By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto
Third of several releases in the coming two weeks.
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The next federal election will feature different leaders for two of the main parties, and there’s already plenty of evidence that perceptions of leaders will play a major role in the outcome. While much can change between now and the next election, voters already have perceptions of today’s leaders, which we explored in our latest poll.
At an overall level, 27% have a positive feeling about Stephen Harper, 45% are negative, and 28% are neutral or have no opinion. The PM engenders more negative than positive feelings among both men and women, across all age groups and in every region except Alberta. In that province, 39% have a positive view of Mr. Harper, 33% negative. Among swing voters (those who will consider all three main parties) Mr. Harper is 30% positive/24% negative.
Tom Mulcair has generated more positive (27%) than negative (21%) feelings, and a relatively large 51% still have a neutral or no opinion of the NDP leader. Mr. Mulcair’s reputation is net positive among all age groups, men and women, in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Saskatchewan/Manitoba and BC. Among swing voters 20% are positive, only 3% negative.
Justin Trudeau enjoys 38% positive impressions compared to 29% negative, and 33% neutral or no opinion. His reputation is more positive than negative among men and women, in every region but Alberta (30% positive/38% negative) and all age groups under 60. Among those 60 or older, 39% are positive, 39% negative. Among swing voters, Trudeau fares well: 36% positive, 14% negative.
WHAT DEFINES A LEADER?
Leadership can be hard to define – but voters know what they like when they see it.
We gave respondents a forced choice question about what was most important to them in deciding to support a political leader. By a considerable margin, “values” (42%) were identified as the top quality to look for, followed by judgment (29%). “Ideas” (15%) and “attitude” (13%) were well back in consideration.
We asked how each leader rated on these qualities. A majority rated Stephen Harper, as good, excellent, or good enough, on all four criteria. His best rating was for his values (34% excellent/good and another 25% good enough) while his biggest perceived weakness was on “attitude”. (the category “good enough” was included as a way to probe for soft opinion among those who are less engaged or less positively disposed towards politics and politicians)
For Tom Mulcair, scores were significantly better than for Stephen Harper on all four criteria. Mulcair’s best scores were for values (42% excellent/good and another 33% good enough). Mr. Mulcair’s weaker ratings were for judgment and ideas, but only 30% offered a negative rating on either of those.
Justin Trudeau received the best marks of the three leaders on three of the four criteria. His strongest ratings were for “values” (47% good/excellent, 27% good enough) and “attitude” (50% good/excellent and 23% good enough). On ideas, 46% give him good/excellent ratings and another 26% “good enough”. On judgment, his scores are weaker than those of Tom Mulcair, and higher than those of Stephen Harper.
HOW TODAY’S LEADERS AFFECT VOTING INTENTIONS?
We asked whether each leader was making voters more inclined or less inclined to vote for the parties they lead.
For Tom Mulcair, 18% said he made them more likely to vote NDP and 22% less likely, while 60% said he had no impact on the likelihood they would vote NDP. Mr. Mulcair was a positive factor among Quebec voters (34% more likely, 16% less likely) Atlantic Canadians (23% more/17% less) and marginally among those 18-29 (19% more likely, 16% less likely). Among those who call themselves left or centre left (27% more likely/21% less likely) He has a net negative effect in BC (15% more/25% less) Ontario (12% more/23% less). Among 2011 NDP voters 33% say he makes them more inclined to vote NDP and 6% say less likely.
For Justin Trudeau, 37% say he makes them more likely to vote Liberal, 30% say he has the opposite effect. Trudeau is a net positive factor in every region but Alberta, although even in that province 29% say he makes them more likely to vote Liberal. Regionally, his biggest positive effects are in BC (42% more likely/27% less likely) and in Atlantic Canada (43% more likely/26% less likely). In Ontario, 36% say he makes them more likely to vote Liberal, 31% less likely. In terms of age groups, Trudeau’s strongest pull is in the 30-59 cohort, while he produces a more divided reaction among those 60 or older (38% more likely/40% less). Among those who voted Liberal in 2011, he has a strong positive effect (66% more likely/10% less likely).
Trudeau has some clear pull among those who voted for other parties in the 2011 election: 24% of Conservative, 25% of BQ, 38% of NDP and 46% of Green Party voters 2011 voters say Trudeau makes them more likely to vote Liberal
Among voters on the left, 44% say they are more likely to vote Liberal, among voters on the centre, 36% say they are more likely, and among those who are right or centre right, 30% say they are more likely to vote Liberal.
For Stephen Harper, 21% say they are more likely to vote Conservative because of his leadership, while 47% say they are less likely. His effect is more negative than positive in every region, including by a small margin in Alberta (31% more likely/34% less likely). His effect is more negative than positive among men and women, all age and education groups, homeowners/renters, those born in Canada or elsewhere.
Among those who voted Conservative in 2011, 52% say he makes them more likely to vote Conservative again, 17% say less likely. Among those on the right of the spectrum or centre right, 39% say more likely, 30% less likely.
WHAT’S THE UPSHOT?
All three of these leaders have the potential to be supported by a majority of Canadians. Majorities give them all at least “good enough” ratings on their values, judgment, ideas and attitude.
Mr. Harper has attracted considerably more negative public opinion than either of the other two leaders, and Justin Trudeau has built a notable advantage over the other two.
Conservative efforts to damage the reputation of the Liberal leader appear to have had little of the desired effect. It’s even plausible that the more these attacks occur, the more potential they have to backfire: feeding the view that the PM is unhealthily partisan, and giving Mr. Trudeau more opportunities to show unflappable optimism, which seems to be striking voters as the attitude they are looking for. If the Conservatives decide to persist in attacking the Liberal leader, these numbers say they are going to need to find more effective ways of doing so.
For Mr. Mulcair the numbers offer plenty of encouragement: few are uncomfortable with his values, judgment, ideas or attitude. But his challenge is not only to make more voters warm to him – in fact a bigger challenge is a fight for “share of voice” with the Justin Trudeau.
This is a fight he wins when the House is in session, but as long as he trails in the polls, it will be more difficult to win that fight in the broader public arena.
For Justin Trudeau the numbers show that the approach he has been taking has been working. While there is reason to make note of slightly softer numbers on “judgment” the bigger story seems to be that he is connecting with a large cross section of voters who believe he shares their values.
He is also conveying an attitude that people welcome. His ability to pull voters from the pools that supported other parties in the last election is an important signal in the data – one that also argues against becoming more partisan in his approach.
Our survey was conducted online with 1,614 respondents by Abacus Data, August 15 to 18, 2014. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Canadians, recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading provider of online research samples.
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
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