Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rudimentary Guide to Election Night

Sadly, work is getting in the way, and I won't be able to post as extensive a guide as I hoped before polls close. The basic thing to remember is that states are typically called immediately only when the margin is greater than 10%. Looking at my state-by-state map, this means that while most states in dark blue/red will be called right away, most (if not all) other states won't. Obama supporters certainly shouldn't freak out if PA isn't called right at 8pm ET, or MI/MN aren't called right at 9pm ET.

We likely won't get a call in any battleground state (tossups and those coloured in the lightest blue or red) until at least 10pm ET. So if you're on the East Coast, you can probably go have a nice long dinner and still not miss any big calls.

If any of PA, MN or MI is called before 10pm ET, Obama is performing at least a little better than expected, and he should probably be viewed as a 95%+ favourite. (Right now, it's more like 90%.) On the other hand, if NC is called for Romney before 10pm ET, then Romney is overperforming, and we're likely in for a long long night.

The Democrats have a decent chance of winning the Senate as early as 11pm ET; if not, it shouldn't be too long a wait after that time. Obama will likely not win the presidency that early, and while I do expect him to win before sunrise tomorrow (most likely between midnight ET and midnight PT), there's a chance that we're headed for long legal battles...

Also, keep an eye out for Marriage Equality propositions in ME, MD and WA, as well as MN's proposal to enshrine discrimination in their state constitution.

Happy viewing!

2012 US Senate Elections

For posts on the Presidential election, click here (state by state) and here (popular vote).

Note: Maine is safe for independent Angus King; it is coloured in light blue since he is likely to caucus with the Democrats.

Some states are less solid than the others. Of the "lean Democrat" states, I'm least confident about MA, IN and VA. Of the "lean Republican" states, ND and NV have the best chance of causing a surprise.

I think the Democrat is marginally ahead in both tossups, MT and WI. However, the advantage is so slight that they might have a better chance of splitting. (For example, if the Democrat has a 60% of winning in each, and the two races are independent, then the Democrats have a 36% of winning both, and the states have a 48% chance of splitting.) For this reason, I view the most likely outcome as the Democrats winning all states coloured in blue and both tossups, but the most likely seat count as 53-47.

Later today: a guide to election night

2012 US Presidential Election: State by State

Click here for a summary of national polls.

Dark blue: Obama by 9 or more
Minnesota: Obama by 7
Oregon: Obama by 6
Michigan: Obama by 6
Pennsylvania: Obama by 5
Nevada: Obama by 4
Wisconsin: Obama by 4
Ohio: Obama by 3
New Hampshire: Obama by 2
Colorado: Obama by 2
Iowa: Obama by 1
Virginia: Obama by 1
Florida: Romney by 1
North Carolina: Romney by 3
Arizona: Romney by 8
Dark red: Romney by 9 or more

Electoral College count: Obama 303, Romney 235
Decisive state: Ohio
Tightest Obama state: Virginia
Least confident Obama state: Iowa (fewer polls than Virginia, and polls were off in 2008)
Tightest and least confident Romney state: Florida

Next up: Senate races

2012 US Election: Summary of National Polls

A small number of pollsters are expected to release their last polls on Election Day. This post may therefore be updated.

Most recent poll of 28 pollsters with national likely voter polls since October 4:
5, 4, 3.32, 3, 3, 3, 3
2.8, 2, 2, 2, 1.6, 1, 1
1, 1, 0.5, 0, 0, 0, 0
0, 0, -1, -1, -1, -1, -2
Average: Obama +1.2
Median: Obama +1 

The 21 with polling in November:
4, 3.32, 3, 3, 3, 2.8, 2
2, 2, 1.6, 1, 1, 1, 0.5
0, 0, 0, 0, 0, -1, -1
Average: Obama +1.3
Median: Obama +1 

Non/bi-partisan, live-operator polls with polling in November:
0 Politico/GWU/Battleground (11/4-5)
1.6 IBD/TIPP (11/3-5)
1 UPI/CVoter (11/3-5)
0 American Research Group (11/2-4)
0 CNN/ORC (11/2-4)
-1 Gallup (11/1-4)
3 ABC News/WaPo (11/1-4)
1 NBC/Marist (11/1-3)
3 Pew (10/31-11/3) 
Average: Obama +1.0
Median: Obama +1

Internet polls with polling in November:
2.8 Google Consumer Surveys (11/5)*
0.5 JZ Analytics (11/3-5)
2 Ipsos/Reuters (11/1-5)
3.32 RAND Corporation (10/30-11/5)
3 Angus Reid (11/1-3)
2 YouGov (10/31-11/3)
Average: Obama +2.3
Median: Obama +2.4
*Voters "100% likely" to vote

Automated phone/mixed/partisan polls with polling in November:
-1 Rasmussen Reports (11/3-5)
0 Gravis Marketing (11/3-4)
2 Public Policy Polling (11/2-4)
4 Democracy Corps (11/1-4)
0 Monmouth/SurveyUSA (11/1-4)
1 Purple Strategies (10/31-11/1)
Average: Obama +1.0
Median: Obama +0.5 

I think you can see why I predicted that Obama will win by about 1% :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Day 2012 in America

Detailed posts coming up overnight or in the morning. But since the polls will be closing in about 20 minutes in Dixville Notch and Hart's Location, NH (these hamlets vote at midnight and are allowed to close their polls when everyone has voted), I'd like to give some approximate projections now.

Obama wins the popular vote by about 1%.
Obama wins between 271 and 347 electoral votes, likely 303.
The Democrats retain a majority in the Senate, with 52-54 seats. (This total includes two independents expected to caucus with Democrats.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Five Days to 2012 US Election

The state of the race has moved very little from three weeks ago - so little that a few times, I thought about writing an update, but gave up since there was basically nothing to add.

In the past few days, things seem to have shifted marginally - maybe 0.5-1% - towards Obama: the latest national polls give him an ever so slight edge (roughly 0.5%), while Romney arguably had the advantage (by 0.5% or less) last week. To my knowledge, 24 different pollsters have released a national poll of likely voters since the Oct. 3 debate that shook up the race. Here are their most recent results, expressed in "Obama minus Romney" terms, from highest to lowest:

5.46, 5, 3, 3, 2, 1.3
1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 0.1
0.07, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0
-1, -2, -2, -2, -3, -5

Average: Obama +0.41
Median: Obama +0.085

Listing only the 18 polls that started on or after October 20 (or, equivalently, that ended on or after October 24) gives us:

5.46, 5, 2, 1.3, 1, 1
1, 1, 1, 0.1, 0.07, 0
0, 0, 0, -1, -2, -5

Average: Obama +0.61
Median: Obama +0.55

Sixteen of these have updated over the past week. By this I mean that as of a week ago, they had released a post-first-debate poll, and they released another one in the past 7 days. The changes in the Obama-Romney gap are:

-2.3, -2, -1.7, -1
-1, -1, -0.7, +1
+1, +1, +1.44, +2
+2, +3, +3.07, +4

Average: Obama +0.55
Median: Obama +1

This national movement was reproduced in many of the swing states. In particular, Virginia, Colorado and New Hampshire, which were virtually perfectly tied as of my last post, now all appear to have an ever so slight Obama lean. Obama may not win all three, but Romney is even less likely to sweep them.

Similarly, in Florida, Romney's already slight advantage has eroded to the point that the state is almost a virtual tie again. The state is definitely in play, and if Obama wins Florida, it's game over for Romney. However, it's unlikely to be the decisive state since there are 303 electoral votes that appear easier to get for Obama than Florida's 29 electoral votes.

Obama's most likely path to 270 is still through Wisconsin, Nevada and Ohio. This trio puts Obama at 271, barring a huge upset in a state like Pennsylvania, Minnesota or Michigan.

Something to keep in mind: in 2008, the polls grossly overestimated Obama's margin in Iowa. Therefore, even though Obama appears to have a small but stubborn lead there, I'm not too confident that he will win. On the other hand, the 2008 polls grossly underestimated Obama's margin in Nevada (as they did Harry Reid's in 2010), so it seems very likely that he'll carry that state even though his polling lead there is also slight. In Colorado as well, the Democrats were underestimated in both 2008 and 2010, though the effect wasn't as big as Nevada.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

US Election: All Eyes on Ohio and Virginia

Three weeks ago, I gave a list of 10 states totaling 125 electoral votes that will likely determine the outcome of the 2012 U.S. presidential election - both candidates need a majority of those 125 votes to win. At the time, Obama led in all 10 of those states, but of course, Romney has gained substantial momentum since then with his strong performance in the first debate.

Right now, based on state-by-state polls, I'd classify those states as follows:
- Clear Obama lead: PA (20), MN (10)
- Obama edge: OH (18), WI (10), IA (6), NV (6)
- Tossup: VA (13), CO (9), NH (4)
- Romney edge: FL (29)
This gives a 277-235 lead for Obama in the electoral college.

(By the way, some other states like MI (16) on the Obama side or NC (15) and AZ (11) on the Romney side are also relatively tight, but they are very unlikely to be decisive. In the above list, it looks like MN is also firmly in the Obama column.)

