Updated final projections for BC (projecting the impact of the mail-in ballots)

The BC elections was technically on Saturday October 24th. But with over half a millions of mail-in ballots (representing almost a third of the total votes) not counted for at least another week (don't ask why, BC law is weird), I thought I could try to update the 'projections'.

The final projections did very well. Let's face it, it wasn't a hard election to predict. The biggest surprise was the Green winning a third seat in West Vancouver. Otherwise everything was pretty much as expected with maybe the exception that the BC NDP won the popular vote by 'only' 10 points. This is significantly below the projected 49% in my final numbers. It's possible the polls were overestimating the NDP (and underestimating the Green) but I believe this is mostly due to the mail-in ballots not being counted. I actually believe that once they are, the polls will prove to have been accurate for the NDP but to have overestimated the BC Liberals (most likely due to many Liberal voters staying home).

Update: Election BC has released the number of mail-in ballots per riding and it seems there were, in total, over 644k ballots! Way more than we thought. Looking at my estimates below, you can likely add 1-3 ridings flipping NDP. Langara is now flipping based on my method 3. Fraser-Nicola and Kamloops-North Thomson are very close, so is Surrey South. So best case scenario is now 62 for the NDP but average scenario is still 'only' 59.

Here a quick summary:

- All evidence point to mail-in ballots being very favourable to the NDP.

- The exact magnitude of the impact depends on many assumptions, but it's safe to bet the NDP will ultimately flip a few more seats and finish with more than 55 seats.

- The best estimate is for the NDP to finish with 59 seats, the Liberals with only 25 and the Green to keep the 3 from election night.

- Abbotsford-Mission, Surrey-White Rock and Vernon-Monashee are likely to flip while Vancouver Langara, Fraser-Nicola and Kamloops-North Thomson are more uncertain (the last two mostly because of the relatively low number of mail-in ballots).

1. Estimating the mail-in ballots

We know that Elections BC has received 525,000 mail-in ballots (out of 724,000 requested). Given that 546.877 voted on election day and 670,324 voted in advance (plus 85,000 absentee ballots), the mail-in ballots represent almost 30% of the total. This is a significant number and more than enough to change the popular vote province-wide as well as flipping some seats.

You probably heard that those ballots will help the BC NDP. How do we know that? Mostly because some polls gave us this indication. Specifically, Ipsos and Insights West both had numbers broken for mail-in, advance and election day. Mainstreet and Angus-Reid only had the early (mail-in + advance) vs same day but it's still providing us with some info.

First, let's compare the early votes to the election day one. Early being the mail-in and advance votes.

As you can see, they mostly all agree (well Ipsos a little bit less). The early vote is likely more favourable to the NDP than the votes on e-day. The issue for us is naturally that the advance votes were counted but not the mail-in, so 'early' isn't super useful to us.

Let's look at the mail-in ballots:

So the NDP is projected between 54 and 59% in those mail-in ballots, an almost 30-points lead over the Liberals!

Maybe a better approach is to compare the ratio of (the voting intentions of) mail-in to election day (advance + same day). Doing a ratio can potentially eliminate the error of some pollsters (a poll might have been over or underestimating one party but as long as the bias is the same, doing a ratio will work).

Using a few assumptions, I also estimated this ratio for Mainstreet and Angus-Reid. What is remarkable is how similar those ratios are across firms. So, all in all, I am quite confident ins saying that the NDP will increase its share of votes once we count the mail-in ballots. By how much? My best estimates is that the NDP will finish around 48%, the Liberals around 32-33% and the Green at 15-16%.

2. How many seats will flip?

Method 1: use the newly estimated shares of votes, plug them in the model and see what happens. This is the least sophisticated method but let's start here.

Doing so gives us the following:

BC NDP: 61 seats

BC Liberals: 24

BC Green: 2

Let's improve those with some of the results we already have. For instance the model was clearly underestimating the Green in West Vancouver. The model was also overestimating the NDP in Cariboo-North (or the Interior in general). Skeena also went better for the Liberals than expected. So if we fix those errors (as well as Columbia River-Rivelstoke), a better projection would be:

BC NDP: 59

BC Liberals: 25

BC Green: 3

Compared to the current results, Vancouver Langara is now NDP (well it was already NDP in my original projections), so is Fraser Nicola. Vernon also flipped so did Kamloops-North Thompson. Abbotsford-Mission didn't flip, neither did Surrey-White Rock.

