Former prime minister Kim Campbell, right, waits to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Monday, October 24, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Former prime minister Kim Campbell, right, waits to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Monday, October 24, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

ELECTION 2019: It’s so close, it could come down to who turns out to vote

Black Press Media’s polling analyst on the origins of predictive seat modelling in Canada

By Bruce Cameron

The contentious technique of predictive seat modelling is used in political campaigns to overlay aggregated polling data from numerous sources onto the electoral map of Canada.

Just like polling, with its famous “margin of error” caveat, seat modelling is an imprecise undertaking. But that doesn’t stop people from using it to hazard a guess at what Parliament will look like on Oct. 22.

In most predictive models, which incorporate multiple poll results woven together with historic voting patterns, B.C.’s 42 seats could prove the decisive factor in determining which party forms government.

The current models reflect the tight polling numbers, with a range of outcomes from a small Liberal majority to a Conservative minority.

Despite a virtual tie in overall popular vote intention recently, the way the votes are distributed gives the edge to the Liberals in vote-rich areas like greater Montreal and Toronto.

But with 338 seats in the balance, there is a big margin for error. The 2019 election is so close at this point that most pollsters are now busy trying to project the turnout rate among different groups of voters. Why?

A former colleague of mine, Darrel Bricker, now CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, oversees election predictions in dozens of countries around the world.

“With so many seats so close, it will come down to getting a precise read on who is going to turn out and who isn’t. Especially by party. None of the models do this,” Bricker said.

Looking back at the 2015 federal election, the Liberals benefited greatly by a surge in turnout, especially among younger voters who do not traditionally vote in big numbers.

In 2019, the Conservatives could benefit if the turnout rate drops because their core voters are believed to be more motivated to get out to the polls.

Many elections ago, when I worked at the Angus Reid Group with Darrel Bricker, and seat projection modelling was in its infancy, most pollsters and campaign professionals relied more on experience than on sophisticated data analysis.

The Angus Reid slogan at the time summed it up: “Matching science with insight.” The organization worked diligently in the early 1990s to try various approaches to the problem.

Near the end of a long and brutal campaign for the Progressive Conservatives in 1993 (led by Kim Campbell at the time), our analytics team came up with the first predicted seat total by party based on dozens of polls we had conducted.

One week before the election, the polls were showing the PCs tanking – victims of their own terrible campaigning epitomized by Campbell quip that “an election is not the time to discuss serious issues.”

Those weren’t the party’s only self-inflicted wounds. The splintering of PC votes to the upstart Reform Party had a dramatic impact as well, with Preston Manning’s new movement poised to pick up a swath of seats in Western Canada. Meanwhile, the Bloc Quebecois, led by the charismatic Lucien Bouchard, was cutting into the Quebec base of PC support.

As Angus Reid Group’s senior management team gathered for discussion and libations in a hotel room at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa that October, our senior data analyst revealed the output from his team’s months-long modelling work.

We all felt confident that our data, showing the Liberals under Jean Chretien surging and the Progressive Conservatives under Campbell tanking, would suggest a Liberal victory, likely with a strong Conservative opposition. After all, for the previous eight years, Brian Mulroney had led two large majority PC governments.

But our first prototypical model in October 1993 predicted a grand total of three PC seats. Three.

We all sat there at a loss for words. There was no way we were going to go public with a seat projection model that called for three PC seats, especially since the previous PC government had 156 Members of Parliament.

One week later, on election night, we realized we had erred on the side of caution. Yes, Chretien clawed and scraped his way to a Liberal majority. And for the first and only time in Canada’s history, a separatist party, the Bloc Quebecois, became the Official Opposition.

But the real shocker that night was the Progressive Conservatives being reduced to only two seats. Our model, much maligned internally, was accurate after all.

Fast forward to 2019 and one thing is clear: The outcome on Oct. 21 remains too close to call. But like a quarter century ago, the prospect of the Bloc Quebecois holding the balance of power on Oct. 22 remains a real possibility.

Bruce Cameron, Black Press Media’s polling analyst, is the founder of Return On Insight. Follow him on Twitter @roitweets

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

A collaborative genomic research project is underway to map the movements of 118 Northwest sockeye populations to better inform management decisions on at-risk stocks. (File photo)
Genomic study tracks 118 Northwest B.C. sockeye populations

Development of new tool will be used to help harvesters target healthy groups

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Most Read