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Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil heads from his tour bus during a campaign stop in Halifax on Sept. 17, 2013. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil heads from his tour bus during a campaign stop in Halifax on Sept. 17, 2013. (ANDREW VAUGHAN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In N.S. election, polls are strongly in Liberals’ favour Add to ...

The provincial election to be held in Nova Scotia on Oct. 8 appears to be the Liberals’ to lose, as polls show Stephen McNeil’s party on track to defeat the incumbent New Democrats handily.

ThreeHundredEight.com’s vote projection model gives the Liberals 50 per cent support in the province, more than 20 points ahead of Darrell Dexter’s NDP. They are on track to take 27 per cent of the vote, while Jamie Baillie’s Progressive Conservatives trail in third with 20 per cent. The Greens and independents should take about 2 per cent of the vote.

The Liberals have been leading in the polls in Nova Scotia for some time, and the daily tracking poll conducted by the Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates shows a steady and slightly increasing lead for the party as the campaign drags on. Though about 20 per cent of those sampled say they are still undecided, that is not enough to alone tilt the balance back towards the NDP government.

With this huge lead in provincial voting intentions, the Liberals should be able to easily win a majority government. The seat projection model gives the party 34 seats with these levels of support, compared with 13 seats for the New Democrats and four for the Progressive Conservatives. When the election was called, the NDP held 31 of the legislature’s seats, with the Liberals holding 12 and the Tories seven.

Even with the kind of error in the polls that could reasonably be expected, the Liberals are well in majority territory. Taking into account the average degree of error in recent elections, the model still gives the Liberals the potential to win between 30 and 38 seats, above the 26-seat threshold necessary to win a majority government. The NDP could win between 13 and 16 seats, while the PCs could win between three and six.

But what if the polls in Nova Scotia miss the call as dramatically as they did in British Columbia and Alberta? Even that would not keep Mr. Dexter in power: when taking into account that amount of extreme error, the model still gives the Liberals the win with between 25 and 45 seats, compared with four to 23 for the New Democrats (and a gap of 10 points between them in a best-case scenario). In other words, the polls in Nova Scotia would need to miss the mark by an even greater degree than they did in those two other provinces.

That might be too much to ask for the Nova Scotia NDP. Though the polls in B.C. and Alberta did show the incumbent government trailing significantly in the polls at this stage of the campaign, in neither case was the gap as wide as 23 points and most polls measured the gap to be at least half of that.

Another important factor that differentiates the campaigns in B.C. and Alberta from the one in Nova Scotia is the personal popularity of the leaders. On the question of who would make the best premier, Mr. McNeil routinely polls around 35 per cent, compared with only 20 per cent for Mr. Dexter. By comparison, the polls in British Columbia and Alberta showed a much closer race between the top contending leaders.

But there were many reasons why the polls in British Columbia were expected to perform better than they did in Alberta. In the end they performed just as poorly. Nevertheless, while that should keep us on guard for a surprise outcome, the potential for another error is minimal due to the size and depth of the Liberal edge in the province. In addition, CRA relies on traditional live-caller telephone polling, a method that was not widely used in either of the elections in British Columbia and Alberta. The NDP will thus have to turn the campaign around in the final weeks rather than hope for another polling debacle.

While the polling industry would certainly benefit from an accurate call in Nova Scotia, the real beneficiary will of course be Mr. McNeil’s Liberals. The party has not been in power since 1999 and has struggled in the intervening 14 years, taking between 23 and 32 per cent of the vote in the last four elections. For the New Democrats, who took 45 per cent of the vote in the 2009 election and formed government for the first time in the province, the campaign is not off to a good start – they are on track for their lowest share of the vote since 1993. The PCs are in even direr straits, and could put up the worst numbers in their party’s history.

The one thing that might still shake up the campaign is the leaders’ debate that took place last night. Mr. Dexter will have had to change the face of the campaign in a dramatic fashion if he is to survive into his second term.

ThreeHundredEight.com’s vote projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm’s accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the province, based on the regional shifts in support since the 2009 election. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.

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