That Don Mills poll

Don Mills sounds nervous.

Nova Scotia’s best known pollster has been conducting a rolling poll for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, and over the last week, his numbers have pointed to an historic rout. For the last five days, he has shown Stephen McNeil’s Liberals holding steady between 55 and 57 percent of decided voters—enough to propel him to a lopsided majority.

“We’re under a lot of scrutiny here,” he told Contrarian.

Here’s the latest edition, published Tuesday morning:

To understand how unusual such an outcome would be, I looked at every Nova Scotia election since 1960. Over those 15 provincial votes:

  • The winning party got more than 55 percent of the vote only once: Robert Stanfield’s PCs took 56.2 percent in 1963, in what was essentially a two-party race.
  • Only three times has the winning party won more than 50 percent of the vote: Stanfield did it in ’63 and ’67; John Buchanan got 50.6 percent in 1984.
  • In all three of these contests, the opposition party or parties were crushed. The Liberals won just four seats in 1963 and just six in ’67. When Buchanan got just 50 percent of the vote in the 1984 election, the opposition parties shared 10 seats: six for the Liberals, three for the NDP, and one for independent Paul MacEwan.

John Savage’s Liberals won 49.7 percent of the vote in 1993, and took 40 seats to the PCs’ nine and the NDP’s 3. All of these number reflect the reality that, in a first-past-the-post election system, when one party’s vote percentage goes above 50 percent, the number of seats it can win goes up exponentially.

Here’s the historical record, minus third parties and independents:

NS_Elxn_Majorities_1960-2009

[Yellow highlighter indicates a minority government. The complete spreadsheet, which includes third parties and independents, can be downloaded here.]

If CRA’s numbers are anywhere near correct, and I expect they are, then every assumption about this election goes out the window. Seats thought to be in play will fall easily to the Liberals. Some seats assumed to be safe will fall to the Liberals. The premier’s seat, Jamie Baillie’s, and those of prominent cabinet ministers, could be at risk.

Mills views this cautiously. Much could change in a week, but if the current spread holds, he expects both opposition parties will have high single digit seat tallies, “closer to 10 than to zero.” If the total exceeds 55 percent, Mills may be understating this.

“To have [a 30-point spread] in a three-party election is extraordinary,” Mills said. “I’m stunned by it. It’s very hard to explain.”

On which, more later.

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