Final projections for Alberta 2019: United Conservatives with a majority

Here we are, my final projections for what has been, essentially, the most boring election I've covered. Sorry Albertans, but that's the truth. Except for some movement at the very beginning of this campaign, nothing changed. Sure, some polls were showing a bigger or smaller lead, but the average barely moved and very few seats are competitive. With that said, I have to admit that Alberta has different topics of discussion between parties than the rest of the country (pipeline!) and it's interesting in itself.

As soon as the PC and Wildrose merged into the United Conservative Party, it was all but guaranteed the NDP of Rachel Notley wouldn't be able to stay in power. And guess what? These final projections have the UCP overwhelmingly favorite. It really isn't close and it'd take a monumental polling failure for Notley to remain Premier.

Here are the projections, including the chances of winning and a 95% confidence interval for the seats. By the way, friendly reminder that you can use the model yourself and make your own projections, here.



Here are the riding by riding projections:



Sorry no time for riding by riding probabilities. I just had time to write the new R code (I switched to R) for the province-level stuff.

1. The polls.

As mentioned above, the average has barely moved. Sure the NDP caught up to the UCP right at the beginning (when people starting paying attention) but the NDP was never ever close during the entire campaign. Jason Kenney not being particular good as leader (or particularly liked) probably made this election slightly more competitive than it ought to be. There is still one scenario that would see Notley remaining as Premier (see below) and while the polls kinda indicate this scenario is possible, it is far from likely.


Overall it seems the situation hasn't changed much compared to 2015, although there could be cancelling within province variations. The only party clearly up is the Alberta Party while the Liberals have almost completely disappeared.

1.1 The turnout

There is one possibility for the polls to be wrong: if the turnout ends up changing everything. We have seen in the past, including in 2012 in Alberta, how a change in turnout can often lead to polling failures. Advance voting has been going like crazy in Alberta, with over three times as many votes as in the advance voting of 2015. While this might indicate an increase from the 57% turnout of 2015, we should also remember that advance voting has been on the rise everywhere. More and more people are taking advantage of the possibility of casting their vote early. Also, this year in Alberta, people could even vote in advance from anywhere in the province. There was also one extra day. So more opportunities to vote early. I'll also add that the most people vote early and the more committed they likely are, which decreases the chance the polls are wrong (in 2012 for instance, it seems many people made up their mind at the last minute).

So while I'm expecting an increase of turnout, I also don't think it'll be crazy. In BC in 2017, advance turnout was 62% higher than in 2013 but the final turnout barely went up by 5%. So I'm betting on a 65% turnout, just below the 2015 federal election. Yes, that is mostly a guess (educated one maybe?).

The bigger question is: who will it benefit? Many often assume that a higher turnout means the left will win. But that's not always that simple. Ford won a large majority in Ontario after a 7 points increase in turnout. In Alberta, there was a sharp jump in 2012 and that coincided with an explosion of the vote for right-wing parties (PC and Wildrose combined). So, what about this year? The truth is that I have no idea. Election Alberta hasn't released the advance turnout by riding (I asked, trust me). So it doesn't allow us to look for patterns like I did in Quebec (where we could see the Liberal vote staying home).

I'll add one thing: in 2015, it seems fairly evident that some conservative voters stayed home for the provincial election but came out for the federal one. So the increased turnout could be, at least partially, from them.

If I had to guess the impact of the turnout, I'd guess it'll help both the NDP and UCP. I don't believe it'll make a big difference at the provincial level. It will, however, likely make the difference in some key races in Calgary or the Edmonton suburb and my model will be wrong there. Oh well, not much I can do if the data isn't even published.

Using Google Trends, if we look for the parties (UCP and NDP), that gives us pretty much a tie.


If we instead use the leaders:



Notice that Google knows Jason Kenney as a former MP, not as the leader of the UCP...

It's always hard to use Google Trends for anything meaningful but I'll say that I don't see anything that would indicate a surprise NDP victory (given that younger voters are more for the NDP, if the NDP was actually ahead, I'd expect this party to clearly dominate on Google Trends). Kenney doesn't seem like the most popular leader but neither is Notley. Google Trends show no clear advantage for either of them.

