New Insight West poll confirms it's a dead heat race (+updated estimates)

Note: my exit poll is collecting repsonses right now. If you want regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @2closetocall

This morning Insight West decided to publish a new poll for the referendum on electoral reform. And it confirmed what I've been saying all along: this is super close. With that said, I actually think we are starting to see more and more positive signs for proportional representation.

Ok, the poll first. Conducted online between November 29th and December 3rd, it has 965 respondents. It shows PR is favoured by 47% of voters while keeping the current system (FPTP) is at 44% and 10% aren't sure. With that said, among the people who declared having voted already (the vast majority of the sample), the two options are essentially tied at 50-50 (Keeping the current system has 346 respondents versus 340 for PR).

This poll is useful to us in many ways. First of all, it gives us actual vote decisions rather than pure voting intentions. Similarly to my own exit poll currently underway, this can show us how undecided voters ultimately voted. It seems they went slightly more in favour of PR (that is huge if it's true). So that allows me to update my polling averages that I use when estimating the votes (see below). It's especially useful to me because Insight West provided the breakdown by the 2017 votes (i.e: people who voted BC Liberals in 2017 are 80% against PR, etc).

Secondly, it confirms what my estimates have been showing all along: early votes where overwhelmingly for FPTP but the trend has been in favour of PR. As a reminder, the deadline is literally this afternoon (December 7th) at 4:30pm. If you are reading this and want to vote, you'll need to drop your ballots at one of the Referendum Services Offices (go on Elections BC website).

The poll has two weird numbers though. It has Van Island not that much in favour of PR (less than 53%), much lower than other polls. It also has the Green voters supporting PR at "only" 68%, there as well lower than the previous averages. The two results are more likely correlated. With that said, it also has the BC Liberals slightly less against PR and the BC NDP voters more supportive of PR, so the net effect is positive for PR in my estimates.

By the way the turnout is now at 41.1% (and 37.1% of processed ballots). It has increased very slowly this week and it seems it'll remain around that mark. Maybe a late surge today will push it above 42 or 43%. In any case, this is a very decent turnout for such a referendum in my opinion. It's already much higher than the turnout for this referendum in PEI last year and PEI usually votes more than BC.

Ok, let's look at the updated estimates.

I continue to do averages my age and region (and 2017 votes). I gave the Insight West poll a bigger weight since it's more recent. Specifically, I went with 40% for the age and regional numbers (and thus 20% weight for the Angus-Reid, Mainstreet and Research Co. polls). As for the averages by 2017 votes, I gave 40% to the Insight West and Research Co. and 20% to the older Angus-Reid.

Method 1 - Based on age and regional numbers


The YES is behind by around 12k votes. If I also assume that the newly registered voters (8487) are voting more for PR, then the deficit is only 7300 votes (and remember that's with still over 130k ballots yet to be processed).

Remember that these estimates are calculated using the new polling averages, so that's why they are slightly different from my previous ones.


Method 2 - Based on the 2017 votes by party


This method is now giving the YES side ahead and that's without adjusting for the newly registered voters. If I did, the lead for the YES would grow to over 18k (and be at 50.7%). Very good sign for PR.


Reasons to be optimistic for PR

I feel there are many reasons to be optimistic at this point. First of all, regression-based analysis is really confirming that voters aged 18-34 are voting a lot more than in 2017 while the other age groups aren't. Young people are definitely in favour of PR.

Regionally, we also see Van Island so much higher than the others and it's growing. Ridings like the two Victoria ones or the two Saanich ones have high turnout and you can be pretty sure most of these votes will be pro PR. The Lower Mainland is also catching up.

Also, for the first time in my regressions, it seems the the NDP vote of 2017 is getting out. Specifically, the variable "% of NDP votes in 2017" is no longer significant (it's still negative though). At this point, my regressions show the Green party is getting its votes out.

The Insight West poll also showed PR actually more ahead than before overall. And the fact it was a 50-50 race a few days ago among people who had voted is a very good sign. Add to this the late turnout we have seen and that might just be enough.

I'm being bullish on the YES side here but I fully realize the NO can still win. If the main determinant of the vote is the age, then the NO will likely win. The 55+ don't support FPTP the same way the 18-34 support PR but there are a ton more voters in the 55+ group. With that said, it's hard to fully predict at this point. Polls will weigh based on the census and therefore will underestimate the NO (cause the turnout among the 55+ is higher). But young people are voting more this time, so it might cancel out. I need to do some calculations on this. But that's for later.

Finally, without going into complex calculations, polls show 2 out of the 3 regions are pro-PR and these two (Lower Mainland and the Island) represent roughly 75% of the voters. You also have two age groups in favour (18-34 and 35-54 vs 55+) and you have two partisan groups against one (NDP and Green against Liberals). All of this should in theory be enough to push the YES side ahead.

December 6th: updated estimates for the referendum on electoral reform

First of all, a giant thanks to those of you who decided to contribute to the Go Fund Me campaign I started yesterday to get a post-referendum poll. This is amazing. I'll start the poll tomorrow and will keep you updated.

