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Poilievre starts with big lead in Conservative Leadership Index
Inaugural update to the Index puts Poilievre near 1st-ballot-win territory
Pierre Poilievre is the front runner in the Conservative leadership race by any objective measure.
He has the biggest backing in the Conservative caucus. He is the preferred choice for leader among party supporters. And he raised the most money in the first weeks of the campaign.
That’s why he leads in The Writ’s Conservative Leadership Index — and why he is starting off in the Index in range of a first ballot victory.
The Conservative Leadership Index (CPI) is a weighted aggregate of three different metrics that is meant to replicate first ballot results, similar to the Index that I designed for the 2017 Conservative leadership race. Those metrics are endorsements, polling and fundraising, with each of those factors weighted according to how predictive they have been in the past.
I have a full explanation of the methodology at the bottom of this article.
But let’s dive into the numbers first.
With 49.9% in the Index, Poilievre is well ahead of all of his other rivals. He has a majority of the endorsement points and is way ahead in polling. Only in fundraising is the race a lot closer.
According to the first quarter fundraising data published by Elections Canada, Poilievre raised $545,000 in the first weeks of his campaign up to March 31. That put him ahead of Jean Charest, who came up second with $490,000 raised.
While a close gap, this reflects the different donor bases the two candidates have. Poilievre’s average donation was just $163. Charest’s average donation was $815.
The two candidates have revealing patterns of support at the regional level. Poilievre raised eight times as much money in Western Canada as Charest did, but Charest raised nearly 10 times as much as Poilievre did in Quebec. The two were closer in fundraising in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.
That regional fundraising, his decent number of endorsements and his second place in the polls is why Charest comes up second in the CPI with 29%.
Leslyn Lewis, trailing in endorsements and polls but performing well in fundraising with $226,000 raised, comes in third with 10.5%.
That’s when things get tricky. Patrick Brown sits in fourth in the Index with just 6.1% in the Index, as he is performing poorly on all three metrics. But as discussed on The Writ Podcast last week, a lot of what is going on with the Brown campaign is under the surface. It isn’t going to be picked up in public polling or in endorsements.
It should eventually be reflected in fundraising, but perhaps not yet. Brown only raised $116,000 to the end of March, but he appears to have tapped some of his friends, family and campaign staffers as all of his donors are in Ontario and they nearly all donated the maximum $1,675. There are only 32 different family names in his contributor list.
On the one hand, this could reflect that Brown is simply struggling more than we thought, no matter how many meetings he has or phone calls he makes. On the other hand, this could reflect that the Brown campaign put little effort into raising money in the last week of March. We won’t have a better measure of his campaign’s fundraising prowess for another three months, when the next set of data will be published by Elections Canada.
So, that is my big caveat with this inaugural update of the Conservative Leadership Index. We need more data to know just what is going on with Patrick Brown — but that doesn’t mean we can’t compare how Poilievre, Charest and Lewis are doing.
Poilievre in the West, Charest in the East
Endorsements and fundraising tell a remarkably similar story: Poilievre is popular in Western Canada, Charest is popular in Quebec and both Ontario and Atlantic Canada are being hotly contested.
The chart below shows the CPI ratings at the regional level, taking into account endorsements and fundraising only (as you’ll read in the methodology below, polling is calculated at the national level only).
Poilievre’s dominance in Western Canada is huge. He has a majority of endorsements given and dollars raised in all four western provinces. He is especially dominant in Alberta, where he raised $0.68 out of every $1 raised by Conservative leadership contestants.
Charest is not his chief opponent in Western Canada — it’s Lewis. She is in second place throughout the region, raising $0.38 of every $1 in B.C. and $0.43 of every $1 in Saskatchewan. Charest is a little more competitive in Manitoba, but is not registering much of a pulse elsewhere (and neither is anyone else).
Poilievre is leading in Ontario with 42% in the Index, followed by Charest at 17%, Brown at 15%, Lewis at 11% and Aitchison at 10%. Poilievre’s advantage here is due largely to his caucus backing in the province as opposed to his fundraising, as he raised only 34% of the money, compared to 22% for Charest.
