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Bold is Back

HARPER AND MULCAIR NOT

[Ottawa – June 14, 2016] The purpose of this report is to provide a retrospective on how citizens are scoring the parties and leaders after the first session of Parliament.

It has been nearly eight months since Canadians handed the Trudeau-led Liberals a majority government and yet the party continues to soar. At nearly 45 points, the party is showing no signs of waning. These numbers represent a truly breathtaking transformation from the political landscape just one year ago when the Liberals seemed to be headed to another third-place finish. They have since doubled their support, while the NDP have run from clear frontrunner to having their support cut by nearly three-fold (12 per cent). At these levels, the NDP would have difficulty achieving official party status in 2019. At 27 points, the Conservative Party is exactly where they were last June. What a difference a year makes!

The demographic and regional patterns reveal few surprises. The Liberals continue to do very well in Ontario and Quebec and would once again sweep Atlantic Canada if an impromptu election were held tomorrow. Alberta, meanwhile, remains a Conservative stronghold. British Columbia, a highly unpredictable province that seems to switch allegiances every 15 minutes, is uncharacteristically committed to the Liberal Party, which has led handily in the province in every poll we have conducted so far this year.

One out of every two women supports the Liberals and the party leads in every age and educational cohort. The Conservatives continue to draw the bulk of their support from men and the college educated.

Confidence in direction of both country and federal government also remain at near historic highs. With the exception of Conservative supporters, everyone seems very confident in the direction of both the country and the federal government.

Tainted legacy?

Justin Trudeau generously extended praise to Stephen Harper for his contributions to Canada at the last Liberal convention. While this magnanimity is admirable and probably linked to his high approval ratings, Bob Rae’s gag (since apologized) was probably more reflective of the overall public judgement of the Harper era.

When we asked Canadians how they would rate Stephen Harper’s legacy, the modal response was downright awful. Only 13 per cent would give him a rating of “excellent” (i.e., a five on a five-point scale), while more than twice that many (31 per cent) would categorize his performance as “terrible”. Rather than praise, the strong majority of the public are offering up a collective raspberry by a margin of nearly two-to-one.

Particularly scornful are young people and the university educated, while Albertans are the only regional or demographic group that look back on the Harper era with a sense of fondness. Predictably, positive ratings are largely isolated to the dwindled Conservative base. Two-fifths of Conservative supporters think he did an excellent job; the corresponding numbers for the remaining 70 per cent of the electorate range from a scant one to four per cent.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that Stephen Harper has been out of office less than a year. Canadians have not had much of a chance to reflect on his legacy. These numbers could change as time goes on.

First session report card gives high marks to Liberals, surprisingly positive assessment of Rona Ambrose

School is out for the summer and the parties’ marks are in. We asked Canadians to rate the performance of the four federalist parties over the past six months and the results are quite revealing. First up is the Liberal Party, which gets a ‘B’. Roughly equal numbers of Canadians would rate the performance as good, neutral, and bad. As one would expect, the Liberals are ecstatic about the party’s achievements, while Conservatives are unremittingly negative. NDP supporters are on the fence with a clear plurality rating them as neither good nor bad.

Next up is the Conservative Party. The verdict? ‘C-’. The party has succeeded in keeping its own diminished base happy, but finds itself unloved nearly everywhere else. Indeed, negative marks outweigh positive marks by a margin of two-to-one.

Now on to the NDP, which gets a rather dreadful ‘D+’. The party receives lousy marks across the board, with four times as many Canadians rating the party’s performance as negative than as positive. Indeed, even the party loyalists seem dismayed with the party’s direction, with just one in three NDP supporters giving out a passing grade.

Last up is the Green Party, which gets a ‘C’. Just one on seven Canadians offer a positive appraisal of the direction the party has taken, but the party receives relatively fewer negative reviews when compared to the other parties. Indeed, the clear plurality of seem to have no opinion on the party one way or the other, reflecting what has consistently been one of the party’s biggest weakness – it’s lack of visibility.

We are also going to give a report card to the leaders. First up is Justin Trudeau who gets an ‘A’. Indeed, Mr. Trudeau enjoys stratospheric approval, with nearly two-thirds of Canadians indicating their satisfaction with his performance. Of course, the scores look very different depending on one’s partisan affiliation. Fully 95 per cent of Liberal supporters approve of the Prime Minister, a figure that falls to just 16 per cent among Conservatives. Interestingly, NDP supporters approve of his performance by an impressive three-to-one margin, despite “elbowgate”.

