May 7th 2013: Predicting the Green party

I said it before but it's true: predicting the Green party is harder than projecting the main two parties, for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are a lot of ridings where they had a candidate in 2009 and don't run one in 2013. This creates some technical problems for the model and I have to account for it. But the main reason is that the provincial level of support (as measured by the polls) is more likely not the only variable that matters as the Green vote might be heavily concentrated in a couple of key ridings.

Think Elizabeth May. If you only looked at the provincial swing, there is no way she would have been elected in 2011. The federal Green party actually lost votes between 2008 and 2011 in BC. Yet, May won her riding (facing a cabinet minister!). How? With a strong example of candidate effect and an intense campaign from the party.

This scenario could happen again next week. There are two potential star candidates that could overcome a less-than-enough provincial swing: Jane Sterk (leader) in Victoria Beacon-Hill and Andrew Weaver in Oak-Bay Gordon Head. In both cases, they haven't run in this riding before. So let's take a closer look.

Jane Sterk is the leader of the Green party for a second election. While she haven't been able to prevent a slide in the Green vote in 2009, current polls seem to indicate a positive swing for this party. However, polls don't account for the missing candidates in 24 ridings. Added to the tendency of polls to overestimate small parties, it might well be possible for the Green to experience a much smaller swing than expected. But what about the potential "star candidate" effect of Sterk? Well, it's hard to estimate. Not only is she running in Victoria Beacon-Hill for the first time, but the riding she ran in 2009 (Esquimalt-Royal Roads) was technically a new riding, created in 2008. We can look at her results for the 2005 election but she wasn't the leader yet. If we look at the 2009 results, it seems Sterk might have had a small and positive effect. Indeed, she got 16.8% of the vote. Comparing that to the ridings that previously composed this new one, and given the provincial swing, it is reasonable to assume that Sterk benefited from a small boost or bonus. But nothing spectacular or close to what Elizabeth May could achieve. Let's say it was between 5-10%. Looking at the current projections in Victoria-Beacon Hill, we can see that such a bonus would not be enough to beat incumbent (and former BC NDP leader) Carol James.

The best chance for a Green MLA seems to be Andrew Weaver in Oak-Bay Gordon Head. He's a well known university professor and Nobel prize winner. He's running for the first time in a riding where the Green got only 8.9% of the vote in 2009 (the riding was won by a small margin by Ida Wong, a Liberal candidate). I wrote about this before, but Andrew Weaver will need a boost or bonus of at least 15-points in order to win  this seat. By Canadian politics standards, this is less than Elizabeth May but more than what most other leaders or star candidates get. Still, my model currently gives him a bonus of 15-points (in average, in the 1000 simulations, this bonus varies between 5 and 25%, with a mean at 15%) but at the same time, the model heavily relies on provincial levels of supports (it does however includes regional effects that acknowledge that Vancouver Island is a good region for the Green party). In order to assess the real chances of Mr. Weaver, it might be better to look at other types of models. One good example is the Election Prediction Project. This one is almost the complete opposite of my model. Instead of transposing provincial swings into riding-level ones, it uses inputs from people in the riding. You can go and write your own entry, like: "I think the Green party will win as everybody around me will vote Green", or you can comment about the number of billboards, etc etc. Right now, for Oak-Bay Gordon Head, it's projected as too close to call (how appropriate, isn't it?). If you read the entries, you see a hard fight between NDP and Green, with the Liberals also in the race. This is pretty close to the current projections of my model. Bottom line: a close race in this riding where turnout will most likely play a crucial role. The Green will need to give everything they can in order to win this seat. I'll say this: if the Green party really gets 12% of the vote provincially next week, I think they'll win this riding.

Finally, I should also mention the riding of Saanish-North and the Island where Green candidate Adam Olsen might have a small chance. However, it seems the Green party is putting the money and effort in Oak-Bay-Gordon head for this election. This is probably for the best. In Quebec, the small left-wing party Québec Solidaire proceeded the same way to win its first seat. Then, 4 years later, it managed to win a second one. Small parties have to be patient. Getting a MLA with the electoral system is really hard.

At the end, we should also notice that polls have all shown the Green party 2nd or 3rd on Vancouver Island, far behind the NDP. The level of support for the Green party on the island is actually pretty close to my model (around 20-25% of the votes). This shows two things: 1) the regional effects of my model seem to work pretty well 2) The Green party isn't experiencing very different swings across the province. Specifically, it's not like the support is dropping somewhere and being transfered to the Island, thus leading to a really big and positive swing in this region. This decreases the chance of Green MLAs next Tuesday.