimated the Conservatives and this party had an inefficient vote, it'd still likely win at least 50 seats. At 50 and more, it gets more and more difficult for the NDP and OLP to try to prevent Ford from governing.

In other words: this election currently has the least amount of uncertainty I've seen in a long time. Look at the distributions, they barely overlap. This means we have a high confidence that, if the election were tomorrow, the PC would finish 1st, the NDP 2nd and the Liberals 3rd. Of course, as usual, the election isn't tomorrow.

Speaking of best and worst scenarios, for the NDP there are, respectively, 67 and 21 seats, while it's 42 and 0 for the Liberals. The Green could at best get 1 seat (chances are less than 1%).

Finally, here is the riding by riding projections.

Is the left/progressive vote splitting each other and giving Ford the win?

With the Progressive Conservative party of Doug Ford continuing to lead comfortably in the polls (and in the corresponding projections), one topic of discussion is how the Liberals and NDP are just splitting each other. After all, the PC is about to win a majority with only 40% of the vote.

Is that true? In this post, I'm not going to argue about whether the OLP and NDP are similar or have similar policies. I'll simply say this: polls have shown that these two parties do seem to share some of the same voters.

The point of this post is more straightforward: would Ford and the PC really lose if the OLP and NDP were together? Are these two parties really splitting the vote?

In order to answer this question, I'm using the second choices from the Mainstreet and Innovative polls. Surprisingly, they show very similar second choices. They both agree that the main choice of Liberal voters is the NDP (at around 50%) while the OLP is the main second choice of the NDP voters (at around 40%). Interestingly (but not used in the calculations for this post), the NDP is also the main second choice of PC voters. See the full details at the end of this post.

At first, it seems that the people talking about vote splitting are right: there are currently 53 ridings where the Tories are projected to win but the total of OLP+NDP is greater. That would leave Ford with fewer than 30 seats and far away from the job of Premier (instead of the 79 seats in the most recent projections).

The mistake, however, is to assume to 100% of the Liberals votes would agree to vote NDP (and vice versa). In reality, some Liberals would rather vote PC or not vote at all. Same for the NDP voters. This is a crucial distinction to remember. Just because two parties share some of the same voters doesn't mean all these voters would be okay voting for the other one.

I therefore used the second choices to redistribute the votes in two scenarios: one where the OLP wouldn't exist and one where the NDP wouldn't. The table below shows the results.

Number of seats won by each party

As you can see, if the OLP was to disappear and "merge" with the NDP, this would lead to a very competitive rate but the PC would still win (a short majority, which is logical with only two parties winning seats). On the other hand, if the NDP was to withdraw, the Liberals would pick up enough voters to only win 35 seats. The main reason why the Liberals would perform much worse alone than the NDP would is because the share of NDP voters willing to vote Liberals (as 2nd choice) is smaller than the share of Liberals voters having the NDP as 2nd choice.

In both cases, Doug Ford would still win. And keep in mind these two scenarios are already optimistic as I'm assuming the remaining party (the NDP when the Liberals wouldn't exist for instance) would retain 100% of its votes.

So, is the left splitting each other and giving Ford the win? The short answer is currently no. The Conservatives are winning because they are by far the main party at 40%. NDP and OLP are splitting each other partially but this isn't the reason why Ford might end up Premier next month.

After, there is no denying the electoral system is playing a role here. With a proportional system, Ford wouldn't be able to win a majority. But that's another discussion.

By the way, here is the average second choices used in these calculations.

Source: Mainstreet and Innovative polls
As a side note, the fact that about 30% of PC voters have the NDP as second choice could be a source of great swings in the next few weeks. It's not unreasonable to think some of these voters are currently voting PC just because this party is seen as the main option to defeat the Liberals. I talked about this here.

What would it take for the Ontario election to be competitive?

Let's face it, as it stands, the Ontario election isn't a nail biting contest. If the election was tomorrow, anything but a Doug Ford victory would be a monumental surprise. Here below are my most updated projections to illustrate my point. Not much is changed since yesterday except that I now include the daily Mainstreet tracker (but I will obviously not reveal the actual numbers. Consider subscribing if you are interested. For $30, you'll get daily new numbers on their site). I have also fixed some small typos and mistakes that people have noticed).

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

The riding by riding projections are available at the bottom of this post.

