Sunday, May 01, 2011

Election Prediction? Beats Me!

Well, this election has turned into quite the roller-coaster ride, hasn't it? Depending on your pollster of choice, we're either headed for an historic NDP breakthrough or a Conservative majority. Confused? Me too. As in past years, I'm participating in a little election pool with a few friends where we each try to call the winner of each of the 308 ridings in the country. It's surprisingly difficult to do, but it does focus your mind on getting past the broad national and provincial polling numbers to try to get a sense of how this election might play out on the ground at the local level. And it looks weird, my friends!

Rather than try to make bold predictions about the overall outcome of the election, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my guiding assumptions about what might happen tomorrow:

1) Quebec: Much as the polling numbers coming out of Quebec are wildly exciting for the NDP, it's really hard to predict how all of that will shake out on a riding-by-riding basis. I honestly don't believe that the Bloc will be decimated, especially since they have the benefit of a more established local infrastructure. I do think there will be some really bizarre vote splitting and that the NDP will make gains. My gut says that those gains will be in the Outaouais, Montreal, and parts of the south shore/Eastern townships, but that's just a wild prediction. I won't be surprised if the Bloc still wins the most seats in the province (although falling short of a majority of the province's total seats). And despite the tanking Liberal and Conservative numbers, I suspect that both parties will hold on to some of their seats, especially when it comes to Liberals on the island of Montreal.

2) Incumbency: More than anything else, this is the factor that I think will make a difference for the Liberals in terms of avoiding a complete decimation scenario. I think that, particularly in Ontario, where their numbers have not fallen as dramatically, many Liberal incumbent MPs might hold on to their seats as anti-Harper voters decide to stick with the proven option rather than jumping ship to another party. (This also works in favour of NDP incumbents in the province, where Liberal voters might switch to the NDP to keep the anti-Conservative option in power.) We might even see a few surprises, like in the Kitchener ridings, where long-term Liberal MPs Karen Redman and Andrew Telegdi barely lost their seats last time around, but are running again. In ridings where the incumbent isn't running again (like Kingston), it will be harder for the Liberals to hold their vote share.

3) BC: At some point in my life, I'm going to have to spend a few years in British Columbia. The political culture out there is fascinating, and the turmoil is wild. I really have no idea how that province is going to shape up. But I think it might be safe to say that for once, the old adage of British Columbia voters turning on their televisions on election night to find out that the overall result had already been predetermined will not be the case this year!

4) Atlantic Canada: I'm going to be keeping my eye on early results from Atlantic Canada, because a part of me suspects that we might be seeing some hints of 1997 in the works. Back then, the region turned against the Liberals, electing a substantial number of Conservative and NDP MPs. That was the early sign that presaged an overall reduced Liberal majority. If the Conservative numbers slip in that region, it might be a sign that Harper's total is in trouble. Right now, my instincts tell me that the region will be split three ways, and heavilly determined by incumbency.

5) Prairies. Conservative numbers, particularly according to pollsters like Nanos, indicate that the overall levels of support for the Conservatives have remained pretty stable at the national level. But when you drill down a bit, there have been wild shifts in many provinces - and a steady uptick in Prairie support, especially in Alberta. Given this fact, I'm not expecting tons of movement here. I think that Linda Duncan will hold her Edmonton seat (hello IP!), and that Winnipeg will still elect a mix of all three parties. I'm still not certain if the orange wave will land in the CCF cradle of Saskatchewan.

What do we see at the end of all this? My instincts tell me that it won't be quite the revolution that excited pundits have predicted. I think that Harper's Conservatives will still end up in good shape - let's say their current total +/- 10 seats. I also don't think that the Bloc will completely collapse, and will probably win enough seats that the could, if they chose, prop up a Conservative minority.

I think that the NDP is probably in for a record total seat count, but that it will be less than the optimistic 100-seat predictions of some. I also don't think that the Liberals will be decimated, and they might even avoid the disastrous low of the 1984 election. Together, these two parties might even surpass the total seat count of the Conservatives.

So what happens then? Very hard to say, in my estimation. It all depends on how much Harper wants to cling to power. I wouldn't rule out the scenario where Harper makes a major Quebec-oriented promise in an effort to win over the Bloc, who might not be eager to give the NDP a chance to prove that they can deliver in government on their major promises to the province's nationalist voters. But Harper has proven unable to compromise in the past, so...

Of course, all of this is wild speculation on the future. And I'm a historian, whose expertise is in explaining the past. Twenty years from now, I might think about writing an article about this election, when I have the benefit of more data, evidence and sources. So take this for what it is - the musings of an engaged citizen, with a bit of expertise on what has occurred in Canada's political past, but a very cloudy crystal ball!

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