Final projections for the 2020 BC election: NDP majority

Unless we observe one of the worst polling failures in Canadian history, John Horgan will have won his gamble of triggering a snap election in the middle of a pandemic in the hope of getting a majority. After 3 years of governing thanks to the Green, he'll now have full control for the next 4 years.

Yes I'm that confident. Some people will remind us of BC 2013 when polls were wrong but there are many reasons not to expect a repeat (more on that below). The real uncertainty is whether the NDP will get a majority or a very large majority. There are naturally a few close races here and there but the overall situation is very clear.

For the busy readers, here are the projections.

Adjusted polling average; Seat projections with 95% confidence intervals; Chances of winning the most seats.

The riding by riding projections are here:

BC Final Projections 2020 by bryanbreguet

Just a reminder that I do NOT simply aggregate the polls. In particular, I allocate undecided differently. Instead of allocating them proportionally (which is, in my opinion, a bad assumption since it comes down to either saying all undecided voters will vote like decided ones or, alternatively, that none of them will vote), I allocated 50% to each of the NDP (incumbent) and Liberals (other big party). None for the Green and Conservatives. This method has worked very well, in particular to correct the typical overestimation of smaller parties by the polls. I have also adjusted the Conservatives down due to only running 19 candidates out of 87 ridings. Their vote is redistributed mostly to the Liberals but also to the other parties.

Chances of winning come from simulations where I randomize voting intentions (to account for the uncertainty of the polls) as well as at the riding level (to account for the distribution of the votes). Such simulations have proven to be very accurate and the model is calibrated.

Reminder that you can make your own projections by using my model here. It asks you to enter province-wide numbers but is using regional adjustments based on the polls.

1. The polls and the campaign

It hasn't been a particularly exciting campaign. Polls, as shown below, have been very stable. It makes sense, if people don't care much and are happy with the government, they won't really look for an alternative. I think it would always have been difficult for the BC Liberals to make a convincing case to change government. The fact that Andrew Wilkinson was absolutely terrible during the campaign (multiple scandals he couldn't deal with promptly, lack of charisma, etc; Even the Liberals supporters don't seem to like him with only 32% of them declaring that Wilkinson has ran the best campaign according to the latest poll from Leger.) obviously didn't make things better.

If people were expecting a tightening towards the end, they must be very disappointed. Most polls published today (Research Co, Mainstreet, Ipsos) had the NDP above 50%! The exceptions being Leger where the NDP was at 'only' 47% and a weird, last minute poll from Forum where the NDP was at only 44% and the Green at 18% (as well as projected to win 4 seats)! With possibly more than half the votes already cast, one might wonder if the projections should be based on a weighted average across the campaign. Thankfully the polls have been stable enough that it doesn't matter much. I do believe the overall accuracy of the polls will depend on the turnout tomorrow, Saturday 24th.

I think the best indication of the low interest is Google Trends. Usually, we'd see a trend for all parties and leaders as we get closer to election day. There is one but it's weak, with the only real spike being around the leaders debate. On top of that, many people chose to vote by mail (over 700k ballots requested), so they likely voted early and tuned out.

It was even more flat if we use the leaders. We saw a somewhat similar situation during the NB election. I really believe people aren't in the mood for an election and, as long as the government is okay, they'll just reelect it. It'd be interesting to see a federal election soon as Trudeau, while ahead, is nowhere as popular as Horgan was. So that might generate a more interesting campaign. Maybe.

To the Liberals credit, they did have a platform that 'made sense'. They tried to focus on jobs and the economy and had interesting proposals (PST, ICBC, childcare). But this wasn't going to be an issues-focused campaign. It was more of a referendum on Horgan and his government and people have been happy with it for a while. A much better leader for the Liberals would have limited the NDP to a smaller majority though. The PST promise was also maybe just 'too much'. I understand the Liberals tried to hit big and they succeeded for one day, but it was so costly that the opposition was just able to accuse them of giving tax cuts to rich people. Weirdly enough, it might have been more effective had they promised to only cut it in half. But that's just my intuition. Polls have shown people more responsive to the promise of opening ICBC to competition. Also, in Surrey specifically, it is possible that the promise to allow a referendum on getting rid of the RCMP might move some votes. This is super local and hard to measure though.