However, as Nate Silver has pointed out time and time again on his blog, the national polls have lately been somewhat more favourable to Romney than the state polls. If we give the "Tossup" states to Romney, we end up with a very tight race: 277-261. This is very similar to Mr. Silver's "now-cast", which gives Obama a 280.4-257.6 lead (he has NH as leaning Obama).

We can now probably narrow down the list of states to watch to the seven "Obama edge" or "Tossup" states above: OH, VA, WI, CO, IA, NV and NH. This doesn't mean that PA will definitely go for Obama or that FL will go for Romney, but if those things don't happen, the winner is likely to have over 300 electoral votes.

Ohio and Virginia are the keys to the election: if a candidate wins both of these, he forces his opponent to run the table on WI, CO, IA, NV and NH.

If Ohio and Virginia split, then, in most cases, whoever can carry three of WI, CO, IA, NV and NH wins. The exceptions are:
- OH, WI and any one of CO/IA/NV is enough (so VA, NH and two of CO/IA/NV is insufficient)
- OH, CO and either IA or NV is enough for Obama (so VA, WI, NH and either IA or NV is insufficient for Romney)

Polls close at 7 in Virginia, 7:30 in Ohio, 8 in New Hampshire, 9 in Colorado and Wisconsin, and 10 in Iowa and Nevada (all times Eastern) - conveniently, the two most important states close first.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Non-Payers in Canada

As you've probably heard by now, Mitt Romney made some disparaging remarks about the estimated 47% of the US that do not pay federal income taxes. A natural question for us Canadians is to wonder how many non-payers there are in Canada. Glen McGregor suggests that the comparable figure for Canada is 34%, but unfortunately, he is comparing apples to oranges. So here's a more accurate answer.

The 47% (actually 46.4%) might refer to the proportion of estimated total tax units in the US that had no federal tax liability in 2011, according to a model by the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Or it might refer to the estimated 45.9% of estimated total tax units in the US that had no federal tax liability in 2010, according to actual IRS data for filers and estimates of non-filers.

The 34% refers to the proportion of tax filers in Canada that had no federal or provincial tax liability in 2009, according to actual CRA data.

Obviously, the year used in the computations and the data sources are different. But those are not the main problems here.

One issue that will always arise when comparing the US and Canadian income tax systems is that most married couples file a single return in the US. This is why US data refers to "tax units" rather than individuals. But this, too, isn't the main problem, since it's unclear how this distinction skews figures.

A major issue that is easily fixed is that the 34% refers to Canadian filers that did not pay federal or provincial income taxes. But, as it turns out, over a million Canadians that paid provincial income tax in 2009 did not pay federal income tax. The US statistic refers only to federal income tax, so a more comparable figure would be the 38.2% of Canadian filers that paid no net federal tax in 2009.

Another major issue is that the 38.2% refers to the proportion of Canadian filers, while the 47% in the US includes non-filers. The proportion of American filers that didn't pay federal income tax in 2010 was 40.9%. Now, filing requirements are different in the two countries, so even comparing filers with filers is not a fair comparison. Unfortunately, I can't find an estimate for the adult population in Canada at year-end 2009, but the estimates for the 15+ and 20+ population in mid-2009 and mid-2010 are readily available from Statistics Canada. From those, we can estimate that the adult population was roughly 27.0 million at the end of 2009, which means that the proportion of the Canadian adult population that did not pay federal income tax in 2009 was about 41%.

Looking at 33.9% and 46.4% might drive us to think that, proportionately, much fewer Canadians than Americans escape the federal income tax. But when you realize that the comparison should be between 41% and 46%, the two countries look much closer.

In actuality, the gap is probably even smaller. In the US, the child tax credit gets directly subtracted off your income taxes. By contrast, in Canada, the child tax benefit (as well as the GST/HST credit) is provided throughout the year. So a family that owes $400 and gets $1,000 in child benefits would count as non-paying in the US, while it would count as paying in Canada.

In the end, the proportion of Canadians that avoid federal income tax is probably not much lower than the proportion of Americans. Careless interpretation of data in the media strikes again...

McGregor also mentions at the end of his piece that much more Quebecers (38%) than Ontarians (32%) or Albertans (28%) avoid income taxes. But he's looking at provincial and federal income taxes for ON and AB, while for QC, he's only looking at federal income taxes since the CRA does not collect Québec income tax. The actual fractions of filers that did not pay federal income tax in 2009 are:

NL 41.5%
NB 39.5%
NS 39.5%
MB 39.1%
ON 39.0%
BC 38.84%
QC 38.82%
PE 37.8%
SK 37.3%
AB 31.6%

A slightly greater proportion of Québec filers paid federal income tax in 2009 than Ontario or BC filers!

2012 U.S. Presidential Election: Ten States to Watch

At the end of 2010, I posted about the 2012 presidential race. As it turns out, that post has held up quite well over time: the 9 states that I held up then as "Tossups" are pretty much the states to watch now. The one addition to make is Wisconsin, due to Paul Ryan's presence on the ticket. Those 10 states are exactly the top 10 likely "tipping point" states today as identified by the FiveThirtyEight blog.

The score in the 40 other states and D.C. is Obama 207, Romney 206. Considering that Romney would likely win in the case of a 269-269 Electoral College tie (which would be broken by a vote in the House of Representatives where each state gets one vote, a formula that overwhelmingly favours Romney), this election comes down to winning a simple majority of the 125 electoral votes in the remaining ten states. They are:

Florida (29)
Pennsylvania (20)
Ohio (18)
Virginia (13)
Minnesota (10)
Wisconsin (10)
Colorado (9)
Iowa (6)
Nevada (6)
New Hampshire (4)

To be sure, the outcome in some of the other states isn't set in stone. But if Obama wins North Carolina, or if Romney wins Oregon, then the election isn't even close. So the above 10 states are pretty much the only useful ones to look at in order to see who is likely to win.

Currently, Obama leads in all ten of these states, though his advantage is often tenuous. Not surprisingly, PA, MN and WI, the three states carried by both Gore and Kerry, are the strongest for Obama, who has a lead in the mid-to-high single digits. In the seven other states, Obama's lead is in the low single digits.

Assuming that Obama wins PA, MN, WI and his 207 "base" electoral votes, he needs any one of the following:

- Florida
- Ohio and any one state below other than NH
- Virginia and any two states below
- CO, IA, NV and NH

Let's focus on the big three, FL, OH and VA. Conveniently, polls will close earlier in these states (7 or 7:30 ET) than in the four smaller ones (8, 9 or 10 ET). We see that, out of the 8 possible win/loss combinations, only 3 keep Romney alive:

1. Florida and Virginia
2. Florida and Ohio
3. All three

Option 1 still leaves Romney in a tough spot, as he'd need to win all of CO, IA and NV. Option 2 still leaves him at a disadvantage, as he'd still need to win 3 of the 4 small states (but now NH can be one of them). Option 3 is the only one that gives Romney the upper hand, as Obama would then need to run the table on the smaller states.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Recap of Québec 2012 Results

Obviously, the Liberals did much better than expected, with a "ballot box bonus" of 4-5%. Some commentators have said that this usually happens in Québec elections. While this may have been true historically, it wasn't in 2007, when the ADQ got the bounce, and in 2008, when the PQ got the bounce. So I don't think that this bounce could have been predicted based on past experience alone. Rather, it is more likely that many Quebecers intending to vote Liberals felt somewhat ashamed, and didn't want to admit it to pollsters: they felt that they had to vote for a party perceived as corrupt because the other options were so unappetizing.

The Liberals' bounce was across the board and allowed them to beat expectations by winning most tight races rather than by coming "out of the blue" in many seats. To see this, here's a region-by-region breakdown of the results:

Far Away Regions: 16 PQ, 1 LIB
  3 PQ in Abitibi-Témiscamingue
  1 PQ in Northern Québec
  2 PQ in Côte-Nord
  5 PQ in Saguenay--Lac-St-Jean
  3 PQ in Gaspésie--Îles-de-la-Madeleine
  2 PQ, 1 LIB in Bas-St-Laurent
I had predicted that the PQ would come close to sweeping this region, which is what happened.

Capitale-Nationale: 6 CAQ, 3 LIB, 2 PQ
Chaudière-Appalaches: 4 LIB, 3 CAQ
  7 CAQ, 3 LIB, 1 PQ in Quebec City Census Metropolitan Area
The Liberals did better than expected here, at the expense of the CAQ. I had thought that the CAQ would win at least 12 seats in this area, but it only got 9.

Mauricie: 3 LIB, 2 PQ
Central Québec: 3 CAQ
Estrie: 3 LIB, 2 PQ
Outaouais: 5 LIB
No big surprises in these regions: the Mauricie and the Estrie were predicted to be tight, Central Québec was predicted to go for the CAQ, and the Liberals were expected to win a majority of the Outaouais seats, with a good chance of a sweep. Still, the Liberals came in at the higher end of the expected range, as it beat the PQ in the Mauricie and the Estrie, and swept the Outaouais.

