Monday, September 22, 2014

Election Night Watching Guide

Welcome to New Brunswick Election Night 2014!

Here are some things I will be watching for tonight.

1. Bellwether ridings

Earlier this year, I tried to identify the tipping point riding for New Brunswick elections.  No matter how you diced the numbers, these 7 ridings came up as most likely to be decisive in the election outcome.

  • Portland-Simonds
  • Kent South
  • Moncton South
  • Quispamsis
  • Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin
  • Memramcook-Tantramar
  • Miramichi Bay-Neguac
None of these are perfect ridings to measure.  Memramcook-Tantramar has the potential to be a four-way race.  Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin and Portland-Simonds have the potential to be three-way races.  Quispamsis is a fascinating test case in whether a strong local candidate can survive a large provincial trend against him.

However, if it looks as though one party is winning all or most of these ridings, they are likely to win the election.  If there is a split decision among these ridings, it should be a long night.

2. Minor party leaders' seats

All three of New Brunswick's "third party" leaders have an outside chance of winning their seats.  I would give David Coon a 50-50 chance in his riding, Dominic Cardy a 40-60 chance and Kris Austin a 25-75 chance.

Fredericton South

David Coon is running here and appears to be well organized.  His big signs went up fast and he is winning the lawn sign war.  He has focused almost exclusively on campaigning in the riding and has had two visits from Elizabeth May.  The Greens clearly have an all-in strategy here, which proved very effective for them with May and Saanich-Gulf Islands in the last federal election.  On paper, it would be difficult to craft a more left-leaning urban riding in the province.  The municipal wards within this riding stood alone in voting for left-wing professor Matt Hayes over Brad Woodside in the last municipal election.  The NDP would likely have won this riding in 2003 had these boundaries been in place.  And the Liberals would have eked out a narrow win in 2010 despite losing provincewide by 14 points.

But Coon faces tough competition.  Energy Minister Craig Leonard stands for the PCs and former Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock stands for the NDP.  The Liberals are running a lesser known candidate in Roy Wiggins.  With an independent candidate on the ballot as well, it is conceivable that the victor could take this riding with less than 25% of the vote, and likely it will be won with less than 35%.

Fredericton West-Hanwell

Several observers were surprised when Dominic Cardy opted to run here rather than the seemingly safer bet of Fredericton South.  Perhaps he feared splitting the vote with Coon who announced for Fredericton South before Cardy chose a riding.  Or perhaps he was trying to make a show of a "new NDP" who didn't need to put its leader into its safest seat.

This will be a tight three-way race between Cardy, PC incumbent from Fredericton-Silverwood Brian Macdonald and Liberal newcomer Bernadine Gibson.  Green candidate Gayla MacIntosh has signs up and was runner up for the Liberal nomination and probably will get into the double digits of percentage support.

Cardy has been traveling all of the province and not spending as much time in his riding as Coon or Austin.  Is this because he has the riding all sewn up?  Or is it because he hopes a rising tide provincewide will lift all boats?  We'll find out tonight.

Fredericton-Grand Lake

Kris Austin rounds out the party leaders running in the Fredericton region.  He took an impressive 20% of the vote in the old riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown despite having founded his party just months before the vote.  He took most of his base with him to Fredericton-Grand Lake, having had over 30% of the vote in the polls that moved into this new riding.  That means in the overall riding of Fredericton-Grand Lake, despite there having not been a People's Alliance candidate in half the riding, he starts with a base of 15%.  The question is, can he expand his appeal beyond the Minto-Chipman area and into the Fredericton part of the riding?  In a three-way race with the PCs and Liberals, 40% of the vote should be more than enough.

3. Interesting races

The Fredericton South race covered above is one of the most interesting in the province.  Other interesting races include:


This riding and its predecessors have voted with the government in every election going back to the creation of single-member ridings in 1974.  Blaine Higgs has a strong personal brand, perhaps unprecedented for a non-party leader in recent New Brunswick political history.  If the Liberals win big as polls suggest, this will be a fascinating test of whether or not a strong local candidate can trump a provincial trend.


The old riding of Tantramar (which makes up about 70% of this new riding) was the best seat for the Greens in 2010.  The NDP won this seat in 1982 and nearly won it in a 1997 by-election.  The PCs have held it since 1997, but it voted strongly for the Liberals in 1987, 1991 and 1995.

This race features two incumbents: PC Mike Olscamp who has held Tantramar since 2006 and Liberal Bernard LeBlanc who has held Memramcook-Lakeville-Dieppe since 2006.  Both have served in cabinet when their respective parties formed government.  The NDP is running a well known candidate in Helene Boudreau, though she is better known in Dieppe than in this riding.  Margaret Tusz-King who delivered the strong Green showing in 2010 is not offering again, but Megan Mitton seems to be a candidate cut from the same cloth and should do well.

This is probably the most competitive incumbent vs. incumbent race in the province and also is the only riding aside from Fredericton South which offers the potential for a four-way race.

Add to that that this was identified as a potential tipping point riding based on the results within these new boundaries going back to 1995.


Though not on the list of tipping point ridings, this was very close.  Based on its past results, it should lean slightly to the Liberals and is a seat they could win in an election they lose overall.  The question is, what will the Andy Harvey affair have done to the Liberals' chances here?  Harvey has seen the charges dropped and is playing the victim card.  Does that hurt or help?  It will be curious to see how the results stack up vs. what the expectation would have been for generic candidates in a generic election.

Saint John Lancaster

The infamous Abel LeBlanc is making a comeback bid in the riding he represented from 2003-2010, but this time for the NDP.  Is Abel's distinct salt-of-the-earth brand enough to propel him over the top in this riding which has never been a bastion of NDP strength?

Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West

This is one of two (with Memramcook-Tantramar) incumbent vs. incumbent races which interests me.  Rick Doucet has won this riding easily, and its predecessors were regularly won by Liberals Eric Allaby and Sheldon Lee going back to 1987 and 1978 respectively.  However, David Alward has been making a heavy play for both Greater Saint John and rural anglophone New Brunswick to save his skin.  With the outspoken Dr. Jim Parrott running here, Doucet faces a far more able opponent than he has seen before.  Even with a likely Liberal victory if polls are to be believed, this seat has an outside potential of switching hands in the opposite direction.


