Thoughtful, curious, fast and friendly.


September 5, 2016

By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto

As the Conservative and New Democratic parties are in the process of choosing new leaders, we asked Canadians about the qualities they would want to see in a political leader.

We gave people a list of 34 potential qualities and asked them to decide which ones were “must haves”, “nice to haves” or less important than that. What did we find?

The 8 most broadly considered “must haves” (45% or more said it was a must have):

• Understand different parts of the world
• Think a lot about the future of the world
• Think about what’s right for the next generation
• Be open minded about different lifestyles
• Care about the poor
• Ask for help when you need it
• Seek advice from smart people everywhere
• Apologize when you make a mistake

Among the other interesting things in the results:

• 41% say speaking both official languages is a must have. That masks a large gap between Francophones (68%) and Anglophones (32%).

• Always being polite and thoughtful with others is more highly sought than someone who never backs down and always looks strong.

• Few people care greatly if a leader comes from either an accomplished or less affluent family, loves the outdoors or music, books, and the arts.

When we combine the things people say are “must haves” with “really like to have” here are some other points that stand out.

• Thinking about what’s right for the next generation and understanding different parts of the world are at the very top of the list. As a point of context, almost 80% say these are must or really like to have qualities, while only 44% say that about knowledge “about how to make a buck” or make a payroll.

• Almost as highly rated are seeking advice from smart people (76%), asking for help when you need it (75%), and apologizing for a mistake (74%). This suggests that people value humility and open-mindedness more than the idea of the perfectly formed, strong leader who never blinks or reconsiders an action or idea.

• The notion that leaders are expected to come from perfect, close-knit families is not of great importance to most Canadians. It ranked 30th of the list of 34 items.

Over the next few days, we’ll dig into this data to show how our criteria for leaders varies depending on gender, generation, political inclination.


Bruce Anderson: “Political commentary for years has included a lot of conventional wisdom about what people like in leaders. Much of it has suggested that we prefer people from accomplished backgrounds, people who are self-possessed. Leaders with a plan, and great determination in the face of resistance. How many times has strong leadership been equated with never apologizing?

These results suggest a different and more nuanced reality. They reveal that we like people with open, curious minds. We want leaders who think about the bigger picture and the longer term. Leaders who seek out and want to hear good ideas from other people. We value politeness over manifestations of power – and we believe that saying you’re sorry when you should is no weakness, rather a virtue.”


Our survey was conducted online with 2,010 Canadians aged 18 and over from August 22 to 25, 2016. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians.

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 2,010 is +/- 2.2%, 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.

Abacus Data Inc.

We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail and value-added insight. Our team combines the experience of our Chairman Bruce Anderson, one of Canada’s leading research executives for two decades, with the energy, creativity and research expertise of CEO David Coletto, Ph.D.


Scroll Up