There is a desire for change in Alberta but nowhere near what we saw in Quebec, Ontario or BC in 2017 where over 70% of the voters wanted a change of government. It really just seems the conservative people from this province, who are clearly a majority, want their conservative government back. That's logical.

As for the age breakdown, Millennials and Gen Z (so the 18-34) are much more likely to vote NDP. An increased turnout of that age group would definitely help, but it will likely not be enough to compensate the huge margins for the UCP among the 55+. With that said, my projections have the NDP winning mostly the same parts of Calgary as the federal Liberals in 2015 and the Millennial/Gen Z vote will likely have an impact there.

By the way, my polling average is calculated using all the polls (one per firm) of the last week, with equal weight (you can waste your time trying to give different weights based on sample size and the sample being one freaking day older, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter much. I consistently beat other sites doing complex averages with my simple rules and I see no reason to change). I haven't allocated undecided proportionally. Instead I have split them 50-50 between the NDP (incumbents are often underestimated) and the UCP (main party; Plus the PC was systematically underestimated in Alberta in the recent past, including in 2015). I have also adjusted the Liberals, Green and Freedom Party down since they aren't remotely running a full slate of candidates. This explains why both the NDP and the UCP are higher in my average than in the polls. Additionally, I calculated the swing from the 8 riding polls from Mainstreet and I extrapolated the province-wide percentages based on them and did an average with my other numbers. Since these riding polls were slightly more negative for the NDP and slightly better for the UCP (it would give province-wide numbers of over 50% for the UCP and close to 36-37% for the NDP), that explains why I have the UCP higher than in the regular polls (although I don't really have this party higher than the last few polls published it seems, including the latest Forum).

By the way, let's remember that 2018 was a terrible year for Canadian polls. They were off in Ontario (underestimated significantly the lead of the PC, at least in average), got so, so off in Quebec (mostly because English-speaking voters didn't get out to vote) and there is also the infamous BC referendum on electoral reform where polls were dead wrong. So we'll see tomorrow if 2019 will start better. But note that in all these situations, the polls underestimated the right-wing option.


2. Projections

The real question on Tuesday, at least according to me, will be whether the UCP goes above or below 60 seats. Honestly, it seems pretty simple to make projections for this election: the UCP will quasi-sweep the rest of Alberta with communist majorities. Edmonton (core) will likely remain NDP, the suburbs will be a fight. The real battleground is Calgary. This is where most of the competitive seats are and where a surprise could come from.

Now is a good time to go back to this one scenario that would allow the NDP to remain in power. The NDP needs a couple a things. First of all, it needs the polls to be wrong. In particular it needs the polls to be wrong in Calgary. Polls are showing the UCP ahead by about 12 points in average. Some firms have them closer, like Mainstreet (but Mainstreet and Calgary might not necessarily be the best match if you remember the mayoral election last year...).

The NDP also needs to make its vote way more efficient. That means not winning in core-Edmonton by as much and instead transferring those votes to the suburbs or Calgary. So, ideally, the polls would show the NDP down in Edmonton and in the rest of Alberta (won't matter there) and up in Calgary. And they are showing that! Just not by a big enough margin to allow Notley to win the most seats.

The path to victory for the NDP is incredibly narrow because the right merged. Let's not forget that a united right would have won in 2015 (at least based on the results; Obviously it could have been a very different campaign). So the NDP needs to do better than it did during a perfect-conditions year. You don't need an excel spreadsheet to see how hard it is. It's already remarkable that Notley is polling so close to her 2015 number. I never thought that would happen.

So the path involves the NDP sweeping Edmonton like in 2015: 26 seats. Then it needs to win another 14-15 seats in Calgary. The NDP won 15 in 2015 against a divided right. The projections currently give the NDP 5 seats there (at the center of the city, the same area the federal Liberals won in 2015). Can it get the extra 10 needed? It's tough and this is where the polling failure will be required. Basically, the NDP needs to win the popular vote there instead of trailing by 12 points. We are talking about a fairly major polling mistake. Since Calgary represents roughly 1/3 of the riding, an underestimation of the NDP by 7-8 points there will mean the NDP should finish at least 2-3 points above its provincial numbers. So that means the NDP beating its results of 2015.

