Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Biggest Vote You Didn't Know Was Happening

Irish voters will vote on Friday. Why is that important? Well, Irish voters hold the future of Europe and more specifically the EU in their hands. They've already rejected the Lisbon Treaty once and a second No vote would throw a wrench in the efforts to modernize the EU. The EU is still run like an organization with 12 or 15 member states when it now has 27 and seems destined for further expansion in short order (Iceland and Croatia being prime candidates). The old consensus model which relied on easy agreements between a few heads of government is in desperate need of replacing. The European Parliament, to be blunt, needs a purpose. All of this has led to an effort for major reform. Those efforts became slightly less major after French and Dutch voters rejected the so-called EU Constitution. The watered-down Lisbon Treaty required only parliamentary votes from 26 out of 27 EU states. Only the Irish got to vote on it. Having failed to get the desired answer the first time, the EU is going back to the well with a slightly better offer. Europe will either have a new governing structure or be sent back to the drawing board after this vote. Yes, in PR friendly Europe, 4 million Irish voters will decide the fate almost 500 million people.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Outremont and the LPC

I've watched the farce going on in Outremont with a sort of masochistic fascination. The good news and the take away should be that a) the candidate the Liberals in Outremont seem to want (Martin Cauchon) will be the candidate and b) the guy who wanted (Denis Coderre) to obstruct the people's voice has resigned as Québec lieutenant. One news report breathlessly claimed Coderre was taking top advisers with him. Where exactly is he taking them? By all reports, Coderre will seek re-election in his riding of Bourassa which last time I checked was in the province of Québec. He will continue to sit in the Liberal caucus. So is he taking the brain trust with him onto the campaign trail for the PLC(Q) in Québec? Give me a break. The media has had forty years to fall in love with the "Liberal in-fighting" story and this is about as close as they've been able to get under Ignatieff. The reality remains that the party is remarkably united. Even most people (like me) who opposed Mr. Ignatieff's ascension to leadership have resigned themselves to his leadership. There are no rival camps plotting his demise. If Coderre ended up on the wrong side of a nomination battle and therefore felt undermined, so be it. It doesn't mean the party is divided. After all, the truly aggrieved party (or the one that theoretically should be) is by all reports so angry, she's running for the Liberals in another Québec riding. Sorry guys, this isn't a threat to Ignatieff's leadership. It doesn't mean anything for Liberal chances in Québec other than the fact that we now have two pretty good candidates in unheld ridings.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why I Use Polling Aggregates For My Projections

Because individual polls do crazy things especially at the regional level. Take the latest from Angus-Reid. Two jaw droppers. First in Ontario, the Tories have a 14 point lead (44-30-15). That would be eight points wider than the margin they had in 2008. Second, in order to close the Ontario gap nationally, the Liberals register a 35 (57-22-21) point lead in Atlantic Canada. That would be a full 22 points better than they did in 2008 in the region. Neither of these things are likely even close to true. Also of note: the Greens register 14% in BC and 3% in Alberta (they got 9.4% and 8.8% respectively in 2008 and Alberta was their best province in 2006). I really wish Canadian pollsters would put out fewer polls with bigger sample sizes and get results that are, to be blunt, believable.

Deutschland Decides 2009

With pan-European elections behind us, the second largest electorate in the EU will cast its votes this weekend. Angela Merkel should get a plurality of the vote, but with MMP in full force in Germany the results of the election could take awhile. The last time out, it took about a month for Merkel's right wing CDU to form a coalition with the left-wing SPD (the party of her predecessor Gerhard Schroder). This time it is expected that Merkel will either get close to or get the votes necessary to form an alliance with parties on the centre and right. German voters, however, won't know whether they'll get a right-left or right-centre coalition if they vote for Angela Merkel on Sunday. If that wasn't confusing enough, the electoral system is under fire for failing to be proportional enough. The economist explains:

"A quirk in the system could cast doubt over the poll’s overall fairness. If a party wins more districts in a state than the number of seats it ought to get according to its share of second votes, it keeps these “overhang seats”. This could happen in Baden-Württemberg. The constitutional court has demanded changes to this part of the electoral law by 2011."

