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It Is Neck and Neck as We Head into Election Year

[Ottawa – December 15, 2014] Yet another new normal has set into the Canadian political landscape as we head into an election year. Some unexpected events have altered the last normal which saw the rejuvenated Liberal Party – led by Justin Trudeau – clearly in the driver’s seat and on the cusp of what would likely have been a majority government (had those numbers persisted to Election Day). A renewed security focus and other events following the shootings in Ottawa have produced a virtual deadlock between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

Through a combination of propitious events and sound political game, Stephen Harper sees himself having gone from the real possibility of an unenviable descent from majority Prime Minister to leader of the third party, to now being in position to aspire to a fourth government. Not only has he wiped out virtually all of Mr. Trudeau’s double digit lead, he has raised his approval numbers and there is much less unanimity that the country is heading in the wrong direction.

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Does this suggest that he will be victorious in the fall (or perhaps earlier)? Not yet. In fact, it may be the case that a divided electorate doesn’t see any conventional political solution to being caught between a government from the right which is increasingly out of touch with the values and attitudes of Canadians and a fragmented centre-left split over four parties. The structural factors of a progressive wave, a dark outlook for a shrinking and pessimistic middle class, and deep mistrust in democracy and public institutions have not gone away. In fact, those forces continue to percolate and it is quite likely that the combination of a rare public opinion hit on the ISIS mission, the deft handling of the shooting incident, and the newly elevated security concerns of the public will fade and leave the more challenging structural forces once again as a formidable barrier to another Harper victory.

There is evidence that a public weary of a hard right government fashioned from the unusual political dynamics of a fractured centre-left and a united right are willing to consider a new solution. The spectre of a coalition government was used effectively to strengthen – not weaken – Harper’s fortunes in 2011. But things appear to have changed. While in 2011 there was a sharp division as to whether a coalition would be preferable to a Conservative minority, the ground has shifted. By a very large margin, the public now favour a Justin-Trudeau-led coalition. This is very different from the split views of 2011. The parties will all insist that they are running to win and that this is a bad idea. But for Canadian voters, this may slowly be emerging as a possible solution to better match the next parliament to the majority values and interests of all Canadians.

This may be terra incognita for Canadian federal politics, but it is old hand in Europe and elsewhere. The diverse values and interests of an increasingly pluralistic citizenry aren’t fitting readily into the older party systems and this may well be a perfectly acceptable destination for the public. This may also be a temporary expression of frustration with a newly deadlocked race between the Liberals and Conservatives. Centre-left voters may be more willing to consider a coalition when confronting the real possibility of another Conservative government. We suspect that if the things were back where they were in the fall (with the Liberals in a clear lead), the appetite for this compromise would be lower.

Demographic Patterns Revealing

Stephen Harper appears to be re-assembling the same constituency that gave him his majority mandate in 2011. Older voters are gradually returning to the fray, and he has re-captured his strong lead with men. He is also gaining ground with new Canadians, an area that he had previously forfeited to the Liberals.

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The Liberals, in contrast, have a large and troubling gap with males. However, this softness with men is not new; rather, it is a sustained pattern that has grown over the past two months. It appears that Mr. Harper’s renewed focus on security has at least temporarily reinforced his connection with males. If the Liberals are to be successful, they must find a way to strengthen their standing with men.

Regionally, the Liberals are the most “pan-Canadian” party, as they hold at least some support in nearly every region of the country. They are also highly competitive in Manitoba, which was clearly not the case in 2011. The Conservatives are heavily focussed in Alberta and Saskatchewan, although they are nipping at the Liberals’ heels in Ontario, which will be key to any election victory in 2015. The NDP continues to do well in Quebec.

Approval Numbers Uncover Hidden Strengths for Trudeau/Mulcair

Despite a relative deadlock in vote attention, there is good news to be found for Justin Trudeau in his approval figures. He leads in terms of approval and, interestingly, he does extremely well with undecided voters. Thomas Mulcair, meanwhile, is best able to transcend partisan lines and he does fairly well outside of NDP supporters. Stephen Harper remains in a distant third place; however, he has enjoyed a noticeable uptick in approval over the past few months.

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Likelihood of Voting Raises New Possibilities

In our latest poll, in addition to our conventional ballot question (“which party would you vote for?”), we asked respondents to rate the likelihood that they would vote for each of the three main parties on a 7-point scale, where 1 indicates a 0 per cent chance of voting for the party in question, 7 indicates a 100 per cent chance, and the midpoint, 4, indicates a 50/50 chance. The results are revealing and somewhat different than what we see with the conventional ballot question.