This riding features incumbent Bev Harrison standing for the NDP.  The NDP has a bit of a history in this riding as it is made up of parts of the old Kings West (where former party leader George Little got more than 30% of the vote in the 1980s) and the old East Saint John (which the NDP won in a 1984 by-election).

Hampton-Kings was a Tory stronghold when Harrison held it for the PCs from 1999 onward, but this is a much different riding having traded the rural Kingston Peninsula for suburban and urban parts of Saint John.

Nonetheless, there is a strong PC base here and with the PCs and NDP running hard, the Liberals could  sneak up the middle.  It is no coincidence that Gallant and Cardy both spent time here over the weekend.

4. Signs of an NDP breakthrough

The NDP's best hopes are Fredericton West-Hanwell, Fredericton South, Saint John Harbour and Hampton.  It is conceivable to me that they could win any one of these ridings.  For them to expand beyond this base, they probably need to have had sufficient strength to have won all four.

So, if the NDP starts winning some of the following seats in their second tier, they have probably won 4+ seats: Fredericton North, Portland-Simonds, Saint John East, Memramcook-Tantramar.

5. Signs of a Liberal sweep

The Liberals seem to be running strong candidates and strong campaigns in two ridings which would tend to be Conservative strongholds: Gagetown-Petitcodiac and New Maryland-Sunbury.  Despite strong campaigns, it would be a major accomplishment to win either of these seats for the Liberals.  If they win both, they are almost certainly in the 40+ seat range.

6. Signs of a PC comeback

If the PCs manage to steal Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West or Miramichi from the Liberals, it is probably a good night for them.  If they hold seats like Victoria-la-Vallee, Fredericton-Grand Lake or Restigouche West they are likely to be re-elected.

Modeling the election result

As I detailed earlier, I have built a seat model for New Brunswick.  You input polling data and based on the results of the last 5 elections and other factors, it predicts the results in New Brunswick's new 49 ridings.

On the eve of the election, there are two fresh polls to consider.  A poll from local firm Corporate Research Associates taken Sept. 15-18 and a poll by ubiquitous robo-poller Forum Research taken on Sept. 21.

There are pros and cons to both of these polls.

CRA has an excellent track record in New Brunswick and came within two points of calling the 2010 election.  It also has decades of experience polling New Brunswick and there is as much art as science in finding a truly representative sample, especially in a relatively small province with distinct regional variations.  The disadvantage is that the data is older and developments like the CTV Leaders' Debate were missed.

Forum has the advantage of recentness and a huge sample size.  In fact, I do not think I have ever seen an opinion poll done in New Brunswick with a simple this large.  However, Forum's methodology is one which has incredibly low response rates.  And because it was done just on one day, they may have missed a variety of voter types.  Forum's track record is spotty, particularly when it polls smaller jurisdictions where getting a random sample is trickier.

CRA says it is an almost certain Liberal win with Liberals at 45, PCs at 36, NDP at 11 and Greens at 6.  Forum agrees for the smaller parties, but has the PCs and Liberals tied at 40 points each.

Forum has their own seat model which says a 40-40 tie would yield a 26-23 PC majority.  My model agrees with that assessment.

CRA's poll paints a completely different picture: a two-to-one Liberal majority of 33-16.

Who's right?  We'll know in about 24 hours.

There are a few ways to crunch these numbers, and I'll be curious to see how Eric Grenier deals with it over at

In my gut, I trust CRA's knowledge of the region and track record above that of Forum.  So I would give CRA double the relative weight of Forum.  However, because Forum polled more than 4 times as many people, they would still get the advantage.

If you combine the polls and weight Forum's sample at 50%, you get a combined sample of 1014: 333 from CRA and 681 from Forum.  That gives a 43-37 Liberal win in the popular vote and a 30-19 win in the seat count.

That will be the official nbpolitico projection for the election.  My gut prediction was posted earlier and is 38-8-2-1.  It assumes a few strong local campaigns for the third parties that pollsters will have missed, and that New Brunswickers will have been influenced by the nine point lead in the CRA poll and given the Liberals a late boost through bandwagon effect.  It is hard to say what effect the Forum poll will have on voter perceptions; will it being released at midnight tonight it probably won't make the papers and many media outlets have a policy of not reporting polls on election day.

A brief look at the ridings

As I have done in 2006 and 2010, I'm going to do a quick run down of each riding and my gut read on them.  The result is Liberals 38, PCs 8, NDP 2, Greens 1.

Restigouche West

Safe Liberal.  This riding covers almost all of Restigouche County except for Campbellton, Dalhousie and Belledune.  The Liberal friendly areas in the central and eastern parts of Restigouche County greatly outnumber the Tory-leaning swing areas of the west.


Safe Liberal.  Donald Arseneault has proved he can weather difficult storms and get re-elected by large margins.  And this time he doesn't even face a storm.


Safe Liberal.  This riding elected a non-incumbent in the Liberal wipe out of 1999.

Bathurst West-Beresford

Safe Liberal.  While this riding could theoretically vote PC in the right election, the PCs are not likely to win provincewide and do not have a strong candidate here.

Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isodore

Safe Liberal.  Though this is an incumbent-versus-incumbent battle, on paper this seat is among the safest for the Liberals in the province.  Ryan Riordon would have been wiser to run in Bathurst West where he might have been re-elected.


Safe Liberal.  This seat has only elected PCs in exceptionally good circumstances for their party (in 1982 when the Liberal leader was from rival town Tracadie and in a 2001 by-election when their choice was the government side of the house or opposition).


Leans Liberal.  This seat has been a stronghold for Tory Paul Robichaud since 1999, however under boundary changes it has gone from a riding 7 points more favourable to the PCs than the provincial average to 6 points more favourable to the Liberals.  That means in a generic election, the PCs would need to win the popular vote by 6 points to win here.  That outcome is highly unlikely.  I will say "leans" only because in my gut I have doubts Robichaud could lose despite what the numbers say.