And please realize that even if this happens, the UCP would still likely win. That would particularly be the case since the NDP being down in Edmonton would cost them some seats in the suburbs. So really, the NDP needs the polls to be right in Edmonton and wrong in Calgary. And then it needs some wins elsewhere. So 26+14+3=43, maybe just enough to keep power in a very unstable assembly (would likely require the speaker to be the sole AB elected member).

Is all of this possible? Sure, but it isn't likely at all. Far from it.

Also, since we are talking of uncertainty and surprises, keep in mind it goes both ways. That means the UCP could end up way over 50%, winning pretty much all of Calgary (the NDP's seat aren't projected to be safe there unless we get the massive polling failure we just discussed), most of Edmonton suburb and almost everything elsewhere. That would put the UCP way over 60 seats.

This scenario is actually, at least to me, more likely than a NDP win. Why? Because the riding polls from Mainstreet (8 in total) have shown the NDP to be down and the UCP to be higher than provincial polls would predict. I mean, those polls have shown the UCP to be right behind the NDP in Edmonton McClung, ahead in Calgary-Elbow and right behind in Lethbridge West. Not a single one of those riding polls have shown the NDP more comfortable than expected. As a reminder, these riding polls were much better in Ontario and Quebec at measuring the overall swing. We did get a lot more of those polls back then however.

As for the Liberals and Alberta Party, well the former has completely collapsed and will likely not elect a single MLA. The Liberals leader, Khan, seemed to have done an okay campaign and might win his seat (he took the riding of the only Liberal win in 2015) but I'm doubtful. The Liberals are only running 51 candidates, which means their actual percentage of votes will almost surely be less than what the polls predict. The Liberals are running everywhere in Calgary however, which isn't helping the one-dream scenario of the NDP.

As for the AB, logic and numbers would dictate that they'd at least keep their seat in Calgary-Elbow, although a Mainstreet riding poll there showed the UCP candidate ahead.

Oh, technical notice but I assumed that UCP was 90% of PC+Wildrose. The remaining 10% went to the Freedom Party and people simply not voting. I assumed (and based on some polls I found) that no merger is ever 100%, so that made sense. With that said, this is a very successful merger.

Finally, there is no chance of a minority since really only two parties are projected to win seats. Although BC managed to get one in 2017 in a similar unlikely scenario, but the third party won 3 seats. I can't see the Liberals and AB winning 3 seats tomorrow.

Well, that's it for me. I'm sorry if I didn't cover this election as much as I had done for the Ontario and Quebec election, but the timing wasn't optimal for me (end of term, so exams, etc). Plus, the fact the race seemed so uninteresting didn't help.

With one week left, United Conservatives cruising to a majority in Alberta

Let's be honest: this 2019 Alberta election wasn't expected to be interesting (in terms of the horse race itself) and we are getting exactly what we thought we would get.

Sure, some polls at the beginning of the actual campaign might have suggested a tighter race with the NDP pulling off its one path to victory: sweeping Edmonton and increasing in Calgary to win most, if not all, of the seats there. This narrow path would possibly allow the NDP of Rachel Notley to stay in power despite facing a united right this time around.

But recent polls show the UCP well ahead of the NDP. The incumbent is actually doing alright. I mean, 4 years ago, the NDP got to 40% of the votes thanks to a huge dissatisfaction with the Conservative government. It was clear not all of the NDP votes were coming from true supporters. So to see the NDP polling around the 2015 levels is already pretty impressive. The issue, and it's a massive one, is that the right is now united.

Here are the current projections. Remember that you can make your own using the simulator here.

The riding by riding projections are the end of this post.


If the PC and Wildrose had been united in 2015, they'd have won a majority of the seats. My model assumes that the merger kept 90% of the votes (with the remaining 10% going to the Freedom Conservative as well as simply not voting). Current polling numbers suggest the UCP is slightly above the 50% mark and therefore increasing from the 90% sum of the two parties in 2015. In other words: in a very, very good position to win. I don't have the simulations ready for this model (I'll really try to have it done for my final projections on Monday next week) but there is very little uncertainty at this point.

