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Logjam Continues as Canadians Become More Receptive to Innovative Political Approaches

[Ottawa – May 29, 2015] The NDP has fallen back slightly and the Liberals have risen slightly; all of these changes are of little (if any) statistical significance, but the net result is to confirm a new normal of a three-way race. What is most striking about this new normal is the frankly tepid level of enthusiasm for any of the above. The NDP are the clear movers and beneficiaries of the changes over the past few months, but they are still sub-thirty and slightly below their 2011 result. The Liberals are up significantly from 2011, but have fallen back from a clear lead last fall and are now stuck pretty listlessly floating in the 27-30 point range. The Conservatives find them similarly locked into a pattern of oscillating around or under the 30-point barrier, well short of the near forty-point result of 2011.



As this pattern solidifies, there are signs that voters are increasingly receptive to some “new” approaches. For most voters, the problem to be solved is how to change a government which has ruled for nearly a decade with most voters unsupportive. Only 36 per cent of voters disagree that it is time for Stephen Harper to exit (stage right, of course). Yet the frustration of a fragmentation of the center left may be producing new receptivity to things that were not acceptable in 2011. As it becomes increasingly clear that no party is poised to form a majority and that most want a change, we see support for both coalition governments and strategic voting on the rise. In fact, these may be emerging as the best tools to serve the frustrated interest and values of the majority of the electorate.




Let’s review some of the critical ingredients of this major shift in outlook on these approaches. First, the apparent preference for reconstructing a centrist option appears to have faded and we now have two center left parties who tend to be relatively equally poised. There is a still lot of capacity for further change. The newfound strength of the NDP reflects a major recapture of the labour vote and the university educated vote. Many of those voters are more upset with the current government and the prospect of four more years of another Harper government than they are attracted to the appeal of either the NDP or the Liberals. Moreover, we don’t see much evidence that either party is poised for a pratfall.


The exhibit above shows that the strong aversion to a coalition government, which may have been critical to Mr. Harper’s late drive to a surprising majority, has morphed dramatically. In the lead up to 2011, voters were even divided between a Harper minority or a coalition. Fast forward to the frustrated voter landscape of 2015 and we see a profoundly different picture. By a margin of almost two-to-one, the voters of today would send Mr. Harper packing and prefer a coalition. Indeed, it may be time to rethink the scary ads about the spectre of reckless coalition and the need for a strong, stable Conservative government. Canadians have had four years of that and are showing obvious skepticism about the results of that choice.

As the NDP have risen back to the levels of support they had in 2011, this has produced new questions about who would lead a coalition government. Couple this with the fact that the prospects of either a Liberal or NDP government remain live options. While a slim plurality think the Conservatives will win, almost as many see a Liberal victory and now the prospect of a previously unthinkable NDP victory has squarely entered the realm of plausibility for voters.



So we now have a political outlook that is as clear as mud for voters. They have no real idea who is going to win and they don’t think any winner is likely to achieve a majority. The sharp rise in support for a coalition is one interesting response to this political dilemma. Another would be the use of strategic voting to more efficiently fashion a non-Conservative government of some sort.

Trudeau-led coalition has clearest advantage over four more years of Harper

As Thomas Mulcair’s NDP is the only party with wind in their sails, it is now important to see how the public would view the option of either a Trudeau-led or Mulcair-led coalition. Here we encounter an interesting finding which may serve as a source of uplift to a pretty listless voter outlook on Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.


While Canadians express a clear preference for a coalition led by either Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair over four more years of Stephen Harper, it is Justin Trudeau who has a clearer advantage over Mr. Harper on this choice. His 56/35 advantage is nearly double the 51/39 advantage that Mr. Mulcair enjoys. Given the obvious momentum advantage for the NDP, this is a mildly curious and possibly important finding. Perhaps the public prefer to tilt to the center in anchoring any future progressive coalition? Or perhaps they simply haven’t caught up with the new position of the NDP. This will bear careful watching.

Some of these same forces are at play in looking at strategic voting.