Leans Liberal.  The Liberals seem to have finally got their organizational act together here after years of forfeiting the seat to the PCs.  Claude Landry is not nearly the popular figure that Elvy Robichaud was.

Miramichi Bay-Neguac

Leans Liberal.  This seat has gone Liberal in all elections except for big PC sweeps which we are not likely to see this time.  I will say leans only because the Liberal candidate is an anglophone which may not play well in the francophone parts of the riding and because Brian Gallant only attracted 250 people to his closing rally here when Shawn Graham brought out 600 in 2006.


Safe Liberal.  Bill Fraser is the far more popular local MLA than Robert Trevors and Miramichi has only once re-elected a PC MLA (Tanker Malley).

Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin

Leans PC.  This is a riding where the PC "say yes" message is likely to resonate particularly strongly.

Kent North

Safe Liberal.  This riding is a merger of the most Liberal parts of two of the most Liberal ridings in the province.

Kent South

Leans Liberal.  This riding is quite different than the old Kent South and is far more favourable to the Liberals.  This combined with the shale gas issue does not bode well for Claude Williams.

Shediac Bay-Dieppe

Safe Liberal.  On paper, one of the best seats in the province for the Liberals.  Add in that the Liberal leader is running here and it's all over.


Safe Liberal. This is the only remaining riding on the map that has only ever voted for one party in its entire history.


Leans Liberal.  Mike Olscamp is locally popular and strong NDP and Green campaigns may prevent the Liberals from overcoming that, but my gut still says this seat will probably to go Liberal.


Safe Liberal.  Won handily by Liberals in 2010's wipe out.

Moncton East

Leans Liberal.  If the PCs can turn things around, this is a seat that can go their way, but if the 9 point CRA lead holds or expands, this should be a Liberal win.

Moncton Centre

Safe Liberal.  This incumbent-versus-incumbent fight should not be too interesting, it is mostly fought on Collins' home turf and on Liberal friendly turf.  Rumour had is that Blais wanted to run in the safer riding of Moncton Southwest but was rejected.

Moncton South

Leans Liberal.  This riding should go Liberal, the question is does the "Turkey Lady"'s personal brand trump her party brand?

Moncton Southwest

Safe Liberal.  Sherry Wilson has rebranded herself from a Riverview town councillor, to a Petitcodiac resident to an opportunist who will run in whatever riding will take her.

Moncton Northwest

Leans Liberal.  If John Betts had re-offered, this would be in the PC column.  I think with popular local councillor Brian Hicks, the Liberals have a good shot.


Leans Liberal.  Some of the more Tory-friendly polls were shed to Albert making this riding more and more competitive for the Liberals.  Word on the ground is that Tammy Rampersaud has out-campaigned Bruce Fitch.


Safe PC.  Very difficult for the PCs to lose here without a vote split and there is no split.


Leans Liberal.  I have lost count of the number of times Brian Gallant has visited this riding with local candidate Barak Stevens who appears to be a good fit for the riding and has worked hard.  "Incumbent" PC Ross Wetmore has represented a small fraction of the riding and I am told has not campaigned aggressively in the new parts of the riding.

Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins

Leans Liberal.  The PC campaign has been here several times and "say yes" should resonate, but the ceiling for that vote seems to be around 40-45%.  With no strong NDP or Green campaigns here and former MLA LeRoy Armstrong eating into the PC vote under the PANB banner, the Liberals may have an opportunity here.


Leans Liberal.  This riding could probably go any of three ways, but with Bev Harrison stealing a lot of the PC vote, I think the Liberals sneak up the middle.


Leans PC.  This riding has always gone with the provincewide winner, but my gut says Blaine Higgs' personal brand will break that record.


Leans Liberal.  Ted Flemming's bravado is perhaps a bit too much and the Liberals have been campaigning very, very hard.

Saint John East

Leans Liberal.  This riding has traditionally only gone PC when there has been a huge wave and they've been aided by the NDP splitting the vote.  The NDP has a strong candidate here, but the PCs do not benefit from the large wave.


Leans Liberal.  Trevor Holder won by about 100 votes in both 2003 and 2006 against a weaker Liberal candidate on friendlier ground.  This new riding takes in a lot of Liberal friendly polls from the old Saint John East riding and features a strong Liberal candidate.  Without a big PC wave across the province or in Saint John, the Liberals should win here.

Saint John Harbour

Leans NDP.  The NDP nearly won this riding in 2010 despite having a campaign focused wholly in Tracadie-Sheila.  Dominic Cardy has regularly visited the Port City and this riding in particular and the NDP has campaigned hard.

Saint John Lancaster

Leans Liberal.  No PC MLA has been re-elected here since 1982.

Kings Centre

Safe PC.  This is one of the strongest PC seats on the map.

Fundy-The Isles-Saint John West

Leans Liberal.  Normally I would put this as safe Liberal, but Dr. Parrott makes it interesting.


Leans Liberal.  This riding has just slipped through the Liberals' hands in close elections like 2003 and 2006.  They nominated their candidate early and have campaigned hard.


Leans PC.  This is far less friendly terrain for Jody Carr than his previous ridings, but he is a hard worker and will be hard to beat.

Fredericton-Grand Lake

Leans Liberal.  This riding is excellent on paper for the Liberals.  Their only barrier is if Kris Austin splits the anti-government vote and delivers the riding to the PCs, or manages to eke out a win himself.

Fredericton North

Leans Liberal.  This riding could not be better for the Liberals if it were gerrymandered. Strong NDP and Green campaigns could muck it up for them though.


Leans Liberal.  Randy McKeen was designed to be the Liberal candidate for a riding like this and should be able to ride a strong cluster of anti-fracking vote to a win.

Fredericton South

Leans Green.  This riding is going to see some fascinating splits.  The ceiling for PC support in a left-leaning riding like this one should be about 30%, but that could be enough to win.  The Liberals have a lesser known candidate, but he has worked hard and benefits from the wind of a likely Liberal victory at his back.  The NDP's Kelly Lamrock is well known and has been working hard.  David Coon is widely respected and people seem to think they'd like him in the legislature even if they don't like his politics, a bit of an Elizabeth Weir factor.  Moreover, his campaign appears to be the best organized of the four.  Don't be surprised if we're well into next week doing recounts for this nail-biter.