The other issue for the NDP is that the (behind paywall) riding polls from Mainstreet are showing the UCP doing better than expected so far. Remember that the riding polls were showing the PC with a much bigger lead over the NDP than the provincial polls in Ontario. These riding polls were right. Same in Quebec where the riding polls were showing the Liberals much lower than expected. We haven't had many of these riding polls yet in Alberta but the current trend isn't good for the NDP. It's not a massive difference but if we were to use these polls to estimate the swings and project the province-wide percentages, that would boost the UCP by 2-3 points and lower the NDP by the same margin (that means the recent Forum poll might be the most accurate. That will trigger some pseudo data-nerds on Reddit or Twitter who always hate Forum).

Yes those riding polls can be quite inaccurate taken individually and we don't have many so far. Still, that's just another sign that a surprise NDP victory isn't likely to happen.

Look, it's a two-way race with an electoral system that usually rewards the party finishing first with a majority. The United Conservatives could actually win a majority even if there was proportional representation! Think about it... Whoever is telling you there is a lot of uncertainty is just lying.

There is one scenario that allows the NDP to stay in power, we mentioned it already: sweeping all (or almost all) of Edmonton (26 seats), winning a majority in Calgary (28 seats in this region) and then getting a few seats elsewhere.

Since the global percentages have the NDP slightly below their 2015 numbers, it means the NDP needs its vote to become a lot more efficient. Essentially pulling a BC NDP by increasing in urban centers and decreasing elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the NDP could even drop a little bit in Edmonton.

The polls are showing that this scenario is indeed partially happening. The NDP's lead in Edmonton appears smaller while the party is more competitive in Calgary. Specifically, in 2015 the NDP got around 34% in Calgary against 55% for the Wildrose+PC. This year, polls are showing a 37-49 race. Slightly better but way too far from allowing the NDP to win a majority of seats there.

Let's look at it another way: in Edmonton, the NDP is projected to win all the 20 core urban seats. In the suburbs or the greater Edmonton, the UCP is currently winning 5 out of the 6 seats. In 2015 the NDP would have won 3 seats against the UCP. Why are the United Conservatives gaining? Because the polls, and the model, are showing the NDP down in Edmonton overall. So for the sake of best-case scenario, let's imagine the NDP drops in Edmonton but only in ridings where it'd still win easily. Let's imagine the NDP vote even becomes super efficient and wins 4 out of 6 of the suburbs seats. That leaves us with 24 seats for the NDP from the greater Edmonton. That is really the absolute best case scenario.

Let's look at Calgary. The current projections have the NDP winning only 4 seats. The issue is the NDP is losing only 3 seats by a margin of less than 10 points. Let's imagine the polls are wrong and the NDP, in this region, isn't trailing by 12 points but pretty much tied at 44%. Then the NDP could win 14 seats there.

That puts the total for this best-case scenario at 24+14=38. Add to this 2-3 seats in the rest of Alberta and the NDP would, almost magically, be very close to staying in power (it could come down to Calgary Elbow and whether the Alberta Party could conserve its one seat). It'd still be short of the magic number of 44 (or 43 depending how you look at it) but it's possible

Except that, in order for this best-case scenario to happen, we need the polls to massively underestimate the NDP (in Calgary at least) and the NDP vote to be incredibly efficient in the Edmonton suburb and the rest of Alberta. So again, is it possible? Yes it is. But it's super unlikely.

Detailed projections:


The Alberta 2019 model (and simulator) is here!

I'm back after a few months of what I thought was a well deserved break after a busy (and successful for me, minus the damned BC referendum!) 2018.

I wasn't planning on building a model for the Alberta election as I thought it was a slam dunk for the United Conservatives. Don't get me wrong, it looks like a a UCP win is by far the most likely outcome, but recent polls have convinced me to build a model. And as usual I make it available to you because I don't believe such a model is a crazy instance of intellectual property.