Mix that with different candidates campaigning with different levels of intensity depending on whether or not they actually have to win a seat locally, and you start to see the joys of a proportional system. At any rate, by Halloween we should know the composition of the German government. It's simply shocking that Ontarians rejected a similarly wonderful system in 2007. If only they knew the joy of proportional representation.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Good News, For Once

Toronto Mayor David Miller has announced that he will not seek a third term in 2010. It will be interesting to see if the NDP finds a different candidate or holds their nose to back Smitherman.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Our Democracy Isn't Broken

I just finished watching the CPAC debate from last night on what to do about our "broken democracy" from last night. The entire premise is absurd. Canadian democracy functions ridiculously well, if not too well. The problem is Canada is a fairly diverse political landscape with fairly disparate views. When you get a Conservative leader from Alberta who would rank as one of the most conservative political leaders in the world and an NDP leader who would fit in with the most left-wing social democratic parties in the world, you may have a problem getting agreement between the two. When you throw in a politically inert separatist party that reliably receives 9-11% of the vote, regardless of how you count the votes, the problem becomes even worse. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. If you look around the world, countries with wide political spectra (Israel, Italy etc.) and countries with large established separatist movements (Belgium), have a hard time finding stable government. That's not a reflection of broken democracy, it's a function of a country with big disagreements. If you took a random person from each of the 308 ridings and put them in parliament, they wouldn't have any luck forming a stable government either.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Ignatieff Promises Intense Navel-Gazing

Sorry. What's the use of being in the peanut gallery if you can't at least throw some peanuts? I don't think our promise to Canadians should be that we will spend your money figuring out how the Conservatives wasted your money. Accountability? Great. How about passing laws about spending millions of government dollars on what is thinly-veiled partisan advertising? Giving money to the Auditor-General should not be the takeaway from an economic speech. Not with unemployment where it is. People need to know that there is a party who will look after them and their family. We'll worry about balancing the budget when people start getting back to work. I didn't hear Ignatieff's speech. The CBC report may be a grave distortion of what he said. I hope it is.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Seat Projection for Mid-September

An updated seat projection for your consideration. Polls are current as of September 17th.

National Picture:

CPC 120
LPC 107 (down 2)
BQ 50 (up 1)
NDP 31 (up 1)


BC: CPC 19, NDP 11, LPC 6
AB: CPC 28
SK: CPC 13, LPC 1
MB: CPC 7, LPC 4, NDP 3
North: CPC 1, LPC 1, NDP 1
ON: LPC 55, CPC 39, NDP 12
QC: BQ 50, LPC 18, CPC 7
NB: LPC 6, CPC 3, NDP 1
NS: LPC 6, CPC 3, NDP 1
NL: LPC 6, NDP 1

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Re-Elect Mark Holland

The Tories think they've got a big fish in former ambassador to Afghanistan Chris Alexander. They might have a big fish. The challenge for Mr. Alexander is he isn't running against some boomer backbencher, he's running against Mark Holland. The whole youth angle is less convincing when your opponent is six years your junior. The three time incumbent will not be easy to knock off. I'll run a full projection Sunday or Monday, but I just quickly updated my projection for Ajax-Pickering. Scroll down if you want to know how I get these numbers.

Projected Election Result for Ajax-Pickering based on polling aggregate from Sept. 17, 2009

CPC 34.2
LPC 48.4
NDP 7.57
GPC 9.52

I'm not sure a former ambassador has the name recognition to close that gap. It should be a fun one to watch.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Seat Projection Explanation (The Long Version)

After I started doing seat projections in July, I took a post to try to explain how my model works. However, I keep getting comments questioning my projections. So without to much overlap, I'm going to try again. I'll try to work this through from the beginning of my thought process. Being an avid follower of politics on both sides of the border, I often get envious of the amount of information available to American politics buffs. One of the things that particularly made me envious was Charlie Cook's Partisan Voting Index (PVI). In Canada, when we say a riding is "safe" we don't really have a quantitative measure, in the US, the PVI gives a decent idea. Originally, I set out to recreate a PVI type of model for Canadian politics. A parliamentary system changes the available data so what I decided to do with my non-existent stats background was compare each riding's vote share in the last three elections for the five major parties and other candidates to the results federally and provincially. I chose the last three elections because the parties and ridings are the same which makes things relatively simple. From that comparison, I derived a general positive or negative rating for each party in each riding. I quickly realized that these numbers are relatively meaningless by themselves but are relatively easily translated into a projection given some decent regional polling.

