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A DEEPER LOOK AT OVERALL SHIFTS IN PARTY CONSTITUENCIES- July 13, 2012

[Ottawa – July 13, 2012] – Although the horserace polling has been less frenzied than in 2011, there have been a number of polls out suggesting shifts in voter intention and why these might be occurring. In this release, we try and take a more macro perspective as to what has changed since the last election and drill down to identify exactly where those movements have occurred. We do not think the week to week movements are meaningful at this stage and we also believe that much of the narrative explaining these putative shifts is mostly conjecture rather than empirically driven conclusions. In this analysis, we are going to argue that the shifts, while meaningful, are modest. We also argue that the most significant movement has been a significant erosion of the Government’s position since they secured a majority last year. We will link this to broad directional measures of confidence in the Government and the Country.

Our main contribution here is to assemble roughly 4,000 cases (a random probability sample which includes on and off line Canadian’s and land line and cell phone only respondents). We are going to take a look at where the 2011 voters have moved and where the current supporters have come from (not exactly the same thing). The two large samples conducted over the past few weeks are also very useful for showing how the party’s current constituencies are arrayed, how stable the current patterns are (unsurprising in the midst of the summer and distant from an election) and what the real regional patterns are and how those have changed from the last election.

Our most recent poll shows a remarkable level of stability from the last poll. The high degree of intersubjective repeatability of results (the main parties are all within less than one point difference of each other) shows that the methodology is highly reliable (a canon of good measurement). It also shows a strikingly placid voter landscape. This is not surprising in a period where an election is very distant and the public are more concerned with cottages and BBQ’s than a non-existent horserace.

Despite the stability of the current landscape, the comparison to May 2nd election results shows some rather important trends. There are really only two notable changes in party position since the election. The first and by far most important trend is the steady and profound erosion of Conservative support since May 2nd. The Government is hovering at or below 30 points, and has lost roughly one in four of all voters who supported them in the last election. One would have to go back to the 1988 Mulroney government to find another majority government which has experienced such a precipitous fall from grace only a year or so out of achieving office. While not suggesting the sort of historical pratfall that occurred in the next election for that government is in the cards for this government, this cannot be considered an auspicious indicator. Moreover, there is little evidence that this decline has been driven by a single issue or even a couple of issues. The steady pattern of decline, coupled with a serious drop in confidence in both national and federal government direction may suggest that the decline is rooted in growing fatigue with the overall management “style” of this government (especially considering that the economy has improved – or at least stabilised – and we are certainly faring much better than Europe).

Another second trend is the recent surge in Green Party support. The Green Party has more than doubled their support since the last election and now stands at 10 points. Although some polls have pegged the Green Party well below our numbers, we are confident in our numbers for two reasons. First, when these other polls ask respondents who they intend to vote for, they often do not prompt respondents with the Green Party as an option, opting instead to lump them in with the “other” option. Second, these other polls often exclude cell phone only households, a group which is consistently more likely to support the Green Party.

We offer three possible explanations for the Green Party’s rise in support:
1.) There is growing fatigue with traditional political parties (perhaps reinforced with Mulcair rebuffing cooperation scenarios?);
2.) Elizabeth May’s rather spunky performance in Parliament and national scene is catching attention of voters; or
3.) The environment, which was the dominant issue five years ago, is on the march to pinnacle status again.

Some argue that these Green Party numbers are inflated because the party fails to deliver these votes on Election Day. Our response to this is that the fact that young citizens are much more likely to be Green supporters and those young potential voters are much more likely to not vote does not justify incorrect reporting of what all eligible voters believe at the time of the poll. Our research suggests that there is some measurement error as people select and over remember voting Green. This over-reporting may be due to social desirability bias, but this effect is modest (about two points). Interestingly, it may be the case of a reverse modest under-reporting of Conservative support.

This is not simply an arid methodological dispute. Recognizing and recording the views of all eligible voters, particularly younger voters who are less likely to vote is important. Incidentally, this methodological and democratic problem would be solved by mandatory voting. Given the improbability of that occurring we put forward another more plausible concept based on these findings.

The erstwhile Natural Governing Party of Canada – the Liberal Party, meanwhile, is mired in a historical slump which if it continues or worsens could well spell the death of that venerable party. The newly muscular NDP, led by Thomas Mulcair, shows little interest in a deal with the Liberals; they appear more content to hope they go the way that Peter Newman has predicted. Yet Canadians, before the advent of the Conservative Party, have opted for center moderate parties such as the Liberal Party (and Brian Mulroney’s PCs fell into this category as well). It might therefore be prudent to retain such an option in a viable form for voters. A new party might satisfy this requirement, but a worthwhile idea might be some form of merger between the Liberals and the Greens. This would be a much lower cost proposal than merging the NDP and the Liberal Party. It would immediately create a third party with very similar heft to that of the other two parties and provide that new party with strongest access to under 40 Canada. The analysis of mobility across parties and attitudinal profiles suggest this is not an unnatural union. With Elizabeth May punching well over her weight in a listless parliament receiving raspberries from the public, a new merged red and green party with a fresh Liberal leader could be a very interesting option for future voters

Click here for the full report: Full Report (July 13, 2012)

3 comments to A DEEPER LOOK AT OVERALL SHIFTS IN PARTY CONSTITUENCIES- July 13, 2012

  • David

    The Red-Green merger is, in my view, very logical. I believe that the current Tory party is too far to the right for the pretence of governing from the middle to be saleable to the public much longer. And the cohesion of the NDP in its newfound centrist message is also suspect. Thre are many blue-Libs and red-Tories that will be unsettled at present. The only thing holding back a gelling of these voters with the Greens at present are the non-immediacy of he question, and the lack of gravitas accumulated by the Greens as yet. That could change if some substantial and well known talent were to gather round Ms May. If some respected Libs chose to move, more would follow and here could even be some pull on red-Tories.

  • Christopher

    I’ve been advocating a Liberal-Green merger for years. They are not politically far apart and I know of many people who have gone back and forth with their votes over the years.

  • Frank Graves

    thanks for the insightful comment
    Frank