I don't have the simulations and probabilities yet, that will come soon. What I have a is model that accounts for the region (Calgary, Edmonton and the rest), the various by-elections, the retirement of long-term incumbents and other factors. The United Conservatives' base has been estimated as 90% of the sum of the PC and Wildrose. Why 90%? Because no political merger is ever 100% successful. Polls analysis has also convinced me that 90% was the reasonable number.

Recent polls have shown the NDP surging past 40%. It makes the race slightly more competitive but the United Conservatives are still ahead. While Edmonton could go all NDP again and Calgary is the real battleground, the UCP is racking up a large number of wins in the rest of the province.

Is there a path to victory for Notley? Yes. If she manages to make the NDP vote more efficient. It means keeping Edmonton (but maybe winning by smaller margins) while being incredibly efficient in Calgary. She'd then still need some wins in the rest of the province. Right now polls show that the NDP vote might indeed be more efficient than 4 years ago but they still have the UCP ahead in Calgary. As long as that will be the case, this election won't be competitive. To be fair, I'm still surprised the NDP is even polling that high as I thought 2015 was a fluke year.

By the way, the two most recent polls (daily tracker from Mainstreet) and one Ekos are currently being ignored by the "reference" projections from the CBC. The Ekos poll isn't included because it was technically ordered by a third-party firm (but still done by Ekos!) while the Mainstreet one is discarded because... it's behind a $45 paywall. This is utterly ridiculous (imagine if academic research was ignoring articles and results behind paywalls lol). It means our tax-funded public projections (the ones used as reference by many) are currently so outdated, it's not even funny. But whatever.

Ok, enough for now. Feel free to use the new simulator and let me know what you think. If you find mistakes, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter: @2closetocall

BC referendum post-mortem: why were the polls so wrong?

I'm a little bit late for this analysis but you know how it is with Christmas and all.

The results for the referendum on electoral reform in BC were pretty shocking. While literally every single poll published before, during or right after the campaign had the two options pretty much at 50-50, the current system won with over 60% of the votes!

I guess this is fitting that, in a year that has been terrible for the polls (massive underestimations of the winner in Ontario and Quebec), we would also get polls be very off for a more uncertain exercise. Still, it doesn't make the results any less shocking. Beyond the polls, I really can't explain how a mail-in referendum with a simpler option (MMP instead of STV) with the active support of two of the three main parties wouldn't at least do better than in 2009.

So, why were polls so wrong? If you are expecting a clear cut answer in this article, you should stop reading. The short answer is still: I don't know. But I can try to provide some conjectures. If you don't have time to read, here is a point summary:

- Polls were wrong everywhere but especially wrong in the Lower Mainland
- It could be because polls didn't reach non-English voters enough as PR got really destroyed (and was overestimated) in the suburbs
- People aged 18-34 did vote more than usual but it wasn't enough for PR to win


Also, I'll ignore the magical polls published after the results (one from Research Co. and one mentioned by Ipsos) that somehow had FPTP clearly winning. I can give the benefit of the doubt to Ipsos since they were actually providing numbers to the NO side, even though I couldn't explain why Ipsos would have had a better methodology than other firms as Ipsos hasn't historically performed better. But for Research Co, they literally had another exit poll before and it was still mostly 50-50, so give me a break. Also, I should mention the exit poll from Angus-Reid, published right after the official results were made public. This exit poll had the two options pretty much at 50-50 but Angus-Reid made sure to use a headline hiding this fact. I found it amusing.

Anyway, I think the biggest discrepancy between results and polls can be observed regionally. Polls mostly all showed the same pattern: PR was ahead on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland while FPTP was clearly ahead in the Interior. The table below shows the polling average (same weight to every poll; Playing with weights doesn't make much difference) and the actual results.



Polls were overestimating PR everywhere but the bias is especially strong in the Lower Mainland. Is it because polls didn't correctly reach non-English speakers? Is that why Ipsos did better? Maybe.

If you look at the results by ridings, you see that PR won where we thought it'd (in some very urban Vancouver ridings) but it got destroyed way more than expected in most of the suburbs.