Fredericton West-Hanwell

Leans NDP.  This is no shoe-in for Dominic Cardy, but I believe he has earned a seat in the legislature with his aggressive campaign and voters have a way of recognizing that.

New Maryland-Sunbury

Leans PC.  This is on paper one of the four strongest PC seats in the province.  The Liberals have been running HARD here and there may be some Carr fatigure with the third brother now on the ballot.  However, the riding's PC leanings and a strong-ish NDP campaign will probably allow Jeff Carr to replace his younger brother.


Leans PC.  On paper, this is the strongest PC riding in English New Brunswick.


Leans Liberal.  David Alward has never represented half of this new riding and does not live in it.  The Liberals have their strongest candidate in years.  This may be the surprise of the night.


Leans Liberal.  The Andy Harvey affair has helped not hurt his campaign as he has been able to parlay it into him being the victim of the same backroom interests who dislodged popular local PC MLA Wes McLean in favour of Dale Graham's hand picked successor.


Safe Liberal.  This riding should only go PC in big years like 1999 and 2010.  This isn't one of those years.

Edmundston-Madawaska Centre

Safe PC.  This riding will not change hands at least until Mado Dube retires, if ever.


Leans Liberal.  Yvon Bonenfant is no Jeannot Volpe.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


I've been playing around with the idea of a swingometer for the upcoming provincial election. The efficacy of this is complicated by the high poll numbers for the NDP.

The concept has been used in the UK for half a century.

A simple explanation is this: they line up the ridings in order of strongest for major party A to weakest for major party A (and therefore strongest for major party B). They then compute the swing required for each seat to flip to the other party (half of the margin between the parties +1). They can therefore determine how many seats each party should win based on a particular swing in the popular vote.

Based on my seat model, the last election under the new boundaries would have resulted in 38 PCs and 11 Liberals. The PCs won the popular vote by 14.4 percentage points, and therefore a swing between the parties of 7.2 points in favour of the Liberals would result in a tie of the popular vote.

According to my calculations however, it would actually take a swing of 7.7 percentage points for the Liberals to win a majority government by taking Moncton South as the 25th and decisive seat.

A swing to the PCs of over 11.6 percentage points would be required for them to sweep every seat in the legislature. But a swing to the PCs of just over 1.7 percentage points would reduce the Liberals to 5 seats - showing just how close the last election was to a near wipe-out for the Liberals.

Conversely, the Liberals would need a swing of over 23.3 percentage points to take all of the seats.

The above is blind to the NDP. By design, the swingometer is a two-dimensional creature and can compare only two parties. However, the strength of the NDP changes the ordering slightly even if they're ignored for swingometer purposes.

This is what the swingometer looks like if we use the last CRA poll as a base. That poll had the Liberals at 43% and the PCs at 31% (the NDP was at 21%). That would indicate a result moving from PCs +14 at the 2010 election to PCs -12, a change of 26 percentage points and a swing of 13 percentage points. Using these numbers as a base, we would expect an election to yield 39 Liberals, 8 PCs and 2 NDPers.

As you can see, both of the NDP seats come at the expense of what would otherwise have been Liberal seats with this big of a swing. However, if we look at them in terms of road to majority government, the NDP is doing equal damage to both parties: taking an otherwise safe Liberal seat (Saint John Harbour) and an otherwise leans PC seat (Fredericton West-Hanwell).

In order to recover to a majority government from this poll number, the PCs need a swing of over 5.7 percentage points to win Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin and take 25 seats.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What are New Brunswick's tipping point ridings?

Nate Silver did some interesting work in the last U.S. presidential election on tipping point states. He was looking to find the state that would be most likely to deliver the deciding electoral vote to win the presidency, regardless of the total margin. It is not unlike the concept of a winning goal in a hockey game; in a 4-0 game, the first goal is decisive; in a 5-4 game it is the winning team's fifth goal that matters most.

To win a majority government in the 2014 New Brunswick election, a party will need to take 25 seats. The question: which seat is most likely to be that 25th seat?

I am not as sophisticated as Nate Silver. My analysis was relatively simple. I took all of the ridings and sorted them by the expected PC margin of victory/defeat and then did the same for the Liberals and for the NDP. This ranks the ridings from strongest to weakest for each party. In theory, the 25th strongest seat for the PCs would be their tipping point. I did this with two sets of data, one a simple average of results across the past several elections along the new boundaries, and a second with this data adjusted for incumbency and leadership factors as described here.

Because this data is imprecise and local factors may skew close ridings in one direction or the other, I initially focused on a range of 10 tipping point ridings. Some ridings showed up on all four lists, while others were wishy-washy as to whether or not they could be the tipping point.

A total of 7 ridings fall on all four of the lists between the two major parties, these being the PC and Liberal adjusted and non-adjusted lists of seats in the range of 20-30th best. According to the data, it is in these 7 ridings that the election is most likely to be decided:
  • Saint John Portland
  • Kent South
  • Moncton South
  • Quispamsis
  • Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin
  • Memramcook-Tantramar
  • Miramichi Bay-Neguac
The party which wins all or most of these seats is very likely to win the election.  If there is a 4-3 split in these seats, it will be a long election night.

Other contenders for PC-Liberal tipping point seats are:
  • Rothesay (appeared on 3 lists)
  • Fredericton West-Hanwell (appeared on 3 lists)
  • Moncton East (appeared on 2 lists)
  • Charlotte-Campobello (appeared on 2 lists
  • Saint John Lancaster (appeared on 1 list)
  • Carleton-Victoria (appeared on 1 list)
If the Tories or Liberals win in a landslide, all or most of these ridings will go for them. In a close election, they will be decisive. Back to the hockey game analogy, we're looking for the winning goal. In a 4-0 game, we might not pay that much attention to the first goal, but it was the most important. In a 5-4 game, that winning goal will be all we talk about.

Based on the reality of the past several years some of these seats seem misplaced, but that is less so the case when you consider the following fact. Something occurred to me while I was working on this list that I guess I knew but which I hadn't quite realized. The Liberals have not won the popular vote in an election in New Brunswick since 1995.