The most interesting story here, however, is that of Rona Ambrose, who earns a very respectable ‘B’. More than half of Canadians – 54 per cent – give the interim leader a proverbial thumbs up. This is a highly significant improvement over December when one-third of respondents had not even heard of her. More importantly, this is higher than any approval score that her predecessor – Stephen Harper – had earned at any point since we began tracking approval in 2006. Voters may not be warming to the Conservative Party, but they are certainly warming to Ms. Ambrose. Indeed, the party may want to rethink its commitment to not allowing her to run for leader; she’s possibly their best bet right now.

Next, we come to Thomas Mulcair who earns a ‘C’. While a 45 per cent approval rating is still a respectable showing by Canadian standards, the party’s misfortunes seem to be taking their toll. His approval rating has dropped nearly 15 points over the last year and he has – by far – the lowest in-party approval rating of any leader, with just 68 per cent of NDP supporters singing his praises.

Finally, we come to Elizabeth May who earns a ‘B’. Once again, Ms. May comes out as one of Canada’s most well-liked party leaders and enjoys high approval ratings everywhere outside of the Conservative Party. Now if only she could translate those approval scores into votes…

Looking forward (wisdom of crowds?)

In the wake of the 2011 election, we asked Canadians about their predictions for the future of each of the three main federalist parties. While there was a great deal of confusion among experts and pundits, the public nailed it on the big questions of where the three major federalist parties were headed. Indeed, with remarkable unanimity, the public confidently predicted the Conservative Party’s loss, the return of the Liberal Party, and the relegation of the NDP to third place.

Inspired by the public’s collective wisdom, we asked Canadians once again what they thought was in store for the four federalist parties in the next election. Interestingly, the public think the Liberals will repeat their historic victory in 2019 (although perhaps by a somewhat reduced margin). Also, despite a big bump in the party’s approval numbers, Canadians believe that the Conservative Party will do about the same in 2019 (if not a bit worse). In terms of the NDP, the public see the party as maintaining their status (or maybe doing worse). Finally, nobody has particularly high hopes for the Green Party, who the public believe are mired in place under the country’s first-past-the-post system.

We also took this opportunity to dip into the U.S. election. By a huge margin, Canadians are predicting a Clinton victory, which may reflect hope as much as prediction. Canadians have an incredibly dark outlook on what would happen if Donald Trump were to be successful. Indeed, Canadians had better hope they’re right about Clinton, because the predicted impacts of a Trump victory on Canada are heart-stoppingly negative

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The paradox of a gloomy economy

There is a paradox in the highly elevated confidence in the direction of country and federal government and an economy which continues to produce unremitting gloom about the future. In fact, the medium-term optimism numbers have dropped to 26 per cent, which is the lowest score we have ever recorded. At the beginning of the century, optimism outweighed pessimism by a margin of three-to-one. Today, pessimism outweighs optimism by a four-to-three.

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People who are the most pessimistic are the most vulnerable, particularly those of lower socioeconomic status. British Columbia appears relatively more bullish on its economic prospects.

Ultimately, it is the economy that will be the acid test for the government as to whether they can make good on their promise to restore Canada’s middle class.

Boldness and the “V” thing

For nearly 20 years, we have been asking Canadians what type of vision they prefer for Canada’s future – a steady-as-she-goes approach or a bold, new vision. Even over the course of three governments and four Prime Ministers, Canadians have never wavered from their clear position that governments should be pursuing a new vision. Typically, the perception of boldness versus careful approach is very different from the preferred balance.

For the first time ever, we now see a consonance between what the public want and what they feel they are getting. By a margin of 63-37, Canadians see the federal government as headed in a bold new direction, as opposed to maintaining the status quo. Voters, particularly Liberals, University educated, younger people, and Quebeckers, all were seeking a bold new vision and, to this point, are rewarding the government for a bold new vision. The dwindled Conservative base is less content with this approach.

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Concluding remarks

Justin Trudeau and the Liberals continue to soar. While Mr. Trudeau’s approval numbers are focussed mainly among Liberal supporters, this group now makes up almost half of electorate.

Rona Ambrose is extremely popular, even though her party is mired in place. While she has vowed not to run in her party’s upcoming leadership race, poll results suggest that the party may wish to consider releasing her from this commitment.

Despite having reasonably good approval numbers, Mr. Mulcair is presiding over a train wreck. Not only is the party at 12 points (which puts them in danger of losing official party status), they get the worst marks (by far) and their prospects do not look any brighter as we look to 2019. Watch out for the F-bomb.

The Green Party is stuck under Canada’s first-past-the-post quagmire. If the party is to have any real chance of succeeding in 2019, they need electoral reform to happen. Our polls consistently show that Canadians like the party and its leader, but don’t seem willing to vote for them, either out of fear of splitting the progressive vote or concern that their vote won’t make a difference.

Methodology

This survey 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 June 3-7, 2016. In total, a random sample of 2,371 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 2.0 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 (June 14, 2016)

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