Thursday, September 26, 2013

Redistribution 2012: How Many Seats Each Province Should Have Gotten

Redistribution 2012, which gave 15 new seats to Ontario, 6 to Alberta, 6 to BC and 3 to Quebec, was based on Statistics Canada's population estimates for July 2011, as of December 2011. However, those estimates were based on the 2006 Census and subsequent birth/death/migration statistics.

Today, Statistics Canada published revised population estimates that incorporate data from the 2011 Census. Using the revised population estimates for July 2011 and applying the legislated formula, we see that:
- Ontario and BC should each have gotten one fewer seat;
- Alberta and Québec should each have gotten one additional seat.

Even though, as explained above, the number of ridings in each province was based on the 2006 Census, the new districts were drawn based on the 2011 Census. The reason is that boundaries are adjusted based on actual census counts, available soon after the census, while each province's number of seats depends on population estimates, which take into account census undercounting and take over 2 years to produce.

By the way, the use of population estimates for redistribution is new: under the old law, actual census counts were also used to determine each province's seat allocation.

At some point in the coming months, Elections Canada will publish the results of the 2011 election transposed onto the new districts. I'm hoping to resume posting seat projections after this information becomes available. (Transposition has already been done by others, but since I'm quite busy with work these days anyway, I'll wait for the official numbers.)

Monday, June 10, 2013

It's the Economy, Stupid! (and why the NDP should stop defending its 1990s economic record)

Much has been written about the gap between the last BC election polls and the actual results. But that was only half of the stunning BC Liberal comeback. The remainder happened in plain view during the campaign, when the NDP lead in the polls shrank from 20% to single digits. This change was likely caused by several factors, including:

1. Adrian Dix's flip flop on Kinder Morgan
2. The Liberal campaign (clear focus on economy and negative campaigning)
3. Christy Clark's charisma and optimism
4. The BC Conservatives' collapse

I would argue, however, that the underlying cause is simply BC's economic experience in the past 20 years. Without the experience of the 1990s, Dix's flip flop would not have ignited much concern about economic development under the NDP. The Liberal focus on the economy would not have resonated. Christy Clark's hopeful message on the economy would have fallen on deaf ears. And social conservatives might not have decided to pinch their noses and vote Liberal once more to keep the NDP out.

If you're a reader of the Vancouver left-wing media (e.g. Georgia Straight, the Tyee, etc.), you may be under the impression that BC's superior economic performance under the Liberals is a myth, or even a falsehood perpetuated by a right-wing media conspiracy. Indeed, according to BC Stats, BC's real GDP grew by an average of 2.8% per year during 1991-2001, compared to 2.5% during 2001-2010. However, this is not what people felt because:

- BC's population grew more quickly in the 1990s due to a wave of immigration related to Hong Kong's handover to China. Per capita, real GDP grew by 0.8% per year in 1991-2001, compared to 1.3% per year in 2001-2010. That's 60% faster per capita growth under the BC Liberals.

- The latter period, of course, included the sharp 2008-2009 recession, while the former included the tech boom. In Canada as a whole, real GDP per capita grew by 2.3% per year in 1991-2001, compared to 0.8% per year in 2001-2010. So under the NDP, BC fell behind Canada by 1.5% per year. Under the Liberals, BC outpaced Canada by 0.5% per year. That's a difference of 2% per year, or 20% over a decade.

- In the long run, higher GDP leads to higher disposable income. But over shorter periods, disposable income may be impacted by fluctuations in relative prices, taxes, the amount of corporate profits reinvested rather than distributed, etc. Of course, not only did the BC Liberals cut taxes, they were lucky enough that the federal government also cut taxes during their years in power. As a result, in 1991-2001, real disposable income per capita grew by 0.1% per year in BC (0.8% in Canada); in 2001-2010, it was 2.2% per year (2.1% in Canada). This is the kicker: in BC, real disposable income per person grew TWENTY-TWO TIMES FASTER under the Liberals (up to 2010) than under the NDP!