In other words, to generate the ratings I took for each previous election:

Riding Rating (2004)= Party Vote Share in Riding (2004) - (x% of Federal vote share (2004) x y% of Provincial Vote Share (2004))

I then added the three elections together:

Riding Rating = a% of Riding Rating 2004+b% of Riding Rating 2006 + c% of Riding Rating 2008
(where a%+b%+c% = 100%)

When I fell upon threehundredeight, it gave me a decent way of having a reliable polling aggregate without having to botch one together myself. The numbers I generate are a mixture of the federal and provincial polling added to that negative or positive rating I mentioned above.

In other words I manipulated the formula above to solve for riding vote share:

Party Share in Riding Today = Riding Rating + (x% of Federal Vote Share (Today) + y% of provincial Vote Share (Today))

Other projections use different methods to come to their conclusions. A lot of seat projections don't go riding by riding and just use regional and federal polling to estimate the number of seats a party is going to pick up based on previous experience. When there is a riding-by-riding component, it is usually based on non-polling data. For instance, when Lindsay Duncan defeated Rahim Jaffer in Edmonton-Strathcona, some projections predicted that result which would only be discernible from the facts on the ground or a local poll commissioned because of the local events. Since I have no ambition to keep tabs on 308 races or access to local polling, I pretty much put my numbers out without any changes. I can't tell sitting in Toronto whether a star candidate will be successful (see Thomas Mulcair) or a failure (see Glen Murray), therefore I don't try to guess. The projections that I've put out so far have only two changes from what my numbers tell me. I've noted them before. First, in Cumberland--Colchester--Musqodobolt Valley where Bill Casey's retirement makes my projection of 40.44% for an independent candidate look silly. Second, in Nunavut where there is no regional polling and there was a massive change in voter preference last time out.

As I've mentioned previously, my model seems to work best when riding results are fairly consistent with federal and provincial trends. If a party massively gains or loses fortune, it becomes more difficult to assess. This is more true if the change was between 2006 and 2008 than it is if it was between 2004 and 2006 because of the heavy weight I give to the 2008 result. Thus, there's probably ten or so ridings where I don't really trust my numbers. Outremont and Edmonton--Strathcona spring to mind. Whether or not my model will be proven accurate on election day is not yet tested. After the next election, I'll put out an accuracy measure. Well, probably two accuracy measures. One will be based on my last projection before the election which will rely on pre-election polling. The other one that I'd like to do is insert the election result federally and provincially into my model and see what that would have produced compared to the actual result. While that may be a little bit of revisionist history it does more accurately isolate my model as opposed to the combined accuracy or our various public polling firms. Until I can test the model with an election, you'll just have to take my projections for what they are. Finally if you're interested (and if you've read this far you might be), here's the data for the Conservative held riding of Pontiac (QC) from my most recent projection as a random example:

Riding Rating:
CPC + 2.98
LPC - 1.59
NDP -0.42
GPC -0.06
BQ -12.57

Federal Poll (from threehundredeight):
CPC 33.2
LPC 32.1
NDP 15.8
GPC 9.3
BQ 9.2

Quebec Poll (from threehundredeight):
CPC 16.1
LPC 30
NDP 10.9
BQ 36.8

CPC 25.92
LPC 29.25 *
NDP 12.44
GPC 7.26
BQ 24.23

* Projected winner

I hope that clarifies for everyone. I'll try to get a new projection out in the next few days (assuming Eric at threehundredeight updates Thursday or Friday). No promises between the by-election tomorrow and the holiday this weekend.

By-Election Madness

With a federal election off the table for the moment thanks to "socialists and separatists," we can turn our attentions to a couple of provincial by-elections. In Alberta, there was a shocker in Calgary. The Wild Rose Alliance (they make Harper look centrist) has won the riding from, well, the Tories. Calgary Grit has excellent analysis and some prognostications. I tend to agree with Dan on the possibility, however unlikely, of the Wild Rose Alliance forming the next government in Alberta. The ALP's track record of failure is not inspiring and Alberta tends to go right when they do change political preference. However, Alberta being Alberta, the most likely scenario is PC government from now until the end of time. If you want to talk electoral reform, the place to talk about it is in Alberta.