As for the Green, losing Andrew Weaver was always going to be a big loss. The fact he literally supported Horgan during this election didn't help. I know many people got a positive image of Sonia Furstenau but as a leader of a party, she spent way too much complaining about the fact we shouldn't have an election. The Green platform is also weirdly light on specifics. But the main issue is really that a pandemic election isn't good for third parties. People don't want instability and uncertainty. If they can get their centrist, competent government with Horgan, no reason to go with the Green. The Green just really need to keep at least one seat, going back to zero would be devastating. And they'd be become the first Green MP or MLA in Canada not to be reelected. Last minute trend was better and mail-in ballots (as well as advance polls) looked good for the Green, so they might actually keep their two seats. I'm curious how Forum arrived at 4 seats projected though.

2. Mail-in ballots and uncertainty

This election will have one particularity: a good share of the votes won't be counted until at least two weeks after the election. By law, Elections BC can't start counting the mail-in ballots for 14 days. In normal times this isn't an issue as those ballots only represent a small fraction (and even there, we had to wait for them in 2017 in a few close ridings). But with over 700k requested (and 66% have been returned already), the situation is obviously very different this year. Given that there were 1.9m votes three years ago and that we expect a lower turnout in general, those mail-in ballots could represent as much as 40% of the total.

A quick look at the number of requests for such ballots, along with the info from some polls, show that mail-in ballots were especially popular in urban environments. We also see a strong correlation (even after controlling for other factors) with the share of Green votes in 2017. Here below you have a simple regression (using riding level data from Elections BC and the census) of the determinants of mail-in ballots requests.

Bottom line: urban environments where there are more renters and high income requested more mail-in ballots. Green ridings and, finally, older voters too (this last one is likely just a general turnout effect, although we might expect older voters to particularly want to avoid crowded places). Outside of the age factor, most variables are correlated with higher NDP and Green votes instead of Liberal ones. Polls have also shown that NDP and Green voters were more likely to have chosen to vote by mail. What this means is that the results tomorrow night (where they'll count the advance votes as well as the votes cast on Saturday) might be generally more favourable to the BC Liberals. This is especially true at the aggregate level as the Interior of BC is likely to represent a bigger share than it should. It might not cause too much of a bias at the riding level, although I'd personally think that any seat with the Liberals narrowly ahead tomorrow night will likely flip to the NDP 2 weeks later.

Notice the lack of correlation with the advance turnout. So mail-in ballots didn't displace advance votes as I'd have thought. Also, while those variables here can explain 86% of the variation in mail-in ballots requests, it failed spectacularly at explaining the variations in advance turnout. Not sure what to do of this info but I thought I'd share it. Speaking of which, a record 681k people voted in advance, representing about 20% of registered voters. All in all, I suspect that over 50% of the votes were cast in advance (in-person or by mail).

Every single poll that has measured the voting intentions among those who had already voted have shown the same thing: the BC NDP is well ahead in this group. The Mainstreet poll was particularly bad for the Liberals. We are talking of a 50-30 lead, if not more. The Liberals really need to get their vote out tomorrow if they want to avoid a collapse similar to the Quebec Liberals in 2018.

In terms of uncertainty, this is one of the most certain and confident forecast I wrote. The BC NDP came within distance of winning the election in 2017. All they need is a few wins here and there and they get a majority. Given that the popular vote swing is showing a NDP at +10 overall, I think it's an absolute no-brainer that the NDP will win a majority. Any other results would require a massive polling failure.