So, how far are we from a competitive election? The answer is actually closer than what you think. Or what the projections above might make you believe.

See, the projections and probabilities aren't telling you the odds that the situation will change. It's telling the odds for today, based on the information available. So when I say the PC has a 99% chance of winning, this is if the election was tomorrow. The way you should interpret it is that currently, the only way for the Tories to lose would be for the polls to be incredibly off.

But things will likely change between now and June 7th. Scandals, debates, attacks, etc. All of these will likely change the opinion of some voters.

Who are those voters who could change and, if they do change, would it make the race more competitive? Let's look at them.

Based on the (very long and detailed) Innovative poll, it is clear that PC voters are the least likely to change their mind. On the other hand, NDP and Liberals show less certainty with their current choice. Specifically, almost a majority of OLP voters -48%- are actually likely to switch! Mainstreet shows similar numbers, at least qualitatively speaking.

The NDP also has the particularity to be the main 2nd choice of both Liberals and Conservative voters.

Bottom line, there are mostly two groups of voters that could still change: Some OLP-NDP swing voters (the bigger group) and some PC-NDP swing voters. Here below is the graph from the Innovative poll. For the former, there is a key sub-group that consists essentially of people who want change but still think the Ontario Liberals are the best to form the government. This is a key group Andrea Horwath needs to convince to switch.

So, how many of these voters need to actually switch for the NDP to have a chance? Let's play with the numbers.

Both Mainstreet and Innovative agree that about 50% of the Liberals have the NDP as second choice (and 15% for the PC). And both pollsters agree that about half of them are likely to change. Let's be a little bit conservative and assume that 30% of Liberals voters will switch. That would leave this party with about 17% of the votes. This is a little bit more than how many are defined as the "core ON Liberals" (people who don't think it's time for change and like the current government, so these voters will not change their vote). It does mean most of the "time for change but think OLP is best" group would switch however.

The NDP would receive 75%*30% of the OLP voters (the 75% is around 50%/(50%+15%) because 50% of OLP voters have the NDP as second choice and 15% have the PC. I'm assuming here no OLP voters would switch to not voting, so I need to normalize), thus around 5.5 points. The PC would receive some votes (as some OLP voters do have the PC as second choice), around 1.5 points.

That would leave us with the following situation, roughly:

OLP: 17%
PC: 41.5%
NDP: 35%

That still isn't a competitive race. The PC would still be favourite. But the dynamic and coverage of the race could be very different. The NDP could now be seen as a real challenger, something that isn't fully the case for everyone right now. And this could mean that some people who hate the Liberals and really want change but are currently voting PC (seen as the best way to get rid of Wynne) could change their mind. Call it a bandwagon effect.

What if 50% of Liberals voters switch instead?

OLP: 12%
PC: 42.5%
NDP: 38.5%

If we assume that the Liberals would only lose voters to the NDP, then it'd be PC at 40% and NDP at 38.5%, a very close election.

So here you have it, assuming the PC voters won't change opinion easily (and evidence indicates that much), in order for this race to be competitive, we need basically one third of Liberals voters to switch. We need the Liberals to fall to their absolute base or core. Anyone who doesn't think this government has been doing a great job and it's time for change needs to vote something else than OLP.

Is it likely? Well, when asked, Liberals voters say there is a 50% chance they will change their mind. Can we interpret that as there is a 50% chance we will have a competitive by the end of the campaign? I think this is pushing it. I think many people always overestimate their likelihood to change. But it's definitely far from impossible.

And let's remember that there are other scenarios that lead to a competitive race (instead of only Liberals voters switching to the NDP, we can have a mix of Liberals and PC voters). The only real difficulty in having a competitive race is the fact the PC is at 40% and its vote appears to be solid. It's hard to get two parties around 40% as it requires the third one to collapse.

My guess? Well I'm terrible at guesses usually but I believe the Liberals will likely keep dropping in the next 1-2 weeks and NDP will keep increasing. We will get to a point where we'll be talking about the possibility of a competitive race (think PC at 39% and NDP at 33%). After that, no idea if the trend will continue or not. it'll depend on many factors.

I'll say this: it doesn't take a crazy scenario or insane assumptions for this race to be competitive. A fairly straightforward reading and application of the 2nd choices and chances to change their mind actually leads to it.