Ridings like Saint John Portland and Rothesay which are held by senior cabinet ministers and have been PC since 1999 would not seem on their face to be tipping point seats. But they were both won very narrowly in the close elections of 2003 and 2006. It is no surprise to see Quispamsis on this list, it (and its predecssor Kings West) has a perfect record of voting with the winning party going back to the establishment of single member ridings in 1974.

What about the NDP?

It is unlikely that the NDP will win the election. Really, they are looking to ensure they win seats in the legislature for the first time since the 2003 election. So, I've looked at their first 10 seats.

Nine seats show up on both the adjusted and non-adjusted list for the NDP:
  • Fredericton West-Hanwell
  • Saint John Harbour
  • Hampton
  • Fredericton South
  • Tracadie-Sheila
  • Saint John East
  • Oromocto-Lincoln
  • Saint John Portland
  • Kings Centre
The contenders for the NDP's tenth best seat are Miramichi Bay-Neguac and Moncton East.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Building a seat model for New Brunswick

The idea behind a seat model is to try to convert the popular vote estimates from an opinion poll into a seat count as the latter is far more relevant to our politics.

The fact that Richard Hatfield lost the popular vote in 1974, did not prevent him from being premier of a majority government for four years before winning the popular vote in 1978 and 1982. The fact that 40% of New Brunswickers voted for non-Liberal candidates in 1987, did not get any of them elected. More recently, Shawn Graham also won a majority government while losing the popular vote in 2006.

To summarize: the popular vote doesn't tell the whole story in our system of government. It is the seats that count.

The Method

There are two general approaches that one can take in a seat model. Uniform swing or proportional swing.

Uniform swing has been used for years in Britain and Australia.

It means that all parties take the same arithemetic benefit or loss from their change of support throughout the jurisdiction. So if the Labour vote is down by 10 percentage points from 40 to 30, it drops by 10 percentage points in every riding. In riding X, their support drops from 50% to 40% (which means they've lost 20% of their base votes), in riding Y it drops from 15% to 5% (which means they've lost 67% of their base votes).

The alternative is proportional swing. This is what is generally used by election projectionists in North America, including the site which has projected a lot of Canadian elections from polls. Calgary Grit and FiveThirtyEight use seat models which are built on a base of proportional swing, with many other fancy features.

It means that parties move in support relative to their base. So if the Labour vote is down by 10 percentage points from 40 to 30, it drops by 25% in every riding, meaning they take a relatively bigger hit in ridings were they had more votes to lose. In riding X, their support drops from 50% to 37.5% (25% of 50% is 12.5 percentage points), in riding Y it drops from 15% to 11.25% (25% of 15% is 3.75 percentage points).

The teaser seat modelling I have done on Twitter has been based on a proportional swing method.

I have spent the past several weeks improving and testing the model in anticipation for the main event in September.

One of the things I tested was each of the past 5 elections' popular vote versus the actual results in seats.

Interestingly, I found that proprtional swing does a better job producing the overall provincewide seat total. However, it does this while making many errors at the local seat level which tend to cancel each other out. While the uniform swing doesn't do quite as will with the final overall result, it does do a better job at the local seat level (its errors tend to be in one direction rather than both, so its overall numbers are worse).

I played around with a number of "half-way" alternatives. The most simple of these, taking the result under uniform swing and under proportional swing and simply averaging them proved to work the best. On average it tied the uniform swing for accuracy at the local level, and proportional swing for accuracy at the provincial level. I will be using this hybrid model going forward.

This model uses results of the 1995-2010 general elections as a base. I have transposed the 1995-2003 ridings and the 2006-2010 ridings onto the new boundaries to be used for the 2014 election. The 1995-2003 are weighted half as much as the two more recent 2006 and 2010 elections to create an "average" election result from which the model builds its projection based on change in the popular vote from that hypothetical election to what the opinion polls are saying. For the Greens and PANB, their 2010 results are used as a base as that is the only election they have contested. Votes for defunct parties and independents are ignored by the model.

This model is not as fancy as the models used by Calgary Grit and FiveThirtyEight, which model thousands of iterations based on the margins of error, etc and generate a percentage liklihood of each parties' chance of winning a particular riding. I do run about a dozen scenarios through the model pushing each party to the upper and lower range of the margin of error to generate seat ranges.

Adjustments: A Hand Up for the Leader

Another measure that I have incorporated into the model is a "leader bounce".

I've looked at the result of the leader in his or her riding in those elections he or she contested, and that of his or her party in that riding in the elections immediately before and after his or her leadership tenure. This allows one to assume how a generic candidate of the leader's party might have done in that riding so that it can be compared to the leader's result.

For instance, Robert Higgins led the Liberal Party in the 1974 election. He ran in the riding of Saint John Park. He received 14.6 percentage points more of the popular vote in his riding than the Liberal Party did provincewide. We cannot look at the previous election as Saint John Park was part of the 4-member Saint John Centre riding at that time. We therefore look at the two succeeding elections. In 1978, the Liberals beat their provincewide showing in Saint John Park as well, but only by 2.6 percentage points. In 1982, the Liberals did 4.6 percentage points better in Saint John Park than they did provincewide. The average of these two comparable elections is a 3.6 percentage point lean to the Liberals, while the riding leaned 14.6 percentage points to the Liberals when Higgins was leader. We therefore calculate Higgins' leader bounce as 11.0 percentage points.

The analysis finds that 15 of the 17 men and women who have led one of the three major political parties into an election since 1974, have had a bounce on average. If we single out each election contest, of the 10 elections since 1974*, the 3 major party leaders have had a bounce 25 of 30 times. The two exceptions are Richard Hatfield, who underperformed what we assume a generic Tory would have done in Carleton Centre in 1978, 1982 and 1987 and Shawn Graham, who underperformed what we assume a generic Liberal (actually, not that generic as the comparator is his father) would have done in 2003 and 2006. Hatfield exceeded expectations in 1974, while Graham exceeded expectations in 2010. All other leaders have exceeded expectations versus their provincewide popular vote every time they've led their party to the polls.

