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 man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Williams Lake Mayor Walt Cobb and Coun. Scott Nelson announced Monday, Nov. 30, the city is providing ‘pandemic kits’ to all locally-licensed businesses. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake provides COVID-19 supplies to local businesses

Pandemic kits include non-medical masks, hand sanitizer, signage, including floor decals

Maureen Fulton of Williams Lake matched all four Extra numbers to win $500,000 from the Lotto 6/49 draw on Wednesday, Nov. 18. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake’s Maureen Fulton wins $500,000 in Lotto 6/49 draw

“I scanned it again and was in such a daze.”

The Horsefly Volunteer Fire Department is hosting a Christmas contest challenging all departments in the Cariboo to light up for Christmas. (Photo submitted)
Horsefly Volunteer Fire Department hosting Christmas decoration contest

The prize is a home sprinkler protection system

Williams Lake’s Tyson Delay hoists a 600-pound deadlift — a 35-pound personal record for the lakecity strength athlete. (Photo submitted)
Lakecity duo take Shellshock 5 strength event by storm

A lakecity duo made their mark — all while helping fundraise for… Continue reading

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest weekend of COVID-19 pandemic with 46 deaths; more than 2,300 cases

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides COVID-19 update

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (PIxabay.com)
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Still from a video surveillance camera of a man alleged to have stolen from several people at knife-point in Chilliwack (Rosedale) early on Nov. 28, 2020. (Facebook)
B.C. man defends his family against intruder, saves neighbour while wielding hockey stick

RCMP looking for footage that captures violent crime spree in Chilliwack

Most Read