We can see that there is rising support for strategic voting and among the majority of Canadians who want to retire Mr. Harper, most of them would hold their nose and vote for the most plausible progressive option to defeat a Conservative candidate. While this attitude has not had that much efficacy in shaping electoral outcomes in the past, the support is now stronger and the technology and resources are in place to actually guide strategic voting in the next election. If the numbers remain this tightly bunched, we would fully expect strategic voting to be applied and most likely with some success in the fall election.

Hard trade-off analysis yields interesting results

Last week, we conducted what is called a trade-off analysis of how to spend one billion dollars over the next ten years. Respondents were presented with pairs of choices (from a list of 15 items) and, rather that ask them to assign some arbitrary rating for each one, we asked them to choose between the two. In a world where wants are infinite but resources are limited, forced choice exercises are an excellent option for disciplining these choices, as it forces respondents to order their preferences, thereby creating an overall hierarchy and providing a highly accurate picture of the hard choices that Canadians would make.


The figures in the chart above represent how often each item was selected over the other items tested. A score of over 50 indicates that the option was selected over other options the majority of the time and is therefore a relative “winner”. Conversely, a score of under 50 suggests a relative “loser”. Each respondent was presented with three pairs, for a total of 8,802 responses.

Most notably, urban infrastructure and home care dominate the list, followed closely by investing in a post-carbon economy and targeted tax relief for the middle class. The relative strength of paying down the debt is unusual (fiscal issues typically rank quite low on Canadians’ list of priorities ), but this could be a reflection of skepticism regarding the government’s ability to get things done. What is perhaps most interesting is the stark difference between the vision that the government is presenting to Canadians and what it is that Canadians actually want. Indeed, many of the key pillars of the current government’s platform – tax cuts, income splitting, combating terrorist threats, and new military purchases – all find themselves at the bottom of this list.


This report draws on data from two separate surveys. The first 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 the first survey are May 20-26 2015. In total, a random sample of 2,934 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.

The second survey was conducted using EKOS’ unique, hybrid online/telephone research panel, Probit. Our panel offers exhaustive coverage of the Canadian population (i.e., Internet, phone, cell phone), random recruitment (in other words, participants are recruited randomly, they do not opt themselves into our panel), and equal probability sampling. All respondents to our panel are recruited by telephone using random digit dialling and are confirmed by live interviewers. Unlike opt-in online panels, Probit supports margin of error estimates. We believe this to be the only probability-based online panel in Canada.

The second survey involved an online only sample of 2,116 Canadians. While panellists are randomly recruited, the survey itself excludes the roughly 1 in 8 Canadians without internet access. The results should therefore be considered generalizeable to Canada’s online population. The field dates for this survey are May 12-19, 2015. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/-2.1 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 (May 29, 2015)

13 comments to Logjam Continues as Canadians Become More Receptive to Innovative Political Approaches

  • Ed C

    Harper has to go. Strategic voting should definitely be considered to ensure Harper is removed from power before he totally demolishes our democratic institutions and our country.

    Personally I would have much preferred seeing Harper instead of MacKay leave today because MacKay is at least a person that could reach across the aisles and work collaboratively with the opposition.

  • Douglas

    The preferred areas of investment chart is a HUGE eye-opener.

    The Harper Conservatives support the four lowest ranked options.

  • Thank you for having posted the margin of error per region or province.

    Still, I think certain province are under-represented in the weekly poll sample size. For instance, Québec with 23 % of the Canadian population did get only 18 % of the Canadian sample of decided and leaning this week (452 from Quebec over 2473 total). For instance, since the NDP is indicated at 36 % in the province, it also under-evaluate the NDP vote. I appreciate that you are striving for better sample size and a still large sample size for other provinces than Ontario would reduce the margin of error to 3 % instead of 5 to 10 % for the others. It would reduce also the wild regional vote swings seen from week to week.

  • The upper-tier priorities list indicates also the need of a government , probably a (not unthinkable) 2-party coalition if the deadlock settles in. As you mention, careful watching in the coming months on the voter preference for whom will lead the coalition of the Montréal-based leaders, Mulcair or Trudeau ?

