Final projections for Ontario 2018: A Conservative majority

Note article published at 6:47pm PT. I might make small changes between now and tomorrow morning. But I need a break for now. The general outcome will remain the same anyway.

Here we are, finally! After around a month of campaigning, Ontarians have to decide who they want for their government. Based on the polls and past election results, the most likely outcome is by far a Conservative majority. There are, however, reasons to believe a surprise victory from the NDP of Andrea Horwath is possible. Only certainty is the reign of the Liberals will end tomorrow.

This is a long article. So I put some key points summary at the beginning (for you busy people) and then I dig deeper into the numbers and the analysis.

First of all, here are the final projections with the riding by riding breakdown. That's what a big majority of you want to see on this site.

Voting intentions; Seat projections with confidence intervals at 95%; Chances of winning the most seats

I used all the polls published in the last week. I allocated undecided evenly 1/3 between all three major parties (as to account for the general underestimation of the incumbent and the overestimation of the smaller parties).

And now the riding by riding projections. Remember that projections can never be perfect. I recommend that you focus more on the chances of winning than on the raw percentages.

Key points:

- Progressive Conservatives enjoyed a late campaign bump, pushing them back at 38%-39% percent.

- The NDP stalled after a continuous rise for the first 2-3 weeks.

- The popular vote lead combined with higher vote efficiency means the Tories are by far the favourites tomorrow. It really isn't debatable. Yes polls can be wrong and surprises can happen but it remains that a NDP win would indeed be a surprise.

- Elections in this country are often won in the suburbs. If the trend were to continue tomorrow, there is no question "Ford nation" will bring a lot of blue to the GTA and the 905 in particular.

- Depending on how you measure uncertainty, the NDP's chances vary between 10 and 15%.

1. The polls

This election has mostly seen two dynamics. The starting situation was the PC comfortably ahead at 40% and the NDP and Liberals fighting for second place. Then the NDP started rising, apparently taking votes both from the OLP and PCPO.

This rise turned into a pseudo "orange wave" when some pollsters started showing the NDP up by as much as 14 points! The polling average started putting the New Democrats ahead for quite some time, although never enough to be projected with the most seats (see vote efficiency below).

Finally, the final dynamic happened during the last week with a PC rebound. Not sure what happened exactly but the Tories definitely increased at the end. One possible explanation is some Liberal voters switched. The PC rise at the end is correlated with the decrease of the Liberals. Also, if you look at the second choices (from Mainstreet for instance), you see that PC voters are now more evenly split between NDP and OLP as 2nd choice. That wasn't the case earlier this case when Tory voters were much more likely to have the NDP as 2nd choice. Therefore this is consistent with the theory that OLP voters switched at the end. Maybe when they saw that the NDP could form the government? This is pure conjectures at this point.

So the Conservatives are back around 38% and ahead of the NDP. Most pollsters agree with a close race (with a slight edge for the Tories). Some pollsters are more bullish for the PC. Mainstreet and Ekos (along with Ipsos to some extend) are showing a very comfortable PC lead (over 5 points for Mainstreet, 4 for Ekos). They agree with the PC around 38% but they disagree with the NDP and OLP. On the other side of the spectrum is Abacus which put final numbers with the NDP ahead by 4 points (although their poll is slightly older than the others).

We had a IVR versus online poll discrepancy not too long ago (and actually all campaign long) and the final numbers tend to confirm this divide. Ekos and Mainstreet show the two biggest leads. Given that my research has shown no significant difference in the accuracy of IVR or online polls, I'm happy to have an almost equal mix of all types on my final average.

[Update] Both Forum and Research Co. released late polls today. The latter is online and has a very small sample size. It has the PC at 39% and the NDP at 37%. Forum is IVR and has over 2000 respondents. Forum is showing the PC ahead by 5, 39 to 34, thus confirming the difference between IVR and online polls. We'll see tomorrow who is right and who is wrong. I won't update the projections for now for that one poll. I ran the numbers and it doesn't change anything anyway. It does push the Tories past 38% in the polling average though. So since I published already, I'll just leave it as it is.

