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By-election’s winners: Liberals. Losers: robocall polls

Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland thanks Bob Rae after winning the by-election for the riding of Toronto Centre Nov 25, 2013.

MOE DOIRON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Though the Liberals came up just short of stealing the riding of Brandon-Souris away from the Conservatives, the four by-elections that took place yesterday showcased a strong performance for Justin Trudeau's party.

The Liberals retained their two seats of Bourassa and Toronto Centre and placed second in the two Manitoba ridings of Provencher and Brandon-Souris, ridings in which the party had finished third and fourth, respectively, in 2011. Their average vote share across the four ridings increased to 42 from 24 per cent in 2011, while their share of all votes cast increased to 43 from 26 per cent. Despite turnout dropping by 65,000 in these four ridings as compared to the 2011 federal election, the Liberals gained almost 1,500 votes.

Both the Conservatives and New Democrats took a hit, with the Tories a non-player in the two urban ridings and having shed votes in the two by-elections in Manitoba. Though the New Democrats did manage to replicate their best-ever 2011 performances in Toronto Centre and Bourassa, the party's vote share collapsed by almost two-thirds in Brandon-Souris and Provencher. However, it was the Conservatives who suffered the most losses last night.

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The Conservative vote fell from an average of 41 per cent in these four ridings in 2011 to just 29 per cent. For the New Democrats, that average vote share dropped to 21 per cent from 26 per cent. Their shares of all votes cast fell to 28 and 22 per cent, respectively, from 39 and 27 per cent in the last election.

After surprisingly strong by-election showings in Victoria and Calgary Centre in 2012, the Green vote held stable. They averaged 3 per cent across the four ridings.

The polls

Forum Research was the only polling firm active in the four by-elections, and their record was mixed.

The worst results for Forum occurred in the two Manitoba ridings. Instead of a 29-point victory, the Liberals lost by one point in Brandon-Souris. And instead of a relatively close 11-point margin win for Mr. Falk in Provencher in the polls, he took it by a healthy 28 points at the ballot boxes.

Needless to say, the results for the Liberals and Conservatives in both of these ridings were well outside of the reported margin of error. That the NDP and Green vote was estimated relatively well is little consolation – the polls in these ridings were a miss. Concerns about the methodology employed in Brandon-Souris, in particular, were raised at the end of the campaign due to the inordinate number of calls some residents reported receiving from the firm. As response rates to IVR polling can drop to as low as 2 or 3 per cent, it is not clear whether this is the natural by-product of polling a riding with just 35,000 households as often as Forum did (in all, five polls were published during the campaign) or an indication that the sampling was not random.

The record was better in Toronto Centre and Bourassa, however. In the Montreal riding, the results for all parties was within the margin of error, though Mr. Dubourg's support was under-estimated somewhat. In Toronto Centre, the poll was within three points for all parties. But these good results are marred by the wide errors in the other two ridings.

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So Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair join Forum Research in having had a mixed night. The Conservatives did retain their seats, but lost a lot of votes. The NDP did put up a fight in Toronto Centre and Bourassa, but was a no-show in Manitoba. Only the Liberals come out shining – until the next round of by-elections, at least.

Bourassa

Emmanuel Dubourg retained the Montreal riding of Bourassa for the Liberals with 48 per cent of the vote, an increase of seven points over Denis Coderre's performance in 2011. The New Democrats' Stéphane Moraille scored just a point less than her predecessor, Julie Demers, did in 2011 with 31 per cent of the vote, a respectable result considering the high watermark of that election for the NDP in Quebec. The anemic turnout of 26 per cent, however, was far too low for the New Democrats to have a hope of toppling an incumbent.

The Bloc Québécois's Daniel Duranleau took just 13 per cent of the vote, down three points from 2011 and the party's worst-ever result in the riding. The Conservatives dropped four points to 5 per cent, a low for them as well, while the Greens' share was unchanged from 2011 at 2 per cent.

Brandon-Souris

The final poll of the campaign, conducted on Sunday, suggested that Brandon-Souris would feature the largest margin in any of the four by-elections – in favour of the Liberals. Instead, Conservative Larry Maguire held on with 44 per cent of the vote, with Rolf Dinsdale taking 43 per cent. The two were separated by less than 400 votes. Nevertheless, it was a stellar performance for the Liberals, who had taken just 5 per cent of the vote in 2011. In fact, Mr. Dinsdale's support is the highest share of the vote the Liberals have captured in any election in the riding since it was created in the 1950s, and their total votes increased by over 9,900. For the Conservatives, the drop of 20 points and more than 10,000 votes is steep. Had the turnout been only slightly higher than 45 per cent – the best of the four – Mr. Dinsdale might have taken it.

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The New Democrats had placed second in the riding in 2011 with 25 per cent, but dropped to just 7 per cent in the by-election yesterday. The Greens decreased one point to 5 per cent from 6 per cent.

Provencher

Ted Falk was elected with 58 per cent of the vote, a drop of 13 points from Vic Toews's performance in 2011 and the worst result the Conservatives have managed in the riding since the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives merged. Terry Hayward of the Liberals placed second with 30 per cent, an increase of 23 points over Mr. Hayward's showing in 2011 and their best result since 2000. Despite the lower turnout (34 per cent), the Liberals increased their raw vote haul by more than 4,000 votes in the riding (the Tories dropped by more than 14,000).

The New Democrats dropped 10 points from 2011 to 8 per cent, while the Greens increased their share to 4 per cent from 3 per cent.

Toronto Centre

The Liberals increased their vote share with Chrystia Freeland on the ballot to 49 per cent from 41 per cent, the proportion Bob Rae took in 2011, though that is still below where the party had traditionally sat in the previous decade. The New Democrats' Linda McQuaig increased her party's share as well, to 36 per cent from 30 per cent. That marked the best performance for the NDP in the riding in the party's history, though both the Liberals and NDP took fewer total votes than they did in 2011 (turnout was 38 per cent).

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The Conservatives dropped 14 points to just 9 per cent, their worst-ever result, while the Greens dropped to 3 per cent from 5 per cent in 2011.

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

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