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Conservatives Now Polling Higher than in Final Stages of 2011 Campaign


[Ottawa – February 5, 2015] Any doubts about the authenticity and durability of the Conservative Party’s improvement in political fortunes from last fall can now be effectively dispelled. The Conservatives have erased a 12-point Liberal lead and now enjoy a modest but stable and apparently growing lead of three points. The 35-point level is there best poll since 2011 and it is higher than where we had them in the final stages of the 2011 election campaign, which resulted in a majority victory. Although these trends have been gentle, the net outcome of the past four months is nothing less than a dramatic transformation of the political landscape. It has also seen Mr. Harper experiencing a similarly profound repositioning of his personal brand with voters. His approval ratings are now in nearly the same territory as those for the opposition leaders. All in all, the Conservatives have gone from being poised to slip from majority to third party, to now looking at the real prospect of securing a fourth mandate, possibly even a majority, which seemed a risibly improbable outcome last September.

So what on earth has driven this huge turnaround and how likely is it to continue into the real campaign? The answer to the first part of the question is pretty clear but the stability and shelf life of this wave (well beyond a bump) is something which is less clear. There are real questions as to whether the key driver of this change will have the same force in a more reflected context of a campaign where voters are paying more attention and the government doesn’t own the tools of communication. The other serious question is whether or not the factors driving their political redemption will persist to October. Frankly, the likelihood of that is not high given the salience of other more important factors such as the economy and regime fatigue. Therefore, the issue of an early election, which has been dismissed out of hand by Mr. Harper, is very much a real prospect.

Can the government seriously resist the shorter-term window of opportunity for another majority which is rooted in politically propitious events (which have temporarily distracted voters from their much more challenging structural problems on the economy and role of federal government fronts)? It is unlikely that a dismal outlook on the economy will show any improvements as the recession-inducing crash in oil prices works its way through Alberta to an already stagnant national economy. Moreover, public coffers will be severely strained and already tenuous tax goodies targeted at relatively comfortable single earner families will look even less welcome to others who see this straining public finances.



How will favourable comparisons to the United States look in the fall as our dollar has dropped from well over parity a few years ago to prestige sapping levels in the 80-cent range? A much more robust American economy, churning ahead under the stimulus of ‘middle class economics’ is going to provide a pretty depressing mirror for anxious Canadians pondering the prudence of a wager on a carbon superpower economy.

The growing values tensions between the government narrative and the general societal trajectories have been temporally eclipsed in the focus on security and terror but will undoubtedly reassert themselves as will deep concerns with the state of democracy and generalized fatigue with any incumbent approaching a decade in office. Any claim that such thoughts are not weighing heavily in the political calculus of the government around election timing is frankly disingenuous.

As for the driver of this big shift in the political landscape, look no further than the role of security and ‘terror’ issues as the trigger. Our evidence shows that this alone is the issue which has changed dramatically and is by far the most probable explanation. The ISIS mission continues to be one the rare areas of public consonance with the government’s policy. The shooting episode in Ottawa, followed by the horrific shootings in Paris and the serial barbarity emanating from the savage lunatics running ISIS have all coalesced to produce a very significant shift in public fears about security. These are strongly evident in the diagnostic indicators tracking these issues and Mr. Harper has been seen as effectively responding to these as a strong and decisive leader. A critical question is whether this relatively un-reflected response will persist as time goes on and the stakes shift to a real election with the more salient questions about the economy and role of the federal government reasserting themselves.

In addition to the issue of attention levels and the stakes of the debate in a campaign versus non- or pre-campaign period, there is the question of the balance of voices in the current debate. Mr. Harper has owned the podium on these issues and this advantage has been buttressed by government advertising and political advertising. He has put forward some specific ideas (such as income splitting and enhanced baby bonus benefits). Meanwhile, the opposition party leaders are having difficulty gaining much audience or traction in this climate. This is unlikely to persist indefinitely and we would expect more active and concrete proposals emerging from the Liberals and the NDP as the dust settles on the current absorption with terror and security.



Harper wins on values/interests test

There has been a noticeable cost to the opposition leaders of this imbalance in the discussion of ideas and values. On a testing of which party leader best reflects: a) your values; and b) your interests, it is Stephen Harper who has a clear advantage on values, and an insignificant advantage on interests. This is as surprising as it is challenging for the opposition leaders as all the serious testing suggests that there is a growing disconnect between the Conservative government values narrative and the dominant values and of most Canadians (and their trajectory). This values advantage may be a product of the lack of volume on this issue from the Liberals and NDP. The Liberals have also been reticent in the way of putting concrete proposals in the store window too early. Given the drift in vote intention and the disadvantage on the values champion that Harper now has, the time for further prudence may well be over.


The slight gap on the interests question is also troubling for the Liberals and the NDP and further probing here suggests that it seems to be also disconnected from the actual economic experiences and outlook on the future of most Canadians. There is, however, an interesting cleavage on the question of how well one has done and expects to do in the future. In particular, the Conservative constituency is much more likely to say that things have been pretty good over the last decade – for everyone else, not so much. A critical challenge will be to shift the ballot question to how have you done under this government and how well do you expect to do in the future. Here, the interests advantage that Mr. Harper enjoys seems to be quite disconnected from a generalized sense of stagnation – even decline – that looks much worse going forward.


Conservatives enjoy surprising strength in Quebec

Turning to the demographics, the Conservative Party continues to re-assemble its core constituencies. The party does extremely well with seniors and are now making inroads with boomers, a group that had previously switched to the Liberals. The Conservatives also have a huge lead with men, while they trail the Liberals with women. Overall, Conservative supporters tend to be older, male, and high school or college educated. All of these groups are known to put a stronger emphasis on security, which supports the narrative that Mr. Harper’s focus on security is playing well with these groups.

Regionally, the Liberals dominate Atlantic Canada, while they are statistically tied with the Conservatives in Ontario. The West is looking increasingly unreceptive to the Liberals and the NDP, with the exception of British Columbia, which is a highly fluid province and could easily go to any of the three main parties at this stage. The Green Party is also showing surprising strength in this province.

What is also quite interesting is the growing Conservative strength in Quebec. The party has improved its standing bit by bit over the past few months and, while none of the individual movements are significant in and of themselves, the overall trend is a clear, upward line. Whereas the Conservatives had dipped to ten points as recently as September, they now stand at 26 points, and they are particularly strong in the former Bloc stronghold of Quebec City. Nevertheless, the Liberals remain quite strong in the province, although they are notably weaker with Francophones. The NDP has lost a great deal of support in recent months; however, our research shows that Bloc Québécois supporters are most likely to fall back to the NDP, and this should be taken into consideration.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Conservatives do quite well with large families. It is not immediately clear what is driving these fortunes, but it is very possible that the ideas that Mr. Harper has recently put forward – such as income splitting and enhanced baby bonus benefits – are beginning to resonate with these groups.




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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 January 28-February 3, 2015. In total, a random sample of 2,974 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-1.8 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 (February 5, 2015)

2 comments to Conservatives Now Polling Higher than in Final Stages of 2011 Campaign

  • To Let the PC Administration Know that I think its high time
    that we got rid of Stephen Harper and to put an End to his own Dictatorship. I Think its long overdue that we had a change in
    the Political Landscape in Ottawa and if we want to fix Ottawa
    then an NDP Administration is either the Answer or if not then
    they couldent do any worse. Thank you
    David W Glavin Burnaby BC

  • I think Stephen Harper is great for Canada. I hope he wins another majority and kills off both the liberals and NDP

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