November 26th 2013: Tories and grits hold onto their seats in by-elections. Mixed results for the polls

What was supposed to be a night with three Liberals wins, including a gain in Brandon-Souris ended up in the Tories keeping their two seats. The hold in Brandon-Souris was a close call and much closer than it should have been given the past election results and the current provincial polls. But at the end, while the Forum polls consistently showed the LPC ahead, the CPC managed to survive.

Let's look at the results and compare them to the riding-level Forum polls and the projections based on the latest national polls. But before we do, let's keep in mind that by-elections results must be interpreted with caution. The turnout is so much lower than during a general election and local factors can play a greater role.

1. Bourassa.
It was supposed to be an easy Liberal win and we got just that. The polls had the Liberal candidate, Dubourg, around 50% over the last weeks (with a drop in the very last poll). He actually received 48% of the vote. While the last minute drop didn't materialize for the Grits, the upward trend for the NDP did happen. The NDP candidate received 31%, exactly the score in the last poll. This is right in line with the 2011 results. So if people think the NDP will simply disapear in Quebec next election and that 2011 was a fluke, I believe they should think again.
The big losers here were the other parties. They all performed significantly below expectations. But with the lowest turnout among the 4 by-elections (at 26% only), it seems only the main two contenders managed to get their voters out.

So a good win for the Liberals, but the numbers are most likely an indication that the NDP won't be easy to beat next election. They might lose some seats to the Liberals in Montreal, but could ultimately compensate these losses by gains from the Bloc.

2. Toronto-Centre
The polls were spot-on for this one. If we try to replicate these results using the simulator (and keep in mind that Conservative voters most likely stayed home), we see that the Liberals and Conservatives are more likely head to head in this province, with the NDP not far behind. Given the importance of Ontario during an general election, this is promising (as far as suspense is concerned of course).

3. Brandon-Souris.
This is the only one the Forum polls got completley wrong. And by that, I really mean it. In their last poll, they had the Liberals ahead with 59% of the votes, compared to 30% to the CPC. The actual results were 44% CPC vs 43% LPC. These are quite huge errors, even if we apply the margins of error. Forum was clearly wrong, all campaign long.

In my post of yesterday, I said that the polls had the Liberals easily, while the model (based on recent national and regional polls) would actually have an easy win for the Tories. So it looks like a mix of both would have given us a good estimate. Except that doing such an average might not necessarily make sense.

4. Provencher.
The polls had the right winner, but they underestimated the Conservatives and under-estimated the Liberals. I wrote yesterday that for me, the results in this riding could be the most meaningful ones. I still think so. The easy hold from the Tories and the underperformance of the Liberals mostly show one thing: when it counts, the Conservatives can win. If I were Justin Trudeau, I'd be a little bit skpetical of all the national polls showing such a big lead for his party. If anything, the results of last night (especially in Provencher) show a strong resilience of the Conservatives. Sure they were down a lot in Bourassa and Toronto-Centre, but these were riding where they couldn't win anyway. Where it counted (Provencher and Brandon-Souris), their voters were there. The results also indicate that the Liberals might not be up as much as expected in the Prairies.

To conclude, while it was nice to have so many polls for these by-elections, I can only deplore the lack of a "likely voter" model. It seems to me that by-elections, with their low turnouts, would have been the perfect place to experiment with such models. So far in Canada, it seems we only have Ekos and Abacus who have such models. Ekos' results have been terrible (and their model actually made it worst in BC last election) while Abacus is simply reweighting by age. Nice but maybe too simple.

All in all, Liberals and Conservatives had a good night. The NDP had a mixed one (closer than expected in Toronto and Bourassa, but completely out in Provencher) and the Bloc only got bad news, so did the Green Party.