An interview with Robert Martin of LeanTossup

Robert Martin is the founder of LeanTossup, which is an election model predictor that received recognition for its projection of the 2019 Canadian election. 

Before we get into the details, can you please explain how your election model works?

The LeanTossup model works differently than most other electoral models. While most models put all of the focus on voter shifts from the previous election, the LeanTossup model also puts significant weight on demographic polling. While voter movement towards or against one party is important, what is more important is on what demographic lines those shifts cut across. For example, in the 2019 UK election, Labour “only” lost 7.9% across the entire country. However, in many northern working class seats that voted for Brexit, they lost much more than that, many times more than double that amount. By looking at the demographic polling we can estimate where shifts like that are more likely to happen, and create a better model.

What is your model telling us about where the parties are coming into the election?

Like most other International leaders, Trudeau received a bounce from his response to the pandemic. The only reason he gambled and called the election is because he thought it would pay off. A week ago (before the election had even been called) I would have told you it was looking like it was going to work. However, with more recent polling, Trudeau seems almost stuck exactly where he was at the 2019 election. If people want to see the most up to date projections they can visit, where they can subscribe to receive daily polling from Mainstreet Research, and Daily model projections from the model, along with Poll by Poll (or the US equivalent, Precinct) projections for all of Canada’s 338 ridings updated daily. With the daily tracker, it’s a very useful tool to understand how all of these trends interact with each other.

What factors are driving this result?

Surprisingly, a very similar to 2019 National Topline is masking many changes under the surface. While in 2019 the western oil rich provinces voted very strongly against the Liberals and NDP, giving the Conservatives well over 60% of the vote, the Conservatives are starting to lose some seats in the larger, more diverse and university-educated cities. However, we are seeing the reverse story in the Atlantic region, as the the Conservatives are making gains in rural seats that Liberals have held on.

Nova Scotia has many marginals. How do you think the provisional results which saw the Progressive Conservatives take a shocking majority, affect the region?

It can, and it has, but maybe not for obvious reasons. The Nova Scotia PC party, along with many of the Atlantic Conservative parties, are not particularly right-wing. Tim Houston, the now-Premier of Nova Scotia, said that he identifies much more with Trudeau than the current Federal Conservative leader. However, Liberals have been able to rely on a strong vote in rural Atlantic seats for decades. Although they will still likely win most of the seats in the Region (including Nova Scotia) many of those rural seats might fall away in 2021.

The People’s Party struggled in the last election. Do you think their leader has a good chance of getting elected after losing his seat in 2019? Do you think the party as a whole will have a good chance to make a significant difference in this election?

The People’s Party of Canada (PPC) had a bad result in 2019, underperforming their polls. They really lacked a strong national issue in 2019. They were able to pick up some western Conservatives that felt their national party wasn’t conservative enough, but nothing strong enough to get a broad National coalition. However, the pandemic has given them that. Now they can define themselves as the opposition to masks, lockdowns, and vaccines party. While that does not have a very large market in Canada (Canada has one of, if not the highest vaccination rates in the world), it’s still enough to get a statistically significant amount of the vote

The Greens’ polling shows them dropping down from the last election. To what extent do you believe that not having Elizabeth May as leader has been the cause of this?

Not having Elizabeth May as leader has definitely been an issue for the Greens, but not because of her inherent popularity. The Green Party currently is deeply divided, as they appear to have lost confidence in their leader Annamie Paul. The party is so divided one of their 3 MPs even crossed the floor to join the Liberals. They are currently spending a large amount of their fundraised money on legal battles with their party leadership. Overall, not a strong party at this point.

Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party went down in seats and vote share in the last election. Despite this, polling shows him individually having good approval ratings, and generally being seen as a better leader than the Conservative leader. What has changed this time in his leadership?

To be honest, not much has changed specifically for Jagmeet. He’s still the same Jagmeet from 2019. The only thing that has changed is the popularity of Trudeau and the other national leaders. Particularly the salience of the issues that Jagmeet and the NDP have strong policy positions on have become more important, as left-wing voters have become dissatisfied with Trudeau’s answers on those issues.

If the NDP do well, how will this affect the Liberal’s chances of getting a majority?

Potentially. It is hard to say exactly because obviously there are tiers to it. A good night for the NDP would be several pickups in urban progressive ridings, while the Liberals manage to pick off enough suburban ridings from the Conservatives and still win a majority. However, that represents a ceiling for the NDP. To really break through, and win a substantial amount of seats, it would involve completely destroying the Liberals in not just urban but also suburban seats, which would definitely give the Conservatives a plurality of seats.

Going into the election, what chance do you give the Bloc of improving or holding their impressive display last election?

For the Bloc they are pretty much maxed out, Of the seats they didn’t win there aren’t many obvious targets (maybe 5 or so?). After those few there is a tough hill to climb to get to the next ones. 2015 was a historic low for the Bloc, so 2019 was mostly a recovery from that low. They are more likely to lose seats than gain seats from this point.

