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If Canada Is So down, Why Is Stephen Harper So Up?

[Ottawa – April 2, 2015] The discipline of a fixed election date is increasingly drawing voter attention and we are seeing a pretty stable vote intention landscape. There are, however, some paradoxical disconnections between key trends in the dominant issues and concerns of Canadians and the recent relative success of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. In short, the public now see their economy in a recession and give the government lousy marks on broad national direction. The dominant media issues of terror and security are no longer tracking in the government’s favour and the Prime Minister has the worst approval rating of all leaders. We are therefore left with a bit of a head scratcher as to how the cumulative weight of a poor economy, lousy directional and approval ratings, and regime fatigue (which almost always augur very poorly for the prospects of incumbent success) do not seem to point to this fate for Mr. Harper at this time.

Mr. Harper has a modest but significant lead over Justin Trudeau, who is seeing a continued gradual slide in terms of both vote intention and approval. Thomas Mulcair’s NDP is seeing a real but modest uptick in their fortunes and the party has now re-established itself as a contender in a newly three-way race. The current numbers do, however, place the Conservatives in a very similar position to their status in the lead up to their success in 2011 and the spectre of a perfect storm of vote splitting is once again a very real challenge for the opposition parties.




What explains this somewhat paradoxical tension between the very poor marks for the government on what Canadians tell us are the truly important issues and concerns and the apparently bright prospects for a Conservative party that looked like a spent political force last September? The answers are fairly clear but they don’t speak to the longevity of these effects as the race becomes more heated and closely followed. At this stage, the forces propelling Stephen Harper to this lead position are rooted in the following factors:

1.) A dramatic conversion of the senior vote to his cause. As the seniors’ cohort gets larger and larger, it continues to vote in large numbers. As the youth cohort gets smaller relative to population, it votes less and less (about half the rates of twenty years ago). For these reasons, the senior vote is absolutely critical in shaping election outcomes. What is striking is how different things look in senior Canada. Stephen Harper would win a clear majority there, but would be around 30 points across all other age segments. Yes he has a very large lead with men as well, but this is both smaller and less critical as women vote in the same numbers as men. It is interesting that the NDP’s support is almost a mirror image of Harper’s with its strength in women and younger Canada.

2.) Success in convincing that group (and a few others) that issues around terror, security, and culture are the most important questions that only he can answer convincingly.

3.) A clear and improbable victory to date in the values war which is so critical to emotional engagement of voters. To date, Stephen Harper is scoring more strongly as the candidate who best reflects voters’ values and interests. This is why he is leading and the opposition leaders will not defeat him if they can’t reverse this somewhat improbably advantage he has carved out over the past few months

4.) A clear and improbable victory to date in the values war which is so critical to emotional engagement of voters. There are two critical factors voters apply to making electoral choices: 1.) does this correspond with my values; and 2.) does this fit with my self-interests (or societal/national interests)?

5.) A modest but significant recovery in Quebec and a major improvement in fortunes in Ontario linked to success on points three and four.




Bill C-51

As we expected, the inflamed climate of late 2014 produced majority support for (the rather aggressive) Bill C-51. As in other earlier tracking, we found that concerns with civil liberties and privacy have begun exerting more influence and support for the bill has dropped accordingly. We have seen a dramatic net drop of nearly 15 points (and support will probably continue to erode) and there is no party constituency outside of the Conservatives that clearly supports this bill. It may be that Thomas Mulcair’s rise is in some measure linked to anticipating where the public would be on this issue.

The evolution of public opinion on this issue, as with other issues around ISIS, underlines the paradoxical gap between a public withdrawing support from the Mr. Harper’s key positions (as well as a brutal outlook on the economy) and a Prime Minister that manages to hang on to a modest lead in vote intention. It appears that this anomaly is a product of Mr. Harper appearing to be clear, consistent, and values-based over the past several months.




Direction of Country/Government




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 March 25-31, 2015. In total, a random sample of 3,901 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 2, 2015)

1 comment to If Canada Is So down, Why Is Stephen Harper So Up?

  • Ted Alden

    And the reason your poll doesn’t break down those reached by landline and those by cell phone. It would be relative to compare to the actual ownership of both.

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