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Introducing the Yukon Swingometer

Bored of Donald Trump and Bernie "Feel the Bern" Sanders? Time to get excited about the 2016 Yukon election, which has to happen by October at the latest. Two recent polls have the Yukon's political class chattering.

Bored of Donald Trump and Bernie “Feel the Bern” Sanders? Time to get excited about the 2016 Yukon election, which has to happen by October at the latest.

Two recent polls have the Yukon’s political class chattering. An Outside polling firm called Main Street recently asked Yukoners which candidate they would support if the election were held on the day of the poll. The Liberals got 22 per cent, the NDP 11 per cent and the Yukon Party 6 per cent, with a whopping 61 per cent undecided.

Assuming the undecided split the same way as the decided, this would give the Liberals a commanding victory with 56 per cent of the vote while the NDP would get 28 per cent and the Yukon Party 15 per cent. But with almost two-thirds of respondents undecided, the election would appear very much still up for grabs.

Meanwhile, back in December, Marsh Lake’s Datapath asked Yukoners which party’s leader they would support as premier. Again splitting the undecided according how the decided responded, the Liberal leader scored 40 per cent, the NDP leader 35 per cent and the Yukon Party leader 20 per cent. Keen readers will have noted that the Liberal leader scored worse in the Datapath leadership poll than his party did in the Main Street poll, while the reverse is true for the NDP and Yukon Party leaders.

Keep in mind that the two polls used different methodologies and are only roughly comparable.

Polling has a chequered history in the Yukon. Was the sample size sufficient? The sample truly random? Was the outcome weighted properly by race, gender, age and region? Did it factor in likely voters? Plus, the fact that the two polls were so different gives us another reason to be cautious.

So let’s look at the election another way: the Swingometer. It’s an old BBC election-night gimmick. In the age before computer graphics it involved a giant arrow that swung between the parties, simulating the impact on the number of seats if the vote in each riding changed in line with national trends. If Labour lost by less than two per cent in 50 seats last time, then a uniform swing of 2 per cent would add 50 seats to their current tally.

It’s a rough-and-ready approach, but still gives an illuminating view of each party’s “path to victory.” It ignores individual riding dynamics, the advantages of incumbency and star (and dog) candidates. But since it is based on riding-level results it is usually much more accurate than looking at national vote totals.

I resurrected the Swingometer analysis for the Yukon. In the last election, the Yukon Party won 11 seats with 40 per cent of the vote. The NDP won six seats with 33 per cent and the Liberals two seats with 25 per cent. (To keep it simple in the analysis below, I’m treating Old Crow like a Liberal “win” and not taking into account that Darius Elias later switched to the Yukon Party.)

First, let’s look at the Liberals since they “won” both the recent polls. To get to 10 seats and a majority, they would need at least an 11 per cent swing towards the Liberals. This simulates the Liberal vote going up 11 per cent in all ridings, and includes the simplifying assumption that the new Liberal votes come equally from the other two parties.

This outcome would have the Liberals repeating their 2011 wins in Old Crow and Klondike. They would also have to drive their red snowmobile onto the lawns of the incumbents in, listed from smallest swing to biggest, Porter Creek South and Centre, Riverdale North, Kluane, Copperbelt North, Riverdale South, Mayo Tatchun and Watson Lake.

This would require the Liberals to defeat the Yukon Party’s Currie Dixon and Scott Kent, as well as NDPers Jan Stick and Jim Tredger.

One interesting point is that if, for riding-specific reasons, they miss any of the 10 most likely Liberal seats under the Swingometer method, the next few seats look quite challenging. The Liberals lost the next three likely seats by more than 20 points last time, to Lois Moorcroft, Kate White and Darrell Pasloski.

So what does the NDP path to victory look like? As you would expect from a party that came in second last time, their path is shorter and only requires them to knock off four Yukon Party incumbents. This requires only a six-point swing, with the Yukon Party and Liberals down three points each. The four incumbents most at risk are Patti McLeod in Watson Lake, Scott Kent in Riverdale North, Dave Laxton in Porter Creek Centre and Wade Istchenko in Kluane.

Another point of swing would also give Mountainview to the NDP, but after that it gets harder. They would need 12 points to win in Pelly-Nisutlin.

As for the Yukon Party, they of course only need to hold onto the seats they have now. Their backup seat is Copperbelt South, which they lost by just a handful of votes to Lois Moorcroft and the NDP in 2011. Riverdale South would be next, requiring a five-point swing to the Yukon Party.

Are these scenarios actually going to happen? Certainly not exactly. Electoral reality is a lot messier than the Swingometer.

What the Swingometer shows us is that the Yukon Party has a well-entrenched base. Even with a swing of 10 points against them, they would still hold four seats.

The NDP need only a relatively small improvement over their 2011 results to win. The Liberals have a longer path to victory but, as the federal Liberals showed, winning from a starting point of third place is not impossible. If either of the recent polls turn out to be accurate, this could happen.

The biggest question marks are the seats that change colour most often in the Swingometer scenarios. These include Copperbelt South, Porter Creek South, Watson Lake, Kluane and Riverdale North. The candidates in these ridings will face the toughest battles door-to-door, but will know that if they win they are probably going to be on the government side of the next legislature.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He won this year’s Ma Murray award for best columnist. You can follow him on Channel 9’s Yukonomist show.