CLEAR TILT TO A SECURITY AGENDA AS THE DRIVER
[Ottawa – November 7, 2014] The political landscape looks very different in the aftermath of the shootings of two weeks ago. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have seen their fairly solid and stable 12-point lead collapse into a much less comfortable three-point lead. A longstanding shift away from the security agenda as a priority has seen a dramatic rebalancing of the security/civil liberty fulcrum. This has propelled Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party to heights it hasn’t seen in nearly two years and redrawn the political calculus around election timing. The Liberals and the NDP have faltered in the aftermath of these episodes and the Conservatives are close to the range where they could meaningfully aspire to reform government.
The critical question is how durable are these newfound security effects and will they affect the decision making on whether to ignore the fixed election date. It is entirely possible that Mr. Harper may choose to go to the electorate riding this momentum with the opposition (quite possibly) ill-prepared for an election steeped in who is best positioned to guide Canada through this newly more dangerous world. The tracking on the more dominant long-term issue of the economy suggests that there is no improvement in public outlook on this front. Indeed, one must speculate whether the Conservatives’ circumstances have any chance of improving as the public will almost inevitably draw their attention away from the tragic theatre of terror and return to their grim focus on a stagnant economy that looks even worse as time goes on.
Although it is highly unlikely that the Conservatives were considering an early election call, the clear bounce they have received from recent events is likely to dissipate as time goes on and there is little evidence that they will fare well when measured against the increasingly grim yardstick of public confidence in a moribund and unequally distributed economy. The simple fact is that there is little evidence that the public judgement on the incumbent’s record and plans for the economy and social issues can produce a win. So the unexpected and most likely ephemeral improvement in fortunes from this security bounce will almost certainly fade leaving the Conservatives with much iffier prospects. If the Conservatives continue to improve, however, it may well be the case that an election in the next few months provides their best shot at success.
Conservatives dominate Prairies, but fail to make inroads in the east
The Conservatives are doing well across the board and they now lead with men and the college educated (although the Liberals still lead comfortably women and university graduates). If there is good news to be found for the progressive parties, it is that much of the Conservatives’ gains over the past few weeks have been concentrated in the Prairies. The inefficient over-concentration of party support in this region will penalize the Conservatives in terms of seat count, although it would crush any Liberal hopes of capturing seats in Alberta for the first time since 2004.
The Liberals continue to lead in Ontario and, interestingly, have captured a small lead in Quebec, both of which will be critical to the 2015 election. Indeed, their newfound lead in Quebec looks akin to the constituency of Jean Chrétien when he won three successive majorities. Unfortunately, there is very little good news for the NDP in this poll; they do not seem to lead in any area of the country and, at these figures, they would be reduced to a (rather distant) third place.
Security – not the economy – is the key driver
Despite a recent wave of other developments, these movements appear to be almost entirely driven by the security-related events of a couple of weeks. First, there is no evidence that income splitting is behind this rise in Conservative fortunes. Furthermore, this rise can not be attributed to economic success; the economy does not appear to be strengthening the minds of Canadians – if anything, it is weakening. Fears over short-term financial outlook have spiked in recent weeks, with the proportion of respondents who say they will be better off a year from now at an all-time low.
Instead, these movements are reflective of a sharp rise in security over other principles. As late as July, half of Canadians were calling for a strong focus on guaranteeing civil liberties. Today, the plurality wants more security. Similarly, Canadians are much less averse to granting increased powers to police and intelligence agencies than they were just three months ago (although the plurality still says personal privacy should take precedence).
It is important to remember, however, that security effects in reaction to a crisis are not unheard of and are seldom permanent. Similarly, polling the United States has shown that support for the ISIS mission is rising, even though it is almost certain to decline over time (there is no military conflict in recent history that has not shown this pattern). The critical question here is how long will these patterns last and can they last through the next election.
Return of the dreaded c-word?
All in all, a very different political landscape has evolved over the last few weeks. However, it is important to note that none of the individual changes are particularly dramatic in and of themselves. The Liberals and NDP, while down, have not “plummeted”. Similarly, the Conservatives, while up, have not “soared”. Rather, it is the combination of these three movements (coupled with the unexpected, stronger performance of the Green Party) that has created a dramatically different race.
If these patterns lock in as the new normal, we will have to start asking ourselves whether we are once again looking at the prospect of the dreaded coalition. When the polls were pointing to a Liberal minority, the prospect of a coalition government was almost laughable. With the Conservatives in striking distance of the lead (recall that the Conservatives won a 39.6-point majority when they were consistently polling at around 36 points), however, it has become an increasingly feasible (albeit unlikely) possibility.
Our internal seat projections suggest that at these figures, the Liberals and NDP combined would capture roughly 60 per cent of the seats (in addition to 54 of the popular vote). A coalition under these circumstances would be a much more realistic arrangement than the proposed Dion-led coalition that would have required the combined support of the Liberals, the NDP, and the Bloc Québécois. It is unlikely that Canadians would object to a government that, one way or another, garnered a majority of the vote.
However, these points may very well be moot. If these shifts are indeed being driven by short-term fears over security, the recent rise in Conservative fortunes will not be sustainable and the polls may simply return to where they were a month ago. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile conversation – a government made of different parties and based on compromise and negotiation could more fairly represent Canada’s diverse political views and may very well satisfy Canadians’ need for change.
Direction of country/government
This study was conducted using High Definition Interactive Voice Response (HD-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.
The field dates for this survey are November 4-6, 2014. In total, a random sample of 1,561 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-2.5 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 (November 7, 2014)