As for the general overestimation of PR, one easy explanation is that undecided ultimately chose the status quo. This would make sense but doesn't match with the fact that polls kept showing a 50-50 race as the campaign went on (and the number of undecided decreased). Exit polls (from Angus-Reid or Research Co, or even my own) were also good for PR and had no undecided. Ipsos mentioned on Twitter that FPTP was around 60% the whole time. So this theory really doesn't match with the numbers.

If we look at the second exit poll from Research Co (the one where they magically got the right results all of a sudden), we see that while BC Liberals voters did vote, as expected, to keep FPTP (with a margin even higher than expected), NDP and Green voters didn't remotely support PR as much as what the polls were showing. Polls had these voters over 70% in favor of PR but the exit poll only show PR at around 60%. So while I'm skeptical of a poll that all of a sudden got the right results, this might be the explanation: the BC Liberals got their vote out more and managed to convince more people while the NDP clearly didn't motivate its suburban votes to vote YES.

Polls had shown that this referendum was heavily split with regard to age with the 18-34 clearly in favor of PR while the 55+ were incredibly opposed to it. Regression-based analysis (with the final numbers) still shows what I had been saying: the turnout was higher in ridings with more young voters (relatively speaking, especially compared to 2017). Elections BC doesn't provide us with the results by age but I suspect that the NO won among the 55+ even more than what the polls were showing while the 35-54 most likely ended up voting NO as well despite the polls showing otherwise.

By the way, my measure of when a riding received the ballots (see previous blog posts about it) is still there and significant with the final numbers. If PR had lost by a tiny margins, I feel this should become a big issue. But given the margin of victory for the NO side, I guess we can forget about it even though this is troubling.

During the campaign I tried various methods to estimate the results (age, region or party based). I liked the method based on past votes the most as I thought this was the best "one variable" method available, one that would capture other effects as well (vote is correlated with region and age too). So I re-did these estimations and compared my results to the actual ones, riding by riding. Obviously my method was biased overall  since I had PR slightly ahead, but I'm more interested in finding patterns of where the method was more wrong. By the way, the overall correlation between estimated % for PR and actual ones is 0.83, so not too bad.

I found that the method was overestimating PR in ridings in the Lower Mainland and on the Island (and/or underestimating FPTP in the Interior). I was underestimating PR in ridings with more voters aged 18-34 and with a bigger share of English speakers. Maybe here is the most interesting piece of information: the method was underestimating PR in ridings that had a higher turnout this year but it was overestimating PR in ridings that had a higher turnout last year.

All in all, I maintain what I was saying: this referendum motivated more voters aged 18-34 to vote. I'm not saying the turnout in this age group was actually the highest of all age groups, but it was definitely higher than in previous elections. And this group likely voted for PR by a healthy margin. But that just wasn't enough to allow PR to actually win. The YES campaign (as illustrated by Horgan's performance at the debate) was weird. I gave them the benefit of the doubt during the referendum as I thought that they maybe had data showing it was working, but in hindsight, it was a mistake. Focusing on the young, progressive vote (it's "lit") was a bad idea. These voters were going to support PR anyway. What the YES side had to do was convincing older voters that PR was a good idea. Offering three systems without fully defining one just opened a giant door for the NO side who could spend 30 days saying it was "too complicated" or too risky. It also seems the NO side was successful in making this referendum feels "rigged" even though I don't really see valid reasons behind this argument.

Proportional representation is now a dead in BC for many years (as it should be after such a loss). Hopefully Quebec leads the way next year and adopts PR. Legault has mentioned he doesn't intend on doing a referendum and while I believe one could be successful in Quebec, I also never thought PR would get less than 40% in BC. So no referendum might be the safest way to get PR, although I feel a referendum is most likely needed nowadays to change the electoral system... But I'm seriously tired of losing referendums! So go Quebec and go PEI next year!

Exit poll for the referendum on electoral reform

The referendum voting period ended on Friday at 4:30pm. Over 41% of British Columbians ultimately voted, a respectable turnout for a referendum on such a question. It is also slightly higher than the average turnout of the last municipal elections in the province.

Elections BC is now busy processing the last ballots received and will start counting them soon. Results are expected by December 20th, although there has been no official announcement.