Projections update, May 17th 2018: Liberals continue to fall

Projections update, May 17th 2018: Liberals continue to fall
Just a quick update for the projections. No wall of text or analysis for now.

As you can see, the Conservatives of Doug Ford are still well ahead and in a very comfortable position. But we see more and more sign of a rally of progressive voters behind the NDP.

Riding by riding projections here:

Note: there was a mistake where the Liberals were at -2.1 in one riding. It's obviously an error. I corrected it. It's now at 0. And yes I know the OLP won't literally be at zero but don't take it a face value, take it as "the Liberals are super low there". Thanks to the Reddit user who spotted the mistake.

I have realized that I haven't added the bonus for Doug Ford in hos own riding. Not sure why I keep forgetting but it'll be updated next projection (after the next poll).

Vote efficiency in Ontario

As the Ontario election goes on and the rise of the NDP was (kinda) confirmed by the Ipsos poll on Wednesday, now is as good of a time as any to talk about vote efficiency. I'm referring to how successful parties are at converting votes into seats into our current electoral system.

I have to admit that when I started writing this post, I thought it'd be very easy. But as I began writing and thinking about it, I realized that defining and measuring vote efficiency isn't as straightforward as I thought. My first instinct was to look at a measure such as votes per seats (or seat per votes). That kinda works but it left me dissatisfied. This works to compare parties within the same election but not across (as the number of votes changes with turnout).

I also quickly realized that the real question wasn't so much which party was more or less efficient at their current vote level, but overall. What I mean here is that a measure such as votes per seat will obviously show that the NDP at 19% is less efficient than the Liberals at 38% with a majority. But that isn't saying much. Our electoral system is such that such result is expected. The better question is more: what if the NDP was to reach 38% and the Liberals fall to 19%? Would the NDP win more or fewer seats than the Liberals had?

So here is what I came up with:

1. Vote efficiency is about getting an optimal distribution of the vote over the map
2. Ideally, a party would want not to waste any vote. That means that as soon as you have one more vote in a riding, you move the rest of your votes to another riding. Winning by 1 vote or 5000 has the same result, except that you wasted 4999 votes in the second case.

Therefore, for every election since 2007, I looked at how each party could have distributed its votes in order to maximize the number of seats won, keeping the distribution of votes of the other parties constant. This isn't very difficult to do. All I did is order the riding in order of the number of votes require to win (after removing the Liberal votes). For instance, imagine one riding where the PC finished second with only 5000 votes, then the OLP would allocate 5001 votes to this riding and move on to the next one. You keep doing this until your party ran out of vote.

With this method, vote efficiency is defined as the ratio of seats actually won to the maximum number of seats that could have been won with an optimal distribution of the votes.

Note that for some years, it does mean a party's optimal distribution would have resulted in this party winning all the seats. This is the case in 2014 for the Liberals for instance. Since they "only" won 58 seats, this gives us an efficiency of 58/107=0.54 (or 54%).

The table below summarizes the findings. It also include the votes per seat measure (which correlates with my more fancy method).

As you can see, the Liberals have been the most efficient party since 2007. This isn't surprising, they won the last 3 elections and got the most votes in all of them.

There is obviously a relationship between your percentage of votes (province-wide) and the efficiency of this vote. Again, this is naturally due to our electoral system.

The graph below shows this relationship. It also illustrates where each party stood for every election. As Ontario didn't experience important swings since 2007 (this is about to change this year it seems), all three parties' data points are close to each other for the 3 elections. This is unfortunate as it would be interesting to see some crossovers.

This graph clearly shows the "money zone" where each extra percentage point turns into many more seats. The slope of the relationship picks up around 25%, which is the usually accepted threshold with FPTP.

Finally this graphs shows that the NDP, while getting overall fewer votes and lower efficiency, is actually doing quite well for the province-wide percentages it got. On the other hand the Conservatives seemed to have slightly under performed for their votes level. This is most likely to the GTA where the Liberals have been incredibly successful over the last decade.

Let's look at other measures (direct or indirect) of vote efficiency.

1. General distribution of the votes

The NDP has had a higher standard deviation of its vote compared to the Liberals since 2007 (14 pts versus 12 in 2014 for instance). The standard deviation of the NDP was actually the highest of the top three parties in 2 of the last 3 elections (NDP and PC were very close in 2011). This is particularly visible if you look at the variations across regions. While the Liberals were between 23% and 49% in 2014 in average in the 10 regions of the model, the NDP varied from 13% to 45%.

