ELECTION INSIGHTS: Why we’re cruising towards a Tory minority

ELECTION INSIGHTS: Why we’re cruising towards a Tory minority
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Liberal support hemorrhaged as soon as the election was called

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For the rest of Election 44, the National Post will be sharing insights from Polly, an artificial intelligence engine developed at the University of Ottawa that was the only pollster to correctly predict the results of the 2019 election. Unlike typical polls, Polly gauges public opinion through constant computer analysis of public social media posts: If you’ve ever posted something political to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, you’re probably part of Polly’s dataset. Today, a look at why Polly is now predicting a Conservative victory.

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After weeks of Tory lead, most conventional polls now have the Liberals and Conservatives locked in a neck-and-neck battle for first place.

But Polly is the only pollster definitively projecting a Conservative victory on Sept. 20. This week, the artificial intelligence engine was forecasting the Tories to win 141 seats in the House of Commons against 134 for the Liberals.

That would firmly place Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives in minority government territory. If the party’s fortunes hold, they will capture a share of the House of Commons that would be almost exactly the same as in 2008, when Stephen Harper won his second consecutive minority government.

What’s more, according to Polly’s analysis, the entire length of Election 44 so far has basically been a story of Liberals progressively losing support to the Conservatives. While virtually every conventional Canadian poll has shown Liberals and Conservatives jousting for the lead, Polly has observed an election campaign in which virtually every morning saw Canadians awake to a country that was slightly less Liberal and slightly more Conservative.

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Polly’s national level seat projections, showing an almost immediate plunge in Liberal support as soon as the election was called.
Polly’s national level seat projections, showing an almost immediate plunge in Liberal support as soon as the election was called.

On August 15, the first day of the election campaign, Polly was projecting 101 Conservative seats against a comfortable majority of 176 Liberal seats. By Sept. 1, the parties were tied at 140 seats each. And now, although they’ve been stalled since Sept. 6, the Tories are close to enshrining a 10-seat lead over Justin Trudeau.

Polly has also projected a similarly dramatic Election 44 story for the NDP.

The party of Jagmeet Singh entered this campaign projected to win 70 seats, which would rank as one of their best showings of all time, second only to the Orange Wave of 2011, which delivered 103 seats. As of press time, Polly shows them picking up five more, largely at the expense of the Liberals.

Polly is different from conventional polls in that it doesn’t track a party’s share of the popular vote. Rather, it’s able to gauge voter intentions in each of Canada’s 338 ridings and run the races separately.

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Thus, Polly’s projections aren’t affected when a party loses popular support in ridings that are effectively out of contention.

O’Toole’s pledge to maintain a Liberal ban on “assault-style” rifles appears to have alienated supporters throughout the Prairies, causing them to shift either to the People’s Party of Canada or sit out the election altogether.

Nevertheless, with Alberta and Saskatchewan already a latticework of safe Conservative ridings, O’Toole can lose plenty of popular support without losing a single MP.

Similarly, the Liberals have seen brief surges in popular vote support over the issue of abortion. However, the electoral effect of these surges has been muted by the fact that much of it occurred in ridings that were going to vote Liberal anyway.

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The Liberals called Election 44 because they thought they could capitalize on high poll numbers to secure a majority. But a close look at B.C. reveals just how quickly that lead dissipated once the campaign began.

On August 15, Liberals were poised to take 20 seats in B.C., nearly doubling the 11 they won in 2019. It only took two weeks before Polly was projecting that the Liberals would instead end Election 44 by losing two seats to the NDP.

Polly’s seat projections for B.C. After an initial surge after the election call, B.C. support stampeded to the NDP and the Conservatives.
Polly’s seat projections for B.C. After an initial surge after the election call, B.C. support stampeded to the NDP and the Conservatives.

Everywhere else, races that the Liberals thought were theirs have been slowly turning to Conservatives, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.

On the day the election began, Ontario was prepared to give the Liberals 76 seats, the exact same as in 2019. Now, according to Polly, the Liberals will be lucky to get 60, with almost all of that lost support going to the Conservatives.

On the eve of the campaign, Atlantic Canada was similarly ready to give the Liberals a result close to the 27 seats they got in 2019. Now, after three weeks of campaigning, the Atlantic Coast is poised to deliver only 20. The Conservatives, meanwhile, stand to more than double the four seats they won in 2019.

The model also confirms an epic collapse for the Green Party of Canada. Polly is projecting 1.4 seats for the Greens. This means that former Green Party Leader Elizabeth May likely regains her seats of Saanich-Gulf Islands, with only a 40 per cent of a second Green MP being able to do the same.

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