While we wait, here are the results of the exit poll that some of you funded. More generally, see this article as the reasons why the YES side likely won. I'm not putting a specific percentage on the chances here and it remains close with both sides able to win. I do believe however that we have more evidence in favour of the YES.

1. My exit poll (+the last campaign poll)

Last week I reached out to you, readers, to fund a small Google Survey of 1300 respondents to see what option they had chosen. The idea being that it'd be better to ask people after the vote since we wouldn't have a large number of undecided.

Here are the result:


Margins of error aren't provided since it's an online poll but the equivalent ones with a probabilistic sample of that size would be 3.3% (or 4.6% among voters only).

If you donated to the GoFundMe campaign, email me if you want access to the raw data.

Notice that I only got 905 valid observations out of 1300. This is because Google Survey sometimes doesn't know the age or gender of the respondent and therefore assign a weight of zero. I personally feel like this is a little bit ridiculous since they charged me for these respondents, but whatever.

This exit poll gives a relatively healthy lead to the YES side. Better than all the 50-50 polls during the campaign.

I know what some of you will say: this isn't the best poll out there and there are margins of error. You are 100% right for the latter. As for the former, this is debatable. My previous experiments with Google Survey have proven successful. With that said, I'd totally admit that I don't necessarily trust such a $250 poll as much as a full fledged one from Mainstreet or other reputable firms. And yes this poll is overestimating the turnout. But this is normal for polls, they always do. People who vote are just more likely to answer polls I guess. I'm actually quite happy with how close to the actual turnout it ended up.

Still, this exit poll should at least give us some information (assuming it's not completely wrong). First of all, the fear that undecided would ultimately choose the NO side (you know, the status quo) might not have materialized. Polls for previous mail-in referendums in BC have been overall quite accurate and I suspect this is mostly because undecided simply end up not voting.

Second of all, this confirms what we have been saying for a while: this referendum will likely be won based on who turns out to vote (versus actually convincing people tho change their mind on the topic).

I'd also like to point out that the very last poll of this campaign (done so late it could actually be considered an exit poll as well) from Insight West had the YES side a 52%. Among people who had already voted, it was a perfect 50-50 race but it was clearly shown that people who hadn't voted yet were overwhelmingly in favour of PR. Given that the poll was done from November 29th to December 3rd, that was leaving a couple of days for these people to vote and ultimately tilt the scale on the YES side. So my exit poll here is quite consistent with the 52-48 situation of the Insight West poll.

Polling wise, that's two arguments for the YES so far.

2. Estimates of the vote based on the turnout data

Throughout this referendum, I have often provided estimates of the number of votes for the YES and NO sides. I mostly used two methods: the first one was using regional as well as turnout by age (in 2017), as well as general polling averages, to estimate how many votes were for each side in each riding. The second method used instead the past vote (in 2017) and the polling averages as well (i.e: BC Liberals voters were in favour of keeping FPTP at around 80%, so a riding that voted 50% BC Lib last year would contribute 80%* 50%* votes in this riding this year] to the NO side.

The second method is most likely the best as this referendum turned out to be quite a partisan affair. Yes age is a strong determinant of the vote but voting behavior will capture this as well (older people vote BC Liberals more).

Here is a table of the various estimates for the YES side based on various methods (and variations of these methods) using the turnout data published on Monday (which aren't complete with only 38% of ballots processed out of more than 41% received; Elections BC indicated yesterday that they'd likely not provide further update until the final results).




It's a mixed bag but there are reasons to believe method 2 is the superior one. Also, method 1 is most likely underestimating the YES side. Here is why. Regression-based analysis of the turnout (see below) have shown some strong patterns. One of them has been that the 18-34 voted more than usual, relatively speaking. The 35-54 were not interested at all while the 55+ also voted less than in 2017.

My estimates here use the turnout by age of the 2017 election, by riding. In average, the 18-34 represented only 18% of the voters. The 35-54 were at 32% and the 55+ at 50% (much higher than their actual share of the population. This is thanks to a turnout of 69%, much higher than the others).