Laurentides-Lanaudière: 11 PQ, 4 CAQ
Laval: 4 LIB, 2 PQ
Montérégie: 13 PQ, 7 LIB, 3 CAQ
Montréal: 20 LIB, 6 PQ, 2 QS
  29 LIB, 20 PQ, 6 CAQ, 2 QS in Montréal Census Metropolitan Area
Again, no big surprises, but the Liberals performed at the higher end of expectations everywhere (except Laurentides-Lanaudière, where their only shot was Argenteuil): they kept all their Montréal seats, retained a majority in hard-fought Laval, and saved as many Montérégie seats at they could. The CAQ, on the other hand, performed at the low end of expectations, losing most races to the PQ.

The Liberals won almost every seat where they were in contention, particularly in races against the PQ. Indeed, the Liberals lost only one race to the PQ by less than 3.5% (Saint-François), but won in six ridings with less than 3.5% over the PQ (Richmond, Verdun, Trois-Rivières, Papineau, Maskinongé, Jean-Lesage).

This also means that even though the Liberals had to flip only two PQ seats to hang on to government, they weren't actually that close. Indeed, if the Liberals had gotten 2% extra in every riding, 1.5% from the CAQ and 0.5% from the PQ, they would still have lost the election 53-54 despite winning the popular vote by almost 2%. (In this scenario, the Liberals would have taken Saint-François from the PQ, as well as Vanier and Charlesbourg from the CAQ, but the PQ would have taken La Prairie from the CAQ.)

The four projection models available online all had similar calls, and no single prediction was obviously better than the others. Fortunately, three of these websites published what their projections would have been given the right popular vote. This allows us to assess which vote-to-seat model was most accurate:

Too Close To Call: PQ 51, LIB 48, CAQ 24, QS 2
ThreeHundredEight: PQ 53, LIB 42, CAQ 28, QS 2
RidingByRiding: PQ 48, LIB 44, CAQ 31, QS 2

The clear winner is Too Close To Call, while 308 fares a little better than RxR. All three models overestimate the CAQ. This is probably because they use the ADQ as the CAQ's baseline, but in reality, the CAQ's support isn't as efficiently distributed as the ADQ's was.

We can also wonder about the value added of these models. Anyone could have applied a simple uniform swing to the 2007 or 2008 results: for each party, adding/subtracting the same percentage in every riding, and not take into account the boundary changes. Doing so would have given:

Based on 2007: PQ 52, LIB 43, CAQ 30
Based on 2008: PQ 58, LIB 47, CAQ 19, QS 1

A crude way to transform these into a single sensible projection would be to average them, and bring QS up to 2 seats to the detriment of the PQ. This would have given: PQ 53.5, LIB 45, CAQ 24.5, QS 2.

TCTC fares a little better, so it provides some real value added. On the other hand, unfortunately, 308 and RxR fare worse, so at least for this election, those models weren't very useful, although those websites remain excellent resources for maps (RxR), graphics (308) and analysis (both).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Election Night

8:30pm: Liberals surprisingly strong for now, and in the lead! Very early though, and probably mainly early votes being counted.

8:59pm: PQ government declared by Radio-Canada. Not sure if it'll be a minority or majority. It could be a long night, as many thought. The surprise is that the Liberals are, for now, above 30%. They are holding up particularly well in Quebec City, which hurts the CAQ, which sits at 18 seats despite actually getting the expected vote count (27-28%). The Liberals are also holding up in the Eastern Townships (except in Charest's Sherbrooke seat!), which is what separates the PQ from a majority.

9:15pm: Things have stabilized. The PQ is a few seats from a majority, but very close if you add in the two QS seats. The Eastern Townships are really what makes the difference right now.

9:43pm: Numbers have moved very little. It now looks quite unlikely that the PQ will win an outright majority. However, PQ+QS could get 63 seats, though they're quite not there now.

10:01pm: Radio-Canada declares that the next PQ government will be a minority. This is, of course, not a surprise, since everyone acknowledged it as a likely (even though not necessarily the most likely) outcome. The surprise, however, is that it's the Liberals, rather than the CAQ, that stood in the way of the PQ: right now, the PQ only leads the popular vote by 2%.

12:30am: It looks like the final results are:

54 PQ (32%)
50 LIB (31%)
19 CAQ (27%)
  2 QS (6%)

Note that the Liberals are exactly at the very high end of my admittedly wide ranges, both for the seat count and for the popular vote. They won more seats than when they formed government in 2007!

As for the act of terrorism, well, Québec politics are not dull. It will be interesting to see the fallout... Update: Apparently, it was even more serious than first thought. Let's hope that every Quebecer and every Canadian, from hard-core separatist organizations to compulsive Québec bashers, react to this in a responsible way.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Québec 2012: My Two Cents

Although I haven't built a formal projection model for Québec, I couldn't resist playing around with the numbers. First, we run into the problem of projecting the popular vote. This is even trickier than usual, as I will argue below. Four firms have released polls in the last few days:

CROP: 8/27-29, sample size 1002
Léger: 8/29-31, sample size 1856
EKOS: 8/31-9/3, sample size 1749
Forum: 9/3, sample size 2781

Their numbers:
CROP: PQ 32,    CAQ 28,    LIB 26,    QS 9
Léger:   PQ 33,    CAQ 28,    LIB 27,    QS 7
EKOS: PQ 36.0, CAQ 24.5, LIB 23.2, QS 10.7
Forum:  PQ 36,    CAQ 25,    LIB 29,    QS 6

What to make of this? First, here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Forum also polled 8/27-28, and had numbers very close to those of Léger and CROP. So there may indeed have been movement from the CAQ and QS to the PQ.

2. Polling during Labour Day weekend can be good because it's closer to Election Day. It can also be bad because the sample may be different. This puts the movement posited in point 1 in doubt.

3. Forum also had a weird poll after the first debate showing the Liberals at 35%, completely out of whack with everything else we've seen.

4. In the 2008 election, the Québec firms (CROP and Léger) had the PQ at 29% and 32%. Then Angus Reid, who had been quiet all campaign, swooped in showing the PQ at 36%. The PQ finished with 35.15%. Moreover, in the 2007 election, the Québec firms had the ADQ at 25% and 26%. Then Angus Reid, who had been quiet all campaign, swooped in showing the ADQ at 30%. The ADQ finished with 30.84%.

5. The ADQ, the CAQ's predecessor, beat the average of the last CROP, Léger and Angus Reid by 3.8% in 2007 and 2% in 2008.

6. EKOS usually overestimates the Greens federally. The same may happen with QS.

7. I am not aware of any track record for EKOS and Forum in Québec provincial elections. Will they play the role of Angus Reid? Or will they miss badly, being newcomers to the Québec provincial scene?

As you can see, it's quite a bit harder to interpret these polls than in a "standard" election, since no pollster with a track record was in the field in the last 3 days of the campaign, which was a summer long weekend. My best guess would be:
PQ 34.5% (30.5-38)
CAQ 28% (23-32)
LIB 27% (23-31)
QS 6.5% (5-10)

My call for the seat count is:
PQ 68 (35-82)
CAQ 25 (16-50)
LIB 30 (22-50)
QS 2 (1-4)

You'll note that my ranges are usually just a little wider than 308's, except on the low end for the PQ and the high end for the CAQ. This is to account for the possibility that the CAQ gets a repeat of the 2007 ADQ ballot box bonus - not the most likely scenario, but also not a remote one. However, even though all the ranges overlap, the following scenarios are extremely unlikely:

- the PQ finishing third, since the CAQ and the Liberals likely won't both be high, as they share the pool of federalist voters;
- a Liberal win, since the PQ and the CAQ likely won't both be low, as they fight each other in many ridings.

These could only happen in a "perfect storm" of sorts, where all three parties end up with 30-31%. Interestingly, the Liberals' only faint hope at finishing first involves the CAQ doing well, since this would hurt the PQ much more than the Liberals. However, since the beginning of the campaign, the CAQ and the Liberals have not combined for over 60% in any poll (if I remember correctly), so this is very unlikely.

In fact, the scenarios that I find plausible as to the ranking of parties and majority/minority remain the same as last week. However, the latest two polls showing the PQ at 36% have reduced the chance of a CAQ win, and increased the chance of a PQ majority. I'd say that there's a ~60% chance of a PQ majority, a 30-35% chance of a PQ minority, and a 5-10% chance of a CAQ minority.

Whatever happens, it'll be a fascinating election night tomorrow. Have fun!

Projections Around the Web

Since this post was first published, two new pollsters have new numbers. First, EKOS, which hasn't given numbers all campaign long, comes out with:
PQ 36.0%, CAQ 24.5%, LIB 23.2%, QS 10.7% (sample size 1,749, 8/31-9/3)

Then, Forum gives us:
PQ 36%, LIB 29%, CAQ 25%, QS 6% (sample size 2,781, 9/3)

Furthermore, a fourth projection website, RidingByRiding, was brought to my attention.