In short, from the most to least bullish for the PC, we have Mainstreet, Forum and Ekos, then Ipsos, next come the online (and live callers) polls (Pollara, Leger, etc). Finally Abacus is alone in showing the NDP not only ahead but comfortably so (4 points). Abacus will either be very right or very wrong tomorrow. This election might also help us decide which methodology is superior.

How much can we trust these polls? When I looked at past elections in this country, I found the following:

There were two big misses during that time: Alberta 2012 and BC 2013. The rest was mostly fine, although usually not perfect. What this means is that, at the very least, you should be prepared for the PC to be anywhere from 36 to 40% and the NDP between 34 and 38%. And that's going with the average accuracy only. Want to be more confident? Then you need to use the margins of error. The graph below represents the possible outcomes for the popular vote based on the polls and past polling accuracy. This is also the base for my simulations and what gives us the probabilities.

This means the range for each party is the following:

Yes this is pretty wide! Hopefully the polls will be accurate tomorrow. If not, you can't tell you weren't warned of the possible ranges.

Notice that the simulations I do randomize the popular vote (the graph above) but also at the riding level. There is a double randomization process in order to (try to) account for the vote distribution.

1.1 Riding polls versus province-wide ones?

I have been very vocal during this campaign regarding the riding polls from Mainstreet (available to subscribers only). Mainstreet did an amazing job with providing us with a ton of riding polls. The issue I have is the numbers in these polls weren't consistent with the province-wide ones. They had the PC systematically higher and the NDP systematically lower than what you'd expect. I maintain this opinion. With that said, the riding polls are at least mostly consistent with Mainstreet's provincial numbers. The discrepancy became smaller with the late campaign jump for the Tories though.

Let's be very clear here: if Mainstreet is right (both provincially and at the riding level), this will be a very comfortable Tory majority. Mainstreet is showing the PC almost sweeping the 905, including Brampton (4 polls, 2 PC and 2 close races). They are also showing the PC very competitive in ridings you'd never expect them to win such as University-Rosedale (difficult to imagine the Conservatives winning that riding tomorrow!).

I made the choice to follow the provincial average and I therefore ignored most of the riding polls. I used the numbers to make some adjustments such as in Guelph or in some Northern ridings. I also tried to estimate a "Ford nation" effect in the outer rim of Toronto proper, an effect that could indeed expand to Brampton (and also to account for the loss of Jagmeet Singh whose previous riding got dissolved into 4 others). But overall I decided to trust my model. The riding polls in BC last year cost me 2 correct calls (including the 3rd Green seat) and I really just trust province wide numbers more.

2. Seat projections

I want to begin by mentioning that models like mine are more suited to transpose votes into seats when we have small swings. The BC election last year was a good example. It gets way more complicated when one party collapses -like the Ontario Liberals- and end up in an historically low support level. Similarly, modeling a NDP rise by possibly over 10 points (there as well, record level, possibly going higher than under Bob Rae) is more difficult.

We are possibly about to witness a drastic change to the electoral map. The GTA that had been so good for the Liberals and so hostile to the PC for over 10 years appears on the verge of doing the exact opposite. My model does account for that but I'm way less confident about my accuracy than usual.

So, using the polling average, we get the projections above. This is good enough for a Conservative majority and Doug Ford as Premier for the next four years. As you can tell from the probabilities, there isn't much uncertainty. At least according to the model. I'm already including more uncertainty than the CBC tracker (which definitely doesn't have enough) but I suspect that I'm underestimating the NDP's chances. Using the previous election's vote distribution might not be as valid when parties are up and down so much. A model with some socio-demographic variables might be better here but unfortunately I don't have one.

With that said, while the NDP can indeed win, it would be absolutely wrong to pretend that it's a 50-50 race or that "anything can happen". This is simply not the case based on the information currently available. And even if Andrea Horwath is Premier on Friday, that wouldn't mean she was favourite and I was wrong. It'd mean a surprise happened.

