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.


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.