This has resulted in the following updates:
1. I moved my own analysis to another post.
2. I added numbers from RidingByRiding, which take all four most recent polls (Forum, EKOS, Léger and CROP) into account.
3. The numbers from Too Close To Call have been updated to take the Forum (but not EKOS) numbers into account.
4. The other two websites have not yet updated for either the latest Forum or the latest EKOS.

Here are the calls of the four projection websites:
Too Close To Call: PQ 66 (33.1%), LIB 33 (27.1%), CAQ 24 (27.4%), QS 2 (7.6%)
ThreeHundredEight: PQ 63 (34.1%), LIB 33 (27.9%), CAQ 27 (26.3%), QS 2 (7.5%)
ElectionsQC: PQ 69 (32.7%), LIB 30 (26.8%), CAQ 23 (27.8%), QS 2 (7.8%), ON 1
RidingbyRiding: PQ 70 (35.0%), LIB 30 (27.8%), CAQ 22 (26.65%), QS 2 (6.5%), ON 1

All four websites call for a thin PQ majority. We note that 308 has different popular vote estimates because it adds an adjustment favouring the PQ and the Liberals at the expense of the CAQ. We also see that the TCTC model to transform popular vote into seats is kinder to the PQ than the 308 model (more seats with lower popular vote), but not as kind as the ElectionsQC model (fewer seats with higher popular vote). RidingByRiding gets results close to ElectionsQC, but probably uses a higher popular vote for the PQ because it includes the Forum poll.

Although I'm out of the projections game this time around, I've still played around the the numbers a little. I believe that the ElectionsQC model is too optimistic for the PQ: if the PQ gets 69 seats, which is certainly possible especially given the latest polls, it would likely need more than 32.7%.

I also disagree with the 308 popular vote adjustment (although if 308 doesn't update for the latest Forum poll, which goes in the same direction, then the adjustment effectively averages that poll in). It could end up being right, but I would not use it as a "best guess", especially since the CAQ's predecessor (ADQ) outperformed the last CROP and Léger polls by 5-6% in 2007, an election with somewhat similar dynamics.

Therefore, of these models, I personally prefer the TCTC and the RxR ones. The difference between their projections can be attributed to the inclusion of the EKOS numbers by RxR, but not by TCTC. However, there is so much uncertainty this time around that I would urge you to be even more cautious than usual when interpreting these models.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Quebec 2012: Much Uncertainty

The two major pollsters in Québec have published their last poll:
CROP - PQ 32%, CAQ 28%, Lib 26%
Léger - PQ 33%, CAQ 28%, Lib 27%

Also, Forum Research's most recent poll (I don't know if it was their last one) had PQ 33%, Lib 28%, CAQ 27%.

Obviously, the three pollsters are in agreement about the overall numbers. But there is much uncertainty about what seat distribution would arise. The best guess, should the PQ win by about 5%, with the two other parties roughly tied, is that the PQ will be very close to the majority cutoff (63 seats), one way or the other, while the Liberals would form the Official Opposition.

However, given that the CAQ is a new party and that the election is being fought on a new electoral map, the projections this time around are less reliable than usual. For example, with actual vote shares, the 2011 federal election would have been pretty easy to get right outside of Québec. But this time, even if we could see the overall vote shares in advance, the predicted seat counts would be subject to significant uncertainty. Add to that notoriously fickle Québec voters - the last CROP and Léger in 2007 had the ADQ at 25-26%, when it actually got 30.8% - and the truth is that we can't even be sure that the PQ is going to win.

What we do know is that certain regions are much more unpredictable than others: about 2/3 of the seats in the "450" (Laval, Laurentians, Lanaudière and Montérégie) seats are closely contested, while only 1/4 of the races in Montreal, Quebec City area, Central Quebec and far away regions are tight. Here's a quick overview of the electoral geography for this election.

"Far away" regions (17 seats, Abitibi--Témiscamingue, North, Côte-Nord, Saguenay--Lac-St-Jean, Gaspésie--Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Bas-St-Laurent)
The PQ should win at least 13 of the 17 seats, and could sweep all 17.

Greater Quebec City and nearby areas (21 seats, National Capital Region, Chaudière--Appalaches, Central Québec)
The CAQ should win at least 14 of the 21 seats, and the PQ should win two (Pauline Marois in Charlevoix and downtown Quebec City). It'll be interesting to see if Option Nationale leader Jean-Martin Aussant can be elected in Nicolet-Bécancour. The remaining are essentially Liberal-CAQ races, and it would not be surprising for the Liberals to be wiped out even though they won a majority of this region's seats in 2008.

Estrie (5 seats)
The Liberals won all 5 seats in 2008 (though the previous version of Johnson, won by the PQ, included part of the region), but none of them, including Jean Charest's Sherbrooke seat, is assured this time. It's an all out fight between the Liberals and the PQ in every seat.

Mauricie (5 seats)
Hard to tell what'll happen here, as all three parties have a shot at winning seats.

Outaouais (5 seats)
The Liberals have swept this region in every election since 1981, but this time, the PQ could win in Hull and especially Papineau.

Laurentians and Lanaudière (15 seats)
The Liberals' only shot is in Argenteuil, which they won in 2008, but lost by 3% in a June by-election. Otherwise, this area could well determine whether the PQ wins a majority or a minority: there are a handful of safe PQ seats, but most of the other ridings feature tight PQ-CAQ races. CAQ leader François Legault, as well as star candidates Jacques Duchesnau and Gaétan Barrette, are all running here, and none is assured of winning.

Laval (6 seats)
The Liberals swept Laval in 2008, but this time, they are only assured of retaining Chomedey. All five other seats will be tight, though student leader Léo Bureau-Blouin has a good chance of winning Laval-des-Rapides for the PQ. The CAQ could be a factor, but the main contenders are the Liberals and the PQ.

Montérégie (23 seats)
Apart from their two strongholds of Vaudreuil and La Pinière (Brossard), the Liberals have no safe seats, and are only competitive in a handful of other ridings near the western half of the Island of Montreal. The PQ has several safe ridings near the eastern half of the Island of Montreal. The rest of the region (about half of the 23 seats) will feature right PQ-CAQ races, much like in Laurentides-Lanaudière.

Montréal (28 seats)
There are 6 tight races in Montreal: not much, but more than usual. Anjou, Laurier-Dorion, Verdun and Saint-Henri--Sainte-Anne will be tight between the Liberals and the PQ, while Gouin (Françoise David's riding) and Sainte-Marie--Saint-Jacques are fought between the PQ and QS. The remaining 22 ridings will likely divide as follows: 16 Liberals, 5 PQ and 1 QS. The CAQ is not a factor here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mises-à-jour: Gel des tarifs d'Hydro proposé par le PQ

Le cadre financier du PQ, que j'ai comparé avec ceux de la CAQ et du PLQ ici et ici, n'incluait pas sa promesse de geler les tarifs d'électricité. Les deux billets ci-dessus ont maintenant été mis à jour avec les effets de cette promesse.

On constate que les plateformes du PQ et de la CAQ deviennent alors très similaires aux niveaux du coût total des engagements (environ 3,6 milliards par année à terme) ainsi que d'une grande partie des mesures de financement prévues (dans les deux cas, coupures de 2 milliards, hausse de l'impôt sur les dividendes et des gains en capital). Le PLQ se distingue par le faible coût de ses engagements (1,1 milliards), la modestie des coupes prévues (0,6 milliards) et l'absence de hausses d'impôts.

Les trois partis tentent de paraître plus responsables qu'ils ne le sont:
PQ: non-inclusion du coût du gel des tarifs d'électricité (1,6 milliards par année à terme);
CAQ: lunettes roses quant à la croissance des recettes du gouvernement (1,5 milliards par année à terme);
PLQ: prétendre que les réserves pour éventualités s'accumulent en confondant le montant par année et le montant cumulatif, surtout que ces réserves n'existent pas à partir de 2014-2015.

Il est donc presque certain que les Québécois auront de mauvaises surprises (comme la hausse de la TVQ et la taxe santé), mais cette fois, même sans une récession mondiale...

Monday, August 27, 2012

PQ on the Cusp of a Majority, but CAQ Could Win

Two province-wide polls have been conducted in Québec since last week's four debates. Both give 33% to the PQ and 28% to the CAQ. The Liberals trail at 26-27%.

If the popular vote reflects these results, we could be in for a long election night: the PQ would likely be close to the majority threshold - but on which side, we don't know. It might appear surprising that the PQ can achieve a majority with just 33%, but remember that leading the francophone vote is what counts in Québec because there are many similar ridings that "swing" together. The federal NDP, of course, was a big beneficiary of this in 2011.

For the same reason, the CAQ would lose many tight races, and would be at risk of finishing in third place in terms of seats despite beating the Liberals in the popular vote. With current poll numbers, I'd say that the PQ would win 60-65 seats, the Liberals and the CAQ around 30 each, and 1 or 2 for QS.

However, even though these poll numbers give the PQ about twice as many seats as the CAQ, the CAQ still has a real shot at winning government: it trails by only 5%. The CAQ's predecessor tended to be underestimated in the polls. Indeed, in the 2007 election, which bears some resemblance to this one, the ADQ got 30.8% on election night despite being pegged at 25-26% in the last surveys of the campaign. Moreover, although the PQ has actually not been overestimated recently, its support this year relies disproportionately on young voters, who are notoriously unreliable. On the other hand, the CAQ has virtually no get-out-the-vote operation due to its limited means.

