09 May 2019

The Abacus Poll for Election 2019 #nlpoli

The chart below looks like there has been a huge jump up and down in “no choice” and a corresponding big change in party choice but actually there is some consistency across the board.

Click to enlarge
As SRBP has been saying for a couple of months, the Conservatives and Liberals have basically been polling in the 20s for the past three years.  These results are within that 10-point spread, allowing with the odd leap above 30 or below 20.  The “no choice” option (green dotted line) has been consistently above 35 the whole time.  Abacus is an outlier in that sense but, there is an election campaign underway.

The Abacus poll – conducted between May 2 and May 5 – shows the Conservatives in the lead with the Liberals trailing.,  But here’s the thing,  the gap, even in the presentation of “decideds” or “committed” is really inside the bounds of possibilities covered by the margin of error.

Just to drive the point home.  Here is a sample of MQO and Abacus results over the past year or so.

New Democrat
No Choice
Abacus Feb-18
Abacus May-18
MQO Apr-19
Abacus May-19

Abacus versus MQO

The Abacus result is not outrageously out of line, given that there *is* an election campaign underway.

The major reason for the difference between Abacus and MQO is likely timing. Abacus polled after the debate.  MQO straddled the debate with most of their sample collected before the televised event.
There may also be some variation in the sample.  Since Abacus didn’t release their data tables (and SRBP didn’t ask for them) there’s no way of telling if the samples were weighted the same way even though the two companies say they did.

One plausible reason for the “no choice” discrepancy could be that Abacus specifically probed the issue of not voting and found a very high number who admitted they wouldn’t.  That actual intention not to vote is often implicit in the “no choice” responses to other polling where researchers actually don’t list it as an option.  “Not going to vote” is frequently an option the respondent has to volunteer rather than be prompted for it.  In other cases, it is a string of options such that people can pick “undecided” when they want to mask their true intention.  There’s a social value in voting so not voting may be perceived as a socially unacceptable option.

But to get into the value of the Abacus poll, let’s just go back and look at the results.  Notice that in both the MQO and Abacus polls the Liberals and Tories are only - respectively – five and four points apart.  That’s basically the margin of error.  The variation between the Liberal result in both polls is equally small.  The only big variation is in the Conservative number and NDP number between Abacus and MQO.  Different, yes.  Not necessarily wrong in the context of an election.

So, on the whole, the polls have their own internal integrity and your humble e-scribbler is willing to accept them as reflecting snapshots of public opinion at two separate times. We can refine our perspective if we get two more polls by the weekend, as now seems to be the case.

Big Issues and Disconnected Parties

The Abacus poll does give us some insight into the public mood that has produced the very high number of people who are disaffected from the political parties. These are the folks who likely won’t vote.  That’s 44%, which is SRBP’s extrapolation of MQO’s figures.  Abacus asked about the intention to vote and found 43% would be going to the polls.

Here are the major issues.

The biggest one is jobs and the economy.  Second biggest is health care.

Muskrat Falls, taxes, government accountability, and the cost of living are all less than 10% each.

What are the parties talking about?  Dwight and his people have been obsessed with Muskrat Falls.  Ches likes to talk about high taxes, government accountability and the cost of living (gasoline prices) Neither party spends much time talking about government spending expect to suggest there should be a lot more of it. That’s the third biggest issue for people.

If the parties don’t speak to issues the public are concerned about, it is hard for people to pick a party.  Pretty simple stuff.

All the same, Abacus has a chart that shows how people connect the parties and the big issues.

On jobs and the economy, the two major parties are not radically different, and the Conservatives have a slight lead.  Health care is a Liberal issue predominantly.  Tories get credit on the deficit issue even though they really want to make the current problem worse through tax cuts and increased spending.  Reality is not as important as perception in driving votes.

So, Conservatives leading in public perception on two of the top three issues with Liberals owning the third.  Not hard to understand why the Tories would be ahead, slightly.  But since the parties overall don’t really speak to the big public issues, it is hard for the public to connect a party with their key issue.

The perception of the two party leaders – neither of them is perceived well or strongly – also makes it hard for voters to associate a party with the issue that is of most concern to them.

To put it a bit more colourfully, ground truth the poll result. Look at the party platforms and messaging. Neither party clear lines up with the top three issues. Most of the limited time the two major parties have been communicating with the public, the messages have been negative about the other party:  vote for me, one will say, because I am not him.

Both parties are basically saying "vote for me so I can win" not "here's how you can best get your needs met". See the difference? Platform documents don't speak to key public issues clearly. Campaign of Tim Horton's stops and photo ops are meaningless *to voters*.

Abacus found a very strong desire in the public for change.  The voted strongly for change in 2015.  Maybe they don’t feel like they got it.  Even if the Liberals win the election, as a plurality of MQO and Abacus respondents apparently expect, they will face an electorate that is unhappy with the course the province is on. They will have to change or risk serious consequences in the very near future. If the government ignores that clear public desire – for change – then the next government will have a lot more to deal with than the provincial government’s financial mess.