Method 2: apply the province-wide swing to each riding

The swing caused by mail-in ballots is about +3% for the NDP, -2-3% for the Liberals. If we do this in every riding (using the current results as base), we get 6 ridings to flip Liberals to NDP (Vancouver Langara, Kamloops-North Thompson, Fraser-Nicola, Abbotsford Mission, Surrey-White Rock and Vernon), so:

NDP: 61

Liberals: 23

Green: 3

Similar results as the first method. The caveat is that the swing caused by mail-in ballots won't be uniform, especially since some ridings have a much higher share of mail-in ballots.

Method 3: Use the estimated ratio and apply it to every riding, taking into account how many mail-in ballots there are.

From the ratios above, we know the mail-in ballots should be, in average, more favourable to the NDP. Specifically, if the NDP was at 10%, it should be at 10%*1.24=12.4% in the mail in ballots. Assuming the percentage of returned mail-in ballots is the same in every riding as it is at the provincial level (so 525k/724k=72%), we can thus estimate the swing in every riding.

Let's use Abbotsford Mission as our example. The current results are 38.3% for the NDP and 39.3% for the Liberals. That's out of 17,983 votes in total. We also know there were 8,119 mail-in ballot requests in this riding. If 72% returned their ballots, it means an extra 5,846 votes to count.

Since the NDP was at 38.3% with the advance+same day results, this party should be at 38.3%*1.24=47.5% in the mail-in ballots. Given there are 5,846 of them, that's an extra 2,776 votes for the NDP. Doing similar calculations for the Liberals, we get an extra 1,677votes. Given that the Liberal candidate had a lead of 188 votes, the mail-in ballots easily allow the NDP candidates to win with an overall score of 40.6% of the vote compared to 36.7%. So we have NDP climbing by 2 points and the Liberals dropping by 3 for a total swing of 5, very similar to the other method (it was expected).

Using this method, we get the following seats to flip: Abbotsford Mission, Vernon-Monashee, Surrey-White Rock and Vancouver Langara.

Fraser-Nicola is not flipping and the Liberals kept the seat with 40.6% versus 40.1%! Mostly due to a low number of mail-in ballots. Kamloops-North Thomson would also remain Liberals by the smallest margin (less than 1%). We get a few 'odd' results with this method as we would expect Fraser-Nicola, where the BC Lib have a lead of 3%, to flip before Vancouver Langara (lead of 5%). But the mail-in ballots represent 38% in Langara but only 14% in Fraser-Nicola. So the seat doesn't flip.

Edit: Surrey South might also flip given the really high number of mail-in ballots. Unlikely but not impossible.

Overall, the results would be:

NDP: 59 seats

Liberals: 25

Green: 3

I believe this is the most realistic results. While the NDP might flip 1 or 2 more, we also need to remember that I have so far only looked at ridings that could flip from Liberals to NDP. The polls really don't seem to indicate this as a possibility but we can't ignore a few odd ridings out there. While it's reasonable to assume the overall mail-in ballots will help the NDP, we can't exclude that some ridings will see mail-in ballots more favourable to the Liberals. Richmond-South Centre for instance could well flip NDP to Liberals. Similarly, Michael Lee in Vancouver Langara has so far done better than projected. So it's not unreasonable to expect him to also do better among the mail-in ballots and ultimately saving his seats. So we could have Langara remaining red but Fraser-Nicola flipping, thus cancelling each other out. That's why 59-25-3 is the most likely scenario.


It's almost guaranteed that the mail-in ballots will advantage the NDP over the Liberals. We can expect this party to increase its popular votes by anywhere from 1 to 4% while the Liberals will likely end up below 33%. The Green should move much.

Regarding seats, there are really 6 ridings to watch: Vancouver Langara, Surrey-White Rock, Abbotsford Mission, Fraser-Nicola, Vernon-Monashee and Kamloops-North Thomson. The NDP should be able to flip anywhere from 3 to 6 of those.