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Conservatives Hang on to Narrow Lead

[Ottawa – April 24, 2015] There is nothing really of note in the vote intention numbers this week. We see the usual array of fluctuations in the regional and demographic samples, but the overall pattern is one of stasis. One gets the feeling that the public will only truly begin to engage now that the budget has been delivered. The coming month will be highly revealing as to who is in a good position to triumph in the fall.

At this time, we would like to pause and look at a couple of critical issues which often get obscured in the focus on a faux horse race that really hasn’t begun in earnest. We suspect that that the federal budget marks the outset of the real race. The last six months have seen the Liberals in a gentle but steady slide (but still within clear range of the lead). The Conservatives have seen an important recovery fuelled by the security and culture issues but those were losing traction and unlikely to hold up in the face of much deeper concerns about the economy coupled with serious concerns about national direction and the direction of the federal government and its Prime Minister.

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We shall see that the incumbent has hung on to a narrow lead by virtue of better communications of its core values and plans. This is now rooted in clear ownership of major communication tools and clearer and more consistent messaging buttressed by the power of advertisement and publicity available to a government who chooses to appropriate those channels.

Thomas Mulcair has entered the race again and is now within range of the leaders and much better positioned than his predecessor at this stage in 2011. It remains the case, however, that neither Trudeau nor Mulcair have been able to grab much attention from a podium that is currently owned by Harper and his Conservative Party.

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Harper winning the framing war

Considering what people are following, it is quite significant how much announcements around the economy and the budget have captured public attention. Public attention to these announcements outstrips even the venerable Stanley Cup Playoffs, complete with five Canadian teams. The much ballyhooed Duffy trial is not gathering much attention yet and really isn’t a force at this time (although that may well change). The messages of Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair are barely registering above the noise floor and this is producing the deficit they suffer on the clarity of their plans for the country and individuals. The fact that Trudeau is seen as slightly more likely to have a better plan for the country is remarkable in light of the lack of connection noted by voters, particularly outside of his own base. Mulcair has the same problem.

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All of this can and probably will change as the phoney pre-campaign period gives way to the real deal. The budget may well mark the starting line for the real war for the hearts and pocketbooks of voters and the Conservatives have a clear advantage out of the gates. Will it be sustainable? We should get a good preliminary read of the real campaign in our reporting next week and we are monitoring this closely now. We suspect that the scant advantage at this stage will be insufficient given the depth of concern of the public about a moribund economy and the government‘s positioning on the issues voters tell us are most important.

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Budget priorities offside with Canadian priorities?

The government has made much ado of a balanced budget fashioned out of distress sales of GM shares, auspicious sales of spectrum, a swollen EI surplus, and general ratcheting down of already-severely-cut federal spending. The issues analysis suggests that this dubious achievement fashioned out of accounting gymnastics in the aftermath of the collapse of oil prices will be seen as an underwhelming achievement outside of the Conservative base who do view this as important. Social programs such as health and pensions are now rising in importance once again and match the jobs and growth issues as the top priorities for the public. These are much more important for women and Quebeckers, which are growing challenges for the government. There is also evidence that while the environment is not a pinnacle issue, it is an important issue (particularly in British Columbia and Quebec) and the degree to which it was orphaned in the budget may have negative ballot booth consequences for the government in the fall. Finally, while ethics aren’t a dominant issue right now, they are rising slightly, perhaps in lockstep with the Duffy trial, which could become more of a source of corrosion for the government as attention shifts from hockey to this spectacle.

The dominant issue, however, will be the issue of restarting the economy and middle class progress. Despite the fact that the opposition has attempted to paint the incumbent as the sorcerer’s apprentice who has fashioned a collapse of the middle class bargain on the altar of ideology and pandering to the already affluent, there is little evidence that they have convinced Canadians that they have the prescription for middle class malaise. In fairness, however, they haven’t really begun to make that case. Can they wrestle the communications stranglehold the government now has on economic plans away from the government? Can they shift the channel from the Middle East to the middle class? These are the really critical questions which will shape the outcome of Election 42 and we believe we will start to get some sense of that in the coming week.

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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 April 15-21, 2015. In total, a random sample of 3,850 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-1.6 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 24, 2015)

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