In Ontario, St. Paul's will be up for grabs tomorrow. I still think Dr. Hoskins will prevail. That said, between Michael Bryant's legal trouble, the HST and general by-election madness, you never know.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Seat Projection: PR Edition

Andrew Coyne was on the At Issue Panel claiming once again that world peace would break out if only we had a proportional system of election. Okay, he only claimed that parliament would be more functional. The only semi-rational argument here is that the incentive to seek a majority is removed, encouraging stronger levels of cooperation. Coyne of course ignores the fact that no matter what electoral system is in place, a relatively even level of support between the two major parties combined with around 10% of the electorate electing a politically inert separatist party is going to cause parliamentary difficulties. Belgium which uses a form of PR (albeit a complicated one), has suffered political crises of a similar nature because of the strong support for a Flemish separatist party. However, I will indulge Mr. Coyne's fantasy and present a seat projection for the current polling. I have assumed that the Constitutional provisions for provincial-based seats has meant a province by province PR division. I've left the North as is.

Here's the federal picture:

CPC 103
LPC 100
NDP 51
BQ 28
GPC 26

Now isn't that refreshingly stable. There's no chance the Liberals would want to bring down a parliament with a commanding 3 seat Conservative plurality. Oh and look, natural coalition partners for the Tories have magically emerged. Yes, PR has solved all of our problems. Thanks, Andrew Coyne.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Red-Blue Coalitions

There's a lot of talk about coalitions these days. Stephen Harper wants to use the NDP and the Bloc as doppelgangers of a possible Liberal government. The argument appears to be give me my majority or the separatists win. That's to be expected after last winter, but I doubt there's a lot of non-Tories out there worrying themselves about future parliamentary coalitions. Increasingly I've been thinking of a different coalition. I know it's probably blasphemy but hear me out. Canada needs a grand coalition between the Liberals and the Conservatives. It's the only way parliament can actually work. Assuming there's an election in the near future, the house that returns is probably going to be less functional than the one we have now. Check out my latest projection for an idea of the possible chaos. The odds of a Tory majority are slim. The odds of a Liberal majority are slimmer. Election 2009 would represent the fourth in five years. A fifth election would drive Canadians into a furor that could result in God only knows what. The only way for a sustainable government to emerge out of the next election is if the Liberals and Conservatives work together. Whoever wins the election gets to be Prime Minister. The rest is up for negotiation.

Locally, the city of Toronto's long standing red-blue coalition appears to be in the middle of a behind-the-scenes primary between former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory and Liberal Minister of Energy and Infrastructure George Smitherman for the right to oppose David Miller in November 2010. The NDP are the only functioning political party in Toronto politics and the centre-right has long had to work together if they want to win. The choice to my mind is obvious. John Tory has had his chances. He has lost too many times. He has already lost to David Miller once. While Tory is no more right wing than twice elected Mel Lastman, the argument that you need a right winger to knock off an NDP Mayor is curious. Why Smitherman who has a reputation as a tough and competent manager couldn't beat the weak and incompetent Miller is beyond me. The electorate in Toronto is basically centre-left. It was a mix of NDP and Liberal voters that gave Miller his two mandates. If Smitherman can choke off support from centre-left Liberals, Miller will run out of political real estate. Smitherman is also no stranger to fundraising from the centre-right. He had done so, and done so remarkably throughout his tenure as MPP for Toronto Centre. If George Smitherman wants to run, and most people seem to think he does, he would make a great mayor.

Post-Labour Day Seat Projection

With a whole bunch of new polls out, I thought it would be useful to update the seat projection. For those who may have missed my summertime projections, the model is based on current national and regional polling aggregates (taken from Eric over at threehundredeight) and the results of the last three federal elections. The model is designed to provide a projection for each of the 308 ridings. The seat projection is thus just an adding up of the riding projections. Since last time out, the Tories have made a bit of a move while Liberal fortunes have sagged.


