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Canadians Respond to Surprising Victory of Donald Trump


By Frank Graves

[Ottawa – November 25, 2016] As the dust settles on the rather unlikely victory of Donald Trump to the highest office in the world, Canadians are trying to make sense of what this new normal will mean for them, the country, and the world. They are also trying to grasp the best route forward for the federal government with a very different U.S. regime than expected. There is considerable anxiety about these issues but there is also some surprising resonance in some places.

Aggregating the aggregators and pinning the tail on the right donkey

A quick note on the issue of ‘surprise’ and the ostensible failure of the polls. We will be saying more about this later but the depiction of a massive pratfall on the part of the pollsters is overwrought. There were some prediction errors, as there often will be when turnout is not high and the preferences of non-voters are systematically different than those of those who showed up. We can still model a known population (e.g., all eligible voters) but we will continue to have difficulty guessing who will actually show up; the unknown population of actual voters. The aggregate polls suggested that Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote by about three points. She will win by two so pretty darn close.

The problem wasn’t the polls; it was the aggregators and predictors. For years, I have watched the aggregators borrow our polls and put them into their aggregation models. They draw their own conclusions from others data without consulting – let alone paying – the firms which collected the data. Summarizing the averages and breakdowns of the polls is fine but many of the aggregators go beyond this and apply predictive models and seat forecasts, which are increasingly used by voters who may wish to vote strategically. In Canada, our record of seat forecasts has consistently been better than those of the aggregators despite the fact that they are drawn from a single polling company.

The recent U.S. election provides an even more vivid illustration of the hazards of putting too much confidence in the aggregators’ forecasts. I thought it only fair to aggregate the most influential aggregators and see what the overall forecasts were. Their logic (with some rationality) is that the averages across various polls will be more reliable than using a single source. So if the aggregation of polls is sound then the aggregation of aggregators should be even more powerful. What could possibly go wrong? If we aggregate the average probabilities of the six major US aggregators that offered precise predictions we would find a range from 71 to 99 per cent with an aggregate average probability of around 90 per cent likelihood of a Clinton victory. The pollsters may have had some shortcomings but they pale against this epic fail. Clearly these predictions were egregiously wrong and the stated probabilities were fiction, not science. Worse (or better if you are a Trump supporter), it is highly likely that many weakly motivated Clinton voters stayed home with the spurious assumption that it didn’t matter if they showed up.

So let’s cut the pollsters a break and pin this tail squarely on the donkey that deserves it. I don’t mind defending and correcting errors that stem from our work. But I am getting really tired of hearing about huge polling failures which, in this case, were manufactured by aggregators. Here are a few suggestions for the future:

    1. Be more modest in prediction claims and perhaps focus on summarizing the data that you ‘borrow’ from those who actually design, collect, and analyse the data that you so artfully manipulate;
    2. Let those voters who are deciding on whether and how to vote know that you often really don’t know what is going to happen; and
    3. If you really want to continue to do this, perhaps you should go and get a polling company.

So what do we think about this result?

While the reactions to the U.S. election are predictably negative, they aren’t quite as black as we might have expected. In an internal survey, less than 15 per cent of Canadians told us that they would have voted for Donald Trump. When we look at out of the gate approval/disapproval of the new President Elect of the United States, it is pretty negative with only 30 per cent approval. While this is not an auspicious rating it is nearly twice as high as the incidence of those who would have voted for him and actually outstrips the lowest approval rating that Stephen Harper received over the course of his tenure (23 per cent).


The more shocking comparison is the incidence of disapproval for both Donald Trump and Barrack Obama immediately following their election. What a difference eight years make. The reactions to the Obama’s historic win were nearly giddy. Almost no one in Canada – just four per cent, in fact – disapproved of Barrack Obama. This time out, it is more despair than euphoria. By a margin of 16 times, disapproval rose from four per cent to a staggering 64 per cent. Donald Trump’s 30 per cent approval is dramatically lower than the 81 per cent that Obama received.

But are Canadians equally negative about this result? Not at all.

These results are quite differentiated by demography, region, and most importantly partisanship. Certain groups really, really don’t like Donald Trump. These include Quebeckers, all progressive voters, women, and, somewhat surprisingly, seniors who are extremely disapproving. The senior finding is surprising because this is typically fertile ground for Conservative parties. By corollary, Trump is viewed much more favourably by men, the less well educated, and residents of Alberta who as we shall see are unique in seeing net positive impacts on then from the Trump victory.

The most striking gaps are evident across partisan support.


While approval ranges from a scant 14 to 22 percent across voters from the center left portion of the political spectrum, the clear majority of Conservatives supporters approve of Donald Trump. This positive outlook on Trump reflects a warming of Conservative supporters’ views. In the summer, a majority of Conservative supporters thought Trump would be generally negative for Canada . After his election, that is no longer the case.

