Final projections for Canada 2019: a minority

Note: a French article about Quebec only is available here.

After almost 10 years of writing on this blog, I finally have final projections where, wait for it, things are too close to call! I'm dead serious, there is a limit to the accuracy of polls and especially projections models and I can't make a call either way.

It hasn't happened before. There were close-ish elections, there were elections where I ultimately was wrong (BC 2013), but I never have not made a call at the end. Well, this is it. The 2019 federal elections is literally too close to call. All I can say with high confidence is that it should be a minority (or plurality, whatever terms works for you, depending on how pedantic and annoying you want to be. Heck, go with "hung parliament" if you really want to show people you have a stick up your ass).

Okay so this post will go as follow. First I'll present all the numbers and the map, for the busy people who don't have no time to read. Then I'll provide an analysis of the polls and finally of the seats. In this section, I'll illustrate as well as I can why I can't really call which party will finish first. Notice that who finishes first might not matter ultimately as Trudeau, as incumbent PM, will still be PM and can try to form a government first. Politically however, finishing first might matter.

1. Projections and map

2. The polls

There were two parts to this campaign, both in Quebec and the ROC. And no, it isn't a pre- and post-blackface. In Canada, the situation was incredibly stable -one might say boring- until the the last two weeks when the NDP started an impressive rise. It coincided with the English leaders' debate that Jagmeet Singh won. See for yourself:

It might seem unimpressive to see the NDP around 18% but given where they started from, and the fact they are down a lot in Quebec, this is actually quite a feat. 4 weeks ago I wasn't even sure the NDP would get 12 MPs and be officially recognized as a party. Today? They will likely make gains in the rest of Canada -Quebec will be brutal for them, no matter what.

Let's put this way: the NDP went from fighting for its life and existence against the Green to being in a legitimate position to hurt the Liberals and Conservatives in Ontario and BC especially. Alternatively, the Green Party, who went into this campaign with big hope and momentum, will have to settle for 4th and 3 seats in the most likely scenario. A result that is, in itself, not bad, but disastrous compared to expectations. Plus the popularity of Elizabeth May has decreased during the campaign. My guess is that they'll want to find a new leader.

The NDP appears to be doing particularly well with the 18-34 voters. The ones who voted a lot more last time around and likely helped Trudeau win a large majority. That could create some surprises in some urban environments (I have the NDP winning Sherbrooke for this reason for instance).

The fact that both the Conservatives and Liberals have been so close all campaign long and they have been dropping together for the last two weeks or so is fairly unique. It really shows how Canadians aren't excited with the political offering. Trudeau has definitely lost a lot of his charm in 2 years -back then, nobody thought he wouldn't win a second majority- mostly because of some policies and the scandals (I'd personally add his attitude). Andrew Scheer has clearly failed to convince Canadians. Running a boring, non-ambitious campaign where most of the proposals are simply going back to what Harper was doing clearly didn't work. The fact that he is himself a social conservative and wasn't very convincing at answering questions about abortion for instance didn't help either. And let's not forget all the stupid "scandals" such as whether he had a license to sell insurance! Small scandals in themselves but it distracts from the message when you keep having to defend yourself. I'm of the opinion that if the CPC has had a better leader, they'd have a shot at a majority tomorrow. Also, Scheer's French is just not good enough and his performances during the French debates were disastrous. The Tories had a good thing to try in Quebec this election, they could have made gains. Instead, they'll be lucky/happy if they escape with 9 seats tomorrow.

The story of this election, beyond the rise of the NDP at the end, was the resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois. This party has a legitimate shot at winning the most seats in Quebec tomorrow. In any case, they'll win a ton more than last time -and even more compared to the 4 seats of 2011. Yves-François Blanchet won the first debate (TVA face à face) while also doing well in the second French debate. He managed to position his party to appeal to both the PQ voters but also to the CAQ ones. By defending bill 21 everywhere, this allowed him to attract many French Quebecers. It's almost like bill 21 replaced independence, which is even better for the Bloc as support for bill 21 is much wider than for another referendum.

The rise of the Bloc means the path to a majority for Trudeau is really limited -I'd argue almost impossible but that might be too strong. Not that the Liberals are collapsing in Quebec -the rise of the Bloc is mostly driven by NDP voters coming back- but they can't expect to make the gains necessary to compensate their guaranteed losses in other provinces.

Finally, let's look at Ontario and BC. The former has been very stable while the latter saw the NDP catching up fast.

Notice the Lib-Cons gap in Ontario, very stable in average. Some polling firms (Mainstreet, Nanos, etc) have a much bigger gap and that has been the case all election long. They might be right but a site like mine has to use the average.

Finally BC with the NDP surge and the Green collapse.

First past the post will allow the Tories to really benefit from vote splitting in BC.