Atlantic Canada is a toss-up between Poilievre and Charest, with Lewis running in third. Charest is leading in fundraising throughout the Maritimes, but is actually behind Lewis and Poilievre in Newfoundland and Labrador.
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This regional breakdown shows the challenge Charest faces (putting aside the unknowns of the Brown campaign for a moment). His strong support in Quebec is not nearly enough to make up for his lack of support in Western Canada, and he needs to close the gap in Ontario in order to make this race more competitive. Brown could play a big role in that (and Charest’s support in Quebec would be helpful to Brown if the Brampton mayor places ahead of Charest on the ballot) but Poilievre’s broad support in the West makes high numbers in central and Atlantic Canada less important for him.
That’s where the Conservative Leadership Index stands now that we have our final slate of six candidates. The Index will be updated regularly in the subscribers-only Weekly Writ, and I may have some longer analyses on the site as well in the coming months.
Is the Index perfect? No, but I think it will be a useful tool as this campaign unfolds, especially as the data becomes more robust. Brown remains the wildcard, but the race is still Poilievre’s to lose.
Conservative Leadership Index methodology
The CPI is based on three different metrics.
The most important is fundraising, because it has been very predictive in the past. Just take a look at how each candidate’s share of all the money raised in the 2017 and 2020 leadership races compares to their share of first ballot support.
It’s a very predictive metric. There have been two big outliers, both from 2017. Andrew Scheer got much more support on the first ballot than his fundraising suggested he would, while Kellie Leitch got much less. This, however, might be due to the length of that leadership contest — Leitch was an early fundraising leader, but by the end of the campaign her fundraising was dropping. The opposite happened to Scheer.
A candidate’s fundraising score is based on the share of all the money raised so far in the race in each province. So, if the candidates have raised a combined total of $1 million in Ontario, the candidate who raised $200,000 would be given a score of 20% in Ontario. Those provincial scores are weighted by the number of seats in each province (to reflect the rules of the leadership race) and then combined to give a national fundraising score in the Index.
The next most important metric is polling, but the weight of this metric depends on whether the polls are surveying Conservative supporters or Conservative party members. Polls of Conservative supporters have been somewhat predictive in the past, while polls of Conservative party members have been much more predictive.
If both sets of poll data are available, polls of party members will be prioritized over polls of party supporters. Polls that at least partially overlap over a two week period are included in the Index, with undecideds removed. This metric is only calculated at the national level.
The third metric is endorsements. This has been the least predictive measure in the past, but it does have some predictive value so it is still included in the Index.
Endorsements from sitting MPs, senators and provincial legislators are included in the Index and each endorsement is awarded a number of points. Endorsements from caucus members (MPs and senators) are each worth one point, while the points awarded from provincial legislators are calculated according to how many seats each province has at both the provincial and federal levels.
For example, there are 87 seats in the Alberta provincial legislature and 34 federal seats in Alberta. That means a provincial MLA is worth 0.39 points (34 divided by 87).
A candidate’s endorsement score is based on the share of all the endorsement points awarded so far in the race in each province. As with fundraising, those scores are weighted by province and then combined to give a national endorsement score in the Index.
The Conservative Leadership Index is the combined fundraising, endorsement and polling score for each candidate, represented as a percentage. It is meant to estimate each candidate’s first ballot result.
Is this a foolproof method for gauging the race? Not in the slightest. But it is an objective measure of the race that is based on the last two Conservative leadership races and the triangulation of these three metrics should give us a good idea of where things stand based on each candidate’s organizational ability and resources (fundraising), popular support (polling) and establishment support (endorsements), the last often being a proxy of who people with skin in the game think is going to win.
We’ll see how it does. At the every least, it will be a fun way to follow the race — and because I am breaking out all the metrics individually, we’ll follow each of them as the race unfolds and you can choose to place the most faith in whatever metric you believe will most accurately predict the outcome!
I make no guarantee of accuracy, but I pledge to call out my own Index whenever I think it might be leading us astray. No one should be a slave to the numbers — but it’s the best thing we’ve got.