To further complicate the situation, many believe that the Liberals will do better than forecast on election night, since many voters may be ashamed to admit voting Liberal due to the anti-Charest hysteria. However, the Liberals are completely out of the picture among francophones, and it will be very difficult for them to get first place. Their only chance is if there's a virtual three-way tie on election night, with all three main parties getting around 40 seats, but that'd require a perfect storm.

In summary, many scenarios are plausible. I'd say that the most likely ones are as follows:
1. PQ minority, CAQ OO
2. PQ majority, Liberal OO
3. PQ minority, Liberal OO
4. CAQ minority, PQ OO

To win a majority, the PQ needs to win lots of tight races against the CAQ, so unless the PQ wins a wafer-thin majority (which, to be sure, could well happen), we will not have a PQ majority with a CAQ OO. Unless Marois commits a huge gaffe, I do not see the CAQ getting a majority, and I also do not see the PQ falling below the Liberals.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Crédibilité des cadres financiers

Mise-à-jour: J'ajoute le coût du gel des tarifs d'électricité, proposé par le PQ, mais ne figurant pas dans son cadre financier.

Dans un billet précédent, j'ai comparé les cadres financiers des trois principaux partis en acceptant leurs chiffres. Mais ces chiffres sont-ils crédibles?

En général, les partis politiques chiffrent bien le coût de leurs engagements spécifiques: il n'y a pas vraiment possibilité de jouer avec le coût d'une place en garderie ou d'un crédit d'impôt, par exemples. On peut donc être assez confiant qu'effectivement, le PLQ a fait environ 1 milliards de promesses, le PQ 2 millards (mais 3-4 milliards avec le gel des tarifs d'Hydro), et la CAQ 3-4 milliards.

Ça se gâte un peu lorsqu'on examine les revenus générés par les augmentations d'impôts. En général, on assume que bien qu'un taux d'imposition augmente, la base taxable ne change pas. Cela peut être problématique: par exemple, si on taxe trop une minière, elle peut décider de cesser ses opérations; les gens et les entreprises peuvent déménager ou décider de travailler ou d'investir moins. Les 194 millions nets que le PQ veut percevoir des minières sont donc douteux. Il en va de même pour les 416 millions que la CAQ compte récupérer par la réduction de moitié de l'inclusion partielles des gains en capital puisque le PQ, qui propose la même mesure, ne compte récupérer que 255 millions. Match nul, donc, entre la CAQ et le PQ. Le PLQ n'est pas sujet à ce problème, puisqu'il ne propose pas d'augmentation d'impôt.

Mais la portion des cadres financiers qui suscite le plus de doutes, c'est la réduction de la croissance des dépenses sur les programmes existants. En effet, le dernier budget ne prévoit qu'une augmentation moyenne de 3% au cours des cinq prochines années, ce qui est à peu près égal à la somme de l'inflation et de la croissance de la population. Cela est déjà très optimiste, puisque le vieillissement de la population entraînera une croissance encore plus rapide des dépenses en santé.

De ce côté, la CAQ prévoit des économies de 2,1 milliards de dollars. De la pensée magique, dit le PQ, qui propose pourtant, à terme (en 2017-18), de couper 2 milliards lui-même en limitant le taux de croissance à 2,4%! On peut voir que la CAQ et le PQ prévoient des coupes similaires, mais la CAQ a au moins un plan, aussi imparfait soit-il. Cependant, la CAQ propose additionnellement de couper 0,6 milliards dans les dépenses des organismes non-budgétaires. Encore une fois, je dirais match nul entre la CAQ et le PQ. Le PLQ est plus réaliste, ne proposant de couper que 0,7 milliards.

Finalement, la CAQ a fait une chose que les autres partis n'ont pas fait: déclarer que les prévisions du budget en matière de revenus sont trop pessimistes. (En fait, il semblerait que la croissance économique cette année soit moins forte que prévue dans le budget.) En 2017-18, cela donne 1,5 milliards de plus à la CAQ, sans aucun effort! Soit la CAQ a tort, dans lequel cas il y a un manque à gagner, soit elle a raison, dans lequel cas le PQ et le PLQ ferait un beau surplus!

Au final, on constate que le PLQ a les chiffres les plus crédibles et prudents, suivis du PQ, et finalement de la CAQ. Cependant, si Pauline Marois a raison que les coupes de 2,1 milliards de la CAQ sont de la "pensée magique", ses propres coupes de 2 milliards le seraient aussi. Est-ce pour cela que le PQ n'a pas dévoilé son cadre financier avant les débats?

En enlevant tous les chiffres douteux que j'ai répertoriés ci-dessus, les coûts nets réels des engagements sont les suivants:
PQ: 1,0 milliard (mais 2,6 milliards avec le gel des tarifs d'Hydro)
CAQ: 3,1 milliards
PLQ: 1,1 milliards
On peut cependant croire que la CAQ va probablement réussir à couper plus que le PQ ou le PLQ, même s'il n'atteint pas son objectif de 2,1 milliards. L'écart entre la CAQ et les deux autres partis devrait donc être moins élevé qui ces chiffres n'indiquent, et la CAQ pourrait même faire mieux que le PQ.

À noter que pour faire les contributions prévues au Fonds des générations, il fallait plutôt créer un excédent de 0,9 milliard...

Il faut préciser que malgré des chiffres relativement crédibles, le cadre financier du PLQ n'est pas pour autant fiable. Comme je l'ai mentionné précédemment, même si toutes les projections des libéraux se réalisent, le PLQ ne parviendra pas à contribuer les montants prévus au Fonds des générations sans faire de déficit, comme il le prétend. La CAQ, qui a le même objectif, n'y parviendra que si ses coupes se matérialisent ET si les revenus du gouvernement croissent plus rapidement que dans le budget. Le PQ a tout simplement abandonné le Fonds des générations, anticipant qu'il n'y aura pas assez d'argent pour faire les contributions prévues à ce Fonds; avec le gel des tarifs d'Hydro, c'est le cas même s'il implémente les coupes promises.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Comparaison des cadres financiers

Le PQ a dévoilé son cadre financier aujourd'hui. Pour se faire une idée globale des plateformes des partis en matière fiscale, il faut les comparer. Or, les cadres financiers sont présentés de différentes manières; on a donc besoin de les mettre dans un format commun. C'est un travail important qui, malheureusement, est difficile à trouver dans les médias. Je me suis donc penché sur la question.

Le point de départ de tous les cadres, ce sont les prévisions du budget 2012-2013 du gouvernement du Québec. En voici les grandes lignes (en millions de dollars):

Surplus réels (avant contribution au Fonds des générations et réserves pour éventualités)
2012-13: -289
2013-14: 1 241
2014-15: 700
2015-16: 1 155
2016-17: 1 629

Contributions prévues au Fonds des générations:
2012-13: 911
2013-14: 1 041
2014-15: 1 575
2015-16: 2 030
2016-17: 2 504

Marge de manoeuvre (si positif) ou manque à gagner (si négatif)
2012-13: -1 200*
2013-14: 200**
2014-15: -875
2015-16: -875
2016-17: -875
*Solde budgétaire de -1 500 en raison d'une réserve de 300.
**Solde budgétaire de 0 en raison d'une réserve de 200.

Et voici les cadres financiers des trois grands partis, présentés selon un format commun. Tous les chiffres représentent l'impact financier, à terme, sur un an, en millions de dollars
Mise-à-jour: J'ai ajouté une estimation des réductions de dépenses non-spécifiées pour le PQ et le PLQ, donc l'impact n'est pas chiffré dans les tableaux de leur cadre financier.
Mise-à-jour #2: La promesse du PQ d'annuler la hausse des tarifs d'électricité n'est pas incluse dans son cadre fiscal. Cette promesse coûterait 1,6 milliards par an. Je donne maintenant l'analyse avec ce coût.


Nouvelles dépenses: 748
Annulations d'augmentations de tarifs: 197 (environ 1 797 avec le gel des tarifs d'électricité)
Réductions d'impôt: 1 005
Crédits d'impôt: 47
COÛT DES ENGAGEMENTS: 1 997 (environ 3 597 avec le gel des tarifs d'électricité)

Augmentations d'impôt (riches, gains en capital, dividendes): 1 005
Augmentations des redevances minières: 388
Perte en péréquation: -194
COÛT NET DES ENGAGEMENTS: 798 (environ 2 397 avec le gel des tarifs d'électricité)

Réductions de dépenses non-spécifiées*: 1 240 (en 2016-2017)
COÛT NET DE LA PLATEFORME: -442 (environ 1 158 avec le gel des tarifs d'électricité)

*Limitation de l'augmentation des dépenses des programmes existants à 2,4% par année, au lieu de 1,8% pour 2013-14, 3,0% pour 2014-15 et 3,4% par la suite


Nouvelles dépenses: 1 836
Réductions d'impôt: 1 804
Crédits d'impôt: 23

Augmentations d'impôt (gains en capital, dividendes): 543
Réductions des crédits d'impôt des entreprises: 200
Réductions de dépenses spécifiées: 2 100

Réductions de dépenses non-spécifiées*: 551 (en 2016-2017)

*Limitation de l'augmentation des dépenses des organismes autres que budgétaires à la croissance du PIB nominal


Nouvelles dépenses: 713
Réductions d'impôt: 60
Crédits d'impôt: 301


Réductions de dépenses non-spécifiées*: 654 (en 2016-2017)

*Limitation de l'augmentation des dépenses des programmes existants à 2% en 2014-15, au lieu de 3%

On peut tirer plusieurs enseignements de cet exercice:

1. La CAQ est la championne des nouvelles dépenses. Cependant, elle propose des réductions de dépenses encore plus élevées, contrairement au PQ et au PLQ, qui n'ont spécifié aucune économie. Donc, au total, les dépenses seraient les plus basses sous la CAQ.

