25 November 2005

The five percent solution

Wander over to Responsible Government League and Liam has done everyone the favour of linking to a few sites about election predictions.

The Hill and Knowlton one is interesting. Who knows the algorithm they are using but if you make shifts in the vote, you can get a prediction of seat counts nationally and by province?

Muck around with it a bit. Plug in the most recent polling results from Decima for a January/February election. It produces a large increase in new Democrat seats at the expense of the Liberals and the Conservatives.


Swing five percent of the New Democrat vote to the Liberals and you get a Liberal majority government of 166 seats, a rump New Democrat caucus at nine and 79 Conservatives.

Swing five the other way and the national seat count comes up with 104 Liberals, 101 Conservatives and 42 New Democrats.

What does it take to produce a Conservative minority? Swing a total of 10 percent of the vote from Liberals to New Democrats. That still only gives the Conservatives 111 seats.

I flipped Liberals and New Democrats since their vote migration seems to be much more likely than a swing between Conservatives and Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats and any other similar conversion.

Drop down on the local scene and you get something rather curious. Current polling shows that the situation is actually pretty stable around these parts. In your own calculations, remember that the margin of error on national polls has the Atlantic margin of error heading for more than six or seven percent. That's way, way too much.

But basically, swing a few percentages one way or the other (Liberal and New Democrat) and it gets curious indeed.

A swing of just five percentage points in the vote from Dippers to Grits and poof: the two St. John's seats change hands.

Swing it the other way and the Connies would add Bonavista-Exploits to their pile. At least that's the seat that Hill and Knowlton peg for the changeover.

It's all good fun and speculation but here's the upshot of it all:

All the political parties have some method of statistically allocating seats based on poll results. What they are using is a slightly more sophisticated version of the H and K thingy, but it doesn't have to get really any better than having really good local numbers to plug in.

Even using the H and K predictor across the most likely scenarios it is one heckuva job for the Conservatives to pull off a majority government. It's even kinda tough to
give them a minority government of any comfortable shape or size.

The big winners are the New Democrats. Across most scenarios, including the most recent poll results, the Dippers come off with a big increase in their seat count.

That leaves you wondering why Stevie Harper is so hot for an election.

It makes it plain why Jack Layton wants to go sooner rather than later.

This sort of device will give you a better sense of where the battleground will be. On the ground, expect that Ontario is going to get a lot of attention. The media gaze might spread to some places on the prairies or into British Columbia hunting for swing seats.

As far as messages and strategy go, expect to see a lot of emphasis on a battle between the New Democrats and the Liberals. The Dippers have the magic five percent Liberals need to pull off a majority nationally.

In a perverse way, it's also what Conservatives need to gain power, barring a radical redesign of the party. Even Ralph Klein doesn't think that is likely. Harper is at his peak, give or take a couple of points. He just needs to reinforce his own side and get them to the polls, which should be an easy job since they are among the most motivated of voters.

But Steve Harper needs Jack Layton in order to put the Alberta boy in new digs at Sussex Drive.

Such is the odd nature of politics.

On a local level, take a close look at the messaging and strategy employed by the local Liberal campaigns. If they fall into the trap of fighting on Conservative territory or pushing Conservative issues - like the federal job presence thing - the best that they can hope for is a repeat of the same seat distribution.

They won't pick up swing-Connies with that line: those guys don't exist for one thing. As for former Progressive Conservative voters disaffected by Harper and Company, they might respond a bit to negative messaging but their Tory leanings will likely make them a hard sell on voting Liberal. They might stay home and not vote, but odds are they'd do that anyway.

But... if the local Libs focus on other issues and work hard at attracting some swing-Democrats - the people who exist and who can easily float from the NDP to the left of the Liberal Party - the rewards could be big.

It only takes a swing of five percent of New Democrat voters to the Liberal ranks, one way or another, to land Siobhan Coady and Paul Antle in Ottawa.

Think about it.

and watch closely.