Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Seat Projections

For those who recall, I experimented with a seat projection model last election.

By and large, it worked as well as any of the other models out there. But the rub is, my model, like every other pundit, seat projection and octopus out there, underestimated the Conservative seat total and overestimated the Liberal one. The reason? The Conservatives over performed their polling numbers at the ballot box.

And that’s the problem with the seat projection game – it’s only as good as the polling data it uses. I think I’ve found a way to work around this, although I’m sure some tweaking will be required. But for now, I’m quite pleased with the model I’ve produced.

To read the big and long methodology behind it, click here. The short version of it is this: the model projects seats, taking the following into account:

-Publicly released polling data
-2004, 2006, and 2008 election results
-Riding demographics
-The historical variance in riding results, compared to regional results
-Accuracy of Canadian pollsters in predicting recent provincial and federal elections
-By election results

For all these factors, I’ve done quite a bit of trial and error research – usually using the ’04 and ’06 elections to “project” the ’08 one. The end result is a projection system that has a few key advantages:

1. It has built in safeguards against “election day swing”, when certain parties over or under perform all the polls. It’s no use pretending this doesn’t happen, so it should be reflected in projection models, especially ones which rely on simulations. This may not make my “best guess” any more accurate, but it makes the model far more adept at calculating the probability of things like a Liberal win, or a Tory majority.

2. It’s robust. By looking at the past three elections and the riding demographics, this model smoothes out some of the fluky results that tend to plague seat projection models due to “weird stuff” like Elizabeth May running in Central Nova or surprise nudity.

3. It’s entirely objective. I plug the numbers into my excel sheet, run some simulations in R, and get the output.

4. It produces a probability in each riding. Most projection models that show the Liberals up by 1% in a riding will project the riding to go Liberal – in reality, if the Liberals are projected to be up by 1%, it really means you might as well flip a coin to pick the winner.

So, if you want the long explanation, click here. Otherwise, here are my projections, based on polling data released in June and July. Remember, this is what would happen if the election were held today - it's not a prediction of what would happen if the election were held in a few months. Campaigns matter.

Probability of Conservative Win: 100%
Probability of Conservative Majority: 1.6%



  • What scares me is the 106 safe conservatives seats...

    By Blogger Patrick, at 5:42 p.m.  

  • There is zero chance of a Liberal seat in Alberta. Zero.

    By Anonymous Edmonton lad, at 5:51 p.m.  

  • Too mathematical for me to comprehend, but I'm excited about the new Canadian interest in FIFA and getting to the World Cup. I totally support the NDP's recommendation to up spending on it.

    Hockey is great and hockey is Canadian. Soccer/Football is fun and global - we should get in the game. We can compete in the Olympics, we can compete in the World Cup.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Vert, at 9:30 p.m.  

  • Nice work Dan!

    By Blogger Steve V, at 9:49 p.m.  

  • Bravo, looks terrific. I bow to your thoroughness!

    By Blogger Éric, at 10:54 p.m.  

  • For the "Projected ________ Seats" graphs, could there be scales (presumably percentage) along the side, to better illustrate how likely each seat range is?

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 1:52 a.m.  

  • I would add that today's environics poll would narrow the gap between the LPC and CPC.

    And good point IH - I'll update that for the next wave.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:22 a.m.  


    By Blogger JimTan, at 9:28 a.m.  

  • Keep in mind that there is no clear pattern as to polls consistently over- or under-estimating support for any one party. Its true that in the 2008 election the Tories did a bit better on election day than the average of the final polls. But in both the 2004 and 2006 elections it was the Liberals who did better than the final polls predicted while the Tories did worse.

    By Blogger DL, at 3:00 p.m.  

  • DL - yup, it's all random...just adding more variance in to the numbers - I don't skew it to any one party. (except for the Greens who I scale down slightly)

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:51 p.m.  

  • "Keep in mind that there is no clear pattern as to polls consistently over- or under-estimating support for any one party."

    I disagree. Pre-election polls have consistently underestimated Reform/Alliance/Conservative support. I will use Environics polls here, because they have been conducted over a long period of time.

    In 1993 Reform went from under 10% to winning 19% of the vote on election day.

    In 1997, Reform went from slightly above 10% support to winning 19% again.

    At its inception, the Canadian Alliance polled around 17%. Day was at about 21% when the election was called, and ended up winning 26%.

    Pre-election polls in 2004 had the Conservatives in the mid-20's. They ended up winning 29% of the vote.

    Polls in November, but also through the "cool" phase of the election had the Tories in the high-20's to low-30's. They won 36% of the vote.

    Finally, in August 2008 polls the Liberals averaged 32% and the Tories 34%. In fact, Dion was leading in 3/7 polls.

    You might also look at election scares as further tests of this phenomena. The Tories have consistently gained when the threat of election is high.

    The Tories always surge when an election campaign begins. While they have sometimes declined from their peak (in 2000, 2004 and 2008), this is often related to campaign missteps.

    I hypothesize that there is a reason pre-election polls tend to underestimate Conservative support. Conservatives do well amongst a segment of the population that is not highly political, but still votes. These voters do not register in the polls unless there is a general increase in interest in politics (eg. if there is an election or national crisis).

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 1:28 a.m.  

  • Very cool! I was wondering if you've ran any "hypothetical" polling data through the model to see at what level of support from public polls the libs could potentially over take the cons or see the ndp move into second?

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