2. La CAQ est le seul parti qui propose des réductions nettes significatives d'impôt: 1,26 milliards de dollars par année à terme. Le PQ finance entièrement l'abolition de la taxe santé avec l'augmentation de l'impôt sur les revenus élevés, les dividendes et les gains en capital. Le PLQ ne donne qu'une baisse d'impôt sur les ventes d'entreprises familiales. À noter que toutes les réductions proposées portent sur l'impôt des particuliers plutôt que sur l'impôt des sociétés.

3. Le PLQ propose, de loin, le plus de nouveaux crédits d'impôt et transferts aux particuliers (prime au travail, aide à la rentrée, travailleurs expérimentés, rénovation verte, etc.). Le PQ propose plutôt de geler les frais de scolarité et de garde.

4. Le coût total des engagements est le plus élevé chez la CAQ, suivie par le PQ et le PLQ. (Mais le PQ s'approche de la CAQ si on inclut le gel des tarifs d'Hydro.) Pour ce qui est du coût net, il est d'entre 0,8 et 1,1 milliards par année pour les trois partis - c'est donc très semblable SI on exclut le gel péquiste des tarifs d'Hydro. Si ce gel est inclus, cependant, le PQ a des engagements qui vont coûter beaucoup plus cher.

5. Tous les partis sont en voie d'atteindre l'équilibre budgétaire global (avant de contribuer au Fonds des générations) malgré leurs promesses. Le PLQ et la CAQ le feraient même sans les coupes cachées. Cependant, aucun des partis ne sera en mesure de réduire la dette autant que les contributions prévues au Fonds des générations, même avec les coupes cachées.

Le PQ promet d'abolir le Fonds des générations, qui force le gouvernement à rembourser la dette (si le budget est équilibré après avoir contribué au Fonds, c'est qu'il est en fait en surplus). Son cadre financier promet de continuer à rembourser la dette, mais cela se fait en grande partie avec les coupes non-spécifiées, qui sont le double de ce que proposent le PLQ et la CAQ. Sans le Fonds des générations, il serait facile politiquement pour le PQ de ralentir ou d'arrêter le remboursement de la dette, puisqu'il aurait quand même des budgets dits équilibrés. La tentation sera très grande, parce que, si on inclut le gel des tarifs d'électricité, le PQ a promis plus que les surplus prévus avant les contributions au Fonds. Pourtant, si on veut pouvoir faire des déficits dans 10-20 ans (et on en aura besoin si on veut préserver le système de santé), il faut réduire la dette maintenant parce que le Québec a peu de marge de manoeuvre!

Par contre, le PLQ et la CAQ promettent de contribuer plus que prévu au Fonds des générations. Comment est-ce possible, considérant que seulement pour atteindre les contributions prévues, il faut un resserrement budgétaire annuel de 875 millions à partir de 2014-2015, alors que leurs cadres financiers proposent l'inverse? Le PLQ prétend pouvoir le faire en confondant l'augmentation annuelle de ses dépenses avec l'augmentation de ses dépenses annuelles - c'est soit de l'incompétence, soit de la malhonnêteté. La CAQ, pour sa part, estime que les prévisions du budget 2012-2013 sont trop pessimistes, et qu'il y aura donc plus d'argent que prévu - autrement dit, de la "pensée magique".

Alors voilà. J'espère que cette analyse vous aidera à faire un choix éclairé. À noter que j'ai accepté tels quels les chiffres des partis politiques. Si j'ai le temps, j'écrirai un autre billet (plus subjectif) sur la crédibilité de ces chiffres.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

PQ Retraction

The PQ just issued a statement: all "Québec citizens" will have the right to run, including non-francophones automatically granted Québec citizenship, i.e. Canadian citizens living in Québec when the law comes into force and their descendants. I still disagree with the project, but at least anyone that currently has the right to run would keep it.

Of course, this begs the question: Was Marois hopelessly confused? Or was the PQ actually floating a trial balloon to see how people would react to denying fundamental democratic rights to a minority? Either way, not reassuring...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Too Far

Well, this is going too far. The PQ is tightening the criteria for its proposed Québec citizenship. The highlights:

There would be three types of Canadian citizens in Québec:
1. Non-Québec citizens
2. Québec citizens that don't speak French
3. Québec citizens that speak French

Only Québec citizens can:
- Contribute to a provincial, municipal or school board campaign
- Present a petition to the National Assembly

Only Québec citizens that speak French can:
- Be a candidate at a provincial, municipal or school board election

There are three ways of acquiring Québec citizenship:
1. Be a Canadian citizen living in Québec when the law comes into effect
2. Be born to a Québec citizen
3. Apply and satisfy all three of the following:
a) Have lived in Québec as a Canadian citizen for the three months preceding the application
b) Have lived in Québec for a total of six months
c) Have an appropriate knowledge of French and the rights and duties of Québec citizens

So, in particular:
- First Nations Quebecers that do not speak French would be barred from running in a municipal election. (Talk about newcomers respecting natives' heritage!)
- The same goes for Anglophones in the West Island.
- Canadians from elsewhere moving to Québec would be barred from donating to a provincial political party if they do not speak French.

This is almost certainly unconstitutional, and would likely violate clauses in the Constitution that the Notwithstanding Clause cannot override. Still, this shows the PQ's willingness to go much farther than it has ever gone in terms of the French language.

Update: The PQ is going back to its original, less controversial proposal. See this post.

Québec's Parties: A Primer and My Thoughts

As you know, an election campaign is ongoing in my former province of Québec. I am just following this campaign as a "normal" citizen, and not making seat projections. Here are some thoughts on the parties and their positions. I will likely do another post later on this campaign's electoral dynamics, which are fascinating.

- Liberal Party of Québec: A very tired government that has been plagued with ethics issues. The Liberals' strategy is threefold:
1. present themselves as the party of the economy;
2. show that the other main parties are as dirty as they are;
3. convince voters that they are the only reliably federalist option.

On point 1, I have to agree that the Liberals' platform is probably the best (or rather, the least bad) for Québec's economy. However, their fiscal plan is dishonest: they say that they are going to pay for their promises, which, once they're enacted, will cost over $1.2 billion/year, with the budget's $300 million/year contingency reserves. By their "logic," the contingency reserves total $1.5 billion, which covers the new spending... On point 2, it was somewhat surprising that during the debates, the other leaders were not able to score points on the corruption issues, which does suggest that the other leaders have skeletons in their closets. However, as the party that has been in power for the past 9 years, the Liberals will be held mainly responsible for the situation. Finally, Jean Charest is mocking CAQ leader François Legault's recent conversion to being a federalist, and says that he might switch back. This makes sense: as things stand, both the Liberals and the CAQ are federalist and centre-right, so Charest needs to create separation between the parties, or many dissatisfied Liberals will decide to go for the new thing.

- Parti Québécois: A team with many star candidates that fully expects to be Québec's next government. The main pillars of the PQ's strategy:
1. be THE party of the French language and Québec identity;
2. stay vague on whether a referendum will be held;
3. have a vague economic platform.

Just about the only major clear thing in the PQ's platform is that it will extend "Bill" 101 to colleges (grades 12 and 13) and to firms employing 11 to 50 employees. This project would have a destructive impact on Montreal's non-francophone communities, from English-speaking colleges who would lose much of their enrollment to Chinese restaurants that will have to shrink or close unless their staff learns French. Also, the PQ wants to adopt a secular charter that would more or less prohibit displays of religious symbols in public institutions and by their staffs - but it would make an exception for the cross in the National Assembly because it's part of Québec's heritage. At the same time, the PQ wants to remove from the National Assembly symbols of the monarchy, which, of course, are also part of Québec's heritage... Having grown up in Québec, I can say that most PQ supporters are not racist: they genuinely bear no ill will towards minorities, and just want to protect their language and their culture. However, the PQ has taken this very (too?) far this time around, and it is more probably more ethno-centric that it has been in a generation, or maybe ever. "All of us are Quebecers, but some more than others" seems to be the message.

