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Canadian Election Update 4.25.11: 100 Seats for the NDP?

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Yesterday, Pundit’s Guide posted a useful corrective to many of the seat projections that have been offered to this point in the campaign. I really recommend reading the whole thing but PG says in part:

This may surprise some people, but very few of the current amateur seat projection websites have even a single federal general election track record under their belts. And none of them has had to predict an election where so many assumptions have been upended, and so many tectonic shifts have been telegraphed in leading indicators whose full effect has yet to be seen in the horserace numbers.

Significantly, not one seat projection methodology over-predicted the Conservatives, and not one under-predicted the Liberals or Bloc Québécois, although there were predictions on either side of the NDP’s final total. Only one predicted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would win Central Nova, NS (she didn’t), while 4 of the 9 methodologies missed predicting both Independent candidate Bill Casey’s win in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, NS and André Arthur’s win in Portneuf-Jacques Cartier, QC.

The inherent bias in seat prediction methodologies to favour previous election results means they tend to overly favour parties set to lose seats, such as the Liberals and Bloc Québécois in the last election. They also tend to miss the likelihood of parties on the rise to gain seats, such as was the case with the Conservatives in the last election. Only the NDP, whose vote intention numbers showed little gain by the end of the 2008 campaign, saw seat count predictions on both sides of its eventual total.

Another problem for the seat projection methodologies is that they are backward-looking. They’re using days-old polling data at a time of incredible movement in the polls, and laying that on top of results from the last election when incumbency was a factor for some political parties’ votes that is no longer at play.

Moreover, they can’t account for turnout, in the sense that parties with momentum, or who have strong on-the-ground organization, will experience higher turnout of their own vote, than will parties who are organizationally weak and/or whose supporters are feeling demoralized.

The above problems were underlined in ThreeHundredEight.com’s projection/prediction for the 2010 New Brunswick general election, one that saw a one-term narrow Liberal majority turfed in favour of a massive Progressive Conservative majority government. His then-methodology over-predicted the Liberals by 10 seats (23 versus 13) out of 55.

Since then, ThreeHundredEight’s sensational projections have predicted doom and gloom for the NDP on the front page of the Hill Times (no, he’s not a “pollster” as they wrote) and the Globe and Mail. As recently as late January he claimed they would lose 13 seats, upped to 16 seats by early February, which emboldened some Liberals to predict they could gain 100 seats during an election campaign.

It took some peer review to examine his original methodology and determine that he had in fact placed a cap on the number of seats a party could be projected to win in any region (equivalent to the maximum it had even won plus those it came within 10% of winning), but put in place no comparable floor. Clearly the wrong assumption for the current election!

Apparently the methodology has since been changed, but not before it set the entire frame of coverage by the Parliamentary Press Gallery for the period leading up to and just following the federal budget vote (“NDP weakness sets up two-way race between Harper and Ignatieff”).

Indeed one could say that this one blog – without a single federal general election’s track record to its credit – was responsible for the mass failure of the Ottawa punditocracy to foresee either the NDP’s willingness to or interest in voting down the budget at the end of March, and for all we know the willingness of the Liberals to provoke an election dating from around that time.

So, what does all that mean for the current election?

It means that:

*the Liberals and Bloc are still likely being overly favoured by all these seat prediction methodologies,
*the projection methodologies are going to wind up missing NDP gains, particularly if the party continues to climb in the polls, and that
*projected seat counts for the Conservatives will likely fall on either side of their final tally.

It also means that the “strategic voting” websites, who are basing their recommendations on seat projection/seat prediction methodologies like 308’s are likely making a number of erroneous recommendations — another reason to be rid of those undemocratic and irresponsible projects once and for all — and that people voting in the Advance Polls shouldn’t put a lick of confidence in them, as a result.

On cue, there were a number of polls released today including one from Ekos who also provided a seat projection. Now I happen top like this seat projection because it gives the NDP 100 seats while the Conservatives are held to 131,far less than a majority. BTW, the Liberals and BQ get 62 1n3 14 respectively in this scenario. But just because I like the prediction, all of Pundit Guides caveats about seat projections apply to it as well.

Except that, Ekos does have a track record and not a bad one at that.

But starting tomorrow, there are there are more polls coming, including fresh ones form Ekos and Nanos and who knows who else. There will also be more seat projections until the end of the week at least. The pressure is on the pollsters and projectors in a contest to see who can be most accurate. It will be difficult for them because they are shooting at a moving target. A poll is supposed to be a snapshot of public opinion at a given moment in time. In the next week before the campaign there will be movement, how much and in what direction I cannot foresee from my little homestead in the Land of Lincoln.

I will suggest though that just as there has been bleeding of NDP votes to the Liberals in past elections, there could be movement this time from the Liberals to the NDP. It may be that the Orange Wave has not crested yet but will carry Jack Layton and his party to 30% on election day and x number of seats.