  • Strategic voting can only work on a local riding by riding basis. So first comes finding out which candidate has the best chance of defeating Harper, then sharing that information within the riding as widely as possible.

    So my question is where can i, and everyone else, gain access to riding by riding polling numbers?

  • Gary Warburton

    I think it is time Canadians considered a coalition like they do in the rest of the world. We can`t stand anymore years of this extremist, Harper it is time for him to go. Democracy is government
    by the people for the people and is not about things, accounting, economies, or corporations.

  • Bradley M.

    As a young Canadian, I have lived my entire adult life under the rule of this fascist dictatorship that is the “Harper Government”. This has turned me into a more cynical, pessimistic person when it comes to how I feel about being Canadian. Watching the environment of the country crumble more and more each year, seeing how the rest of the world now views us as a nation, and noticing how uninformed voters can be even on election night, all I can do as one person is to spread the word about the various scandals and innumerable poor policies that have been passed in the last nine to ten years. My riding of Hull-Aylmer always comes out as either Liberal or NDP but there are many ridings in the area where the Conservatives only won by the slightest of margins in 2011 (perhaps thanks to the robo-call scandal involving “Pierre Poutine”; don’t forget about that one). Seeing this “preferred areas of investment” chart is a glimmer of hope. I wonder if these trends in opinion will only intensify as more and more of the ugly truths about C-51 and other poor legislation come to light? I would definitely support a coalition government if it is the only way to ensure that our lives under Con rule would finally change. Seeing such indifference to climate change action, and now the labelling of environmental activists as “anti-petroleum terrorists” sickens me so much that I wonder how ANYBODY could want this government to stay in power for even another day.

  • MDwayne

    What surprises me the most (and always has) is the number of people who want to keep Harper in power: approx 1/3 of the voting population. Given what he has done (keeping in mind that many gains we have made are not fully in Harper’s control), and the damage both nationally & internationally (exp Israel hardliners) he has done, I simply can’t understand that level of support.
    Someone, without a political bias, who understands this, could you please explain: I’m serious: I am truly baffled.

  • Terry Van Gemert

    The only poll that really matters is the election day poll.. Until then it is a guessing game to understand the voter and sometimes they do not tell the truth. Also the voters who did not show up last time just may show up in numbers this also can upset what is thought to happen to change to something different.

    It is the voters who decide and pollster will keep on guessing.

  • Norman Bobbitt

    The conventional wisdom seems to be that if there is to be a coalition, it would be a Liberal/NDP coalition and no one is talking about a possible Conservative/Liberal coalition. However, the policies of the Liberal party are almost totally in line, except for some minor tinkering on economic issues, with the Conservative Party. Unless there is a NDP majority, Canadians wanting change could be in for a rude awakening.

  • Erik Swanson

    The Conservatives absolutely must not be allowed to win the most seats, even a minority. If they are first on election night they will use every trick in the book to cling to power. The only way to be sure that they don’t darken the halls of power again is to ensure that they finish at least second, although a third place finish would be nice. There is no way, if the Liberals want to survive as a political party, that they would support a coalition with the Conservatives, whether they led it or not. That would be political suicide.

  • A coalition government has beren mentioned as one way of getting pout of the “logjam”.

    On that subject, I think the long term value of that can vary widely.

    Depending on to what degree the need for Canadians to have to go to a coalition can engender real electoral reform and trust in government,
    <>, our “democratic quality” will benefit.

    This will also have to be a stong nudge to the electorate to take a more active interest in politics, and less in their personal interests.

    Presently, Trudeau is well known to be the advocate of strong central government, however no matter what party were in that position, what would have to be done to end the current mess would depend on much thre same grass roots sacrifice of some of their more self-centered focusses of attention.

    This reminds me of that historic quotation from former U.S. president J.F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country!”

    That is as very important to Canada (or any democracy) as it was/is to the Americans.

    Much of this is generational, and when, as a senior with a different concern, I ask the young adults in many places, most of them are extremely aware and “of a different mettle and concern”.

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