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Midsummer Haze Clouds Voter Outlook


[Ottawa – July 31, 2015] Nothing much is clear as we complete our midsummer check-up on the state of the largely distracted voters. There are, however, some interesting developments that set the stage for what will be a much more fiercely enjoined debate which will commence with the upcoming debate on August 6th. These become even more important on the eve of what could be an early and unusually protracted campaign.

The vote intention numbers show the NDP with a clear but modest lead of 34 points, the Conservatives are at 30 points, and the Liberals are still in contact but significantly back at 23 points. The Bloc Québécois’s honeymoon with their returning leader seems to be drawing to a close and the party is falling back to its pre-Duceppe levels. The Green Party has also been receding in recent weeks.



In Ontario, all three parties seem to be converging into a tie. The NDP are doing quite well in Saskatchewan and although this finding should be interpreted with caution due to the extremely small sample size in the province, the longer-term trends suggest that the party has indeed gained ground here in recent months. The Liberals have clearly lost their lead with the university educated, but our data on second choice suggests that the party is still very much in contention with this group.




What, if anything, is percolating under the political surface to produce these numbers? Let’s consider the three front runners in turn.

The NDP – clearly leading, but can they win a two-way race against the Conservatives?

What’s not to like if you are Thomas Mulcair and the NDP? You have risen from political obscurity at the beginning of the year to clear leadership. Your leader has a clear approval advantage over the other contenders. The public are increasingly seeing you as the agent of change and you have a pretty balanced regional and demographic constituency.

The key challenges for the NDP are threefold. First, hang on to those promiscuous progressive voters who have been slowly oscillating back and forth from Liberal to NDP (and back) since 2011. Second, withstand the added critical attention that comes with being the frontrunner. Finally, convince voters that they really should consider the NDP as a better bet to another Harper government.

This last challenge rises as the Liberals continue to be in third place. It may also be the case that the apparent irrationality and stubbornness of the Conservative Party to relax their unremitting focus on Justin Trudeau as ‘not ready’, marginally competent, and lacking judgment isn’t based on lousy polling or mere spite for all things Trudeau and Liberal. The true motive may have been to hobble the previously front running Trudeau so badly that the ballot question shifts from ‘Do you want some as yet unknown mixture of NDP and LPC to replace Harper?’ to ‘Do you prefer the NDP to the Conservatives?’.

This latter consideration may be why the issue of a coalition and related alternative political arrangements running the gamut from ad hoc co-operation to a full merger will be part of the debate as the election looms. Our newest data on the public’s attitudes to the ‘c-word’ reveals why the Conservatives may want to spike that possibility by retaining focus on a party which is now 10 points back of the party which now leads the parade. In short, it appears that for the vast majority of center-left voters, the ultimate goal is not the singular success of their first choice, but the larger goal of ending the Harper regime and replacing it with a progressive alternative. Voters may even be more comfortable with some blended progressive solution than with having either the NDP or Liberals run things on their own.



Consider the following rather striking facts. First, support for any form of progressive coalition is up dramatically from 2011 when it was used as a bogeyman to tout the need for a strong, stable majority (to fend off the horror of an NDP-led coalition). This time out, the voters aren’t buying that. The next finding is that for the vast majority of the NDP and Liberal voters would prefer a coalition of the NDP and Liberals to a continued Conservative minority government. Instructively, these same voters are relatively indifferent as to whether that coalition would be led by Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau. The real goal is Stephen Harper’s exit; the relative success of their favoured parties is job two.


This brings us to the status and prospects for the Liberal Party. They have certainly been humbled vis-à-vis their lofty position of a year ago and they are having trouble getting their ideas connecting with a currently inattentive electorate. They may have chosen the wrong positions on some tough issues in the past and they may have been damaged by the relentless Conservative attack ads. They still, however, have some strong assets and can get back in the game. If we read our data correctly, a precondition for recovery would be to acknowledge the gap between their hard line against a coalition (co-operation) and the preferences of their current and available voters.

From our more detailed analysis of micro-regions and specific ridings, there are many ridings where the majority of progressive voters would alter their first progressive choice to support the progressive choice better poised to beat the Conservative candidate. Just as we have seen a rise in support for coalitions (which may be a proxy for cross party cooperation to oust the Conservatives), we have seen majority support for strategic voting amongst the majority that want to see a change of government. Given the current positioning of the parties – as well as the vote splitting scenarios in play (particularly in Ontario), we would argue that a well-developed, credible strategic voting program could be the difference between Conservative success and failure.