The Liberals appear to have a slight – but statically significant – edge in this area, as Canadians of all political colours express somewhat more openness to voting Liberal. Conservative supporters have taken more of a “my way or the highway” stance and are widely closed off to voting either Liberal or NDP. Conversely, other party supporters have widely ruled out voting Conservative.

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Liberal and NDP supporters, meanwhile, have expressed a tepid willingness to consider each other, suggesting that a Liberal-NDP coalition may be feasible should the Conservatives pull off a minority win in 2015. Indeed, unlike in 2011, it appears now that Liberals and NDP supporters are equally likely to say they are certain voters. The rise of greater commitment to vote in the centre-left is also coupled with a sharp rise in support for a Liberal-led coalition. These two changed forces suggest a formidable obstacle to a fourth Harper Government.

Canadians prefer Liberal-NDP coalition to Conservative government

Finally, we asked Canadians the simple question of whether they would prefer a Conservative minority government or a Liberal-led coalition with the NDP. Canadians express a striking preference for the latter, with 54 per cent (60 per cent when we exclude invalid responses) choosing the coalition. This represents a distinct movement away from the days of Michael Ignatieff, when Canadians were evenly split on this issue.

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However, caution is necessary in interpreting these results. This is a fairly crude test and doesn’t exhaust the possible arrangements. It also is one that may be more attractive when the Conservatives are doing relatively better. Indeed, given that 52 per cent of Canadians would vote either Liberal or NDP if an election were held today, it is not at all surprising that a similar proportion would opt for a form of government that offered their party of choice at least some level of power. So it should be taken as an interesting but very partial view on the future.

Conclusions

All in all, this is a pretty good poll for Stephen Harper and he is in a much better position that he has been for a long time. He is within striking distance of the lead for the first time in over a year and his approval rating has been slowly improving.

However, this is not a bad poll for Mr. Trudeau. Indeed, the Liberal Party still leads and we have not seen them behind in a poll in over a year. While the Conservatives are doing well, they may simply not do well enough. Mr. Harper has benefitted from a number of recent events that all occurred in a very short period of time and these figures may be as good as it gets as attention returns to the less welcoming forces which had put Mr. Harper in such a poor position throughout most of 2014. Furthermore, the rise in committed voters within the centre-left and the rise in support for a Trudeau-led coalition both suggest more formidable obstacles to a fourth successive government.

Finally, while the overall result as a deadlock is very significant, it is based on rather modest changes. The Conservatives have not surged and the Liberals and NDP have not plummeted. Rather, we have seen a modest, downward shift for the Liberals and NDP, accompanied by a modest uptick for the Conservatives.

In any case, we are still ten months out from an election (discounting, of course, the rumoured early election call). It is extremely early and all of this could change.

Direction of Country/Government

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Methodology

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 December 4-12, 2014. In total, a random sample of 3,276 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-1.7 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 (December 15, 2014)

11 comments to It Is Neck and Neck as We Head into Election Year

  • Good Morning, Wee Hours, December 20 / Before Coffee and Three Canadian Newspapers and The Economist, Finanacial Times,

    My demographics: age 70, university / professional, married, home owner, wife university / professional, two cars, read tree newspapers plus The Economist, Financial Times, travel diversely annually to get world view, significant family income.

    Knowledge / Professional Expertise: Management Consulting, strategy, marketing, competitiveness, enterprise growth, climate change, climate innovation (global).

    Hobbies / Interests: Skiing, biking, hiking, canoeing, gardening, reading, travelling, attending theatre and symphony, discussing important national / international issues with friends.

    I Google and read Latest Canadian Political Polls, two to three times per week, looking at individual polling companies, noting slight margin of bias towards one or other main parties, eg, EKos to Conservatives, Nanos to Liberals; but also read consolidated polls analysis. Note individula sample sizes look small, and produce standard error rates which require multiple sampling by different companies to try to smooth out oddments, so would need an aggregation of minimum 5000, and possibly 7000 sample of voters during period of shifting awareness, issues, trending, etc., and this is important for next twelve months.