2.1 Riding polls

Mainstreet has been publishing a ton of riding polls, behind a paywall however. Those have, generally, been very favourable to the Liberals and really bad for the NDP. I know the ridings polled aren't necessarily representative of the province but we have enough that averaging them should at least give us a rough estimate. Doing so -and no matter if I used all the polls or just the most recent ones- shows a situation where the Liberals are much higher in Quebec and Ontario. I'm talking of the LPC being above 35% in Quebec and easily over 42% in Ontario.

If those polls are right, then a Liberal majority is indeed possible. But those polls are definitely at odds with the polling average. In Ontario, it seems to be a Mainstreet house effect with this firm having a bigger Lib-Cons gap than the average, consistently. Mainstreet also has had the NDP lower in general -most IVR polls did actually- but the effect is amplified in the riding polls.

Look, those same ridings polls were pointing to a larger Doug Ford victory and it happened. They were showing a larger CAQ victory and it happened. To a lesser extent, it did the same in Alberta. So betting on those polls isn't a bad idea. I'm not however. Mostly because they really put the NDP too low. It just doesn't seem to make sense, especially not with the NDP surge at the end. I did use these polls to make adjustments but I have not used them to influence my overall average. I was planning on doing so but I think it's too risky to put all my eggs into Mainstreet's basket. Still, it's important to be aware that there is data supporting a Liberal majority or very strong plurality.

Side note: when using those polls to adjust my own projections, I first adjusted the Mainstreet numbers for the systematic bias they had. For instance in Quebec they had the NDP around 8 points lower than expected, so if one riding poll had the NDP at 12% and I had them at 20%, then no adjustment was necessary.

2.2 Late trends?

In 2015 polls done during the weekend clearly showed a late surge for the Liberal. The same surge that ultimately gave them a large majority. I missed it 4 years ago so I was careful to look for one. But there doesn't seem to be one this time around. Nanos and Mainstreet both saw the Conservatives rising a little bit during the weekend while Ekos and Forum saw the opposite.

Some polls show the Liberals increasing their lead in Ontario in the last few days while others haven't (namely Nanos). There does seem to be a positive trend for the Bloc in Quebec. So I wouldn't be too surprised if the Bloc won over 37 seats.

At the end of the day, polls might still be wrong but I truly believe I didn't miss a late surge or anything.

3. Seats and projections

Ultimately this is what matters. There are many close races, but there always are to be fair. I didn't program my simulations this time around, so I don't have well calculated probabilities. Still, I can give you an idea of the uncertainty that exists.

3.1 How do the projections work?

My model uses the results of the 2015 election and the swing observed in the polls. It's based on the uniform swing -if the Liberals are up 2 points, they are up 2 points everywhere- with many adjustments. I take into account of the region (some are more volatile than others), whether the long-term incumbent retired or there is a star candidate as well as some other modifications based on riding polls and others. Whenever possible, I also adjusted my projections based on the within-province numbers -Leger for instance gives us the estimates for Montreal, Quebec and the rest of the province.

Also of importance, I average the polls slightly differently. Pollsters usually allocate undecided proportionally. I don't. I allocate more to the CPC and LPC as they are the big parties, while Green would get less (and PPC and others get none). In Quebec, LPC is assumed to get a bigger share, then Bloc, CPC and NDP, in this order. Given that we don't have that many undecided in most polls, it doesn't make a big difference. But I thought I'd mention it. And if you think I'm just assuming stuff, you are right. But allocating them proportionally is also an assumption. And one that is less defendable and empirically worse.

3.2 Majority possible?

Talking of a Liberal majority here, a Conservative one is borderline impossible. First of all, let's do some simple math. In the Atlantic, the Liberals will surely lose at least 5 seats and possibly 15, so let's go with the projections and pick 11. That means the Liberals are now only 3 seats above a majority (184 seats in 2015 - 11=173; A true majority is 170).

Then there is Quebec. Best case scenario for them is to lose only 5 seats. The good news is that I don't think they can collapse like the Quebec Liberals last year during the provincial election. So total losses are at 16 and no more majority.

Let's skip Ontario if you don't mind, we'll get back to it.

In the Prairies, the Liberals are significantly down. They won a couple of surprising seats last time around and I can't see them holding onto those seats. They might save a few in Winnipeg and Regina but they'll otherwise have to fight the angry Conservatives or the rising NDP. So that's a guaranteed 3 losses. That puts out total to 18 at a minimum.

Alberta could be swept. If it isn't, it'll likely be because of the NDP, not the Liberals. So that's 4 losses there, almost for sure. Total is 22.

In BC, the Tories haven't increased much but could benefit from vote splitting and make major gains. The Liberals created all a surprise last time by winning 17 seats and they'll be lucky if they limit the losses to 4 or 5. So the total is now 26.

That means they are, at best, at 184-26=158 seats in the best case scenario.

