Liberals and Tories are virtually tied: 338Canada election projection

Philippe J. Fournier: The Liberals still hold the seat count advantage, but their numbers keep slipping while the Conservatives see an uptick in Ontario
O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill on Sept. 2, 2020 (CP/Sean Kilpatrick)
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Federal polls published since Durham MP Erin O’Toole was elected leader of the Conservative Party of Canada on Aug. 23 (well, the 24th just past 1 am eastern time) have not indicated any kind of significant leadership bump for the Conservatives. However, it does appear the Liberals’ downward trend that began in late July has kept going to the point where, even if most Canadians remain generally satisfied by the federal government’s handling of the pandemic, the Liberals have lost their advantage in voting intentions.

We therefore find ourselves merely a week away from a Throne Speech that, if rejected by opposition parties, would send the country back to the voting booths only one year removed from the 43rd general election that took place in October 2019.

At the time of this writing, six polls have been in the field and have been published since the CPC virtual convention:

  • Léger’s first poll after the CPC convention showed no significant movement for the Conservatives, and even had the Liberals leading the CPC by six points nationally (35 to 29 per cent);
  • The Angus Reid Institute then measured a tie in national voting intentions with the Liberals and Conservatives at 35 per cent support a piece. Angus Reid’s apparent “House effect” has been documented by yours truly on several occasions, so it would be fair to state that Léger’s and ARI’s numbers did not at first appear contradictory;
  • In early September, Abacus Data released its own federal numbers which had the Liberals going from a six-point to only a two point lead—hence a statistical tie between the two parties considering the poll’s sample size. In fact, Abacus measured the Liberals losing ground in the Atlantic provinces, tied with the Bloc in Quebec, and tied with the Conservatives in Ontario. Such numbers would assuredly result into yet another minority parliament, with the Liberals having a modest seat advantage over the CPC;
  • Finally, the latest Léger update confirmed Abacus’ trend and also showed the Liberals with a 2-point lead (again, a statistical tie).

(Federal polls from Nanos Research are published behind a paywall, therefore they are not shown here, but they are taken into consideration in the 338Canada model.)

We add these numbers into the 338Canada model and present today this updated federal projection. For details on the model’s methodology, visit this blog post.

While the Liberals still hold the upper hand on the popular vote projection, the model has the LPC (34 per cent on average) and CPC (32 per cent) in a virtual tie, which is a stark contrast to the double-digit lead the Liberals enjoyed from May to early July. Allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest surrounding the WE Charity may not have brought down the government’s vote share in the way opposition parties would have hoped, but it did take a toll on the Liberals’ numbers:

Although the NDP’s net movement since the spring remains within the confidence intervals, it has fared somewhat better in recent weeks and currently sits at 18 per cent. The Bloc (31 per cent in Quebec) and the Greens stand at 7 per cent nationally.

Naturally, given the Liberal slide of the past month, the seat projections have tightened up to the point that all parties stand roughly at their respective 2019 election results. The LPC wins on average 155 seats (it won 157 seats in 2019) and the Conservatives 117 (121 seats in 2019):

[On the graph above, the numbers indicate the parties’ current seat projection averages and the coloured bar, the 95 per cent confidence intervals.]

Here is a brief regional breakdown of the projection:

  • In Atlantic Canada, the Liberals remain dominant, winning on average 26 of the region’s 32 seats;
  • In Quebec, we see a tight race between the Liberals and Bloc Québécois with seat projections almost identical to the 2019 election results. Although the CPC remains a distant third in the province, the last Léger poll showed the Conservative above the 20 per cent mark. We’ll see whether this was a blip or a precursor of a new trend;
  • In Ontario, the weighted average has the Liberals leading by a modest 5-point margin over the Conservatives. Considering the LPC won Ontario by nine points in 2019, this represents a potential 10 or 15-seat swing in favour of the Conservatives in the province.
  • In the Prairies and Alberta, the Conservatives dominate their rivals and are projected to win over 50 of those provinces’ 62 seats.
  • British Columbia, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains an enigma: It is the only province where the Liberals appear poised to make gains with respect to the 2019 election results. In fact, Léger has the Conservatives and NDP tied for second place with 25 per cent apiece in B.C., both 14 points behind the Liberals. Abacus Data even had the Conservative in third place with only 21 per cent support in the province—16 points behind the LPC and 9 points behind the NDP. Considering the CPC won B.C. rather handily last year (eight points above the Liberals and 10 points ahead of the NDP), this seems rather peculiar. For now at least, the Conservatives’ modest gains in Ontario are offset by their poor B.C. numbers.

With these numbers, the Liberals remain the favourite to win the most seats at the House of Commons. Over the course of 250,000 general election simulations, the Conservatives win the most seats in close to 16 per cent of simulations—odds close to those of a dice roll.

Erin O’Toole takes the reins of the CPC in a much better situation for the party than Andrew Scheer did in 2017, when the Liberals were still in their prolonged honeymoon with many Canadian voters. Hence, when Parliament resumes next week in Ottawa, all eyes will be on the new CPC leader in his first test as “prime minister-in-waiting.” While he may not control the fate of Parliament (the NDP and Bloc hold the balance of power), his performance over the next few months could play a big part in predicting how long this 43rd legislature will last. If a fall election appears unlikely for now, a spring 2021 election before the budget would certainly seem plausible.

For complete numbers of this projection, visit the 338Canada website. The interactive map is available here.