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.