And how about those Conservative prospects? First off, the Conservatives have a number of profound obstacles to continued electoral success. In addition to the inevitable regime fatigue that eventually afflicts any incumbent, they are seeing some of the worst ever scores on direction of the federal government, while their leader’s approval ratings and emotional connections are lousy and headed downward. On top of this, they have an economy that 76 per cent now see as in a recession and have an even gloomier outlook on the longer term future.



The collective angst about the end of progress and the middle class decline are a critical factor and restarting middle class progress remains one of the highest priority issues. The selected emphases of the government such as income splitting for stay at home spouses, even more security focus to deal with the apocalyptic threat of ISIS and Jihadism are rated almost dead last in trade-off analyses. Finally, the government is 10 points shy of where it was last election with only six per cent citing them as second choice.





So the Conservative Party’s route to power appears to be Sisyphean and the gig must be up for Stephen Harper, right? Not so fast. Let’s consider some of the alternative evidence. First of all, given the inventory of gloom noted above, the government is surprisingly very much in the race and registering poll support within range of what they had at this stage of the 2011 campaign. They got a modest uptick over the ISIS ads and they got a more sizable and important bounce from their cheque bonanza to families with kids in the home. We note a significant uptick in their status with this demographic but we also note that the effects appear to be smaller in recent days than they were immediately after receipt of cheques. Perhaps the cookbook on Vote Buying 101 hasn’t perfected the issue of the shelf life of such largesse and this may be one of the reasons we will be seeing an early writ.

The most important asset for the government remains the fracture of the center left. The NDP and Liberals draw from very similar constituencies and they are basically churning the same voters back and forth. Without strategic voting or some form of tacit or explicit co-operation between the progressive parties, they risk seeing Harper retain power with an even smaller plurality than 2011. It also appears that both the Green Party and the Bloc are being caught in the downdraft of this new normal and, for many progressive voters who like them and their leaders, it seems the stakes are too high to continue to support them at this time.

Riding analysis

As we have stressed many times before, the NDP and Liberals draw on very similar constituencies and there is a strong risk of the two parties splitting the progressive vote and allowing the Conservatives to eke out a narrow victory. Nowhere is this problem more acute than in Ontario. We have conducted a riding-level analysis using all of our data from the past four months and, while we will not be releasing the analysis itself given that the samples are too small, we would like to illustrate the problem of vote splitting with a particularly vivid example.

In the riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, the Conservatives lead the Liberals by just a fraction of a percentage point, while the NDP sits more than ten points back. Even though two-thirds of the riding supports a progressive candidate, the Conservatives stand to win by a margin of just 300 votes. In all, we have identified 31 ridings in Ontario alone where the Conservatives hold a lead of 10 points or less.

Note that we are only presenting this example for illustrative purposes and it should be treated with extreme caution due to the limited sample size and extended period. We would need to do much more extensive sampling at a riding level (as well as include cellphone-only households) to support a real – not hypothetical – strategic voting aid.

Tracking approval ratings







This study draws on data from two separate surveys, both of which were 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 July 15-21, 2015. In total, a random sample of 2,400 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.

The field dates for second survey are July 22-28, 2015. In total, a random sample of 2,247 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. 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 (July 31, 2015)

10 comments to Midsummer Haze Clouds Voter Outlook

  • Jordan Grant

    I didn’t realize I was so typical. I have variously supported the NDP and the Liberals at different times. I also like Elizabeth May and the Greens. I would prefer electoral cooperation and a coalition than risk another Conservative government. I am preterbed that Trudeau has ruled this out. I’ve therefore decided to vote NDP this time round. Am donating money to both the NDP and Greens, although I wish they would merge. I see almost no difference between their policy positions that can’t be accommodated in the same tent. And frankly very little difference from the Liberals. Mostly nuance and details.

  • Richard M

    I have never been an advocate of strategic voting but the situation has become so dire under the Harper regime that I am considering voting for a party other than the one I have devotedly supported all my life if the other anti-Harper party shows more chance of beating their candidate.
    It is said that “all politics is local”, but this is certainly false in the Internet age. We have to be responsible today in ways that are different from what they were in the past.