The NDP therefore has a vote that is fluctuating a lot between regions. Very concentrated in some regions (the North, the Southwest and Hamilton) while being very low in others (Central, Ottawa, the 905). And that could actually explain the more narrow possible distribution of seats for this party: there are regions where the NDP needs to increase substantially before being able to win seats.

In general, we say that small parties want to have a concentrated vote while big parties want it widespread. The NDP, at 20%, has done well with concentrating its votes in some regions. But if Andrea Horwath wants to become Premier, she better hopes her new votes are in the "right" regions.

On that note, the NDP could actually have quite an inefficient vote this time around if its increase is concentrated in the city of Toronto. The Liberals dominated there in 2014 and there is a chance that despite the fall (and the NDP's rise), most seats will still go the Liberals.

2. Margins of victory in ridings won

Ideally, you want your margins to be as small as possible otherwise it means you are wasting votes.

In 2014, the NDP won its 21 seats with a margin of 20 points in average (they completely dominated the North for instance as you can see here). The Liberals only needed 17 points while the PC was at 15 points.

3. Close races (<5points and="" i="" lost="" margin="" of="" victory="" won="">

If you are well organized and know how to target the right riding (and get the vote out), your efficiency will increase.

No clear pattern here, if only the improvement for the NDP after 2007. The Liberals used to win more races than they lost except in 2014. But they still won a majority that year with less than 40% of the vote.

4. What if all three parties were around 31%?

Finally, let's use the model and simulations to see what the predictions would be if there was an almost perfect split between the top 3 parties (the Green are left at around 5%).

In this scenario, the chances of winning would be

OLP: 51.8%
PC: 26.3%
NDP: 18.6%

Similarly, the 95% confidence intervals for the seats would be:

OLP: 29-59
PC: 28-54
NDP: 30-51

This confirms the advantage the Liberals have. After that, it's pretty close between Conservatives and New Democrats. Let's not forget those are fully hypothetical simulations. We noticed again the smaller range for the NDP.


Lots of numbers and measures in this post. At the end of the day, I think the main result is the strong vote efficiency of the Liberals in Ontario. But this efficiency was highly dependent on a) being the top party and b) the GTA. Based on the recent polls, it seems fair to say both points aren't valid this year. Both the PC and NDP have okay vote efficiency. They don't waste a ton of votes in one region (like the provincial Liberals used to in the English part of Montreal and therefore needed about 4-5 points more than the PQ to win an election). So as far as winning the most seats, both the PC and NDP can do it. If the race was to become more competitive between PC and NDP, I think the key would simply be: who will win the GTA? And if we observe a massive migration of voters from the Liberals to the NDP, could this party also inherits the high efficiency of the Liberals? Time will tell.

Ontario Conservatives still heavily favourites but NDP on the rise

As the election officially started in Ontario, some potentially important variations have occurred. The NDP in particular seems to be on the rise. Not enough to make this a competitive race as the PC of Doug Ford is still firmly ahead and, if the election were tomorrow, would almost be guaranteed to win the most seats. But it might be the first signs that this election could, at the very least, become more competitive. I live in BC and I'm fully neutral here, but I have to admit that elections are more fun to cover (and do projections for) when they are at least slightly competitive. After all, there are only so many ways of saying "this party is almost sure to win".

Before going on, I'd like to mention that my lack of updates recently was due to me being on vacation in Mexico. I know, I know, it's totally unacceptable for me to miss the first few days of the campaign. But I'm now back and will write more regularly.

Alright, back to the projections. For you, busy people, here there are. Remember that the probabilities of winning are estimated using simulations. Beyond the technicalities, just see the percentages as representing the uncertainty that currently exists based on all the available information (past results, polls, etc). As you can see, there isn't currently much uncertainty regarding who would win.

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

Some technical notes. I made several updates to the model. I slightly tweaked the regional coefficients (estimated with past elections) as I now account for having lost a long term incumbent (more than 2 terms; It shows a decrease of between 3-8 points when that happens). I also finally accounted for by-elections results (it makes a difference in Sault Ste. Marie). Finally, I got access to roughly a dozen of non published riding polls. In every one of them, my predicted winner was the same as what the poll was showing but some numbers were quite different. Riding polls aren't always very accurate (they literally caused me to make 2 extra mistakes in last year's BC election) but I can't completely ignore polls showing a very different situation.

