Voters in New Brunswick make their final decision Monday on what some have called a nasty campaign without any driving issue or compelling narrative. Instead, the provincial debt and the proposed - but since abandoned - sale of financially troubled NB Power have dominated the campaign, despite the two main parties' lack of a detailed plan on how to tackle either problem.
At ThreeHundredEight.com, I've been projecting the federal horserace for the last two years and successfully predicted the outcome of the 2008 Quebec election. According to this model, New Brunswickers are expected to elect a Progressive Conservative majority under David Alward, banishing Shawn Graham's Liberals to the dustbin of history as the province's first one-term government.
Projecting this election, however, has been challenging. Only two pollsters were active during the campaign (Corporate Research Associates and Abacus Data), and one full week has passed since the last polling result was released. But other factors have been taken into account in order to reach a prediction that can be presented with a strong degree of confidence.
A poll taken throughout August and published on the first day of the campaign found the Liberals at 41 per cent and the Progressive Conservatives at 36 per cent, followed by the NDP at 16 per cent. Daily tracking polls then put the two main parties neck-and-neck as the NDP vote eroded to about 10 per cent. After the first week of the campaign, however, the Progressive Conservatives surged ahead, opening up a gap as large as 13 points as the leaders prepared for a series of four debates, two in each official language. After what were widely described as shouting matches between the two frontrunners, Liberal support stagnated and the Progressive Conservatives dropped, their lead shrinking to between four and 10 points as the NDP, Greens, and People's Alliance, a small populist party running in a quarter of the province's ridings, made gains. With one week remaining in the campaign, the last polls put the PCs at about 44 per cent to the Liberals' 37 per cent and the NDP's 11 per cent.
As shown in the accompanying chart, the Progressive Conservatives are projected to win 43.6 per cent of the vote and 31 seats in New Brunswick's 55-seat legislature. The three urban centres of Fredericton, Saint John, and Moncton will feature many tight races, but it is here, and in the southern portion of the province where polls have shown a significant drop in the Liberal vote, that Mr. Alward will win his majority.
The Liberals are projected to hold on to 40.1 per cent of the vote and 23 seats, mostly in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the province. The New Democrats are projected to elect only one MLA, despite garnering the support of 10.4 per cent of New Brunswickers. Mr. Duguay's riding of Tracadie-Sheila, in the Acadian peninsula, will likely be the NDP's only seat. However, the party is also in play in other parts of the province, particularly in Saint John where former NDP leader Elizabeth Weir was elected from 1991 until her resignation in 2005.
The Green Party, contesting its first election in New Brunswick, is not projected to win any seats but should take 4.3 per cent of the vote. Look for strong showings in Fredericton, where leader Jack MacDougall is a candidate. The People's Alliance and independents are projected to win 1.5 per cent of the vote. There is little chance of a seat win for this fledgling party, but a mid-campaign poll put leader Kris Austin in a strong third in his riding of Grand Lake-Gagetown, east of the provincial capital.
All that is left for the people of New Brunswick is to mark their ballots. Will the distinction of being New Brunswick's only one-term government go to Shawn Graham? All the trends and probable outcomes indicate that David Alward will be the next premier, but a few surprises could be in store for Monday night as the predictability of the electorate should never be taken for granted.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com