So, it is clear to say that there is a leader bounce. Unpacking the numbers a bit, a few other potential conclusions can be observed:

  1. Liberal leaders tend to get smaller bounces than Conservative and NDP leaders. My conjecture on this is that because all 6 Liberal leaders since 1974 have run in ridings that lean Liberal to begin with, their potential voter pool is already somewhat saturated. Conservative leaders Dennis Cochrane and Bernard Lord ran in ridings that were then somewhat less Conservative-leaning than the province as a whole, as did NDP leaders John LaBossiere and Roger Duguay.
  2. Liberal and Conservative leaders tend to get their biggest bounce in their first election as leader, while NDP leaders tend to see their bounce grow over time.
  3. While Liberal leaders tend to have the same-sized bounce whether they win or lose the election, Conservative leaders actually do better in their home riding relative to the provincewide performance of their party when losing the election than when they win. Thus, it is more likely for a Liberal leader to lose his or her seat when being swept out of office than a Conservative, though this has not happened in recent history.

These conclusions should all be taken with a grain of salt. The whole analysis is based on 30 cases, which is a very small sample size. The three observations above are drawn from subsets of that already small sample. However, I believe that there is a compelling enough case to adjust for the presence of the leader. I have applied an "anti-leader bounce" to past ridings in elections where a leader was a candidate, and have in turn applied an appropriate leader bounce to the five ridings being contested to the party leaders in 2014.

*I thought I would explain why I only went back to 1974 for those who were interested, but it was too long a tangent to include in the main body of the post. Prior to that, analysis is difficult if not impossible as multi-member ridings were in place and calculating voting trends is very difficult. New Brunswick used the block voting system prior to 1974 in most ridings. Under this system, many ridings returned more than one member and each voter had as many voters as his riding had members. For instance, a voter in Gloucester County could cast 5 votes, while a voter in Campbellton could cast only 1. Thus, it is impossible with the data available to calculate the popular vote (that could only be done by examining every individual ballot). Moreover, as voters were not required to cast all of their votes (our Gloucester voter could have chosen to vote for 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 candidates) and they could split their ballot (that is to say our Gloucester voter might have case 2 ballots for Liberals, 2 ballots for Conservatives and 1 for an NDPer). Due to this additional complication, it is impossible attempt to accurately transform the votes into a form that could compare with the popular votes in single member ridings after 1974.

Adjustments: A Hand Up for Incumbents

I've also done some research on whether or not the "incumbency factor" exists in New Brunswick elections. I looked at the 1978, 1982, 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003 amd 2010 elections (all elections where the previous election was fought under the same boundaries). In those elections, it showed that on average incumbents did about 6 points better than non-incumbents controlling for the regular partisan advantage within their ridings. This worked out to be virtually the same for Liberals and Conservatives. I also looked at the 1995 and 2006 elections to determine whether or not this holds true when the incumbent is running in a riding with significant portions that he or she has not previously represented. In these cases it looks like incumbents do on average 4 points better. I have applied a five point "bonus" to incumbents, including in cases where there are two incumbents in the same riding (meaning they have no relative advantage over each other, but they do over minor parties).

Effectiveness: How Would Have it Worked?

I plugged the popular vote results for the last 5 elections into the model as a test. It called the overall seat total correctly in the 2006 election, missed by no more than 1-2 seats per party in 1999 and 2003, and no more than 3 seats per party in 1995 and 2010. The incubmency factor was not in play in these tests and may have improved the results. In any event, if the polls are correct (always a big if), it seems this model should come fairly close to the seat totals as the election approaches.

I will begin using this seat model with the CRA poll to be released later today.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Whither the People's Alliance?

This is my latest assessment of where the five parties stand a good chance of winning in 2014. First, I assessed the general leanings of each of the new 49 ridings for the two main parties, then I looked at the NDP's best shots, and then the Greens. Now I turn to the People's Alliance.


In some ways, the People's Alliance provides the most difficult task for objective analysis. The NDP has been on the ballot for decades, so it is easy to look for trends and consistent pockets of strength. For the Greens, though they too have only fought one election, there are at least federal election results where the Greens have had consistent campaigns and trends going back to 2004.

The People's Alliance has no federal counterpart and has no provincial electoral history. And even in 2010, they only contested 14 of 55 ridings. How might they have done in the other 41 ridings had they been on the ballot? It is nearly impossible to say.

However, there is one other dataset at which we can look. That is the results for the Confederation of Regions party in the 1991 and 1995 elections. The People's Alliance does not seem to welcome comparisons to CoR. However, they are both populist parties made up principally of right-of-centre individuals with a skepticism towards at least some aspects of official bilingualism. Even if PANB is not a successor to CoR, they would seem to compete for the same universe of voters.

It is not likely a coincidence that the leader and deputy leader of the party both hail from areas where CoR won seats in 1991.

It is easy to write off the People's Alliance as a fringe party after they got only 1.2% of the vote in 2010. However, that does not tell the whole story. The People's Alliance only contested a small subset of ridings, PANB got 4.9% of the vote in the 14 ridings where they actually ran candidates.

Compare this to the Greens who took 5.0% in the 49 ridings they contested. When one looks at the potential for these two parties, they must be treated at least as equals. Indeed, the Alliance vote was more "efficient" in that their best riding saw their candidate take almost 50% more of the vote share than in the Greens' best riding.

Curiously, the People's Alliance ran in only 2 of the 9 ridings in Central New Brunswick which had been CoR's strongest region in 1991. This suggests there was untapped potential for the party in 2010. Indeed, with the PCs almost certain to lose some of their vote from 2010 (when they scored their second highest popular vote in modern history), the PANB is well positioned to capture right-of-centre voters who would not consider the Liberals, NDP or Greens.

