Weekly Writ for Nov. 15: Are the Liberals heading for third?
A reminder of why overreacting to new polls is always a bad idea, plus the approaching OLP leadership and polls on climate policy.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
The most-recent update to the Nanos four-week rolling poll certainly got some attention. It placed the Liberals just two points up on the NDP — for third place. Memories of Michael Ignatieff came rushing back.
But, as usual, people might just be overreacting to a shocking poll.
The poll (the full results of which are paywalled) had the Liberals at 22% and the NDP at 20%, a gap of just two points. Technically, that puts the Liberals and NDP within the margin of error of each other. If these numbers hold, a swing of just over a single point would put the NDP in second and the Liberals in third.
Just how likely is that?
I won’t say that it’s impossible for the Liberals to drop to third place in national polling. They are now polling in the range of 25%, so it won’t take much more of a drop to put them in range of dipping below the New Democrats in individual polls. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Here’s a chart of national polling compiled by Polling Canada. You can see that the gap between the Liberals and the NDP in the aggregate is still pretty wide.
You can also see that the NDP has not been making any progress. Instead, the party has dropped into the 18% to 19% range, down from closer to 20%, ever since the Conservatives took off this summer. As discussed with Abacus Data’s David Coletto on a recent episode of The Writ Podcast, the New Democrats have lost some supporters to the Conservatives — and they would be even lower in national voting intentions if they hadn’t compensated for those losses with some gains at the expense of the Liberals.
That’s the missing ingredient here for the Liberals to really be in danger of dropping into third place. If the New Democrats are still unable to consistently get up to and past the 20% threshold in national polls, the Liberals are unlikely to fall behind them. The support the party had in the 2011 election (18.9%) was a bit of an aberration, driven to some degree by Ignatieff’s lack of appeal in Quebec. The Liberals had just 14% support in the province in that election. On a bad day, the Liberals still manage about twice that in Quebec — a difference that alone is worth about three percentage points at the national level. Unless that Quebec support completely evaporates, it will keep the Liberals afloat at a higher level than during the depths of the 2011 campaign.
We’re simply not seeing other polls showing the Liberals this close to being surpassed by the NDP. Of those pollsters who have published multiple surveys since August, the smallest gap recorded between the Liberals and New Democrats has still been significant: six points for Abacus Data, seven for Mainstreet Research, eight for the Angus Reid Institute, and nine for Léger. Nanos, which has had multiple surveys putting the gap at five points or less, appears to be the odd one out.
(Nanos, being a four-week rolling poll, also includes lots of old data in its weekly releases. For that reason, it should be the last poll that we react to, not the first.)
The preponderance of evidence points to the Liberals holding second place in the polls somewhere around the mid-20s, with the NDP solidly in third in the high teens. That being the case, we should expect to see some polls putting the two parties within spitting distance of each other solely due to normal statistical variance. But, just as we shouldn’t overreact to any single poll that shows the Liberals rebounding, we shouldn’t overreact to any single poll that shows the bottom falling out from under them.
Because the Liberals are struggling, their worst polls are going to look really bad. But parties shouldn’t be measured by their worst (or their best) polls.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News of a deal in the OLP leadership contest, plus how the Conservatives are lining up some candidates with strong local profiles ahead of the next federal election.
Polls on the carbon tax carve out and the Conservatives’ climate policies, plus new numbers out of Ontario and Alberta.
A bigger Conservative majority than last week if the election were held today.
A B.C. seat that the provincial Greens will need to defend in this week’s riding profile.
The PQ’s historic breakthrough in the #EveryElectionProject.
A milestone for Doug Ford means he defeats Kathleen Wynne a second time.