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Changing Voter Trends Across Canada: National Trends

By Natalie Pikulski

Canadians are changing their political support which may mean a change in government come fall. Over the next four blog posts, I will examine federal polling data conducted since the last election held on October 9, 2015, up until May 4, 2019. These blogs will attempt to draw connections between trends observed in different demographic groups, compare them to the national average, and discuss any apparent differences to better understand the changes in public opinion toward the federal government over the last 4 years. The four blogs in this series analyze specific demographic trends, in this order; national overall trends, gender, age-groups, and regions. This first blog will outline general trends seen at the national level for all main political parties.

Polling data included in this blog series is based on weighted samples of decided and leaning voters. Only polls with accessible web links were included in our data collection for accuracy and reproduction purposes. We also ensured the polling questions asked in each poll were consistent with other polling organizations’ questions to allow for equal comparisons. Because of the limitations, all Nanos Research polls were not included since the question had respondents choose their top two choices rather than one choice like all other organizations. 

At the end of 2016, a little over a year since the federal election, Liberal support was steadily declining while Conservative support was rising. This rise and fall led the gap that was significant for the first year after the election between the two parties to close resulting in a neck and neck competition for most of 2018. The Conservatives eventually took a slight lead in 2019. The national polling data on the graph below shows the voting intentions of decided and leaning voters across Canada.

For a little over a year after the election, Liberal support remained steady between 45% to 50% but at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, a noticeable drop to about 35% to 45% support occurred. Although the exact reason is unknown, a considerable number of events occurred around this time that may have individually or cumulatively led to this drop. 

A gradual Conservative increase that began to overlap with the Liberals throughout late 2017 to early 2019 saw the party go from 25% – 35% support before 2017 to 30% – 45% after. The fall and rise of each party allowed for the significant gap following the election to eventually close and overlap for a considerable amount of time. In early 2019, a dramatic slide in Liberal support to about 25% – 35% allowed Conservatives to pull forward reaching 35% to almost 45% support in some polls.

Many commentators (1,2,34,5,6) suggest thatthis fall in Liberal support was due to the SNC-Lavalin scandal becoming headline news at this time which may explain why the drop was so sudden and apparent, but more investigation into these claims ought to be explored before a definitive explanation can be made. 

Other parties to note briefly are the NDP and Green. The NDP national averages are largely consistent with how the party is performing in regions across Canada, continuous and steady support with no real significant fall or rise since 2016, typically maintaining between 10% – 20% support. Support for the Green Party has been rising nationally, reaching 10% in 2019. This is significant as the party has polling even higher than the Bloc Quebecois since 2018 which is significant as they were pulling relatively similar support after the election at around 5% each. The small but still significant spike in Green support in early 2019 will be something to watch during the upcoming election to see if this popular support will translate into winning seats. 

The largest and most apparent trend when analyzing the polling data from the past few years was the significant fall in Liberal support and steady gain of the Conservative vote. The next blog will look at how this fall and gain of Canada’s two main federal parties compare between females and males. 

Part I. The pre-problem stage of acid rain

By Sarah Stickland

The relationship between policy and public opinion has been studied for decades. Some social scientists argue that the public opinion shapes policy. While others argue that policy shapes the publics opinion.  I believe that it is situational, but there is always a small minority pushing for policy change.  When it comes to environmental policy, this is the case of a minority making a continuous effort, and eventually succeeding.  The minority become a majority when the society feels threatened and believes they can make a change. Anthony Downs describes this an issue-attention cycle.  We can see this cycle in Canadian policy and public opinion towards acid rain between the 1960s and 1990s.

The issue attention is a five stage cycle that the public goes through when determining the priority of their interest. The stages are pre-problem, alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm, realizing the cost of significant progress, gradual decline of intense public interest, and the post-problem stage. The pre-problem stage emerges when there are undesirable social conditions and the problem is typically at the worst point here. The second stage the public becomes aware and alarmed about the problem and wants to find a solution to the problem. However, the public then becomes discouraged or not interested in making scarifies to rectify to the problem. This leads to a gradual decline in the public’s interest in solving the problem or another problem enters stage two of the cycle and this problem is forgotten (Downs 2001, 39-41). 

Figure 1: Canadian public opinion on acid rain (1980-1993)

Acid rain according to Environment and Climate Change Canada is, acid deposition caused by sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that enter the atmosphere and become acidic when in contact with water. Acid rain affects water quality, air quality and is a part of climate change. 

The pre-problem stage was happening the in 1960s and 70s. The acidic levels the air and water were high. This was especially the case in Sudbury, Ontario because it had industries using sulphur in the production process. At the same time, there was a small minority that pressured the federal government to control pollution and ensure clean air and water. This is evident with public opinion polls conducted by Environics, Canadian Gallup Poll, and Decimal Quarterly between 1980 and 1990 asking Canadians their opinion towards acid rain (figure 1). 

The data illustrates that the public entered stage two of the issue attention cycle in the late 1980s. This makes it a case where the public adjusted its preference in reaction to policy changes (Soroka and Wlezien 2004, 532). We know this because industries and both Federal and Provincial governments were already starting to solve acid rain prior to the peak of the public’s concern. Part II will explain how the public entered into the second stage, the policies implemented, and what we learned from this case.

The Accuracy of the Dyad Ratio Algorithm and the 2015 Federal Election

The Dyad Ratio Algorithm, as explained in the previous post, can be used to estimate public opinion towards issues or support for political parties. This approach does not weight the polling firms on their accuracy or their potential bias instead all surveys are assumed to be equally valid, with the only variance in importance of a poll for the model based on the survey sample size. This is contrast to Éric Grenier’s approach at CBC and Nate Silver’s approach at fivethirtyeight.com.

Grenier at CBC weights the results by sample size, time of the poll, and firm accuracy. Polling firm accuracy is determined by the firm’s last survey before an election compared to the election result for each election polled over the past ten years. A survey’s impact diminishes by 35% for each day of an election. Silver at fivethirtyeight.com also uses accuracy of the polling firm and a measure for house effects which is built into the model itself. Silve’s approach also uses sample size to weight the impact.




ThreeHundredThirtyEight.com at this time does not have a record of the accuracy of polling firms, as such the approach used here accounts for each poll equally in the results. When examining the 2015 federal election the  model’s approach performed quite well at predicting party support.

Comparing the projections from the Dyad Ratio Algorithm using Wcalc to the election results each outcome is within 1.1 percentages points of the final results. (Note the election results were re-calculated to remove those who voted for an ‘other’ party). The Conservatives are projected exactly, Bloc within 0.2 percentage points, the NDP are within 0.5 percentage points, the Liberals within 0.8 percentage points and the Greens within 1.1 percentage points.

The results of the Dyad Ratio Algorithm also outperformed the projection from Éric Grenier narrowly. Grenier has the Conservatives within 1 percentage point, Bloc within 0.2 percentage points, the NDP are within 2 percentage points, the Liberals within 2.3 percentage points and the Greens within 1 percentage point. Though it is worth noting that Grenier’s projections were able to include ‘other’, which he projected to yield 0.9% support compared to the 0.8% they actually received. Also, in fairness, the Dyad Ratio Algorithm projections are being made after the fact and Grenier’s were made in real time before the election results were known. To put it another way, if these results had shown ThreeHundredThirtyEight.com to do significantly worse this model would have been re-examined.

The next step is to begin testing the model to predict support during elections. Future posts will use data from Wikipedia to show how the Dyad Ratio Algorithm is projecting support for the federal parties on an on-going basis.