Clearly, the difficulties of the 1990s were not all the NDP's fault, and nobody would credit the BC Liberals for the myriad federal tax cuts in the late Chrétien/Martin/early Harper administrations. We can argue at length about whether the difference between NDP and Liberal policies contributed to BC's change of fortune. But given that people felt their income go up 22 times faster under the Liberals than under the NDP, when the NDP pretends that its economic record was as good as the Liberals', it just sounds out of touch. Statistics correspond to reality. The NDP can argue about statistics, but if its argument diverges too much from people's experiences, people won't listen.

Usually, when you've been out of power for 12 years, people forget what happened last time around, and your opponents bringing it up won't hurt you much. But when what happened was a decade of stagnating pocketbooks, people do remember, especially when the latter decade has been much better. People also understand that parties can change in 12 years. But people will conclude that you haven't changed if you insist that there's nothing wrong with your record. And they will further conclude, perhaps unjustly given the different economic circumstances, that the same stagnation will occur if you are back in power.

If, in response to Liberal attacks, the NDP had actually repudiated its 1990s record and explained how its economic vision has evolved, Adrian Dix might be Premier today.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

2013 BC Election and the Pollsters

The dust is slowly settling after the surprising results of the 40th BC general election. The geographical divide between BC's different regions was very stark - even more so than in 2009:

Note: Updated to reflect changes due to the final count.
Island, Coast and Northwest: 15 NDP, 2 LIB, 1 GRN (14-4-0 in 2009)
Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminster: 11 NDP, 5 LIB (8-8 in 2009)
Rest of Metro Vancouver: 19 LIB, 5 NDP, 1 IND (16-8-1 in 2009)
Fraser Valley and Interior: 23 LIB, 3 NDP (21-5 in 2009)
TOTAL: 49 LIB, 34 NDP, 1 GRN, 1 IND (49-35-0-1 in 2009)

But the salient feature of these results was, of course, its unexpectedness. Why did all the polls miss the boat? This seems to be a recurring theme in recent Canadian elections, but as we saw last fall, polls in the United States have remained quite accurate. Why are American pollsters doing so much better than their Canadian counterparts? Here are a few potential explanations, and how I feel about them.

1. Live Phone vs IVR vs Internet Polling
There is no evidence that traditional polls fare better than non-traditional ones in the United States or other countries. Some traditional Canadian pollsters suggest that new methodologies are behind the erratic polling in this country, but it's unclear why Canada would be different.

2. Resources for Data Analysis (Likely Voter Screen)
That said, methodology probably does matter, but at the stage of data analysis. Some US media organizations, unlike Canadian ones, actually pay substantial sums for their polls. This enables polling firms to do proper research and develop, for example, a reliable likely voter model. The availability of extensive exit polling data in the United States also helps.

3. Polarization and Undecided Voters
As we all know, the differences between Democrats and Republicans are stark, and even a month before the vote, there remain very few undecideds in a US presidential election, and in most US Senate elections. In Canada, the fraction of undecided voters is typically much higher. This produces a potential for sudden shifts that are hard for pollsters to capture.

4. Local Candidates
In the US, polls (except for "generic Congressional ballot" polls, which tend to be inaccurate) state the names that will actually appear on the ballot. In Canada, they typically only state the name of the party. A popular Canadian incumbent from an unpopular party may therefore enjoy more support than pollsters imply.

Hopefully, the Canadian pollsters figure things out before 2015, or the projections for the next federal election could be dead wrong...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy 2013!

Ironic tidbit: the PQ fulfilled its promise to raise taxes on rich Quebecers only partially so that the top tax rate would remain below 50%. However, with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on high income Americans and the increased Medicare tax, individuals with federal taxable income above $400,000 and married couples with federal taxable income above $450,000 will be paying a marginal rate above 50% in California, New York City, Oregon and Hawaii. Those four jurisdictions have more than 50 million residents! It looks like Québec wouldn't have been so out of whack after all...