Canada: What the polls told us in 2020

Philippe J. Fournier: The Liberals are escaping 2020 with a clear lead. The Tories still need a place to grow. And the NDP sees a promise.

From a purely political perspective, 2020 was a great year for established companies in Canada. Case in point: in all three provincial elections held this year, all incumbents were re-elected by majorities. Aside from the most recent numbers in Alberta, satisfaction with provincial governments has remained high during the first and second waves of the pandemic. In the spring, despite the worst infection rates in Quebec and Ontario, Prime Ministers François Legault and Doug Ford had high levels of satisfaction with their constituents (over 80 percent for several weeks).

At the federal level, satisfaction with the government’s handling of the pandemic was high through 2020. Léger’s latest figures showed a national satisfaction rate of 66 percent – a proportion well beyond the partisan lines – with rates of 50 percent or more in every electoral region in the country (yes, including Alberta).

Allow me to share some data-driven thoughts on where the top federal parties stand for this final column for 2020:

What did the polls tell us this year? When the pandemic hit Canada’s borders in March, Liberals and leaderless Conservatives were caught in a statistical tie near their respective 2019 election results. Soon after, the Liberals jumped to the fore nationwide and rode that wave through spring and early summer with a stable double-digit lead. But then there was the WE Charity Scandal / WE Charity Affair (depending on your point of view) in July and August that brought the Liberals to Earth, but the LPC retained national leadership. We have not measured any significant movement for either the Liberals or the Conservatives since August (see graph below):

The Liberals will end 2020 with a narrow, albeit significant, lead in terms of voting intentions. I’m giving tight as the average LPC lead is currently 6 points, so even a modest misadjustment in favor of the Conservatives could turn that prediction into a much closer race than predicted. In the following graph we can see that the national and conservative national vote projections do overlap.

Nonetheless, the liberal leadership is important for many reasons, including because the regional split of the projection still strongly favors the LPC. Although the Conservatives elected a new leader in Erin O’Toole back in August, they were able to move the needle where the party needs most: the CPC is still an average of eight points behind the Liberals in Ontario, with an average of 17 percent a distant third in Quebec, well behind the Liberals (37 percent) and the Bloc Québécois (28 percent). Although the Conservatives won the referendum in British Columbia in the 2019 elections, their poll average in the province is currently only 26 percent, which is statistically linked to the Liberals and the NDP. Given that Alberta and most of the prairies are already closed to the CPC, where would the Conservatives find enough winnable ridings to knock the Liberals off the ground in a general election? Atlantic Canada also shows little potential for the CPC. With regard to the seat, the Liberals will end 2020 with sufficient support so that either a strong minority or a wafer-thin majority are the most likely scenarios if current voting intentions are translated into actual votes. The 338Canada model has the Liberals with an average of 168 seats just below the threshold of 170 seats for a majority in the lower house. The Conservatives slid to an average of 104 seats, the lowest forecast since July.

About the NDP: The latest polls showed an upward trend for Jagmeet Singh and his team in December. While the NDP had remained broadly stable in the 15-17 percent range (based on the 2019 election result) throughout the year, recent polls measured support for the NDP in the 19-23 percent range. This modest but notable shift does not appear to have come from current liberal supporters but from potential Conservative and Green voters. These potential orange-blue and blue-green voters will be seen in 2021. Time will tell if this is just a statistical slip or a new trend on the eve of 2021. Still, the NDP’s current average of 338 Canada is 20 percent. The national vote and 36 seats – the party’s highest forecast for 2020. As you can see in the seat probability density graph below, the NDP’s best-case scenario is sufficient with the current level of support for seats even between the high 40s and low 50s.

The Québécois bloc remained slightly below its 2019 results in 2020 (32 percent and 32 seats). The surge in support for the Liberals that lasted through the spring and most of the summer did not lower the Bloc, nor did the arrival of Erin O’Toole at the helm of the CPC, though O’Toole put time and effort on it in the fall had used to woo the province – and even a marquee guest on Tout le monde en parle, the popular one, was on Sunday night’s talk show on Radio Canada. In Quebec, the bloc and the CPC are targeting similar demographics: soft nationalist voters who live in either rural or suburban Quebec. Winning many of these voters would make the math of CPC victory a lot easier for O’Toole and his team. The block ends in 2020 with an average of 28 seats and almost 30 percent support in the province. Given that Yves-François Blanchet launched his first teenage support campaign back in August 2019 and ended one point before the leadership in Quebec on election night, many BQ supporters are confident that the party will continue to support it The federal elections begin next spring.

Finally, a word on the federal Greens: New chairwoman Annamie Paul lost her offer to win a seat in the House of Commons in the generally safe Liberal seat of the Toronto Center in October, but she garnered more than 8,000 votes and a respectable 33 percent of votes. However, their leadership victory has so far failed to move the needle in the GPC’s favor, and lack of visibility in the political arena could hurt their own notoriety. Finding a new winnable mount could be a huge challenge for Paul and the Greens in 2021 (unless a current Green MP resigns?). Which one will it be? Puppy in ontario? Beauséjour in New Brunswick or maybe Charlottetown in PEI?

I would be very happy if I didn’t finish this final column for 2020 by thanking readers and other coast-to-coast data nerds who comment, criticize, and improve the 338Canada project – especially readers in Provinces that held elections in 2020: New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan. In these three elections, the 338Canada correctly identified the winner in 91 percent of all constituencies. This would not have been possible without your continued support, and I thank you very kindly for that.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and I wish you all a safe and healthy 2021.

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