The third public opinion poll of the Nova Scotia election campaign was released this week and continues to show a reasonable lead for the incumbent Liberals over the Progressive Conservatives, however the NDP are quickly gaining support. Atlantic-based research and public opinion agency, Narrative Research, puts the Liberals at 40%, the PCs at 31%, and the NDP with a large jump, up to 27%. Significant gains for the opposition parties may make Election Day far more interesting that was initially anticipated.
Let’s dig a little deeper. What does this mean for the outcome of next week’s election?
Both opposition parties have gained ground since the July 17 call which has resulted in optimism from their respective camps, especially Tim Houston’s PCs, who are expressing confidence in their chances of forming government. The PCs have certainly shown momentum and hope that continues in the final days of the campaign. For the Liberals, a double digit drop may be cause for concern (some polls had them over 50% just a few months ago), however 40% still gives them hope to form government.
While momentum is crucial in an election campaign, so is location. The Halifax Regional Municipality has the largest concentration of seats in the province, so support in this area can play a huge role in determining which party will form government. Parties must also keep in mind their vote distribution; if support is too concentrated in one region of the province it may mean they’ll win a few ridings easily, but not necessarily be competitive in other areas .
Another important point to consider is incumbency. Historically, that matters in Nova Scotia, with voters largely loyal to their governing MLA. At dissolution, the seat breakdown was:
- Liberals: 24
- PCs: 17
- NDP: 5
- Independent: 3
- Vacant: 2
Of their 24 seats, the Liberals had 9 incumbents not re-offer, in addition to the 2 vacant seats that had previously belonged to them. One NDP member, Lisa Roberts of Halifax Needham, decided not to re-offer, as did one of the three Independent members. The PCs have all 17 incumbent members re-offering. Incumbency can offer candidates an advantage as they have name recognition and familiarity with their constituents which can make them harder to unseat. In 2017, of the 47 incumbents re-offering, only 9 were defeated.
So, back to this week’s polling results. What does 40% support look like, in terms of seat count? Let’s compare this poll to the results of the 2017 election.
Research's August 11
|2017 Actual Vote
|2017 Seat Count|
This comparison shows the governing Liberals essentially in the same position they were in 4 years ago, while the PCs have lost some standing, and the NDP has gained. While the PCs are celebrating gains in public opinion during this campaign, we know they’re also thinking about where their support is concentrated, the strength of local campaigns, and those handful of ridings in the “target” column.
This week’s polling numbers are starting to show similarities with the 1999 Nova Scotia election that saw John Hamm’s PCs form a majority government with around 39% of the vote, and the Liberals and NDP each just slightly under 30%. It seems unlikely that the Liberals will form an 8-seat majority like Hamm did in 1999, but it does indicate that a majority is still possible despite their steep decline since May.
This election has shown an increase in advance polling, a trend we’ve seen in previous campaigns that has likely grown this year due to the pandemic. Increases in early voting mean that trends in later weeks or last-minute news cycles have less of an impact than in previous years. This could benefits the Liberals, who were at their strongest when voting began.
Ultimately this campaign comes down to each party getting their vote out. Parties have worked hard to both identify and capture voters’ support, but they need to actually get them to cast their ballot. In the final few days, expect to see teams making phone calls, dropping off mailers, knocking on doors, and offering rides to voting locations to ensure their hard work convincing voters to support them translates into victory.
We’re predicting some tight races across the province. This sleepy summer election may actually make for an exciting election night. We’ll be watching the returns and look forward to sharing our post-election analysis with you.
——— Adam Langer is a former Director, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations