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What is Really Going on with the Federal Political Landscape?


[Ottawa – April 11, 2014] Using an unusually large random probability sample (4,134 Canadian adults), which covers the on- and offline segments of Canada’s population, as well as both those who rely on landlines and cell phones, we can chart where the voter landscape is right now. Our data also provide methods for analyzing voter mobility since the last election. Coupled with basic barometers of approval and dominant issue tracking, we can get an excellent fix on where the voters are today and how they arrived where they are today. As the horizon of the 42nd election comes into view we can also speculate as to what the prospects are for the various parties. There are some clear areas of advantage and disadvantage, but there is nothing approaching clarity about what is in store.

With the Liberals around 36 points, the Conservatives around 27, and the NDP around 22, the voter landscape is profoundly different that it was when the Conservatives gained a majority in May of 2011.

Basically, both the NDP and the Conservatives have bled support to the reinvigorated Liberal Party. There is, however, a third leg to the stool which has propelled the Liberals to almost twice their support in 2011: the return of non-voters from 2011, which we are guessing were discouraged erstwhile Liberal supporters who could not summon the motivation to vote for the Ignatieff ticket and platform (see Figure 2).

This leads to some very important questions. First off, are the Liberals under Justin Trudeau re-establishing the previously coveted centre of Canadian politics which anointed them the crown of the natural governing party until about a decade ago? There is some evidence that this may be the case. The other less favourable interpretation for the Liberals is that there are some internal tensions in this constituency of arriviste from both left and right and that the emotional engagement to retain them, and to have the past discouraged voters actually show up for them may not be in place (yet). There is some plausibility to this hypothesis as well and recent federal elections have been won and lost on the dynamics of emotional engagement and turnout. These factors have strongly favoured the Conservatives in the past, but this is a different landscape with not much political capital left in the tank of the now eight-year-old administration.

Figure 4 shows a couple of important things. First of all, there are some clear patterns and rhythms to the trends which suggest signal – rather than noise – is driving the trajectories. The clearest pattern is the Liberal rise which begins with Justin Trudeau’s arrival and has climbed pretty steadily since. Notably, the Liberals passed the Conservatives a year-and-a-half ago and haven’t come close to surrendering this now large lead since. This is not a blip and it is very different from the pattern the Liberals saw under Michael Ignatieff where they enjoyed a very brief honeymoon after his win at convention. He also showed another blip after the prorogation brouhaha but that was pretty well it. The NDP and Conservatives have both been on the skids and those declines have accrued to the Liberals.

Turning to the demographic patterns underlying these movements, we see some interesting patterns. The Conservatives dominate the Prairies, while the Liberals lead in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. What is most astonishing, however, is the sizeable lead that the Liberals have built up in Ontario. The Liberals also have a small lead in British Columbia but, given the rather unpredictable nature of the province’s political leanings, it would be unwise to place odds just yet.

The Liberals lead across all age groups, including youth where they have previously struggled to make headway. The Conservatives, however, enjoy a comparative advantage among seniors, which is a major advantage given that seniors tend to be the most reliable voting demographic in the country. The Conservatives do quite well with men, although they fairly poorly with women and the party would likely be reduced to third place in an alternate reality where voting were restricted to women. As per usual, the Liberals lead quite handily among university graduates and they enjoy a sizeable lead with new Canadians.

Other fundamentals

Throughout the nineties, it was rare to see confidence in national direction drop below 70 points. It now stands at 40 per cent and confidence in federal direction – which used to be twinned with national direction – is just over 34 per cent. These are very daunting numbers for any incumbent and they link to deep pessimism about the future and a growing consensus that stagnation has replaced progress for most Canadians. These very poor grades, coupled with even poorer marks for democratic trust , pose profound challenges for the unpopular Stephen Harper regime labouring under the eventual fatigue that tends to infect even the most popular governments. They still hold the hand of a unified right base but increasingly it appears this will not be enough to offset these other challenges.