The PQ is staying vague on everything else because it is ahead in the polls. It needs both the vote of the hardcore separatists (who now have other options like Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale) and of the separatists who don't want a referendum now (who might be tempted to vote for the CAQ). It is also a big tent party economically, and is being squeezed on the left by QS and ON and on the right by the CAQ. In keeping with its centre-left orientation, the PQ has a few lefty goodies in store, but they are relatively minor.

- Coalition Avenir Québec: This is a new party that can have a broad appeal. It is neither the Liberals nor the PQ, at a time many Quebecers want change. It is federalist (for now), but more nationalist than the Liberals. It has right-wing roots from swallowing the ADQ, but its actual platform is rather centrist, if with a populist/reformist bent (e.g. save on administrative costs by getting rid of school boards and regional health authorities).

The CAQ's main weakness is the quality of its team. Its leader François Legault is well-known and relatively well-respected (at least by today's standards for a politician). His lieutenant Jacques Duchesnau is an outspoken critic of corruption, but prone to making exaggerated statements, and hasn't always worked well with others. Gaétan Barrette, the prospective Health minister, is a controversial figure. Apart from these three and former ADQ leader Gérard Deltell (who is rather well-liked, but not that well-known), Quebecers don't know much about CAQ candidates. This is especially a problem due to the CAQ's proposals for systemic reforms: such measures tend to have unintended consequences, and Quebecers are worried that the CAQ team might end up making one big mess.

- Québec Solidaire: A left-wing and idealistic party - a separatist version of what the federal NDP used to be before becoming a major contender. One of QS's two spokespersons (the party does not have a "leader") was elected in 2008. To achieve sovereignty in the right way, it wants to create a citizen's assembly to write a prospective constitution and launch a vast consultation and social debate leading up to a referendum (as opposed to the PQ's quick 30-day referendum campaign). It is likely the biggest "clean" party, and the most likeable party in Québec. However, when you look at their economic platform, you wonder if they live in an alternative universe where all jobs are either in the public sector or created with public subsidies. QS has a shot in a few eastern Montreal ridings, and may be a spoiler for the PQ elsewhere.

- Option Nationale: A one-man show in the crowded left-wing separatist space (more hardcore separatist than both PQ and QS, between the two economically). The man in question, Jean-Martin Aussant, was elected under the PQ banner in 2008, but became disgruntled with Pauline Marois' leadership. ON will only be a factor in Aussant's own riding.

No other party, including the Greens, is likely to win a seat.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Why So Few Gold Medals?

Canada's low gold medal count in London - one - is raising eyebrows: it is lower than our "usual" total of three (achieved in every summer Games after 1984, except in London and in Barcelona, where seven were won). However, even three is low compared to how much silver and bronze our athletes bring home. Indeed, gold accounted no more than a third of Canada's medals in every postwar summer games except Barcelona! This Vancouver Sun blog post has more stats.

As it turns out, this can be explained by simple math and the following two facts:
- Canada does not have a very large population; and
- Canada is competitive in many sports.

To see this, consider the following situation: a sport has 5 elite athletes, two from China, two from the US, and one from Canada. For simplicity, we will assume there there's no luck involved at the Olympics - the final results perfectly reflect the quality of athletes.

What happens if every athlete receives the same quality of support and training, so that everyone has an equal opportunity? Our Canadian then has an equal chance of being in each position from 1st through 5th - 20% chance of gold, 20% chance of silver and 20% chance of bronze.

But now suppose that the sporting federation imposes a rule: each country can only enter one athlete. To win gold, our Canadian athlete would still need to be the best. But she can win silver either by being second, or by being third if the top two athletes are from the same country. And of course, she is now guaranteed at least a bronze. Simply by virtue of being a smaller country, Canada now has a 20% chance of gold, ~27% chance of silver and ~53% chance of bronze!

In other words, having limited entries hurts large countries chances of winning bronze much more than it hurts their chances of winning gold: they still get to send their best athlete(s), but might not get to send all of their medal contenders. Thus, small countries will tend to win disproportionately many bronze medals.

Of course, even though Canada isn't the US or China, we're still larger than most countries. But the same effect applies: suppose a sport has 100 elite athletes, with 50 from the US, two from Canada, and one each from 48 other countries, so that Canada is actually the second largest country out of 50. Again, assume that each country has one entry. Canada's chances of winning gold are 2%. We don't necessarily win silver if one of our athletes is second: we won't send her to the games if the other one is first. But it is very unlikely that the two Canadian athletes happen to be the top two in the world (~0.02% chance). It is much more likely that the top Canadian, even if she is third, still ends up with a silver because the top two are American (~0.50%). She could even rank worse and still get silver if all of the superior athletes are American. The probability of winning silver turns out to be about 2.97%, and the probability of winning bronze, roughly 3.92%. So if there were 100 such events, you would expect Canada to win roughly two gold, three silver and four bronze. Thus, limited entries help even relatively large countries like Canada, as long as some other country/countries are much larger. Canada is a significant player in diving, but think about what would happen to Canadian medal hopes in diving if all countries including China were allowed to send all medal contenders.

By the way, this also explains why, even excluding Vancouver, Canada has no gold medal problems in the winter: we are a relatively large winter sports nation. (We don't actually dominate any winter sport except for hockey and curling, which yield few medals - this is why you also wouldn't expect a disproportionate amount of gold. But we are a significant presence in all the ice sports, freestyle skiing and snowboarding, where we win most of our medals.)

What about small countries like New Zealand that rack up the gold medals? As it turns out, these countries focus on a small number of sports. New Zealand might have a smaller population than BC, but it has lots of rowers focusing on small boats (i.e. not Eights) and sailors. At these Olympics, we also saw North Korea and Kazakhstan focus on weightlifting, which brought results. On the other hand, Spain, whose talent is also spread out (outside male soccer and basketball, which don't give many medals), has the same problems as Canada: apart from Barcelona and two pre-WWII games where it only won one medal, Spain's gold medal count has never even reached one third of its total haul. In summary, what matters is a country's "effective size" within each sport. So small countries can earn a disproportionate amount of gold if they focus on certain sports. Canada, by contrast, is spread quite thin.

Does this mean that Canada should start focusing on few sports? No: spreading out makes our gold count low relative to our total medal count because it enhances our total medal count by allowing us to be a "small" country benefiting from the limited entries effect. (To be sure, there are other arguments, such as economies of scale, for focusing on a small number of disciplines - especially cheap ones like weightlifting.) Also, being competitive at a large number of sports may be more effective in encouraging athletic activity, which is the larger goal of participating in the Olympics.

By the same token, this analysis only explains why we have few summer gold medals relative to silver and bronze. It does not explain why our total count is high or low, though as I hypothesized in my previous post, our total count is probably right around where it should be.

That said, the single gold performance at these Olympics is very poor: just 0.3% of total gold medals, while we account for 0.5% of the global population and are comparatively very well off. Even accounting for the mathematical effect described here, you'd expect more than one gold out of 18 medals. Of course, throw in luck, and such a thing will happen once in a while - so let's hope that this is just a one-off.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Canadian Medal Count: Not Bad

Every summer Olympics, some Canadians despair at our low medal count: not only do all more populous developed countries (except for Spain, who can console itself with its soccer team) beat us hands down, but Australia, with just 2/3 of our population, does so too. Certainly, the COC's objective of a Top 12 finish at summer games has once again been missed - Canada was 13th by total medals, two shy of the Netherlands and Ukraine. However, the obvious explanation for this is that much of our athletic talent is involved with winter sports, so one should take the winter Olympics into account before despairing.

(We should also note that with 18 medals, Canada ties its best performance at summer games conducted outside the US, albeit with less gold than in Barcelona or Beijing.)

Are summer and winter medals comparable? I think so. While fewer countries contest winter sports, there are also many fewer medals available at the winter Olympics: just 86 events in Vancouver versus 302 in London. The ratio is probably roughly right.

Here's a list of countries with at least 10 medals total from Vancouver and London (ties are broken by the number of gold, then silver) [updated to account for the doping incident in women's shot put]:
1. USA 141
2. CHN 99
3. RUS 97
4. GER 74
5. GBR 66
6. FRA 45
7. CAN 44
8. JPN 43
9. KOR 42
10. AUS 38
11. ITA 33
12. NED 28
13. NOR 27
14. UKR 20 (all summer)
15. SWE 19
16. HUN 17 (all summer)
17. ESP 17 (all summer)
18. BRA 17 (all summer)
19. CZE 16
20. AUT 16 (all winter!)
21. POL 16
22. BLR 15
23. KAZ 14
24. CUB 14 (all summer)
25. SUI 13
26. NZL 13 (all summer)
27. IRI 12 (all summer)
28. JAM 12 (all summer)
29. KEN 11 (all summer)
30. AZE 10 (all summer)

As you can see, Canada, in fact, does quite well, drawing level with much more populous countries like Japan and France, and handily beating Italy and Spain. And this is not a host country effect: Canada won only two more medals in Vancouver than in Turin. (Britain, however, increased its medal count by 18 between Beijing and London.) The only countries that are well ahead of Canada are the US, China, Russia, Germany and Britain. The first four all have more than twice Canada's population, while Britain is over 80% more populous and would likely have a much smaller lead had it not been the host country this year.

