Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Election Tours of Alberta

As of today, we are officially halfway through the 2015 Alberta provincial election! Has it been as much fun for you as it has been for me yet?

At the same time as we pick our Alberta government, over in the United Kingdom voters there are also going through a general election. This has gotten a fair bit more attention than the Alberta election, including a fun post from FiveThirtyEight that determines the best campaign route for the leaders of various parties in that election.

It was such a fun post, in fact, that I figured I'd try to do something similar for Alberta!

As the second half of the provincial election unfolds in Alberta, the various party leaders are going to be scrambling to get to as many events as they can in what they consider to be key constituencies across the province. But what's the best route they can take through the most key constituencies, in order to minimize driving time and get the most bang for their buck?

This is a version of the well-known travelling salesman problem, which I dealt with once before for developing an Edmonton pub crawl. For my last travelling salesman problem, I only looked at a maximum of 10 locations, which allows for a time-consuming but 100% accurate solution. With 10 locations, there are 3,628,800 possible routes between each location to be examined.

I've decided to up the ante this time, and look at 20 constituencies for each of the four parties who elected MLAs in the last election. 20 locations each means a total of 2,432,902,008,176,640,000 distance combinations would need to be checked to ensure the absolute shortest route between them all. That's not a task I'm willing to participate in...

Instead, I've fiddled around with a fun trick called simulated annealing. Essentially, you start with a random travel plan, and each iteration you compare it to a proposed one that's slightly different. If the new one is better, you swap it for the old one, but if the new one is worse then you have a probability of swapping. The probability depends on the annealing 'temperature', which decreases as you iterate the procedure.

The advantage of simulated annealing is that by occasionally allowing worse solutions, you give the system the ability to work itself out of locally optimized solutions it may have found, in order to hopefully end up finding the actual best solution.

But enough math - back to politics. For each of the four parties I looked at, I tried to find the shortest route through the 20 constituencies that each party came closest to winning or losing during the 2012 election campaign. This way, leaders were hopefully going to a mix of constituencies where they barely won and barely lost, where conceivably the appearance of the party's leader over the next two weeks might make the most difference.

Let's start with the NDP:

The closest races for the NDP were, maybe not surprisingly, mostly in Edmonton. Rachel Notley's trip would start up in Edmonton-Manning, run through 13 of Edmonton's closest races, and continue on south to Lethbridge with the occasional stop in Red Deer and Calgary. A pretty easy urban whirlwind tour for her, really.

Total time: 7 hours, 57 minutes.

Next, the Liberals:

David Swann's journey isn't altogether too different than Rachel Notley's, though it's a more even split between Calgary and Edmonton, with less in between. Unlike the NDP, there weren't any races that the Liberals won by enough of a margin that desperate help wasn't needed. The quick trip out to Canmore to deal with Banff-Cochrane ought to make for some great sight-seeing!

Total time: 9 hours, 59 minutes.

The Wildrose:

Brian Jean is in for quite a different ride. Starting up in Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley, he only barely glances at Edmonton on his way down to the juicy urban Calgary core the Wildrose stands to gain. Then it's off to Medicine Hat before winding his way back north to Fort MacMurray.

Total time: 1 day, 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Lastly, the PCs:

The PC map looks quite similar to the Wildrose, largely because the closest contests in rural Alberta were directly between the two parties. Major differences include the four stops in north Edmonton, and the changed focus on south Calgary.

Total time: 1 day, 1 hour, 57 minutes.

So there you go! If you happen to see the campaign busses on the highway and they're not going the right way, make sure to let them know. Best of luck to all in the last two weeks of the election!

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