The only thing certain at this point is that the Liberals cannot win. I'll go as far as saying that if they somehow do, I'll stop making projections. Not because I dislike this party but because that would mean the polls are useless and therefore so are projections. The Liberals also have a 70% chance of winning 7 seats and fewer, meaning they wouldn't be recognized as an official party! Oh how the mighty have fallen.

If you want the full range of possible seat outcomes, here it is:

Notice that the Liberals can in theory save more than 3 seats. Possibly being the key term.

So why are the Conservatives so heavily favourite? Most of it has to do with vote efficiency.

2.1 Regions and vote efficiency

Our electoral system being what it is, not all votes are equal. For the longest time during this campaign the projections were showing the NDP winning the popular vote and the PC winning a majority of seats. It seems that we might at least avoid this situation tomorrow. It remains that the PC is much better at turning votes into seats.

The main reason is the 905, the Toronto suburbs. The same way the GTA pretty much gave the Liberals a mandate 4 years ago, the suburbs are about to give Ford enough seats to win a majority. The NDP simply doesn't seem capable of winning many ridings there. My model might actually be underestimating the Tories there with a possible strong "Ford nation" effect as mentioned before. Unfortunately for the New Democrats, even if they beat their polling numbers by a few points, it will likely not be enough to win a large number of 905 seats.

The Ontario map will likely look like this tomorrow:

In the North, we can expect the NDP to possibly sweep it. Ridings such as Kenora-Rrainy River, Thunder Bay-Atikokan or Sault Ste. Marie will likely be the only competitive races. Polls have been a little bit all over the map in this region. My estimations also show that this is by far the most volatile region every election. Still, the NDP won it easily 4 years and they are up big times province wide, so I'm projecting a NDP sweep minus Sault Ste. Marie.

In Central Ontario, this is a PC sweep with high certainty. Not much to debate here.

In the East, the PC will crush it in rural ridings while the NDP will try to win some urban ones (should take Kingston and the Islands, will be in contention for some Ottawa ridings). Ottawa Vanier is often seen as THE riding that would remain red no matter what and we'll possibly get confirmation of this tomorrow. Projections and riding polls seem to agree Kathleen Wynne should salvage this seat but it's not an absolute certainty.

In the Southwest, the NDP should win the urban ridings (Windows, London) while the PC will hope to sweep the rural areas including Huron-Bruce.

We then have the Kitchener-Guelph area of midwestern Ontario. The Green could finally win a seat in Guelph in what could be a close 3-way race with the Tories and New Democrats. This would be pretty big for Mike Schreiner and one feels like if he doesn't succeed this time, there'll never be a better opportunity. The rest of the region is looking good for the Tories.

As mentioned before, the 905 is going to be almost all blue, from Ajax to Mississauga. 26 PC seats versus only 4 NDP. Barely any gain for the NDP compared to 2014. For the NDP, this year might be more a transitional one where it sets itself up to fight for the win next time.

Finally, maybe one of the most interesting battlegrounds is surprisingly Toronto. I'm saying surprisingly because urban centers aren't usually that competitive, in particular for right wing parties. Doug Ford appears to be boosting his party there while the New Democrats will hope that former Liberal voters will join them. The core of Toronto (Spadina, etc) should be all orange while the outside (Etobicoke, Sacroborough North) should follow the Ford nation. Then we have the middle with the Don Valley ridings where it's essentially a 3-way race. Those are also the ridings the NDP absolute needs to win if they want to have any hope of forming the government. The projections currently have 2 OLP in Toronto, 10 PC and 13 NDP.

So Central cancels the North in our PC vs NDP matchup. The 905 and the East provide Ford with the roughly 20-25 seats lead giving him the job of Premier. And because most of the 905 PC seats are safe, we are confident about our calls.

Here below I have estimated the probabilities of winning for the Tories as a function of the gap in the popular vote. A positive gap of +2 means the PC wins the popular vote 38 to 36 for instance. See this graph as representing the uncertainty due to the electoral system and vote distribution. It does NOT represent the uncertainty due to polling errors.

As you can see, the chances become 50-50 when the NDP wins by around 3.5%. That seems high and I agree but this is what the model gives me. Anyway, this inefficiency might not come into play too much tomorrow if the Tories do indeed win the popular vote. That was more an issue a week ago.