We also notice that there's a clear Top 13: the G8 countries, China, Korea, Australia, the Netherlands and Norway, who is 118th by population... (If only it produced as high quality soccer referees as athletes!)

One might be tempted to look at population per medal in order to establish a "fair" comparison. However, this ignores the fact that the number of entries into the competition is far from proportional to population: in most team sports, only one entry per country is allowed, and even in most individual sports, the limit is one, two or three. As a result, you just can't expect the US to win 9 times as many medals as Canada.

Then of course, there's the issue of each country's resources. Obviously, given similar populations, rich countries will have a much easier time than poor ones. Witness hapless India, with just 6 medals despite having more than 1/6 of the world's population. Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh, the world's 6th, 7th and 8th most populous countries with over 150 million people each, have no medals at all!

A better way of looking at this data might be to plot the number of medals against total GDP. You wouldn't be looking for a straight line, but rather a concave curve, due to the lack of proportionality of competitive entries to population. And what to put on the GDP axis is not clear. First, it should likely be some mix of GDP at market prices and GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP, which adjusts for differing price levels between countries): a top-level athlete's consumption basket has a significant international component, so going by PPP alone would be misleading. Second, it should exclude "subsistence" GDP - something between the $1.25/day = $457/year/person poverty line used by the UN and $1,000/year/person, which is roughly the number for Afghanistan, the poorest country to win a medal in London (both figures PPP). Somebody should do this - looking at the various news outlets, many people have been paid for doing much less...

If we look only at rich countries, though, plotting medals against population works pretty well, since almost everyone's GDP PPP per capita is between $25,000 and $50,000. (It's still true that you'd want to fit a concave curve rather than a line.) Now, I'm feeling lazy, but just looking at the numbers, Norway and Australia would, unsurprisingly, be the big overachievers, while Japan, Italy and Spain would be the worst underachievers. Canada would likely lie above the fitted curve.

In terms of gold, however, the story might be different for Canada. Of course, in this cycle, thanks to the gold explosion in Vancouver, Canada has 15 gold medals out of 44. But usually, gold accounts for much less than one third of Canadian medals (3 in the summer and 7 in the winter is normal).

So, given the concentration of Canadian athletic resources in winter sports, our athletes' performance at the London games is right about what you'd expect - a bit better in terms of total medals, though a bit worse in terms of gold.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

1%... Of What?

The Occupy movement may not be as active as it was last fall, but the theme of inequality features prominently in the U.S. Presidential Election. It has often been asserted in the media that the top 1% (in the U.S.) are those with incomes above around $350,000. However, income is probably not the right measure here: while for most of the population, purchasing power is mainly dictated by income - most people don't have much savings outside their home and their retirement account - for the rich, wealth matters much more. Unfortunately, statistics on wealth are much harder to come by than statistics on income since wealth is not directly taxed in North America.

The Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) by the Federal Reserve is probably the best source of information about the wealth of Americans. It is conducted every three years, and the latest survey was done in 2010, with its data released last month. 6,492 families were interviewed; because means are very sensitive to the financial situation of the richest families, these were oversampled and weighed accordingly.

(By the way, there is a Canadian version of the SCF called the Survey of Financial Security (SFS). It is not conducted regularly; the most recent SFS was in 2005, and the previous one was in 1999. Given that the current government does not value data, we might have a long time to wait before the next SFS.)

You can read the Fed's summary of the results here. We learn, for example, that the median family net worth in the U.S. was $77,300. For financial assets alone, which excludes real estate, vehicles, business equity, but also all liabilities, the median (among the 94% of families that have any financial assets) was just $21,500. This includes not just one's bank accounts and CDs, but also retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.

So what about the top 1%? This hasn't been widely reported since the Fed's writeup doesn't include the information, but since the SCF's data is (mostly) publicly available, I decided to take a look. It turns out that the threshold to be in the top 1% of U.S. families by net worth is about $6.82 million. (The average family has 2.7 people, so that would be about $2.5 million per person.)

If you're curious, here are thresholds for other levels:
Top 50% - $77,300, as mentioned above
Top 25% - $301,700 (can be found in Fed's report)
Top 10% - $952,500 (ditto)
Top 5% - $1.86 million (ditto)
Top 4% - $2.20 million
Top 3% - $2.85 million
Top 2% - $4.28 million
Top 1% - $6.82 million
Top 0.5% - $11.2 million
Top 0.2% - $19 million
Top 0.1% - $27 million

At the other end of the spectrum, about 11% of families have negative net worth, and another 2% have zero net worth.

Now, the above data is for all families. A family with $7 million that includes a couple, three kids and two grandparents would certainly be rich, but few would call it better off than a 30-year-old bachelor with $5 million. So rather than a single threshold of $6.82 million for labeling a household "1%," it would be more appropriate to have different thresholds for different types of families. Here are some examples (all in millions of dollars):

- Singles age 25-30 (my group!): 0.43
- Couples with 2 kids, head age 40-45: 6.6
- All couples (with or without kids), head age 60-65: 13.5

(If you're curious, the medians for these groups are, respectively, $13,000, $130,000 and $310,000.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Did Robocalls Depress Voter Turnout?

Yes, according to this study by SFU Economics professor Anke Kessler, which finds that polling stations with lower Conservative vote shares experienced a larger decrease in voter turnout in robocall ridings than in non-robocall ridings. The study compares polling stations within ridings (rather than simply comparing ridings with and without robocalls). This gets around the problem that robocall ridings were tighter and thus likely to have higher turnout, which would mask the actual effect of robocalls.

Specifically, the study finds that, in non-robocall ridings, a polling station with 10% more opposition support would experience a 0.46% relative decrease in turnout - this is just the result of the left having a bad night and the right having a good night. However, in robocall ridings, a polling station with 10% more opposition support would instead experience a 0.97% relative decrease in turnout. (All '%' denote percentage points.)

In other words, relative to Conservative turnout, non-Conservative turnout decreased by 4.6% in non-robocall ridings, but 9.7% in robocall ridings. The net effect of robocalls is thus measured to be 5.1%. The study notes that the average riding had about 82,000 registered voters and roughly 60% opposition support, so, in an average riding, the results suggest that a robocall campaign would depress opposition turnout by 2,500 votes, over and beyond what it would have been.

Even fully believing in this result (and ignoring that ridings have different sizes and opposition support levels), however, does not imply that the winner would have been different in all robocall ridings where the Conservative margin of victory was below 2,500 votes: the decrease in turnout is spread among all the opposition parties, and not just the one that finished second.

On the other hand, this study looks specifically at the effect of robocalls on turnout. It ignores the fact that people might have still shown up to the polls, but voted for a different party due to robocalls. Thus, the true impact of robocalls could have been significantly larger.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2012: The Year of Presidential Elections

Happy New Year! After the slew of general elections in Canada in 2011, this year will be relatively quiet at home: it is likely that only Alberta and Nunavut will head to the polls.

However, internationally, 2012 will be a big electoral year, specifically in presidential countries. The 19 largest economies of the world (by purchasing power parity) are divided as follows:
- 5 monarchies: Japan, UK, Spain, Canada, Australia
- 4 with presidents that are not popularly elected: China, India, Germany, Italy
- 1 with a president that is not the head of state: Iran
- 9 with head-of-state presidents that are popularly elected: US, Russia, Brazil, France, Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, Turkey, Taiwan

Fully 7 of the 9 countries in the last category will have a presidential election in 2012. This is a very rare occurrence: if these 9 countries' presidential election schedules remain unchanged (either by law or events), this only happens once every 60 years. Here's a brief rundown of these seven elections:

- January: Taiwan. Like every presidential election in this country, this one will have a profound impact on China-Taiwan relations, which may deteriorate if the pro-independence candidate Tsai Ing-Wen beats the incumbent Ma Ying-Jeou. This race is very tight. 4-year term. Legislative elections, where the ruling party is expected to hold on, will be held concurrently.

- March: Russia. Vladimir Putin will probably win, but it will be interesting to see the extent of the vote rigging, the reaction to it, and whether Putin needs a second round. 6-year term (for the first time). Legislative elections were held in December 2011, spawning mass protests over irregularities and claims that Putin's United Russia would not have won a majority in a fair vote.

- April/May: France. Socialist François Hollande will probably defeat incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and take over the presidency. There is an outside chance that Sarkozy does so poorly that far-right candidate Marine Le Pen makes it to the second round. 5-year term. Legislative elections to follow the presidential election.

- July: Mexico. The incumbent cannot run since presidents here are limited to a single 6-year term. Legislative elections will be held concurrently.

- August: Turkey. This will be the first popular election for President, who is mainly a figurehead. 5-year term. Legislative elections were held last year.

- November: United States. You all know what this is about. 4-year term. Legislative elections will be held concurrently.

- December: South Korea. The ruling Conservatives are much more hawkish toward North Korea than the Centrist/Liberal opposition. The Conservative incumbent cannot run since presidents here are limited to a single 5-year term. Legislative elections will also be held this year, in April.