Taking a look back to CoR's 1991 results, they won 8 ridings. I'll lay them out here and explain how they relate to current ridings:

  • Fredericton North: The current Fredericton North falls completely within the boundaries of this old riding, but significant portions of the old Fredericton North can also be found in Fredericton-York and Fredericton-Grand Lake
  • York North: This old riding is distributed almost evenly between Fredericton-York and York
  • York South: Most of this old riding can be found in York and Fredericton-Hanwell, small portions of it can be found in New Maryland-Sunbury and Charlotte-Campobello
  • Sunbury: This riding is split roughly in three between Fredericton-Grand Lake, Oromocto-Lincoln and New Maryland-Sunbury
  • Oromocto: This riding is wholly contained in the new riding of Oromocto-Lincoln
  • Southwest Miramichi: This riding is almost wholly contained in the new riding of Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin, small pieces of it are in Miramichi Bay-Neguac
  • Riverview: Most of this riding is still found in the modern riding of Riverview, with pieces of it in Albert
  • Albert: This riding is almost wholly contained within the new, larger Albert riding; a small piece of it can be found in Sussex-Fundy-St. Martins

One of the advantages that CoR had in 1991 which they won't in 2014, is that there were no PC incumbents. Right-of-centre voters had no sitting MLAs where they were naturally aligned. This probably allowed them to get higher vote totals than they might have otherwise. For this reason, PANB may want to target opportunities where there is no PC incumbent, such as New Maryland-Sunbury.

First Tier Targets

These are ridings where PANB has nominated candidates early, the candidate has some profile, and the riding has shown a sympathy for the party. All of these are key factors in a potential breakthrough.

Fredericton-Grand Lake

Party leader Kris Austin will run here. He scored an impressive 20% of the vote in the old Grand Lake-Gagetown riding in 2010. Even though there was no People's Alliance candidate on the ballot in Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak in that election, the redistributed boundaries give Austin a starting base of 15%. This is because Austin took a whooping 30% of the vote within the Grand Lake-Gagetown polls that move into this new district.


This was the Alliance's second best seat in 2010, where St. Andrews mayor John Craig took nearly 7% of the vote. They have again nominated a candidate here with a high profile and by nominating her early that should give them an organizational edge. Working against them is the fact that this was not a strong area for CoR in 1991, when they placed third in both Charlotte West and St. Stephen-Milltown. However, this riding brings in polls from the McAdam area which gave CoR 54% of the vote in 1991. This is also a riding where the NDP has the potential to do well, so if the Alliance can make a good run here, it could become a four-way race which could be won with less than 30% of the vote.

Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin

CoR won the Southwest Miramichi part of this riding by a slim margin in 1991, while doing very poorly in the Bay du Vin portion of the riding. In 2010, Wes Gullison got 5% of the vote here - roughly mirroring the average PANB received in ridings where they stood candidates. Therefore, on paper this does not really look like a great riding for the People's Alliance. However, Gullison is already renominated and should have the advantage of an early start. This combined with his profile as deputy leader of the party, should give him a slight edge.

Second Tier Targets

These are ridings where either COR did well in 1991 or the People's Alliance did well in 2010 and where there is either no incumbent, or where the incumbent running has not represented the majority of the new riding previously.

New Maryland-Sunbury

This would have been a very strong riding for CoR in 1991 and has the advantage of being one of the few ridings where the People's Alliance can realistically compete where there is no PC incumbent on the ballot. They would be wise to nominate a candidate here soon.


York North was the Alliance's third best riding in 2010, and it is from that riding that the new York draws most of its population. Carl Urquhart, PC incumbent from the old York riding, has prepsented less than 20% of this new territory. The PANB's 2010 candidate was former Nackawic mayor Steven Hawkes. He did very well despite being nominated late. Nackawic finds itself in the centre of this new riding, while it was on the outer-edge of York North with some of its closest neighbours, including Hawkes' hometown of Canterbury in another district. Were Hawkes to run again and be nominated early, the stars are fairly well aligned for him, relatively speaking.


CoR would have won or nearly won this riding in 1991. The PC incumbent from Grand Lake-Gagetown has represented a minority of the riding.

Third Tier Targets

These are ridings where CoR did well in 1991 or the People's Alliance did well in 2010, but are represented by strong PC incumbents.


MLA Kirk MacDonald has served since 1999 and has won all elections easily, except for 2003 when he won by only 101 votes. The new Fredericton-York riding draws just under 50% of its population from MacDonald's current York North riding, however when one takes territory he currently represents as well as territory from the old pre-2006 riding of Mactaquac, MacDonald has represented a solid majority of this area. While this riding would have gone for CoR in 1991, it would have done so against first-term incumbent Liberal backbenchers, far easier targets for a conservative-populist than a four-term Conservative.


Unlike Fredericton-York, this riding is in fact largely unchanged from when CoR won it in 1991 (it has added a bit of Riverview and the village of Salisbury). However, as with York North and Fredericton North (the 'ancestors' of Fredericton-York), then the CoR candidate defeated a one-term Liberal backbencher. Defeating a four-term Conservative like Wayne Steeves is a far taller order.

Fourth Tier Targets

These are ridings where CoR did well in 1991 but the People's Alliance did not contest in 2010. They are also ridings where demographic changes mean CoR would not likely have done as well today as they did 20 years ago and thus the Alliance is less likely to find them attractive targets.

  • Oromocto-Lincoln
  • Fredericton West-Hanwell
  • Fredericton North
  • Riverview

The People's Alliance are likely longshots to win any seats if current polling trends hold. However, if they can manage to capture a significant slice of declining PC support and concentrate that in the Fredericton area as CoR did in 1991, it is not unrealistic for them to see a win. Kris Austin starts with a base of 30% in his home turf, if he can take 30% across the whole of his new riding then he would be very well positioned to win. It is not hard to imagine 35% of the vote being enough to carry Fredericton-Grand Lake in this election. I would say Austin's odds at winning are similar to the odds of Greens leader David Coon.

Overall, I would say that the People's Alliance are more likely to wind up as the fourth party in the legislature than the Greens. That, however, remains an unlikely scenario.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Whither the Greens?

This is the third post in my series on the upcoming New Brunswick general election. The first looked at New Brunswick's newly redrawn ridings. The second looked at where the NDP might breakthrough.

This post looks at places for a possible Green breakthrough, something that is far less likely than a breakthrough for the NDP. Next will come a look at potential breakthroughs for the People's Alliance.

