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Federal Election 2015 Seat Projections: It's NDP Versus Tories As Campaign Begins

The numbers show Trudeau has a steep, steep hill to climb.

Even with a campaign that will last twice as long as usual, Justin Trudeau's Liberals appear to be too far behind to win.

At the starting gate of Canada's 42nd federal election, the numbers suggest the race is between Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats and Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

But a lot can and will happen between now and Oct. 19.

Though we haven't seen many surveys so far (expect this to change very soon), last week brought us three full polls with regional breakdowns from Forum, Ekos, and Ipsos Reid.

Earlier this morning, Forum released the first poll of this campaign showing the NDP with an 11-point lead over the Tories (39 per cent to 28 per cent). While stunning, these results do not match the other polls and we’ll need to wait to see if other surveys confirm this.

All polls (except the new Forum one) mostly agree, at least qualitatively — Tories and New Democrats are fighting for first, with the Liberals in third. Using them, we get the following early projections.

Below you have the voting intentions for each party, seat projections with confidence intervals, as well as each team's chances of winning the most seats as of Aug. 3.

These projections use past election results as well as the current polls in order to predict the winner in the 338 ridings. They include regional and incumbency effects. The confidence intervals and the chances of winning are obtained through the use of 5,000 simulations that account for the uncertainty of the polls as well as for the distribution of the vote and the electoral system. In other words, these simulations try to include every possible scenario given the information we currently have.

The NDP currently have the edge, although these projections do not account yet for a potential incumbency effect where Harper and his party could well be underestimated by the polls, as it was the case in 2008 and 2011. Plus, once again, remember that only one poll has the NDP comfortably ahead. Overall, if the election was tomorrow, it would be quite difficult to predict who would become prime minister.

Compared to recent weeks, the Conservatives are up slightly. The relatively good numbers in vote-rich Ontario last week certainly help a lot.

For the Liberals, even a massive underestimation by the polls (think the type of mistakes seen in Alberta in 2012 or in B.C. in 2013) and an efficient vote would not be enough to allow this party to win the most seats. It doesn’t mean Trudeau won’t be prime minister after Oct. 19, but it does mean that he has a steep hill to climb. Going from third to first during an election is never easy.

If we look at the last two federal elections, here were the voting intentions two and half months before the election and the final results.

2008 election

Voting intentions 11 weeks before the vote:

Conservative Party: 34 per cent

Liberal Party: 32 per cent

NDP: 16 per cent

Results on election night:

Conservative Party: 37.6 per cent

Liberal Party: 26.2 per cent

NDP: 18.2 per cent

2011 election

Voting intentions 11 weeks before the vote:

Conservative Party: 37 per cent

Liberal Party: 27 per cent

NDP: 17 per cent

Results on election night:

Conservative Party: 39.6 per cent

Liberal Party: 18.9 per cent

NDP: 30.6 per cent

These numbers tell us that 11 weeks is a very long time in politics and we should expect to see some changes. Although, if Trudeau has any hope of winning, he’ll need to do what Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff failed to do: improve his party’s standing between now and election night.

Of course, the situation this year is unique and it’s difficult to predict the effect of such a long campaign. Will voters really listen for 11 weeks? Or will we see a general indifference towards politicians after a while? In the volatile Quebec in particular, we could jokingly say that we have enough time for two waves.

The Tories are betting that a longer campaign will help them. The fact they have the most money to spend — by far — is obviously part of the equation.

The one thing that seems out of reach of all parties at the moment is a majority. The current projections have no scenario where one party gets 169 seats or more (remember, there are now 338 seats at the House of Commons). With three parties almost splitting the votes evenly, this isn’t very surprising.

If the Conservatives are still projected to win the most seats in one or two months, you can be sure that a lot of people will talk about a coalition between the NDP and Liberals. Both leaders have said in the past they aren’t interested — though Mulcair may recently have had a change of heart. The pressure of the more than 60 percent of the population that is not satisfied with the Harper government will most likely increase at that point.

Finally, the Green and Bloc Quebecois start this election with few MPs and different expectations. While Elizabeth May’s Greens are hoping to add Victoria to the one riding they won last time, Gilles Duceppe is back as Bloc leader and hoping to bring this party back to its past glory. Polls show that the “Duceppe effect” observed after his return is mostly gone already and his party is sitting around 20 per cent in la belle province, a number that wouldn’t give many seats to the sovereigntist party.

Right now, the battle is clearly between the NDP and Tories. We’ll see how 11 weeks (and multiple debates) might change that situation. In between, you’ll get frequent analysis and updates from me.

Clarification: The projection above has been updated to reflect the latest polling numbers. An earlier version of this story on Monday projected the NDP was on pace to win 130 seats, the Conservatives to win 128, and Liberals to win 76.