It is also the case that the fortunes of the Conservative Party have risen by a significant five points since Donald Trump’s election. So most Canadians are underwhelmed or even alarmed but the Trump bump may have put wind in the sails of the erstwhile stalled Conservative Party. The meaning of this isn’t entirely clear yet but it does suggest that the future prospects for the Conservatives may be brighter with a northern ‘Trump-Lite’ candidate than someone returning more to the traditional Progressive Conservative centrism. It also should provide a reality check for those who think the same forces that drove Trump are not at work in Canada.

The story is much the same when we look at how the public see the impacts of the Trump presidency on them, Canada, the world, and globalization.


By an even more decisive margin than the disapproval ratings, almost everyone thinks this will be bad for all of these areas of impact. The sense of negative and positive impacts is starkly divided across Conservatives and other party supporters. The other very large split is the fact that more Albertans think the impacts will be positive rather than negative (undoubtedly linked to pipeline and traditional energy support that Trump has offered).


Gauging the impacts of Brexit and Trump and what this cumulatively might mean

The Brexit and Trump results had many important similarities; beyond the sheer shock value each rendered. The more compelling analyses have linked both results to rising authoritarianism and the search for order and control in a world where both have evaporated for the middle and working classes. Nativism, populism, and xenophobia are more epiphenomenal expressions of the structural issues of economic stagnation, a deep fear about the future, and anger at the shattering of the middle class bargain.


The grinding stagnation of this century has increased resentment to the establishment at the top who have leapt ahead, while everyone else has been stuck or declining. This is reshaping the political landscape. While the real consequences or impacts are as yet uncertain, it is notable that pluralities believe that ‘Brump’ signals the death or interruption of globalization and even more so that these episodes are the first volleys in the new class warfare of the 21st century. This is a profoundly different outlook from the optimism and openness which were so pervasive at the outset of the century. There is an uneasy mixture of uncertainty and fear but the public are clearly looking at things through a new and darker lens.


So what should Canada and Justin Trudeau do given this surprising new normal?

Time to stand up or time to get with the room?

The government’s agenda was almost certainly drafted under the assumption of a similarly-valued and like-minded Hillary Clinton presidency. From climate change to energy, immigration, and foreign policy, the world now looks profoundly different for Canada. So what is the initial advice of the Canadian public on how to deal with the threats and opportunities that this new Trump victory pose for Canada?

On the question of whether we should accent our areas of difference or seek out the areas of harmony and shared interest, we could not be more divided. This near 50/50 division leans more to the harmony strategy than one might have guessed given the deeper negativity on approval and impacts. The demographic variations are modest but Conservative supporters are much more likely to favour harmony over standing up, while the reverse is so for progressive voters.


In the case of how Justin Trudeau should present himself with the new President-elect of the Untied States, the lean is clearly to a more conciliatory and constructive approach. This is much stronger among Conservative voters but the overall lean here is one of ‘let’s work at this’. This may be a reflection of a sense of realpolitik or perhaps a signal of respect to the duly democratic election to the most powerful office on the planet.


A final note on the political landscape

The voter landscape, which is of little real consequence three years out from an election, shows some recent movements. The Conservatives have moved up five points (at the expense of the Liberals) and this may well reflect a ‘Trump bump’.

In addition to the rise in Conservative support, the underlying demographic trends reflect some of the same demographics behind Trump’s victory in the United States: less emphasis on seniors and more emphasis on men, those in their middle-life cycle, those without a university degree, and those who live in more rural areas. Indeed, seniors are no longer the foundation of Conservative support (in fact, the Liberals hold a nine-point lead here). Instead, Conservatives do best with Generation X voters and would be in serious contention for the lead if voting were limited to those ages 35 to 49. Furthermore, the gender gap, which seemed to be disappearing, is now back in full force. The Liberals hold a commanding 17-point lead with women, but find themselves statistically tied with the Conservatives when it comes to men. Further evidence that these effects may be linked to the Trump election is that the Conservative supporters’ outlook on Trump appears to be considerably positive now than it was early summer.

While Liberal support may be coming back to Earth, the party still enjoys higher support levels now that they did on Election Day. They continue to lead handily in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and the Atlantic provinces. Conservative support, meanwhile, is inefficiently concentrated in Alberta and Saskatchewan and these ‘overkill’ margins victory do not translate into extra seats (at least not under our current first-past-the-post system).

Finally, the NDP appears mired in third place at 13 points. They enjoy strong concentrations of support in Quebec and British Columbia, but they fare quite poorly elsewhere. The Green Party are within range of the NDP and, if electoral reform were to occur, the Green Party could be vaulted from one seat to as many as thirty (possibly more if voters currently preclude the party knowing they’ll have no real representation in Parliament under first-past-the-post).

Given the Brump effects and the surprising Trump bump, it is clear that the future is unclear. Factor in the possibility of electoral reform, and 2019 could see an unprecedented Parliament.







This 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 this survey are November 16-22, 2016. In total, a random sample of 1,949 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 2.2 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 (November 25, 2016)

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