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Conservatives trail in 8 of 10 provinces



Conservatives trail in 8 of 10 provinces

The federal Liberals have held or expanded their lead in every part of the country, and have even made tentative inroads into Alberta, a large-sample survey shows. The Liberals lead in all regions except the Prairies, a point that does not augur well for the Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party.

The poll of more than 2,600 Canadians of voting age, conducted between July 16 and 23, confirms earlier polling showing Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party have pushed out to a profound lead. Moreover, Trudeau so far has managed to avoid being dragged down by putative gaffes on abortion rights policy or marijuana legalization. Indeed there is no evidence that this is having any meaningful affect on voting intentions.

The vaunted Big Shift is indiscernible, with all evidence pointing in the opposite direction. It appears that the Canadian public are now moving to the centre and left and this may arguably be a response to increasing fatigue to being governed from the right when Canadians are actually moving in a more progressive direction. Far from there being any apparent ascendance of the Conservatives as the new natural governing party, their reign appears to be closing and the recent surprising (though not to us) election of majority Liberal governments in Canada’s two largest provinces, may well be a harbinger of the end of the period of conservative political dominance in Canada.

Obviously, we aren’t making any predictions about the results of the next federal election this far out. The Conservative Party has enormous campaign warchests and a budget surplus with which to “encourage” support in key swing regions. They will also have the profound advantage of the political arithmetic of a fractured centre left arrayed across four party choices, three of which are led by inexperienced leaders, versus a consolidated Conservative Party supported by a seasoned and effective political machine. Yet the evidence suggests the likelihood of another Conservative majority is increasingly unlikely, even at this early date.

Vote Intention: Huge Changes since 2011

What a difference three years and a new leader make. The once hapless Liberal Party of Canada has gone form a dismal 18.9 points at the ballot box in the last election to a muscular 38.7 per cent in the polls. The very surprising Conservative coalition that drew in an impressive 39.6 per cent of the voters in 2011 has collapsed, with just 25.6 per cent of those polled nw saying they would support the Conservatives. That puts the CPC and the NDP (23.4 per cent) in a virtual tie. The more obvious question now isn’t whether the Conservatives can repeat its stunning majority triumph of 2011; it may be whether it can even hold onto opposition leader status.

While Thomas Mulcair and the NDP may not be pleased with these numbers, they have some reasons for optimism. Indeed, Mulcair has a lead in Quebec and enjoys the highest approval rating of any of the party leaders (see chart below). It is also notable that Mulcair’s relative position is much stronger today than was Jack Layton’s in the lead up the surprising surge that the Layton and the NDP made in the 41st federal election.

The trend lines are more daunting for the Conservatives. It may well be unprecedented to see a Liberal or Conservative party more than double its support over a similar time period. It is also clear that the Liberal rise which seems to once again be moving upward is not a blip, but a solid trend. Equally clear is that the Conservative trend is a real and disturbing fall from grace which shows little sign of recovering to the 2011 results.

The public view on the next election mirrors the evidence we have just reviewed on trends and current numbers. By a clear margin of 44 to 27, the public sees a Liberal – not Conservative – government succeeding in 2015. Of those who see a Liberal government, however, the clear lean is to see a minority rather than majority. Notably, only 12 per cent of the public see another Conservative majority in the cards, compared to the 18 per cent who see a Liberal majority.

Mulcair and Harper at Opposite Ends of Approval Spectrum

This month, we updated our approval numbers for Canada’s party leaders. As noted earlier, Thomas Mulcair enjoys the highest approval rating of any of the three party major leaders (54 per cent). More importantly, his popularity seems to transcend party lines and he enjoys high approval ratings everywhere outside of the Conservative base. Justin Trudeau benefits from similarly high approval numbers (49 per cent), although his disapproval rating is noticeably higher (34 per cent, compared to 25 per cent for Mr. Mulcair).

Stephen Harper, in contrast, is the least popular of any of the seven leaders we tested. Indeed, by a margin of more than two-to-one (65 per cent to 29 per cent), Canadians disapprove of the way Mr. Harper is handling his job. Even Alberta – a long-standing Conservative stronghold – is divided, with as many respondents leaning towards disapproval as approval. Nevertheless, he remains remarkably popular with Conservatives and enjoys the highest in-party approval rating of any of the federal party leaders so it is highly unlikely that his party will be giving him the boot anytime in the near future.

We also included the Premiers of Canada’s three largest provinces in our approval testing. At the front end of the spectrum is Kathleen Wynne who garners the approval of 52 per cent of Ontarians, a marked improvement from the later years of McGuinty’s reign, when the plurality of Ontarians disapproved of their Premier.

Philippe Couillard enjoys similar approval numbers in Quebec (48 per cent) and has yet to make any enemies, with a disapproval rating of just 27 per cent. Nevertheless, a sizeable number of Quebec residents – 25 per cent – still aren’t sure what to make of him. Christy Clark, meanwhile, receives approval from less than one-third of her constituents (31 per cent), with a clear majority (62 per cent) expressing disapproval.

Finally, we included Barack Obama who, as usual, outranks any of the Canadian leaders tested. He does well with Canadians across all ages and regions, although his popularity is notably lower in Alberta, perhaps a reflection of his persistent unwillingness to make a decision regarding the Keystone Pipeline system.

So Should Stephen Harper Stay or Go?

We haven’t had much good news for Stephen Harper in this poll. Even a slim majority favours his early retirement. Not surprisingly, enthusiasm for his staying is largely restricted to the shrunken Conservative base (only nine per cent think he should go now, which should cool the ambitions of any pretenders to this throne initiating a push). This finding is surprising as they certainly don’t give him those kinds of approval numbers outside of the Conservative base. Whether it is respect for due process or some sense that he has become an asset to progressive fortunes is unclear.