If the popular vote is indeed tied tomorrow, chances are overwhelmingly in favour of the PC (the 0% on the x-axis). This sucks if you are a NDP supporters but this is what happens with our electoral system.

3. Outcomes and how surprises can happen

So, as described above, the most likely outcome is a Conservative majority. But this isn't a sure thing. Ford could end up with possibly only a minority. Notice that due to the Liberal collapse, a minority of any kind isn't very likely. That's normal. For a minority to happen, you need a strong third party winning enough seats.

The big question is really: what if the PC only wins a minority? Just ask Christy Clark! While I don't  foresee a deal/coalition between the NDP and OLP as likely (unless maybe the seat count is really close), I also can't imagine a Ford minority surviving very long. It'd last for as long as the OLP would need to find a new leader. Ford would also be under pressure in his own party as he could be seen as having "dropped the ball". Let's not forget his lead entering this campaign. At 22%, the chances of something else than a PC majority are not insignificant.

Beyond the majority/minority thing, the other uncertainty we need to talk about is regarding the NDP and its path to victory. I'll use the 2016 US election as an analogy. Before the election every expert and pundit was saying Trump didn't have a path to 270, that the electoral map just didn't work for him. And yet he won while losing the popular vote badly. How did this happen? Because a bunch of States we thought were safe flipped. As a matter of fact, 4 hours into the electoral night and CNN (and others) were saying Trump had more path to 270 than Hillary.

My point is here is that things can happen. Ridings and regions can change surprisingly. When a party like the NDP rises from 24% to possibly 36% or more, things will happen. I'm sorry if I can't formally model how the electoral map could change but I'm at least aware that my model might not be as robust as I want it to be. With that said, my model does account for the fact that when the NDP rises so much above its natural level, it starts rising more in regions traditionally not favourable to it. So it's not like I'm completely oblivious to this fact.

So, how can the NDP win exactly? Three ways.

1) The scenario just mentioned where the electoral map is changed. Polls show that Ford might be winning a slightly different demographic than traditional right wing parties. Along with the NDP rise, this is a possibility. I can't, however, quantity it.

2) Beat the polls. This I can do. The question really is: given the polling average what are the odds that the NDP would win the popular vote by 3, 4 or 5 points? Using the historical accuracy of Canadian polls, we get the following chances, respectively: 14%, 9% and 6%. Let's assume my model has a slight bias and a 3 points lead would suffice, it means the chances of the NDP are closer to 15%. Still not great but slightly better.

As discussed under vote efficiency, winning the popular vote isn't enough for the NDP to win the seat count but it makes the path a lot easier.

3) Polls are right but the NDP increases its efficiency. In this scenario, the NDP surges in urban ridings in Toronto and to a lesser extend Ottawa. Many of the 416 seats projected to go PC have a low margin of victory. A good GOTV along with a last minute rally of some undecided (and Liberal voters wanting to prevent a Tory majority) and we could see most of the 416 orange. I went into more details a few days ago and I stand by my analysis, even though the numbers are a little bit outdated at this point.

Note that a combination of these three scenarios is totally possible. A little bit of 2) for instance would make 3) a lot easier.


After a campaign full of swings and changes, we might actually be back to the original planned outcome: a PC majority! While the NDP can win, that would be a fairly major surprise. It'd require a combination of the polls being quite wrong as well as the NDP overcoming its vote inefficiency. The last one appears difficult mostly because of the 905.

Still, the chances of a Tory majority are "only" around 75%. We've seen surprises like this in the past such as Trump or Scheer over Bernier.

Advance voting appears to indicate that competitive urban ridings in the 416 and 905 will attract more voters. We might observe the clash of two movements: Ford nation versus the rise of the NDP.

Enjoy election night and I hope you appreciated my coverage during this election. If you did, don't forget to follow me on Twitter @2closetocall.

[Update] Since I'm not always right in my predictions and since an octopus used to be so good at predicting soccer games, I thought I'd try another method:

So looks like my dog and I disagree!