Unlike the PCs, Liberals and NDP, the Greens (and PANB) have little electoral history to look at to judge where they might do well, as they have only contested one previous election. With only one dataset, it is impossible to know which areas of strength were due to a natural affection for the Green Party and its positions, and which were due to unique circumstances, like the strength of the local Green candidate, the weakness of other parties' candidates, a fleeting local issue, etc.

That being the case, this analysis should be taken with several grains of thoughts (even more than my usual observations).


The Greens seem to be stuck at sub-5% in the opinion polls. This would suggest that they are unlikely to win a seat under our first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system. However, it is not impossible. If their efforts are very specifically focused, they could succeed. One needs look no further than the example of federal Green leader Elizabeth May who won a seat in the last federal election with a nationwide popular vote of 3.9%. Other examples of success with this level of support would be the BC Progressive Democrats (1 seat on 5.7% in 1996), the Alberta Representative Party (2 seats on 5.1% in 1986), the Manitoba Liberals (1 seat on 7.5% in 2011), Quebec Solidaire (1 seat on 3.8% in 2008), the Quebec Action Democratique (1 seat on 6.5% in 1994), the PEI NDP (1 seat on 7.8% in 1996), and the Newfoundland NDP (1 seat on 4.5% in 1996).

When one looks at the data, the first thing that stands out is that the Green strength is found Moncton and southeastern New Brunswick. In 2010, 6 of the Greens' 8 best ridings were in the Moncton area; as were 10 of their 14 best. This aligns with the other data source we can consider: federal elections. Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and Beauséjour have generally been the Greens best federal ridings since their breakthrough election of 2004.

In the 2010 election, under the new boundaries the Greens would have had 7 ridings where their vote more than doubled their provincewide popular vote. It is in these ridings that I'll focus my analysis.

Fredericton South

This would have been the Greens' strongest riding, scoring nearly 14% of the vote - well over 3 times their provincewide popular vote. It is therefore no surprise that Green leader David Coon is running in this riding. Adding to Coon's chances here is not only the strong Green base, but also the fact that this is the only riding in the province likely to see a 4-way race, which means someone could conceivably win the seat with less than 30% of the vote.


This would have been the Greens' next best riding. In fact, under the old boundaries Tantramar was the best riding for the Greens in 2010. Boundary changes make this area a bit weaker and Fredericton South a bit stronger. Like Fredericton South, there is a chance of a four-way race here, though it is somewhat less likely. The Liberals and NDP have not shown major strength here since there was a three-way PC/Liberal/NDP race in a 1998 by-election with each taking more han 30% of the vote.

Moncton South, Fredericton North and Moncton Centre

The Green Party would have taken more than 10% of the vote in each of these ridings in 2010. But without a four-way race, or a huge surge in Green support it is difficult to imagine the Greens taking any of these ridings. Fredericton North may be an outlier in this group as much of the Green strength here can be attributed to then party leader Jack MacDougall who is not expected to reoffer.

Moncton East and Moncton Northwest

The Green Party would have taken more than 9% of the vote in both of these ridings in 2010, which is better than double their provincewide share. Again, there is not much chance of four-way races here which is really what the Greens need to breakthrough at their current levels of support. In Moncton Northwest, a Tory stronghold, there is an outside chance of a moral victory for the Greens as they could place a distant second here under the right circumstances. That is highly unlikely however if the Liberals maintain the strong standing they've seen in recent polls.


At 5% of the popular vote, it would be a reach for the Greens to win any seats. However, there are 2 unique opportunities for the Greens. In Fredericton South and Memramcook-Tantramar the Greens have ridings which are both areas where they have a support base on which to build and potential four-way races that could allow them to sneak up the middle. The Greens would be well served to focus all of their resources on these two seats.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

More fun with maps

I really can't shake the maps bug I caught a few days ago.

So here is another one I've been working on. Suppose Canada and the United States merged and each of the 10 provinces became states. The result would be a 60-state United States. There would now be 120 U.S. Senators (2 for each state) and the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives would have to be reapportioned among the 60 states. In presidential elections, each state would have the same number of electors as they have members of both houses of congress (so a minimum of 3, 2 senators + 1 congressman).

The territories, as is U.S. practice, would lose their representation in the Senate, get a non-voting delegate to the House and have no say in presidential elections.

Here is what the new U.S. electoral map would look like:

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan would all get the minimum 3 electoral votes in presidential elections, meaning that they would have one at-large congressman representing the entire province state, but 2 senators, the same as big states like California, Texas, Florida, New York, Ontario, Illinois and Ohio.

American states have to sacrifice 44 seats in the House of Representatives to make room for the 10 new ex-Canadian states. And their relative share of representation in the Senate drops from two percent to one-and-two-thirds percent. Specifically, the following states would lose representation under the current U.S. congressional apportionment formula to make way for Canadian seats in the House of Representatives:

  • California -6
  • Texas -4
  • Florida -3
  • New York -3
  • Georgia -2
  • Illinois -2
  • Michigan -2
  • Pennsylvania -2
  • Alabama -1
  • Arizona -1
  • Colorado -1
  • Indiana -1
  • Iowa -1
  • Kentucky -1
  • Maryland -1
  • Massachusetts -1
  • Minnesota -1
  • Nebraska -1
  • Nevada -1
  • New Jersey -1
  • North Carolina -1
  • Rhode Island -1
  • South Carolina -1
  • Tennessee -1
  • Virginia -1
  • Washington -1
  • West Virginia -1
  • Wisconsin -1

To win a presidential election 280 electoral votes would be required (up from 270), due to the electoral college growing by 20 due to new senators.

It would be increasingly difficult for Republicans to win the presidency. Polls suggest Democrats would be the heavy favourites in all provinces in presidential elections, even winning Alberta by about 40 percentage points. If one is generous, we could say the provinces would become 9 blue states and 1 swing state.

This would mean the Democrat would start with 259 electoral votes in the bag, to 173 for the Republican, with 126 swing votes. If one gives Democrats credit for Pennsylvania, a state they've not lost since 1988, they start with 277 votes and the Republican would have to win every single swing state in order to carry the election.

I sure do love fun with maps.