The regressions aren't actually absolutely proving that the 18-34 were voting more, it's only capturing that ridings with a higher share of 18-34 had a higher turnout this year. So it's technically possible that some ecological fallacy is at play here and that it's actually the 55+ in ridings with more young people that are voting more. It seems unlikely but it's possible.

If we assume that the 18-34 voted more (they were very pro PR), the 35-54 voted a lot less (they were very 50-50 on RP) and the 55+ voted slightly less (while still representing the biggest share; Very against PR), then my estimates above are likely underestimating the YES. It's capturing some of this increased turnout simply because more votes are literally coming from ridings with more young voters, but it doesn't actually adjust at the riding level.

Let me try to explain it another way: Imagine that the 18-34 represented 30% of the voters this time and the increase of 12 points was uniform across the province. When I run my regression, I'll capture some increase but not the precise, representative number (because the computer will think that the increased votes coming from ridings with many 55+ is because this group voted, not because the 18-34 in that riding got out to vote).

It's really difficult to try to adjust the turnout but I tried nonetheless. Using the regressions from below, I estimated the following shares of voters this year:

18-34: 24%
35-54: 25%
55+: 50%

Yes the 55+ would still represent 50% despite a drop in their turnout. The reason being that the 35-54 dropped so much, the remaining 55+ represent a bigger share.

So it's well possible that the 18-34 actually represented a bigger share of the voters than the 35-54 this time around. This is remarkable. Remember how Trudeau won so many surprise ridings thanks to a large increase in youth turnout in 2015? You got to wonder how much of this was due to the promise of electoral reform. But anyway, let's go back on topic.

If I'm right here and the polling average by age is also correct, that would give us a very close finish right around 50%. Of course that's using an average of polls, some of them done during the campaign and an overall level of support lower than the latest Insight West or my exit poll. So there might be a slight bias in favour of the NO there, possibly.


3. Analysis of the turnout

The first two points use polls (and other tricks or assumptions). What about a straight up analysis of the actual published turnout? Let's use a regression for this. I'm using the turnout of processed ballots as published Monday morning by Elections BC (so still missing about 3.2% of the ballots (that's over a 100k...).

Here are the results for the two models I used throughout this campaign.


If you read this blog from the beginning of this referendum, you should remember that the regression coefficients didn't always look so favourable to PR. In the first 2 weeks we would see the % of votes for the Liberals as significant. We would also see the 55+ voting more. But slowly and surely we started seeing positive trends. Now, with almost final turnout data, the entire table is pretty positive for PR.

We see that the only age group that voted more is the 18-34, the group heavily behind PR. We also see that the BC Green party got out the vote in ridings where it got a high percentage last year. Vancouver Island is where the turnout is the highest (and that's compared to 2017 where it was already the highest region; Plus this is on top of the effect of the % for the Green).

It's not 100% good news however. We do observe that the % for the BC Liberals is still positive. Not statistically significant but positive nonetheless. While it's negative for the %NDP. This shows that the NDP most likely didn't get its vote out everywhere. Surrey comes to mind (might be a good thing for PR as Surrey quite against PR in 2009).

The number of days of voting (measured by how many days the riding has been over the 1% threshold) is still significant and still around 0.3% per day. This is unfortunate and raise the question of fairness. With that said, my attempts at correcting for this have shown no impact on the overall results.


Conclusion

Let's be clear, this remains a close race. But we are seeing more signs pointing to a victory for the YES than the NO. When polls started showing a 50-50 race at the BEGINNING of this referendum, I honestly thought it was lost. You'd think undecided would ultimately pick the status quo. I feel pretty confident in saying that it doesn't look it happened. Worst case scenario is it remained a 50-50 race and turnout will choose the winner. Best case scenario? The turnout again plus a small edge for the YES as indicated in the two exit polls.

My various methods give different results but the one that is the most likely to capture the most effects is the one based on past votes. And this one shows a win for the YES. This is despite the latest Insight West poll showing a somewhat low support for PR among Green supporters (lower than among NDP, which is unexpected).

Would I bet money at this point? I hope Elections BC will publish the turnout by riding fully, but even if I had to make the bet now... Yes I'd. I wouldn't bet $1000, but I would put down a $20 on the YES.

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.