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Initially Severe Impact of Blackface Fades, Suggesting Unsettled and Volatile Electorate

[Ottawa – September 23, 2019] The images of Justin Trudeau donning blackface makeup seemed to have had a significant but short-lived impact on the electorate. Just one in four Canadians (28 per cent) think the incident is serious, though this includes 21 per cent who think it is an extremely serious matter. About one in four voters (24 per cent) say it will make them less likely to vote for the Liberal Party on October 21st.

The initially profound impacts (a net ten-point swing from a modest Liberal lead to a seven-point Conservative lead) have receded significantly. The Conservatives have a small lead over the Liberals (35 per cent versus 32 per cent), but the Liberals retain a five-point lead in seat-rich Ontario. Quebeckers are largely unconcerned with the episode and there have been no profound shifts in the province in the past week. At 11 and 10 points, respectively, the NDP and Greens appear unaffected.

Concerns with this episode are highest in regions and demographic segments which were already less positively disposed to Justin Trudeau. Ironically, those segments of the population which often show the least concern with issues of racial tolerance – namely Conservative and People’s Party supporters – are the most agitated by this episode. Meanwhile, those who would be most affected – visible minorities – do not appear to be particularly upset (indeed, the Liberals continue to lead with this group). The backlash may very well be a product of issues around Mr. Trudeau, rather than the blackface episode itself.

Bottom line

An initially profound impact of this incident on Liberal fortunes appears to be rapidly receding. While this was clearly damaging to the party, the rapid about-face suggests that this may not have the dramatic effects on vote intention that voters tell us it will. It shows that there are large pockets of turbulence in the voter landscape and that the electorate seem to be showing some receptivity to Justin Trudeau’s apology and recognition that there are many other issues of importance to them. The race now appears much tighter and less predictable than it did before this episode.


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 September 18-22, 2019. In total, a random sample of 1,272 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 2.8 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, and region to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to Census data.

Please click here for the full report.

Please click here for a copy of the questionnaire that was used for this survey.

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