Would the Conservatives really win an election today?

The most recent Ipsos poll has generated a fair share of media coverage -good for them! That's what political polls are good for actually. The reason being that it was showing the Conservatives of Andrew Scheer well ahead of the Liberals of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (38% vs 33% to be exact). Our electoral system being what it is, a 5-points lead would indeed very likely result in a Tory victory.

My facebook as well as my Google Now feed were full of these kind of headlines, in both official languages. I was slightly annoyed at first because I always strongly believe that one poll doesn't create a trend. And the fact is that even the most recent trend was still placing Trudeau in a very favourable position. In other words, I started writing this blog post thinking the Ipsos poll was a likely outlier and the medias should maybe avoid using the clickbait headlines. But after looking at the numbers, my assertion is mostly: maybe. Yes, the Conservatives would maybe win the election. I still don't think this is the most likely scenario but it's also not that far a stretch. Here are the details of how I arrive at this conclusion.

I did what a "poll analyst" would do. I collected the most recent polls from various pollsters -you can find them here on Wikipedia. The caveat being that Nanos is quite literally spamming this list because they release partially updated polls every week. Nanos is a great firm (that has had an incredible, if not partially lucky, track record for federal elections), but I'm against using all their polls in such an average. Doing so -and other sites do that- means your average/projections are now based way too much on one single firm. So I used the most recent polls from Ipsos, Forum, Nanos, Abacus, Campaign and Mainstreet. That's a pretty good variety with the only down side that these polls were conducted over a period of 2 months. Hey, whatever, we don't get 7 polls a week like during a campaign.

You have these polls in the table below. I also added two older polls from Ipsos and Forum. You'll understand why very soon.

As you can see, not only is the CPC ahead in the latest Ipsos, it's also the case in the latest Forum. Now, I know what you'll tell me. Forum can't be trusted, right? Moreover, this firm has had the Conservatives ahead for a while (and has been alone in showing such a thing). I have written about Forum before. Their polls do tend to occasionally be weird and more volatile but as far as their track record is concerned, I have no reason to exclude them.

The general consensus in the articles about the Ipsos polls is that Trudeau is paying the cost of his less-than-optimal India trip. Or, at the very least, that this trip and the reactions to it are symptomatic of a change of mood and attitude towards Trudeau. I don't want to debate whether this trip was as disastrous as some said it was, but I think it's fair to say that it didn't turn out as expected for Trudeau. At the very least the media coverage has been fairly negative and you can only find people defending it as a success on some sub-forums on the internet.

Please notice that the Ipsos and Forum polls were conducted after the recent federal budget. Whether this helps Trudeau and the Liberals or not is, there as well, debatable. And there as well, I don't want to enter this debate. But it could be that the observed effect referred here as the India-trip one is actually a budget-related one.

So let's just assume that if the numbers for the Liberals did indeed drop recently, this is due to the India trip. I always tell my students that the real life is complicated and messy and that you can rarely pin down the reasons for a phenomenon onto one single cause. I strongly believe this is the case here as well but being able to refer to the effect as the "India trip" one makes it easier as far as writing this post.

So far we have a Forum poll that many wouldn't trust and one Ipsos poll that could simply be an outlier. Small sample to convincingly declare the Liberals would lose and that the January-February polls are now invalid. Fair enough. But we can still try to measure this "India trip effect". To do so, let's compare the Ipsos poll to the previous Ipsos' numbers (and let's do the same with Forum). This way, even if there is a so-called "house effect" -and there is definitely one for Forum, no matter if Forum is right or wrong- it'll be eliminated.

Doing so shows the Liberals down by 5-points according to Ipsos and 4-points for Forum. The two Forum polls are quite recent while we need to go back to December to find the previous Ipsos one. That's unfortunate obviously.

The Tories are up between 7 (Ipsos) and 3 points (Forum). Ipsos might be measuring a longer trend where the Tories have been slightly increasing since December, even before the India trip. The NDP is up between 1 and 2-points while the Bloc is down 1.5-points in average -the last point, along with the recent meltdown among the Bloc caucus deserve their own post that should come soon.

To me it's really interesting that we find such consistent differences between the two pollsters. Again, small sample size but consistent results, at least qualitatively.

So, who would win an election if it was held tomorrow? The answer really depends on whether you believe this India effect is real. If you don't and simply average the most recent polls -even giving the two most recent ones from Ipsos and Forum bigger weights- you find the Liberals and Conservatives essentially tied. If you give more weight to Nanos, you get the Grists slightly ahead. It doesn't really matter, please think big picture and agree that it'd be close with an advantage for the Liberals thanks to Quebec.

On the other hand if you believe that there is indeed a change of trend and that Ipsos/Forum are simply the first to observe it, then we need to adjust past polls for this effect. To do so, I did an average of the India effect estimates, giving the Forum differences a weight of 60% as the two polls were more directly comparable -this is a choice that actually reduces the effect, just so that we are clear or you believe I'm trying really hard to put the Tories ahead.

By doing this, I got the following projections.

Note for those who love details. My simulations obviously provincial numbers but those are too volatile to calculate province-specific India-trip effects. I thus used the national numbers to estimate the impact and uniformly applied it to each province. Some might object that it's a lot of assumptions to get to those projections and those people would be right. So you go ahead and write an internet comment about this.

What is striking is that even after adjusting the numbers and therefore giving the Tories a 6-points lead nationally, the Liberals would still have a chance. This is essentially because of Quebec. Even the recent Ipsos poll still puts Trudeau and his party as being incredibly popular in the French-speaking province. A lead that could translate into a ton of seats. Added to the Atlantic, that could allow the Liberals to win despite receiving way fewer votes nationwide.

The obvious million dollars question is still whether the "India trip" effect is real or not. And I can't answer that. Nobody can. What I'm saying is that we have some evidence pointing to such an effect existing and Andrew Scheer being more likely to become PM than he was a month ago. Would I go as far as saying he'd be favourite if the election was tomorrow? I'm leaning towards a no. But I also think that simply calling the trends observed by Forum and Ipsos as outliers would be an over simplification.