Speaking of which, BC 2013 remains the second worst polling failure in Canada (behind Alberta 2012). The BC NDP had been ahead in the polls consistently and everybody thought they were cruising towards a majority. And yet the Liberals won. So why am I discarding such a possibility? I'm not, my simulations absolutely allow for such polling mistake (and even worse). But the situation is very different. First of all, the Liberals had the trend going for them during the 2013 election while it hasn't been the case this year. By the end of the campaign, the NDP's lead was about 6-7 points and that's without adjusting the BC Conservatives down for not running a full slate of candidates. Therefore, the NDP lead this year is bigger and more consistent. If anything, the last minute trend was very favourable to the NDP with some polls putting this party above 50%. Maybe more importantly, we don't see age as an important factor for voting intentions. BC voters skew very old (50% of the voters were over 55 in 2017 and over 58% in 2018 for the referendum on electoral reform). In 2013 and 2018, polls showed the 55+ being much different from the other age groups (supporting the Liberals in 2013 and against PR in 2018). While the Liberals still perform better with older voters today, the gap is far less pronounced. Using the 2017 age-turnout and reweighting the polls, the 13 points lead of the NDP over the Liberals shrink to 12. Using the 2018 turnout shrinks it even more to 11.4. Therefore, even if the age turnout is as skewed as in 2018 (when polls were dead wrong), we still get a NDP majority, just a smaller one. So while there is uncertainty with turnout and mail-in ballots, I don't believe there is enough uncertainty to think Wilkinson can pull a win.

3. Seats to watch

I have 21ridings where one candidate is projected with 100% chances of winning and my model has never ever made a mistake in those situations. All of those are for the NDP. Then let's add the 8 ridings where the chances are not 0.0% but like 0.1%. So the NDP pretty much starts at 29 ridings. The BC Liberals have 2 guaranteed seats (the two Peace River) and another one almost guaranteed.

If we add the ridings where the NDP has at least 98% chances of winning (9), we have 38 ridings. Therefore the NDP only needs to win 6 'competitive' ridings to win a majority.

I have 14 ridings where the outcome is decided by less than 5%.

As for the Green, province-wide (or even regional) polls show a sharp drop from the Andrew Weaver-led party of 2017, although the last minute trend was better. Polls show that 30-40% of 2017 Green voters have now moved to the NDP. Hopefully for the Green, the bleeding out is less pronounced in the few ridings they hold. It's really hard to make projections when local factors are in play (we'd need riding polls but somehow Mainstreet didn't publish a single one). Other metrics (fundraising, early voting) point to the Green doing okay and saving what they have but we can't ignore the clear trend. On the Island, the Green are down by 5 points and the NDP is up 9 points. Unless the Green can concentrate their support in their 2 ridings, they'll be wiped out. As for the 3rd seat, Oak Bay - Gordon Head, I believe the Green have no chance after losing their star candidate and not replacing him with another big name. But hey, we'll see, the mail-in turnout was really high at 37%, something that looks good for the Green. I think the drop among older voters might really hurt them, in particular since the ridings they compete in have some of the oldest median voters in the province.

A quick word about the BC Conservatives who are running 19 candidates. Keep an eye on some of those ridings as they could split the vote in a few (like Langley East) to allow the NDP to win. The party's leader, Trevor Bolin, is running the BC's most right wing riding in Peace River North. Compared to 2017 where they only ran 7 candidates, this party seems more organized and should get 1-3% of the vote overall, more in the Interior.

In Langley, my model is flipping what I feel will happen. I wouldn't be surprised to have Langley East going NDP (the Lib MLA was in trouble for voting against a rainbow crosswalk and the Conservatives are running a good campaign there) while Langley might just remain Liberals. The fact John Horgan went there on October 21st (while Wilkinson hasn't gone at all!) probably shows the NDP knows they can flip at least one riding there.

Can we expect any Liberals gain? I doubt it but I'd look at Surrey for such surprise. Local issues (RCMP) plus a softer NDP vote (2017 saw a big surge that might not repeat) could generate a surprise gain.

Ultimately, the seats to watch aren't there to decide whether the NDP will win a majority but on whether their majority will be huge, including massive gains in the interior. Personally, if the turnout tomorrow is low (for Saturday votes only), I'll start looking at seats like Abbotsford-Mission where we could see surprises.

Thanks for reading and see you at the next election (my guess is in the spring for the federal one). I'll write here and there in-between obviously.