POLITICS

Odds Of Harper Winning Again Falling Fast, Projections Suggest

09/08/2015 03:36 EDT | Updated 09/08/2015 03:59 EDT

Are we witnessing a Conservative collapse?

Stephen Harper's decision to have a lengthy campaign may come back to haunt him, recent polls suggest.

Although the Conservatives started this election campaign in a close race with the NDP, it seems the incumbent party is now third. The Tories are still in the race, thanks mostly to the West, but the odds of Stephen Harper's remaining prime minister are decreasing quickly.

The recent rise of the Liberals in Ontario is hurting both the Tories and the New Democrats.

If we only look at the four most recent polls (the ones that have polled, at least partly, in September), the Conservatives are in third in three of them (the Forum, Léger and Nanos). They are even as low as 24 per cent according to Forum (which already had the party this low last week).

At the same time, the NDP is down slightly (especially in Ontario), while the Liberals continue to rise (especially, not surprisingly, in Ontario).

Using these polls, we obtain the following projections. The calculations use past election results as well as the current polls to predict the winner in the 338 ridings. They include regional and incumbency effects. The confidence intervals and the chances of winning are obtained through the use of 5,000 simulations that account for the uncertainty of the polls as well as for the distribution of the vote and the electoral system. In other words, these simulations try to include every possible scenario, given the information we currently have.

Projections, as of Sept. 8:

too close to call

As you can see, the Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats are still first and favourite. Their seat count has slightly decreased since last week but their chances of winning have remained high.

On the other hand, the Tories have traded places with the Liberals. This is almost entirely because of Ontario. Justin Trudeau now enjoys a decent lead there (some polls give him as much as a 10-point lead) and is projected to win 60 seats, compared with 42 in the most recent previous projections. These gains are made from the Tories (10) and the NDP (eight).

If the recent polls are true, then it seems Ontario may have reached a turning point after weeks of an undecided three-way race. And this is hurting the other two major parties almost equally. The other changes mostly come from British Columbia but aren't comparable to what the seat-rich Ontario can provide.

So, is this really the current situation? Are we really observing a Conservative collapse that makes the race a contest of Liberals versus New Democrats? Compared with the 2011 results, we are talking of a drop of more than 10 points for the Conservatives.

This isn't that far from the collapse of the Progressive Conservatives in the recent Alberta election (16 percentage points).

Let's remember, however, that polls don't systematically agree. Ekos, Abacus and Innovative still had the Tories second not too long ago, sometimes just behind the NDP. Moreover, what exactly would have caused this sudden drop for the Conservatives, in particular in Ontario? Nik Nanos suggests the migrant crisis as the trigger. We also have to remember that the economy was recently officially declared in recession and that this is the top issue for the voters. Maybe the impact of this announcement was a little slow to take effect.

The Conservatives' decline is especially hard to explain since their supporters have consistently been found to be the most committed. For instance, the Léger poll shows 67 per cent of Conservative voters ready to vote Tory regardless of what happens, a proportion far superior to the 54 per cent of Liberals and 47 per cent of New Democrats in such a situation.

Forum reaches similar conclusions asking a slightly different question. The Conservatives have less potential volatility than the other parties. Their ceiling (i.e.: number of people who might consider voting for them) is very low, about 35 to 40 per cent, but at least their support is strong.

A collapse as bad as suggested by Forum's polling is quite unlikely at this point, but dropping below the 30 per cent threshold is completely possible. What isn't clear is whether we are observing some variations within the margins of error or if there really is a trend. What has been more evident so far is the upward trend for the Liberals, something we noticed early on. It seems this rise could finally be paying off for Trudeau.

We obviously need more data and evidence, as three polls don't make a trend — these projections are based only on a few recent polls and are more indicative of where we could be heading than where we really are heading.

The fact is that we had a three-way race and we still do, it's just that two parties may be heading in opposite directions right now.

The NDP is still ahead. We have shown in the past that the NDP could win without Ontario, but it can't drop too much there and rely only on Quebec. Harper needs to do more during the second half of this campaign if he wants to keep his job. He may well be on the edge of a collapse.

As for Trudeau, it seems he can keep doing what he has done so far. Canadians, and Ontarians in particular, seem to be receptive.

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Information about the recent polls in the article:

Forum poll conducted between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1. 1,384 respondents contacted by phone (IVR). Margins of error are 2.53 percentage points 19 times out of 20 for the NDP and less for the other parties. Question asked: "A federal election has been called for October 19. Which party are you most likely to vote for in this election?"

Léger poll conducted Aug. 31 and Sept. 2. 2,119 respondents from the Léger online panel. Margins of error are 1.97 percentage points 19 times out of 20 for the NDP and less for the other parties. Question asked: "If a federal election were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote for?"

Nanos poll conducted between Sept. 4 and Sept. 5. 1,200 respondents contacted by phone. Margins of error are 2.76 percentage points 19 times out of 20 for the NDP and less for the other parties. Question asked: "For those parties you would consider voting for federally, could you please rank your top two current local preferences?"

Bryan Breguet has a B.Sc in economics of politics and a M.sc in economics from the University of Montreal. He founded TooCloseToCall.ca in 2010 where he provides electoral analysis and projections. He has collaborated with the National Post, Journal de Montreal and l’Actualité.

He will provide analysis and updates for The Huffington Post Canada throughout the federal election campaign. For riding by riding projections, visit his interactive simulator.

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