Ok, let's use the most up-to-date turnout data from Elections BC. Turnout is now above the 40% mark (so even BC Liberals leader Andrew Wilkinson would have to recognize this referendum as valid...) while the processed ballots are at 35.4%. It hasn't increased much this week (for the overall turnout based on received ballots). Google Trends was showing a decrease in interest in proportional representation for the last few weeks. I feel that people who wanted to vote did so at this point. With that said, given the potentially small margin (see below), trying to get extra votes tomorrow might be important.

Here is a graph from David P. Ball showing where we stand:



Ok so let's try to estimate who is ahead.

Please remember that all the numbers below are estimates. They are based on demographic, turnout and polling data. They are the best I can do at this point but they are still estimates. I saw people spreading these numbers on social media as if they were hard counts. In particular, if the polls are wrong (for instance if the undecided broke down for the YES or the NO side), then these estimates will be wrong as well.

Method 1: using a mix of age and regional data.

Specifically, using the polling averages by regions (Lower Mainland, Van Island and the Interior) as well as by age (18-34, 35-54, 55+; combined with the turnout by age for 2017).



It has been super stable for a while now. The YES is climbing super slowly but remains behind. In this scenario the YES side would lose be fewer than 25k votes (out of over a million!).

All hope isn't lost for the YES side. Regression-based analysis of the turnout show that the 18-34 are voting far more than last year while the 35-54 are voting a lot less. The 55+ (very much against PR) are also voting less. So while the estimates should already take that into account partially (since more votes are coming from ridings with more voters aged 18-34), it might still be underestimating the YES votes. This could be the case if the 18-34 are voting more everywhere, including in ridings with more 55+. I will try to adjust for this in a future post.


Method 2: using the votes in 2017 (for each party)

In this estimate, I use the polling data by party (percentage of BC Liberals who support PR, etc; I'm using an average of the Research Co. and Angus-Reid polls with a higher weight for the former as it's more recent. If I were to use a straight up average, the YES would be ahead in the graph below). This might actually be the best method as vote patterns might capture a lot of effects, much more than accounting separately for the age and the region. Plus this referendum campaign has ultimately turned very partisan.



This is just insanely close. The difference is 2300 votes!

If I also adjust for the newly registered voters (around 8400) which can reasonably be assumed to have registered more in order to vote for PR (so assuming they vote PR at 75%), then I have the YES side AHEAD by 1700 votes! Imagine winning this referendum with a 50.07% margin! Take that 1995 Quebec referendum!

My conclusion remains the same: it's incredibly close. Maybe our post-referendum poll will help us there (hopefully, maybe we'll see that young people chose the YES even more or that the undecided that were over 55 also rallied behind the YES).


Is the turnout still affected by when a riding received the ballots?

A regression-based analysis is required here. As a reminder, not every riding got their ballots at the same time. Elections BC is only providing the date at which it was supposed to all be received. However, I came up with my own measure because even among ridings scheduled on the same day, you can clearly see differences (possibly due to the rotating postal strikes). I use the numbers of days the ridings has been above the 1% turnout threshold.

Results are below:


So the answer is yes, the variable "number of days of voting" (measured as the number of days above 1%) is still significant. The coefficient hasn't changed much recently either. This could potentially be hugely problematic. Elections BC still has a lot of ballots to process and it's possible it'll even out at the end, but we are one day before the deadline and it hasn't yet. Coefficient of 0.03 means a turnout higher by 0.3% for every additional day of voting. And that's after controlling for the region and other factors.

I even ran robustness checks (with the help of Jameson Quinn, Ph.d student in statistics at Harvard) to make sure the effect was there. Specifically, I identified the ridings that were less "enthusiastic" or motivated to vote and used "number of days above 0.5%" for them. The idea being that my measure could have been biased since ridings that are less motivated would also reach the 1% mark later. Doing so changed nothing to my regression (in one version it decreased the coefficient from 0.03 to 0.027).

So in average, and after controlling for multiple factors, I still find that a riding that got its ballots 10 days sooner has a turnout about 3 points higher. This is potentially important because there are a large group of ridings (19 to be exact) that were scheduled for November 2nd and that only crossed the 1% mark 19 days ago while 17 ridings scheduled for Oct. 24-26 (mostly in the interior) crossed the 1% mark 32 days ago!

With that said, I also ran estimations of the impact of this turnout on the votes and found nothing. Specifically, I removed the effect of the number of days on the turnout (so I simulated the turnout of every riding if they all had the same number of days) and re-ran my estimates above. There was no change in method 2 and a tiny increase (of 0.04%) for the YES with method 1.

So while I'm fairly convinced the turnout was indeed affected by when a riding got their ballots, it seems that the overall impact on the YES and NO side is zero.

Who can't wait for the results and would like a poll?

The voting period for the referendum on electoral reform is coming to an end this Friday at 4:30pm.

We won't know the results for weeks. In 2011 for the HST referendum, Elections BC took almost 3 weeks to count all the ballots and publish the results.

Are you like me and you'd want to at least get an estimate sooner?

