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NDP's Path to Big Win

Polls point to a majority, but how large? First of three roadmaps to BC's election day.

By Andrew MacLeod 11 Feb 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

Even the tightest recent polls suggest the New Democratic Party under Adrian Dix's leadership is on track to win a massive majority, taking some 58 of the province's 85 constituencies, maybe more.

Much can change with 13 weeks to go before May 14 when British Columbians vote -- a final stretch that will include a throne speech, legislative sitting, budget, platform releases, campaign period, debates and blanket advertising from parties and their supporters -- but for now the NDP's path to victory looks clear.

Polls have consistently had the NDP ahead of the governing BC Liberals. In 26 Angus Reid Public Opinion polls since August 2009, the NDP has led in all but three. The Mustel Group, which has generally found higher support for the Liberals and lower for the NDP, had the NDP ahead in nine out of 11 polls over the same period.

The only time the NDP trailed the Liberals was while the party sought a new leader to replace Carole James, ousted in a messy and public battle, and Gordon Campbell replacement Christy Clark enjoyed a brief honeymoon with the public as Liberal leader.

According to Angus Reid, the NDP lead has steadily been ahead by more than 20 per cent and as high as 27 per cent, with the most recent showing a closer race with a spread of 15 per cent. Their polls have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent on each party's result.

Mustel's most recent, released Jan. 29, gave the NDP a 10 per cent lead, plus or minus 4.3 per cent on each party's result with 95 per cent confidence and 11 per cent of respondents undecided. And in December Ipsos Public Affairs had the NDP ahead of the Liberals by 13 per cent, plus or minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Making assumptions

Determining how those polling results will translate into votes and seat counts is an inexact science, attempted by a few brave souls.

By aggregating and weighting recent publicly available poll data, Eric Grenier on his website ThreeHundredEight.com forecasts 56 seats for the NDP, 28 for the Liberals and one other. He gives the NDP a 95.2 per cent chance of victory.

Applying local knowledge to the available data, Bernard von Schulmann on the BC Iconoclast website predicts 59 NDP MLAs, 22 Liberals, three independents and one Green.

"I don't think it's anywhere near close," said von Schulmann. The recent Mustel and Angus Reid polls were in line with what responses have shown for more than a year, he said. "There are no statistically relevant changes in either poll ... I don't see any poll indicating any real change."

Sometimes things change during an election campaign, but usually they don't, he said. In 2001 the polls weren't close and the didn't get closer during the campaign period either, he said. "Things tend to move in campaigns when there are new things people are considering they haven't considered before."

In a contest between the Liberals and NDP, people know what to expect and have generally already formed their opinions, he said. "It's been remarkably flat for a long time for the major parties."

More assumptions

The Tyee, starting from recent polls and the 2009 results, arrived at a similar result to the ones found by Grenier and von Schulmann.

First, we assumed that with an NDP lead in the polls, the party will keep nearly all of the 35 seats it won in 2009.

The only one the party looks like it might lose is Cariboo North, where Bob Simpson won for the NDP last election and has sat as an independent since 2010. He's running again, and has said in the past he won there despite the NDP not because of it. The NDP, however, are likely to put significant resources into trying to win the constituency as well.

Erring on the conservative side, we assumed the NDP wins 34 seats they won last time. They'll also likely keep at least one of the constituencies they won from the Liberals in the 2012 by-elections. Port Moody Mayor Joe Trasolini seems likely to hold Port Moody-Coquitlam, while a repeat in Chilliwack-Hope by Gwen O'Mahony seems a riskier bet. That brings our count back up to 35.

In the 2009 election, the Liberals won the popular vote by 3.67 per cent. Assuming a shift of just five per cent, far short of what polls are showing but allowing for a tightening race, a whole bunch of seats that were narrow Liberal victories last time become likely wins for the NDP this time.

They are Boundary-Similkameen, Burnaby-Lougheed, Burnaby-North, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Comox Valley, Kamloops North, Maple Ridge-Mission, Oak Bay-Gordon Head, Saanich North and the Islands, Vancouver-Fairview and Vancouver-Fraserview.

That includes at least two where the Green Party may play a significant role. In Oak Bay-Gordon Head in particular, Andrew Weaver's entry to the race for the Greens makes for a possible three-way race, giving incumbent Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong a chance to hold on.

That still adds at least 10 seats for the NDP, bringing the total to 45, enough for a majority with room to spare.

Close races

But if Mustel is right and the NDP is 10 per cent ahead, anywhere the Liberals won by less than 13.67 per cent in 2009 is vulnerable.

That adds premier Clark's constituency of Vancouver-Point Grey to the list, along with Vernon-Monashee, Surrey-Tynehead, Chilliwack, North Vancouver-Lonsdale, Parksville-Qualicum, Penticton and Prince George-Valemount. The NDP's seat count would then be 53.

And if Angus Reid's numbers are closer, the NDP would add Shuswap and Surrey-Panorama as well, taking it to 55.

The Liberals may also lose Peace River North, but the most likely competitor right now appears to be independent Arthur Hadland. We also assume that independent Vicki Huntington will hold Delta South, and that if she doesn't it's won by a party other than the NDP.

All in, making conservative assumptions, that puts the NDP's likely seat count at between 53 and 58, based on current trends and depending on the outcome in a few hard-to predict ridings.

Such a result would give the NDP the largest majority for a government in the legislature since the BC Liberals came to power in 2001 and would be similar to the portion of the seats the NDP held when it formed the government in 1991 under Mike Harcourt.

And the win could be even bigger than that. A poll Justason Market Intelligence released last week showed an NDP lead of 22 per cent, which would be a shift of 25 per cent from the 2009 election. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, with 95 per cent confidence.

That result is similar to what other companies have found at times and would put at least a dozen more seats, previously considered safe for the Liberals, in play. Places like Nechako Lakes, Langley, West Kelowna and Pat Bell's Prince George-Mackenzie could all go NDP.

Add in questions about which party's supporters will be most motivated to actually turn out and vote, and the province could be looking at a landslide on a scale close to 2001 when the Liberals won 77 of the then available 79 seats.

While such a lopsided result is possible, right now it doesn't look as likely as an NDP victory that is merely solid. To get there, Dix and the NDP just need to stay on the path they've been on for months.

"We're seeing numbers very similar to the numbers we had back in October," said Barb Justason, the principal researcher at Justason Market Intelligence. "We're seeing variances in how people intend to vote, but we're not seeing any difference in the party that comes out on top."

As things are now, there's no reason to expect a dramatic reversal, she said.

Tomorrow: Is there any way the Liberals can mount a comeback and win on May 14? 'Stranger things have happened,' says one number cruncher.  [Tyee]

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