December 30, 2018

By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto

How people think about political leaders has to do with a lot of factors, well beyond their policy positions. Voters develop a sense of what kind of person they are, whether they can be trusted in different ways.

To help shed light on how Canadians are thinking about the three major party leaders heading into this election year, we reprised some questions we ran early in 2015 ten months before the last election. Here’s what the results revealed:

• On 9 of 10 items tested, more people would trust Justin Trudeau than either of the other two leaders. The widest gaps were on trust to babysit your kids, choose the best movie to watch, prefer to have over for family dinner, give your kids career advice. Mr. Trudeau trailed Andrew Scheer on one item: which leader would make the best CEO of a large company.

• Mr. Scheer was top pick in terms of making the best large company CEO and was tied with Mr. Trudeau for “prefer to negotiate a contract on your behalf”. His weakest results were on “cook the best meal” and “most likely to lend you $100 if you needed it”.

• Jagmeet Singh was third on all but two items: “most likely to lend you $100” and “cook the best meal”.

As expected, those who identify with a party (Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat) tend to think most positively about their leader. Liberal partisans are pretty aligned with Mr. Trudeau on all items, but 28% of them think Mr. Scheer would make a better CEO, and over one in five think Mr. Singh would cook a better meal.

Conservative partisans show less attachment to their leader across the board, especially visible on “babysit your kids”, “choose the best movie”, “lend you $100” and “cook the best meal”.

For Mr. Singh and his own NDP partisans, there’s much less alignment than with the other party leaders and their partisans. Only on two items does Mr. Singh get a majority of NDP partisans selecting him – “lend you $100” and “cook the best meal”. On others, he either ties or trails Mr. Trudeau including on “choose the best movie”, “make the best CEO of a large company”, and “prefer to babysit your children”.

Finally, among those who don’t identify with any party, the results mirror the national averages. Mr. Trudeau leads on all but one measure (CEO of a large company), and had big leads over his rivals on babysitting, being a guest at dinner, choosing the best movie, and lending $100.

For comparison’s sake, below are the results from the same assessment we did around the same time before the 2015 election. A few things are worth noting:

1. Justin Trudeau’s advantages are wider on all the items tested.

2. Mr. Harper had an advantage over Mr. Trudeau on who would make the best CEO, negotiate a contract on your behalf, and give your child good career advice. Mr. Trudeau leads Mr. Scheer on two of these three measures.

3. Tom Mulcair was looking more competitive in that earlier wave before the 2015 election than Mr. Singh appears to be today.

UPSHOT

According to Bruce Anderson: “As voters think about their choices in an election the personalities of the leaders often carry disproportionate weight. These results show that while dissatisfaction is up with the Trudeau government on issues like climate, TMX pipeline, deficits, and immigration – Mr. Trudeau continues to be seen in a positive light personally by many people.

Being better known doesn’t always mean being better liked. But 3 years into his mandate, the sense that Mr. Trudeau is a knowledgeable person, a good companion over a meal and someone with good ideas about your children’s future continue to represent advantages for him over his main opponents.

In the run-up to the last election, Mr. Harper also had advantages on best company CEO, and negotiate a contract on your behalf. While the coming year may be different, those advantages did not turn out to be deciding factors in the outcome of the 2015 vote.”

According to David Coletto: “This remains one of my favourite and most illuminating research exercises because it gives us a glimpse into how Canadians think about what kind of person each party leader is.

These results signal a few things worth considering.

First, Mr. Trudeau’s personal image remains strong. He’s seen as caring, empathetic, generous, and in touch with the latest trends in movies and food. He’s the leader far more Canadians want to spend time with and would trust to watch their children.

Second, despite a close horserace between the Liberals and Conservatives, these results may suggest that the horserace numbers may not be fully capturing a comparative assessment of the party leaders. Right now, assessments are mainly a reaction to what the Liberal government is doing and don’t fully consider who the alternative to Mr. Trudeau as Prime Minister will be. How people feel about the leader’s personality and character will matter more the closer we get to the election and if these numbers hold, Mr. Trudeau will have a very large advantage over his rivals.

Finally, these results confirm the difficulty Mr. Singh and the NDP finds itself. Our tracking has shown that more Canadians still have a negative view of Mr. Singh than a positive one. Few have much impression of him and he’s well behind where Mr. Mulcair was about a year from the election. If Mr. Singh’s greatest potential asset is his ability to compete with Mr. Trudeau on personality, these results confirm that he hasn’t converted that potential into reality yet.”

METHODOLOGY

Our survey was conducted online with 2,000 Canadians aged 18 and over from December 13 to 18, 2018. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

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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