Salient Issue

Our rather basic issue tracking indicator shows that the economy continues to dominate public concerns in a way that is completely different than a decade ago when it was social issues like health care that dominated. This shift has favoured the Conservative Party, but it remains to be seen whether the growing dissatisfaction with halted progress can be played against the government by the Liberals and the NDP. The blip up in social issues now ties with the economy may also reflect growing concerns with the new form of income stagnation and highly stratified growth at the very top of the ladder. The decline in concern with fiscal issues (taxes and deficit) is linked to growing belief in the public that austerity and minimal government have not been the prosperity solution that was advertised. On the other hand, the fairly low position of ethics and accountability suggests that the concerted attacks on Senate spending and related matters have not gained much real traction and that the opposition contenders may want to focus elsewhere in the coming year.

Who do we like?

In a world where trust in politicians is sliding into single digit territory we don’t seem to care much for any of our leaders. There is, however, a fairly clear lean to not approve of Stephen Harper with only 27 per cent of respondents voicing their approval (which ties his popular vote support). Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair are basically tied in positive approval at 41 and 40 points, respectively, so the leaders of the opposition parties hold a clear advantage. Mr. Mulcair has higher “unknowns”, but less negatives, whereas it is the reverse for Mr. Trudeau. One area of concern for the Liberals, however, is that despite the party’s recent fortunes, Mr. Trudeau’s disapproval rating has risen at a somewhat alarming pace. As more Canadians become familiar with him, the lean is becoming increasingly towards disapproval.

A final note on the C-word

As none of the parties are clearly in majority territory (although the Liberals are knocking on the door, particularly with their lead in Ontario and Quebec), we decided to have a look at the coalition issue. Without over-reading the chart below, two things are clear.

First, a large majority would prefer a coalition of some form rather than a return to the polls if the Conservatives were to win a minority in the next election. Less than one in four would want to see Conservatives go it alone, which suggests the bar has to be set pretty high (around 14 points above where the Conservatives are stuck right now). Second, the preferred option is some form of Liberal–NDP coalition with an overall point of indifference as to who should lead. This suggests that even though Justin Trudeau has the clear higher ground at this time, if he should stumble and a large portion of the politically promiscuous progressive vote switches to Thomas Mulcair, about half of all voters feel that a progressive coalition of any flavour is better than a continued Conservative government.

Second choice:


This study was conducted using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, which allows respondents to enter their preferences by punching the keypad on their phone, rather than telling them to an operator.

In an effort to reduce the coverage bias of landline only RDD, we created a dual landline/cell phone RDD sampling frame for this research. As a result, we are able to reach those with a landline and cell phone, as well as cell phone only households and landline only households. This methodology is not to be confused with the increasing proliferation of non-probability opt-in online panels which have recently been incorrectly reported in major national media with inappropriate margin of error estimates.

The field dates for this survey are March 27-April 3, 2014. In total, a random sample of 4,134 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey (including a sub-sample of 3,504 decided voters). The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Please note that the margin of error increases when the results are sub-divided (i.e., error margins for sub-groups such as region, sex, age, education). All the data have been statistically weighted by age, gender, region, and educational attainment to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to Census data.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (April 11, 2014)

6 comments to What is Really Going on with the Federal Political Landscape?

  • MulcairOrgywithLayton

    NDP can suck a big fat one

  • Steve

    I don’t care what “MulcairOrgywithLayton” has written. But I will vote for Trudeau.

    Trudeau is silly at times. Harper is scary all the time.

  • Robert Haymond

    Stephen Harper is a dignified man of whom we all can be proud. Can you imagine Justin Trudeau meeting with the heads of foreign governments? We’d be considered a second-rate non-entity nation in no time flat.

  • Randy S.

    I would not worry and in fact I am looking forward to Justin Trudeau being our Prime Minister. Furthermore I am baffled how anybody could be proud of how Stephen Harper and his government conduct themselves on the world stage. As a proud Canadian and Albertan of Ukrainian descent, I do not believe that the political grandstanding by Harper and Baird has been at all helpful in the current Ukrainian situation. The sooner Harper is gone the better.

  • Budly

    It will be interesting to see how the seat number increases and electoral district line re-drawing will affect the election outcome. It’s easy to suspect that the Conservatives could get a higher proportion of seats in the house of commons than their popular vote would otherwise provide. Or rather, an *even* bigger proportion because in 2011 they got 53.9% of the seats on 39.6% of the popular vote.

  • Paul S.

    Harper has disgraced Canada on the world stage by voting against the rest of the world on environmental issues and by converting Canadas’ aid programs to money and power grabbing schemes.