If the Bloc does take a large amount of seats, what will that mean for Quebec?

In previous elections, the Bloc was closely associated with Quebec independence. However, in recent years they are now mostly just associated with different issues Quebec feels are important. Unless the Bloc were to massively expand their number of seats (at least 10+) nobody will seriously be thinking independence is back on the table.

To what extent has Erin O’Toole been the main factor in the Conservatives dropping in the polls?

He appears to be a large factor. Many people considered him to be further right than his main opponent in the Conservative leadership race in 2020. However, after leading the party for about one year, many far-right Conservatives are disappointed in him, especially his adoption of a form of carbon tax. He sits in a hard place. To moderate for his base, while also too Conservative for the left-wing voters in Canada. It is a tough tight rope to walk, and it will be interesting to see if O’Toole can do it for the entire campaign.

The Conservatives won the popular vote in the last election, so what do you think would be the vote share gap for them to likely see themselves in government?

It really does depend on how the vote intention in each province changes from 2019, as it’s possible some forces could come in to erase that inefficiency. However, back of napkin math, I won’t be seriously considering a Conservative Government until we see leads of at least five points nationally. Also, that’s just to get more seats than the Liberals, at which time the Liberals, NDP and Bloc can very easily combine to stop them from becoming the government. Anything less than a Conservative win of less than 10 points has almost no chance of returning a majority government.

To what extent is the Liberals’ success in polls as a result of the Covid policy and the vaccine rollout?

It definitely accounts for some of it. When the vaccine rollout wasn’t going well the Liberals fell in the polls. Now that it is basically finished they have completely recovered. At this point now, it’s hard to say whether or not that will hold, or if the population has moved on.

In the instance that the Liberals win a majority, or generally net gain seats, how do you rate Trudeau’s chances of getting an unprecedented 4th term?

If he wins a majority or not, I would be surprised to see him as leader for another election. His government has already had many scandals, and I seriously doubt it can go four full years without any more. If he doesn’t win a majority, then he will face constant legislative pressure, and I doubt he lasts as leader for two full years. To be fair to Trudeau, I also said this after the 2019 results. However, if the pandemic didn’t happen, it’s possible we would have a new leader by now.

What should we expect to see from each party’s policy plan?

I expect the Liberals to mostly continue the same. I expect them to come out with something substantial on housing, if not that can really come back and hurt them. The Conservatives will mostly try to repeal most of the things the Liberals have done, but there are questions as to how much they will repeal, as they are likely to keep the parts of the Liberal policies that the public likes. The NDP will campaign for massive social spending, and general expansion of policies that the Liberals have implement, but to a much more progressive degree. Their policy disagreements are similar to the disagreements between Biden and progressives in the US. They believe in similar things, they just differ on the dollar amount.

What result should be the aim for each party in your opinion?

Liberals, majority, obviously. The Conservatives should aim to win more seats than the Liberals, or at least find a viable path to victory, as currently one doesn’t really exist. The NDP really need to get a reliable base that they can use to deny the Liberals majorities and force policy concessions from them.

How do you think that the MPs who were elected as Liberals or Conservatives who are now running as independents could fare? 

Federally Independent candidates do not have a good track record. In 2019 only one independent won, and she was a high-profile cabinet minister that left the party due to a Trudeau ethics scandal. Others have faired poorly.

In the last two elections, we have seen some extreme swings. What are the chances that we could see more shock results and mass shifts in voting in this election?

On the surface, I’m not expecting the map to be completely transformed. Many of the trends seen in past years are at a point where they are close to a natural and boring conclusion in 2021. However, the second everybody gets comfortable with it, that’s when the crazy stuff starts happening.

There are a number of Provinces with many marginals, where do you see, going into the election, where the party leaders, or the money itself, are more focussed in?

Money should obviously be focused on Ontario, BC, and Quebec. The Conservatives should focus money on rural Atlantic and rural Quebec ridings that tend to be overlooked. The Liberals should expand what they consider suburban reach seats. The NDP should also start spending money on more suburban seats, instead of just their core urban ridings.

If the polls are right and the NDP and Liberals increase in vote share, and the Conservatives reduce in vote share, will this perhaps show a shift towards more liberal ideologies?

Canada has always been a pretty left wing country. Even when a Conservative party wins government, they usually do not receive more than 40% of the vote, as the left-wing parties split the vote. This is why, when comparing the Canadian Conservative Party to conservative or right wing parties in other countries, they would easily be labeled liberal themselves. The question becomes, at some point another Conservative party will probably win an election federally in Canada (I say this, but the Liberals did govern 70 years from 1900-2000). The question becomes, how “liberal” will that Conservative party be? It is very likely they will be more liberal than the current iteration of it than under O’Toole.

Aaron is an objective journalist who does analysis on the current climate of politics and political party successes and looks back at recent political history to see where we are headed for. You can find him on Twitter @aaron_gsmith.

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