    What do I think 1? I am not party oriented. Rather isssue and country oriented. Issues are (1) Economics / stability / mild growth / diversity, need to seriously rebuild manufacturing and advanced technical manufacturing economic base across cities. (2) Climate Change, we are one to two decades from global catastrophe (my specialty), and have less than ten years to get massively off carbon fuels and onto alternatives, clean nuclear, geothermal, hydro, solar, wind, etc., plus major, major conservation, big culprits are buildings, all forms of transportation, industrial sector processes, globalization, global trade vs local production and consumption, urbanization (eg, GTA, Van, MTL), deforestation, loss of biodiversity (ultra serious). (3) Rationalized, focused, locally accessible health care at reasonable controlled costs, including equitable access and service for seniors. (4) Accessible, affordable post secondary education, including university, community college (1, 2, 3, 4 year programs), technician and technologist programs, trades programs, major skills adaptation and upgrading programs, continual life learning and adjustment strategies and skils, etc. (5) Massive shift to much needed Fourth Industrial Revolution, aka the post carbon economy, aided by Carbon Pricing / Tax which quite evidently does NOT negatively impact economy or jobs, but rather smoothes the transition to next economy, by shifting energy sources and usages, look at Sweden, BC, etc, both trending successfully. (6) Limits to Growth, is the massive elephant on steroids in the room, in every house in this nation, growing out of Club of Rome, and decennial update reports, plus Stockholm University, School of Economics, limits to global growth studies, by Rockstrom et al, spider diagrams. These are the issues. Voters need to pick the issues and put them in front of politicians and parties, and say WTF, and smarten up or go home.

    What do I think 2? I think parties tend to piss off voters, get arrogant, get pig headed, ignore issues, make mistakes, and thus voters get tired of them and vote them out of office. This is where the Conservatives are today, and where in particular Harper is. Both are disliked, tired old dish rags, with core support at around 30%, plus marginal adjustments depending on the issue and the day of the week or month, and this marginal float can be 1% – 5% min max range, with regional variations. Liberals are the main alternative, but Trudeau seems to be immature, accident prone, and careless in not articulating a solid straegy mix, though Harper will pounce on Trudeau the moment Trudeai opens his mouth, with Harper core strategy to be Economics, plus an aggregation of “other issues”, populations segments and slices, and wedge issues. I believe Canadians on the whole are centrist plus slightly left of centre majoritarily, but this field is occupied by two parties who cannot reconile in this territory, Libs and Dippers, so voters will pick one or the other, and may be trending to Libs, and willing to accept coalition if necessary. What ever happened to strategic voting?????

    What do I think 3? The failure of strategic voting, and the default outcome, coaltion, may let Harper and the Cons take a few essential ridings, in 905 area, and in marginal redistribution areas (remember gerimandering?), sufficient to push them over the top, from minority to hairline majority. This is Harper’s strategy.

    What do I think 4? Trudeau is a babe in the woods, Alice in Wonderland, has his mother’s brains and his father’s looks, painfully unable to articulate strategy, has a most unfortunate knee jerk reaction when public speacking on issues, and is terribly shallow, a function of poor level of education in a national leadership role, dreamy aspiration over substantive strategy.

    What do I think 5? TIME FOR A Fxxxxx CHANGE!!!!! I do like current Economics stability, but am VERY TIRED of Harpo the Arrogantomus, tired of Conservatives aka Neo-Cons. Who, What is best alternative, most likely to form next Government????? Well, by default, it may be Trudeau the Babe in the Woods, who with GOOD ADVISORS ON KEY ISSUES (as articulated at top of this blog), and willing to actually speak CLEARLY AND SUBSTANTIVELY ON THESE ISSUES, and his Liberal Band From Sherwood Forest. Dippers are on a slippery slope, as they were simply a parking lot in last federal election, and are returning to natural norms of support and Mulcair knows it, and is developing a case of terminal hemmorhoids over it….watch him angst.

    What do I think 6? Worse Case Scenario, Libs and Dips fail to coalesce over anything, slug it out, and Cons run up the middle in a number of key ridings in GTA – 905, plus win in the redistributed, gerimandered, new seats.

    What do I think 7? GREATEST PISS OFF. Conservative Dirty Tricks, including strongly negative advertising against opponents, which are known to destroy voter confidence, and willingness of young people to become involve, and turn out to vote on election day. I believe that this is a very calculated strategy by Harper and the Neo Cons, as dirty as Robo Calls, and should be prohibited under the Federal Elections Act.

    I, we talk a lot, share a lot with our friends, old and young, try to make everybody aware of the issues, and the massive need for CHANGE IN GOVERNMENT.

    Trending……

    PR.

  • Second Comment, pursuant to first comment above.
    If you publish, I would prefer my full name not appear.
    You may use my initials instead, PGR.
    Please change “significant family income” to “professional level income”.
    Under para beginning, What do I think 7? After the four words negative advertising against opponents, please ad, two words, attack ads,
    In general my language is frank and strong, colourful, but this is Canadian speak, even among professionals, and particularly with a hot issue such as national election.
    Thanks, contact me if necessary.
    PGR.

  • Garnet Knapman

    I do not like the polls about elections and who is winning who is not and by how much. i do not trust the polls any more than i trust the politicians.They change the minds of the voters, mainly the people who dont follow the debates and the rest of it. should be a law against polls!