So here is what I'm attempting: let's crowdsource a poll! Google Survey allows us to run actual surveys/polls with actual sampling. I'm not talking here of those non-scientific polls done on websites. No, this is a proper poll with proper sampling and weighting, all done by Google.

It's also the cheapest option. At 20 cents per respondent, we can get a decent sample size for $200-$250 in total.

Such Google Surveys have been used in the US with great success. I myself ordered 3 this year. One as a test during the Ontario election (with results quite good to the final ones, although my poll was done in the middle of the campaign), one about Maxime Bernier's infamous tweet (can't compare to other polls) and finally one earlier during this referendum. This last one should convince people of the validity of the method as it gave results almost identical to the "regular" polls from other firms.

Yes I could order this poll myself but, as I said, I already ordered 3 this year. My regular job pays me well but I also don't want to keep spending hundred of dollars just to run this blog. Also, I believe this could be an interesting experiment: can we crowdsource the funding for a poll in Canada?

And just to be clear: if you think I'm making a ton of money off Google ads or whatever, you are wrong. This blog does generates some revenue during an election (like in October in Quebec) but it's nowhere near making a living and it has been super low during this referendum. So I'm not asking you to pay for a poll that will ultimately generates a ton of cash for me.

So I'm asking for your help, you fellow political nerds. You can pledge very small amounts of $5-$10. We don't need that many people to contribute to reach $250.

Once the funding is reached, I'll order the Google Survey. Ordering 1000-1200 respondents will take a few days. By experience it's slow at first, then picks up and is really, really slow for the last 50 observations. But by then we'd already have over a 1000 observations which is better than most other polls. I'll obviously only target respondents in BC aged 18 and over.

I intend to ask the following question:

"There was a referendum on electoral reform in British Columbia that ended this Friday. Which option did you vote for?"

3 choices:

"I voted to switch to proportional representation"
"I voted to keep the current system"
"I didn't vote"

Now, let's be clear, we'll get a lot of "I didn't vote". This is inevitable. This is why we want a large sample size to get enough voters. But we won't have undecided and this could be important. My daily estimates of the votes show that this could be a very, very close race.

If you want to help, here is the page. Don't hesitate to share it. Ideally I'd like the funding secured by Friday so that we can start right away. If it doesn't work, oh well, I tried.

Updates to the referendum estimates, December 3rd

Alright, let's use the newly published turnout numbers from this morning to estimate the YES and NO side again. with different methods. All methods use some form of polling averages (by age, region, etc). Remember, those are estimates. You could call them educated guesses and I wouldn't be too mad.

Quick note: Elections BC's numbers are the same for December 1st, 2nd and 3rd. So the graph stops at December 1st technically.

1. Using age and region



It has been stable for a long time now. Yes the Lower Mainland and the Island have been catching up after receiving their ballots later (Van Island is ahead actually now) but it doesn't seem to influence the overall shares much. And that is despite the fact that my regressions show the 18-34 are now the only ones voting more than in 2017. The 55+ are now voting less and this is statistically significant. Good news for PR but maybe not by enough.

Remember, these estimates here are the most conservative ones and the most "against PR" I have, mostly because it's a function of age and in BC, the 55+ just represent a large share of voters (and they hate PR).


2. Using age and region but assuming the two are independent from each other

See my previous blog post for details. Similar to the one above but I try to account for age and region at the same time using assumptions.



3. Using the votes in 2017 by party (and using the Research Co. and Angus-Reid polls only with a weight of 25% for the latter as it's older)



The nail biter one! The YES would actually be ahead if I used a 50-50 average with the older Angus-Reid poll. This shows how close it is. At this point, it could come down to the (around) 8000 newly registered voters. Or it could come down to how the BC Conservatives and independent voters side.

If I assume 75% of the newly registered voters will vote YES, then my estimates would be ahead by fewer than 500 votes!!


Conclusion

Still a tough (impossible?) one to call. Some things look good (turnout on Van Island, the fact the ridings with more 18-34 voters are voting more) but it remains that the voting intentions by age makes it hard for PR to win. Yes the regression shows the 18-34 voting more but that might not be enough to beat the NO vote of all the 55+ (who represent a bigger share of the electorate overall).

Technical note: I still find that when the riding received its ballots is a strong determinant of the turnout. This is crazy! Although it might really be capturing more the effect of the random strikes of Canada Post than anything else at this point.

In my estimates that are the most against PR, the YES side trails by 24,000 votes. Elections BC has received 39% of the ballots but processed only 32.6%. This means there still are 209,579 ballots not processed. And more will come until December 7th. All it takes for the YES to win is that that the new ballots are around 55% in favour of PR.


Update:

Some have asked me to post my regression tables updated with today's numbers. Here there are.

Notice that I'm now using the % for each party in 2017 instead of simply accounting for whether the riding was won by the BC Lib, BC NDP or BC Green. The percentages provide more information but it also make the regions less important (so for instance it's not so much that people on van Island are voting more, it's that ridings with a high percentage of Green voters do; The two are obviously correlated).