CPC 120
LPC 109
NDP 30
BQ 49

Province by Province:

BC: CPC 19, NDP 10, LPC 7
AB: CPC 28
SK: CPC 13, LPC 1
MB: CPC 7, LPC 4, NDP 3
ON:LPC 55, CPC 39, NDP 12
QC: BQ 49, LPC 19, CPC 7
NB: LPC 6, CPC 3, NDP 1
NS: LPC 6, CPC 3, NDP 2
NL: LPC 6, NDP 1

An advantage to communicating the "always oppose" strategy know, is that some of the poll hit from causing another election may happen now as opposed to when the house actually falls.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Michael Ignatieff's Green Screen Challenge

The Liberal party of Canada does not have a great recent track record in political advertising. In the post-Chretien era the ads have been anywhere from over-the-top to well... do you remember the clapping Dion ad? The tradition continues with Michael Ignatieff's Green Screen Challenge. I once heard Warren Kinsella, who is supposed to be an expert, say that you should judge an ad by how it plays on mute. The logic being that nobody actually listens to commercials anymore. The new Ignatieff ads seem to fail Kinesella's test. The only thing you get from the Liberal ads is Iggy talking in front of a green screen and then the new Liberal slogan and logo. Do we deserve better than the Liberal Party of Canada? The French ads are particularly odd because they are basically attack ads that consist of letting Michael Ignatieff attack. Normally, attack ads feature dark images of your opposition followed if necessary by a brief sunny shot of your guy. The key thing is that the mud that gets slung is not seen leaving your guy's hand. Pick any famous attack ad in the last fifty years, that's the pattern. The only other departure that comes to mind are the Harper talk show ads in '04 but he still had 'average' Canadians sling the mud, he just concurred and offered his 'vision'. There are two paradoxical truths about attack ads: 1. Everybody hates them and 2. They work. One of the reasons the paradox holds is that in spite the fact that everybody hates them, they don't necessarily make the connection to the party or politician that made them.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Idle Election Speculation

The stage is increasingly set for a fall election. I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at what has changed to make this so and what the major players are thinking heading into the new parliamentary session. First, the big decision which I blew off in my last post by Michael Ignatieff. Ignatieff's decision is not made in isolation or even simply looking forward: it's looking back. The LPC and in particular those inside the Queensway (or those who act like they live inside the Queensway) are fed up with supporting the Tories. The media has the memory of a goldfish, so they haven't been talking about the fact that the Liberals haven't voted against the Tories on a confidence motion in the three and a half years of Tory government. That's a lot of abstaining and pride-swallowing from a lot of Liberal MP's. The party has twice threatened to bring down the government: in the run-up to the 2008 election and the coalition crisis last winter. Neither time, however, did the Liberal caucus get to rise in opposition. For a party which struggles to define itself clearly in opposition, not being able to oppose can create an identity crisis. The public not only doesn't know what the LPC stands for, but it doesn't even know what it stands against. I don't think Ignatieff looked at what are mediocre poll numbers and decided to oppose, I think he felt he had to given the last three and a half years.

For the Tories, the problem is and has always been finding a useful partner to make deals with. The Conservative Party is held together by a lot of things. The strongest glue is their mutual hatred of the LPC. The problem is that the LPC is the only party remotely close to them ideologically. The NDP and the Conservatives can agree on almost nothing outside their hatred of the LPC and that is not enough for the Tories to start spending billions more on public housing or the NDP to start supporting corporate tax cuts. The NDP is broke, it is probably circling around its seat-ceiling and will probably only lose seats in a future election. Those factors don't make it any easier for Jack Layton to find common ground with Stephen Harper. While the Bloc started it's political life under the leadership of a former Mulroney Minister of the Environment, it is now nowhere near the Tories politically. The political centre in Québec is decidedly left of where it is in the rest of the country and Harper has seemingly given up his pursuit of francophone voters. Even if there were similarities, the optics for Harper and Duceppe would be disastrous. The Tories have no desire to associate with separatists and the Bloc has no desire to work with the Tories or any federalist (I use the term loosely with Harper) federal government. If you add Stephen Harper's seeming inability to compromise, what you are left with is an unworkable government. That to me means election whether we want one or not. Politics may make strange bedfellows, but you still need a bed.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

In Other News, Duck Vows to Quack

Yes, the Leader of the Opposition has vowed to oppose. Some more tea leaves with regard to policy to read from Ignatieff's remarks. I love buzz words like "knowledge society," don't you? In all seriousness, expanded trade and relations with China and India get a thumbs up from me.
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