  • Millie Zeiler

    Polls and politicians I do not trust. I also don’t trust the upcoming federal election because there’s way too much corruption going on behing closed doors as it is. Canada’s fate literally hangs in the balance, a fate that could have been avoided if Harper didn’t spend 2006 onward driving this poor nation into it’s grave in the manner he did.

    More people need to open up their eyes and pay way closer attention to each of these parties and quite frankly, I don’t believe a single party government, along with the Prime Minister, is the answer to helping this country thrive anymore.

    A Round Table system where the leader of each party has an equal voice and the public, who are informed about each discussion each time there is one held, also gets to cast a vote.

    Canada has too much at stake now to rely on a single leader or a single party. Too much is going on in the world today where we can no longer afford to allow one person, nor a tiny handful of people to decide what direction Canada should go.

    Right now the majority of the people in this country feel betrayed. Many don’t vote because they see all of politics as a huge joke that deserves to be ridiculed, not elected. Many don’t vote because they believe the polls and election results are rigged anyway. Time and time again the (more recent) politicians have favored corporate bullies over the everyday citizen of this nation. On so many levels, the people of this nation have been wronged and that needs to stop.

    The only way this can be effectively done is to realize we need to change hour our political makeup is made. No more Prime Minister. No more majority of the house nor minority.

    It should be a more equalized system so that everybody has what they deserved all along but never got; AN EQUAL VOICE!

    It can be done and it’s way easier to do than one would realize.

    In the Round Table system, each party leader would be equals, but despite all the discussions between them (on air) the public get final say of what road a decision should take. This is OUR country and it belongs in OUR hands. Many have forgotten this and although one would say it’s OUR decision to vote a Prime Minister. Yes it is, but the majority of the decisions our current prime minister has made has not been in the favor of the people who voted him into power in the first place. So, honestly, how does this make him an effective leader? The truth of the matter is it does not. He has let this country down and he is not alone. Every politican that has failed to realize the political system we have right now is no longer working has also let this country down by not making a genuine effort to fix a problem that will only get worse if it remains ignored.

    In the Round Table system there’d be equal voices to appoint various ministers and even there, no single person would have that job. In other worse, there would be no official Minister of Defense. It would become a Round Table Caucus of Defense where it’d be set up the same way as the party leader set up. The same would be said regarding the Department of Agriculture. No white collar guy should be deciding the fate of Canada’s most important industry (it’s agriculture, people, not oil) as this should be decided by a collection of esteemed members of the farming community who actually listen to all the farmers of this nation instead of turning his back on them.

    The Canadians deserve Canada back. This won’t happen until there’s true change. What I see now, based on the polls is the stupid revolving door ride everybody seems to be too afraid to escape from.

  • Gary Crosby

    The drop in Mr Mulcairs popularity goes hand in hand with his CPC style attack on Mr Trudeau. I hope they can see that the Canadian people are tired of dirty politics. That we have real issues facing the country and need a real leader not another Harper..

  • Sam

    I wish the BQ would be made to run candidates in the rest of the Canada so we can vote them out once and for all.
    The NDP & Liberals have done a great job to not unite the western part of Canada. Now that oils gone down and Alberta can’t support the rest of the country what’s the other parts of Canada do without their subsidies.
    Getting Oil to other markets, weather you like it or not, is fundamental to the wealth of this country.
    After 150 years lets vote and end the 5 billion dollars we give ANNUALLY to Natives based on their skin colour. The system doesn’t work. There was a beginning, middle, and now we need and END.
    When are the politicians going to listen?

  • David Boldt

    The country needs a new economic strategy…..not one based primarily on oil. Our economy should be sustainable for future generations. The country desperately needs new leadership & a new government. Canada, as we know it, won’t survive another 4 years of Harper.

  • Maureen Loney

    If it takes a coalition government of NDP and Liberals to defeat the Harper regime, then both Mulcair and Trudeau need to step up and do what is right for the country. They are not that far apart. It works in other oountries. We need to rid this country of Harper and his minions totally or we will be living in a Canada we no longer recognize. Although Canadians do not like attack ads (they are proven to work supposedly) then go for it. I do not normally support negative attacks but desperate times call for desperate measures. If people need to be constantly reminded of the harm that Harper has imposed on this country then go for it! Canadians deserve better than the arrogant, secretive, incompetent bunch that we have in Ottawa now.

  • Donna Stocker

    I think that polls should be illegal to conduct and publish in the last month of the election buildup. People need to make up their own minds. Most people are followers and try to vote strategically by following the polls.

  • Don Purdey

    Low oil price may sort out transfer payments from Alberta to Quebec. Quebec should get oil from Canada and keep the money in Canada. I the west we hated the first Trudeau junior needs to grow up.

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