  • I and all of my family are long-term, and active supporters of one of the two main opposition to the Harper regime. But for this election, and perhaps for future elections, here is what our family of 3 generations of voters, spread out across the country has decided during our summer family reunion (63 attendees this year):
    1. If Orange is positioned to win, vote Orange
    2. If Red is positioned to win, vote Red
    3. If Blue is positioned to win by less than 10%, vote for whichever of Red or Orange, which has the best chance of winning
    4. If Blue is positioned to win by more than 10%, vote for either Orange or Red
    5. If Green is positioned to win, vote Green
    6. If Orange and Red are neck and neck, and Blue is more than 10% behind, vote either Red or Orange
    7. If Red and Orange are neck and neck, and Blue is less than 10% behind, vote for whichever of Red or Orange is best positioned to win
    8.In cases where the Bloc is a factor, vote for whichever Rouge or Orange has the best chance to win.
    9. If the Bloc is leading and Blue is second, Orange and Red are out of contention, vote for either Red or Orange.
    10. Get each Red and Orange candidate to sign a pledge to support a coalition government, which would be led by the leader of the party which wins the most seats in the election.

    Tk you

  • Jamie H

    Exactly James, well said and great ideas brought up by your family. Hope you don’t mind but I’ve started sending that idea to all my progressive friends and family members.

  • Jim

    I am historically a PC/Red Tory, but with the back stabbing treason of Peter Mackay, I turned my back on the Reform/Conservatives. So, I was left with the less than 100% comfortable choice of the Liberals since 1993, although Paul Martin as a budget balancing finance minister did much for my opinion of the Federal Liberals. With Bill C 51 and the Liberals supporting it including my MP, I’m not voting any more for the Liberals. I voted Green in the provincial election (PEI) just past and we elected a wonderful Green MLA, so my vote as a Red Tory is fluid enough to encompass several different political viewpoints all at the same time…just not the Reform Party Cons. So, on a practical level, I’m voting NDP which is the best bet here on PEI to defeat the Cons and the disappointing Trudeau II Liberals. I also personally admire 3 of the 4 NDP candidates on PEI–including in my own riding, and that does make a big difference. I’m also donating significantly to the federal NDP this time–will wonders never cease?

  • Eric Marchand

    Agreed James. But, why not vote Bloc in situation 9 ?

  • Julia Creighton

    I am deeply concerned that the NDP is in a low lead. I am supporting Stephen Harper because he is able to manage the economy, whereas his two main opponents are proven high spenders.
    Muclair is an opportunist, having left the Quebec Liberals after years of political life. He is not to be trusted. The same goes for Justin Trudeau. His background as a sometimes teacher and actor hardly prepared him for public office. His attendance in Parliament is also a eproblem. As a senior on a tight budget, I have taken advantage of the Tory’s well thought out tax free program yet Trudeau who goes on about helping the middle class without any nod to the growing number of seniors in Canada, Please those Canadians who are intending the move to these two parties, read the facts and do not be swayed by mass spending NDPs and Liberals. Thankyou. Julia

  • Don

    We are in Lewvan in Saskatchewan – one of those new ridings that theoretically favours NDP. However, when I looked closely at the candidates, the only shining star is the guy from the Libertarian party – board certified oncologist/haemotoligist – trained in Virginia, speaks four or five languages, immigrant from Poland etc, etc. The Liberal is a sort-of likeable former city councillor who didn’t do much harm or good there, The NDP is a person who is an NDP candidate for virtually everything, the Con is a guy who did s bang-up job selling Rider merchandise and circled around the periphery of the Sask Party. The Green guy seems sort of one – dimensional. Will I be one of the crazy few to vote a Libertarian this time – I hope not, but darned if I want people like Kory Tenerycke(?) being anything other than a Toyota salesperson in Brampton after the election.

  • kurz

    Having listened to the debate ( the first one )Having read much of the down low on both progressive leaders – of which neither seem to reflect anything other than their typical party traditional status quo – Harper looks & sounds like the steady veteran. Neither Mulcair nor Trudeau have stated where they intend to get the budget for their promises, and traditionally that means higher taxes / fees / costs. At this point – I see no requirement for change, just for changes sake.

  • Conservative Justin Trudeau is a traitor and he voted for Bill C-51 and any Canadian who votes for him is doing a disservice to the Charter of Rights and Freedom for that reason I am VOTING NDP the only party that will repeal Bill C-51 VOTE NDP!!!!

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