[Ottawa – August 10, 2014] As part of a pretty comprehensive diagnostic poll on a range of current issues, we have conducted an update of the political landscape in Canada. There is nothing particularly remarkable about these results, but put in context with the overall time series which precedes it, and some of the other more probing questions we will be releasing later, this poll really does not augur well for the Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party.
This poll does, however, reinforce the notion that the now profound lead enjoyed by Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is far from a blip. Whether it is the putative gaffes around Abortion rights policy, or the attempts to portray Justin Trudeau as a sorcerer’s apprentice who will unleash Reefer Madness on playgrounds throughout Canada, there is little evidence that this is having any discernable impact on a voting public who seem increasingly weary with the current regime. The ballyhooed Big Shift of a few years ago seems not only to be indiscernible, all of the collective evidence is pointing in the opposite direction. It appears that the Canadian public are now moving to the centre and left and this may arguably be a response to increasing fatigue to being governed from the right when Canadians are actually moving in a more progressive direction.
We will explore these themes, along with the much debated role of the middle class and new forms of inequality in subsequent releases, but these deeper currents and forces must be considered in explaining what appears to be a new political normal emerging in Canada. Far from the apparent ascendance of the Conservatives as the new natural governing party, their reign appears to be closing and the recent surprising (not to us we note ) election of majority Liberal governments in Canada’s two largest provinces, may well be a harbinger of the end of the period of conservative political dominance in Canada.
Obviously, we aren’t making any predictions about the results of the next federal election. The Conservatives will have cash in reserve and a balanced budget. They will also have the profound advantage of the political arithmetic of a fractured centre left arrayed across four party choices, three of which are led by neophyte leaders, versus a consolidated Conservative Party supported by a seasoned and effective political machine. Yet the evidence suggests the likelihood of another Conservative majority is increasingly obscure, even at this early date.
Vote Intention: Huge Changes since 2011
What a difference three years and a new leader make. The erstwhile hapless Liberal Party of Canada has gone form a dismal 18.9 points in the last election to a muscular 38.7. The very surprising Conservative majority with an impressive 39.6 per cent of the vote has collapsed into a meagre 25.6 per cent with the NDP within the margin of error at 23.4 per cent. The more obvious question now isn’t whether the Conservatives can repeat its stunning majority triumph of 2011; it may be whether it can even hold onto opposition leader status.
While Thomas Mulcair and the NDP may not be pleased with these numbers, they have some reasons for optimism. Mulcair has a lead in Quebec and enjoys the highest approval rating of any of the party leaders (see discussion below). It is also notable that Mulcair’s relative position is much stronger today than was Jack Layton’s in the lead up the shocking advance that they made in the 41st federal election.
The trend lines are more daunting for the Conservatives. It may well be unprecedented to see a Liberal or Conservative party more than double its support over a similar time period. It is also clear that the Liberal rise which seems to once again be moving upward is not a blip, but a solid trend. Equally clear is that the Conservative trend is a real and disturbing fall from grace which shows little sign of recovering to the 2011 results.
The public view on the next election mirrors the evidence we have just reviewed on trends and current numbers. By a clear margin of 44 to 27, the public sees a Liberal – not Conservative – government succeeding in 2015. Of those who see a Liberal government, however, the clear lean is to see a minority rather than majority. Notably, only 12 per cent of the public see another Conservative majority in the cards, compared to the 18 per cent who see a Liberal majority.
Mulcair and Harper at Opposite Ends of Approval Spectrum
This month, we updated our approval numbers for Canada’s party leaders. As noted earlier, Thomas Mulcair enjoys the highest approval rating of any of the three party major leaders (54 per cent). More importantly, his popularity seems to transcend party lines and he enjoys high approval ratings everywhere outside of the Conservative base. Justin Trudeau benefits from similarly high approval numbers (49 per cent), although his disapproval rating is noticeably higher (34 per cent, compared to 25 per cent for Mr. Mulcair).
Stephen Harper, in contrast, is the least popular of any of the seven leaders we tested. Indeed, by a margin of more than two-to-one (65 per cent to 29 per cent), Canadians disapprove of the way Mr. Harper is handling his job. Even Alberta – a long-standing Conservative stronghold – is divided, with as many respondents leaning towards disapproval as approval. Nevertheless, he remains remarkably popular with Conservatives and enjoys the highest in-party approval rating of any of the federal party leaders so it is highly unlikely that his party will be giving him the boot anytime in the near future.
We also included the Premiers of Canada’s three largest provinces in our approval testing. At the front end of the spectrum is Kathleen Wynne who garners the approval of 52 per cent of Ontarians, a marked improvement from the later years of McGuinty’s reign, when the plurality of Ontarians disapproved of their Premier.
Philippe Couillard enjoys similar approval numbers in Quebec (48 per cent) and has yet to make any enemies, with a disapproval rating of just 27 per cent. Nevertheless, a sizeable number of Quebec residents – 25 per cent – still aren’t sure what to make of him. Christly Clark, meanwhile, receives approval from less than one-third of her constituents (31 per cent), with a clear majority (62 per cent) expressing disapproval.
Finally, we included Barack Obama who, as usual, outranks any of the Canadian leaders tested. He does well with Canadians across all ages and regions, although his popularity is notably lower in Alberta, perhaps a reflection of his persistent unwillingness to make a decision regarding the Keystone Pipeline system.
So Should Stephen Harper Stay or Go?
We haven’t had much good news for Stephen Harper in this poll but he might take some comfort that there is no clear desire to see him resign before the next election. The public are highly divided, although a very slim majority favours an early exit. Not surprisingly, enthusiasm for his staying is largely restricted to the shrunken Conservative base (only nine per cent think he should go which should cool the ambitions of any pretenders to this throne initiating a push).
Nevertheless, a sizable group of non-Conservative supporters want Harper to stay. This finding is surprising as they certainly don’t give him those kinds of approval numbers outside of the Conservative base. Whether it is respect for due process or some sense that he has become an asset to progressive fortunes is unclear.
Direction of Country/Government
This study was conducted using EKOS’ unique, hybrid online/telephone research panel, Probit. Our panel offers exhaustive coverage of the Canadian population (i.e., Internet, phone, cell phone), random recruitment (in other words, participants are recruited randomly, they do not opt themselves into our panel), and equal probability sampling. All respondents to our panel are recruited by telephone using random digit dialling and are confirmed by live interviewers. Unlike opt-in online panels, Probit supports margin of error estimates. We believe this to be the only probability-based online panel in Canada.
The field dates for this survey are July 16-23, 2014. In total, 2,620 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey. Of these cases, 2,448 were collected online, while 172 were collected by computer assisted telephone interviews (CATI). The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-1.9 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 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 (August 10, 2014)