Now back to Ontario. They won 80 out of 121 last time around. They are polling BELOW their level of 2015 even in the most favourable polls to them there. So the Lib-Cons gap will be, at best, the same -thus meaning NDP and Green and PPC are higher. Also, they already won pretty much everything they could in the GTA, so even if they do increase there, the number of gains are seriously limited. They would then need to go and win seats in the Southwest of Ontario. Some riding polls from Mainstreet have shown this to be possible, including in Windsor -where the NDP should be comfortably ahead. Still, the path to a majority is really, really narrow. It requires both a polling mistake and improved vote efficiency.

Some might say that I was saying the same 4 years ago and they'd be right. My model didn't perform particularly well that night. To be fair, most projections had a bad night but mine was especially affected. Part of the reason is because I didn't see the Liberal surge at the end and actually assumed they wouldn't get a higher share of undecided. That was my mistake and I'm not making it this year. As for vote efficiency, well it's already now built into the model through the 2015 results. So it'd require this incredible vote efficiency -the Liberals won way more seats than projected even with the correct vote percentages 4 years ago- to increase. I'm very skeptical. And the sub-Ontario numbers I've seen (like from the GTA) don't indicate this to be happening.

Look, at the end of the day the Liberals are down and significantly so. They are down in every single province, including Ontario. In some (like the Atlantic provinces) they are down by close to 20 points. I just fail to understand the projections of some people -some pollsters for instance- who think the Liberals are within reach of a majority. I know our electoral system is shit but you don't win a majority with 32% of the vote!

So I don't think a majority can happen, not without major polling failures. Speaking of which, now is a good time to remind people that Canadian polls are indeed not perfect. Even by averaging them, you can still be way off. As a matter of fact, the table below shows you the empirical margins of error of Canadian polls. Read this Post to get more details.

So while we haven't had a massive polling failure at the federal level, we did have many at the provincial ones. Also, the last 18 months have seen multiple elections where the polls underestimated the right-wing option (Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, PEI, BC referendum). Will we see this again tomorrow? Not impossible, especially since advance voting seem to favour the Conservatives.

So where are the seats in play? Well you can look at the list yourself but I want to mention some races. In Quebec, there is the uncertainty regarding the Bloc. This party is right at the door of possibly winning 40 seats and more. While most of the Montreal suburbs are already projected to go light blue, there are a many battlegrounds in rural Quebec. In the east, the Bloc could wipe everything from Gaspésie to Quebec city, taking many seats from the Liberals and Tories. The second Abitibi could also go Bloc as well as a few here and there. On the other hand, don't underestimate the resistance that some local candidates might put. In Berthier-Markinongé, the NDP incumbent was polled ahead -although it was before the full rise of the Bloc- while the Conservatives might have a few strong candidates who can win on their own such as in Trois-Rivières.

I'll say this, if there is a surprise tomorrow compared to my projections, I wouldn't be shocked if it were the Bloc winning way more seats than projected.

It doesn't mean I haven't done my job here, I even used the transposed results of the 2018 Quebec election onto the federal map to see which seats could flip. It gave me essentially the same: Bloc between 30 and 40 depending on turnout and what not. If Leger is right and the Bloc is so much ahead among francophones and rural Quebec, then 40 seats is possible. However, polls in average show the Bloc actually doing better than expected around Quebec city, not rural Quebec. This could hurt the Conservatives but would not bring as many seats.

The second big source of uncertainty is the GTA. The 905 specifically as Toronto proper is likely remaining red -although we could see a few surprises from the NDP and its young vote. This is where will be decided who will finish first. There are easily 15 seats in play here with a margin of 5-10%. Turnout will be crucial. Data from Campaign Research or Léger show a GTA that is as expected given the drop of the two main parties in this province.

Beyond the GTA, we obviously have races here and there, but nothing that should be correlated with each other -beyond a general polling failure of course but we can't predict those. The GTA is where it could make the difference from 131-131 to 140-120. Politically, those two outcomes are very different but based on the info available to us right now, they are quite close.

Here are a few races I want to mention:

- In Quebec, I think the NDP could keep win more seats than projected. I have them ahead in Sherbrooke, a riding that went QS last time around. A very young riding. In Laurier-Sainte-Marie, the Mainstreet polls were horrible for the NDP but I believe they could create a surprise

- The Green will likely win 3 and nothing more. If there's going to be some really surprising Green seats -i.e: outside of Vancouver island- keep an eye on Fredericton and Thunder-Bay Superior North. Still long shot, especially the latter

- The Maritimes could have many surprises. Polls have been all over the place and it's always tricky with 4 provinces. Also PEI has riding that are very small and changes can happen more easily. I'd expect some surprises there.

- In BC, Jody Wilson-Raybould is favorite to be reelected, which could be seen as a symbol at the end of the night of the rejection of Justin Trudeau after what could well be a tough night.

Alright, this is it. I hope you enjoyed the coverage during this federal election. I was less active than usual. That will very likely be my last election. I'm getting a little bit tired of doing projections. This is ultimately a very repetitive and derivative job. So thanks for reading me!