Beside the changes to the model itself, recent polls have shown the NDP rising. After weeks of a stable situation (PC ahead around 40-42%, OLP second around 28% and NDP third around 20-22%), the situation finally changed. The Liberals are collapsing (this is what having record breaking satisfactions rates can do to you) while the Tories of Ford appear to be losing some steam.

How can we explain these changes? Most likely because people have started paying attention. We usually say that there are three moments during a campaign where people listen: the beginning, the debate and the very end. For months it has been incredibly clear that Ontarians do not want the Liberals to be reelected. Kathleen Wynne is incredibly unpopular. On the other hand, not everyone is comfortable with the Conservatives, especially not with Doug Ford as leader. This naturally should help the NDP whose leader, Andrea Horwath, isn't particularly popular but also isn't disliked or divisive.

If Kathleen Wynne was hoping for a comeback, she had to win the first debate. Unfortunately for her, that wasn't the case at all based on a Mainstreet poll.

Does it mean this campaign will ultimately become a PC vs NDP race? It's too early to tell but I'd bet good money on this. I'd be utterly shocked if the Liberals were able to climb back. Maybe if there wasn't a third option like the NDP but there is indeed one!

The PC's chances are at 99.8%. This is very close to absolute certainty. What this means really is that even if we account for the possible mistakes by the polls (the simulations use actual margins of error close to 5-6%, so there is a lot of uncertainty added to the model. Do NOT think that I'm assuming the polls will be perfect next month) or by the distribution of the votes/electoral system, almost every possible scenarios end with the PC winning the most seats.

Some of you will be quick to point out that in the Canadian system, winning the most seats doesn't mean you "win" or you end up Premier (just ask Christy Clark!). This is correct. The chances of a majority are at 89.8%. Make no mistake, this is a level of certainty way higher than for most elections I've covered. You can try to pretend that "anything can happen" but the fact is that right now, if the election was tomorrow, it'd be a monumental surprise if the PC didn't finish first. And it'd be a huge surprise if Ford wasn't getting a majority. This would be a bigger surprise than Trump winning the election. Or when the BC Liberals won in 2013. It doesn't mean things won't change bwteen now and election day though.

How dire is the situation for the Liberals? They have fallen to third in terms of votes and seats. The GTA, usually welcoming to this party and a source of many seats during the last 10 years, is moving away from Wynne. As a matter of fact, between Ford being quite popular in the 416 (Toronto proper if you prefer) as well as in the 905 and the rise of the NDP, it's not impossible for the Liberals to end up with a ridiculously low number of seats. That include potentially winning zero! Odds are very low (9 simulations out of a 10,000) but it's not impossible. On the other hand, the model does give the Liberals a 0.1% chance of finishing first (it would require the polls to be more wring than ever and an incredibly efficient vote). So again, the model does include a lot of uncertainty (as it should since polls have been shown to be quite wrong at times).

The NDP isn't currently a bigger challenger because its vote is too concentrated. However this could change if this party manages to pass the 30% mark. And if we start observing a massive swing from OLP to NDP (a movement quite possible given the second chances of Liberals voters that have been shown to heavily prefer the NDP as 2nd choice; Think of a "anybody but Ford" movement from progressive voters), then we could start seeing an actual contest. The PC won't be in real danger as long as they stay around 40% but Doug Ford can't afford to drop much below this threshold if the NDP keeps rising. Especially if Ford wants a majority. The latest Ipsos poll was showing that people were quite divided as to which outcome they preferred. If the PC were to fail to secure a majority, it's not crazy to think the NDP could try to get the support from the Liberals. I don't really want to enter this discussion as it's all conjectures, but keep in mind that this is a very possible possibility (again, ask Christy Clark!).

I don't have much more to add for now. I'll write specific analysis later this week (such as a look at how the NDP could become a real challenger). For now, I'll leave you with the histogram of the possible outcomes.

You can see the more concentrated NDP vote is causing the distribution of seats for this party to be more concentrated. Having your vote concentrated is good when you are a small party but less ideal when you are a big one that aspire to take power.

And finally, the riding by riding projections. As usual, you can always make your own projections using the simulator.