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The Trudeau Effect – April 14, 2013


[Ottawa – April 14, 2013] A plethora of pundits have offered views on the emergence of Justin Trudeau as the next leader of the Liberal Party. Here we will take a more modest approach and focus on what the public opinion trends are telling us. It is probably safe to say that Mr. Trudeau is causing a buzz in media coverage. The mixture includes the gamut from committed sceptics/critics to fawning acolytes, but it is safe to say that media attention to Mr. Trudeau has risen and that arguably the overall tone has tilted positive. This seems to more or less reflect what is going on in public opinion.

We argued in a companion piece that the most profound challenges facing Mr. Harper were not the immediate threat posed by a remarkably rejuvenated Liberal Party led my Mr. Trudeau. Rather, he was being weighed down by a long downward grind in public outlook on the very file he has claimed as his own – the economy.

We can and should look separately at the issue of how the alternative to Mr. Harper might affect the long term prospects for continued success of him and his party. While the answers here as less clear than in the case of the corrosive impacts of a darkening economic mood on his prospects, it does appear that Mr. Harper has further cause for worry. It also appears that his worries can (at least temporarily) shift from a sagging NDP party to a more muscular Liberal Party which has now moved into a tie or even a slight lead.

The overall national results show the Liberal Party is now in a statistically insignificant lead. Whereas the lead is statistically meaningless, it is no doubt extremely heartening to long standing supporters of Canada’s erstwhile natural governing party who have failed to see any sort of lead (in our polling) since January of 2010. Without putting too much of a damper on any triumphal celebrations, we note that our adjustment for most likely voters puts Mr. Harper back into clear minority territory. We also note that the likely voter model may well be flawed two years away from what might be a very different election dynamic and may unduly punish the Liberal Party by ignoring the dispirited Liberals who stayed home in 2011 (the model involves dropping those respondents who did not vote in 2011, among other adjustments). Nevertheless, it is also worth noting that it was the prorogation-swollen Liberal support under Michael Ignatieff that last recorded a lead, and we all know how that turned out.

We see that the Liberals remained in a deep historical swoon until late last summer. At that point, they begin to rise dramatically and both the NDP and the Conservative Party start to fall. While not direct causal evidence, it is pretty hard to imagine any other source for this cotemporaneous rise than the appearance of Justin Trudeau on the national scene. Moreover, while there were some discrepancies in the constituency analysis of the Liberal Party and Mr. Trudeau’s numbers at the outset of this period, these have all essentially disappeared. For all intents and purposes, the Liberal Party is now seen as the party led by Justin Trudeau and this factor has taken them from distant third place afterthoughts to (at least) tied frontrunners. Others can question whether this reveals the shallow fickleness of the electorate or the charisma of Justin Trudeau. The profound impacts on the Liberal Party position and the overall political landscape are, however, undeniable.

Some may think that this is a bubble produced by the culmination of the leadership race and the closing ‘conventionette’. The steady straight line progression of both Liberal support and Mr. Trudeau’s awareness and approval numbers suggest that this is less of a bubble and more of a march.

The comparative approval ratings show Mr. Trudeau with a clear but not mammoth approval advantage over his two rivals. At 36 points, Mr. Trudeau has a ten-point net lean to positive over negative, which is much better than the near two-to-one negatives for the Prime Minister and the slight lean to negative for Thomas Mulcair, who is the least well known of the three leaders, despite the advantage of being leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Still, a 36-point approval rating suggests that neo-Trudeaumania has yet to grip the country.

The time series since he entered the race is perhaps the most impressive evidence that Mr. Trudeau is doing well with the electorate.

The trend lines here are dramatic and clear. Since he entered the race, Mr. Trudeau has gone from 60 per cent who either did not recognize his name or had no opinion on him to 38 per cent. Another way of looking at this is that more than 5 million voters have a view on him who didn’t at the outset of the race.

Meanwhile, familiarity with Thomas Mulcair has not budged. This should be of deep concern to the NDP who have also seen Mr. Mulcair’s approval fall from 34 per cent to 26 since September, while his party endured a similar fall from grace. The net effect of this has been to tilt the political landscape in a manner which has moved the NDP from the clear alternative to the Conservatives to the third place party. If this trend line isn’t reversed for the NDP presently, they risk relinquishing their role as Official Opposition, not to mention their chance at forming government. These trends are, however, still quite reversible.

One final note of interest is the demographic and regional constituencies that seem to have emerged as Mr. Trudeau has moved into the public’s mind as leader of the Liberal Party. The constituencies are remarkably similar for the party and Mr. Trudeau, which reinforces the theory that his presence is largely the source of their rising fortunes.

Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals are doing very well in Atlantic Canada and they lead in Quebec (resurrecting the Quebec constituency which propelled Chretien to three successive majorities). The Conservatives are still strong in Ontario, but they are tied with the Liberals, while the NDP third. Looking west, the Liberal prospects cool, although they are competitive in British Columbia and Manitoba. Mr. Trudeau actually does considerably better in Manitoba than the Liberal Party itself.

The Liberals are mildly stronger with women, but the more surprising finding is age. The broad impression is that the relatively youthful Justin Trudeau will do much better with younger Canada. So far, however, he is doing better with older Canada where he has pulled the Liberals into a tie with the Conservatives who held a huge advantage with seniors in the last election. While this may be somewhat iconoclastic to receive images, it isn’t a bad thing politically as older voters actually vote and younger voters do not. Younger voters probably have not been riveted to the protracted leadership contest and there is some evidence that he can do well there. No party stands out with younger or Gen-X voters. Mr. Trudeau’s personal approval numbers are better here than the parties, which suggest he may well enjoy more strength there as these voters tune in more. The continued strength of the rising Green Party with younger voters suggests that some sort of deal with the Green Party might be a route to accelerating overall support and redressing the party’s current shortfall with younger voters.

The picture with the immigrant vote is quite interesting. In considering recent claims that the immigrant vote is swinging Conservative and that this is one of the ingredients of a “big shift” to long-term Conservative rule, we now see that the Liberals lead with both visible minorities and non-Canadian born (different test for that group). This shift has occurred since that last election, as has the (at least temporary) renaissance of the Trudeau-led Liberal Party.

The next challenge for a Liberal Party led by Justin Trudeau will be to convert this obvious momentum into electoral success. Questions will mount about what the policy vision will be and he will undoubtedly endure attacks from both the right and the left. Whether he withers or thrives under these challenges is uncertain, but it is clear that he has produced an (at least temporary) profound shift in his party’s fortunes. This casts open the question of what the political future holds.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (April 14, 2013)

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