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By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto

In the days following the bombshell revelations of photographs of Justin Trudeau in blackface we have been polling Canadians on the election and specifically on their reaction to that development.

Here’s what our data show.

1. The national race remains very tight, with the Conservatives holding 34% support, the Liberals 32%, the NDP at 15%, and the Green Party 11%. Each of these numbers is within a percentage point of the result we found in our last survey, which took place before the election campaign began.

2. Regionally, the Liberals have a wide lead in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, a 4-point lead in Ontario, and trail by wide margins in the Prairie provinces. In BC, the Liberals and Conservatives are tied at 30% with the NDP at 22% and the Greens at 15%.

3. Justin Trudeau’s personal ratings have slipped. His positives are down 4-points, and his negatives are up 3. At the same time, Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May have all seen deterioration in their ratings as well. Ms. May’s numbers are the worst we have seen for her since March of this year. Mr.Scheer’s positives have dropped 3-points, and his negatives have hit a new high at 39%.

4. 63% of voters say they have made up their minds how they are going to vote, and 54% say they have been following the campaign very or pretty closely. Just under half say they have been paying only a little or no attention and 37% say they haven’t yet made up their mind about how they will vote.

5. 41% think the Conservatives will win, 40% think the Liberals will. Regionally, most in the Prairies think the Conservatives will win with about one in four thinking the Liberals will win. In BC, 39% think the Liberals will win, 35% Conservative, and 14% NDP. In Ontario, 43% feel the Conservatives will win with 39% predicting a Liberal win. Only 9% in Ontario feel the NDP will win. In Quebec, half think the Liberals will win with 27% saying the Conservatives and 5% NDP.

6. Asked what party they would like to see victorious, 32% say the Conservatives, 30% the Liberals, 16% the NDP and 11% the Green Party.

7. Asked if it came down to a choice between a Liberal and a Conservative government, 53% would prefer a Liberal government, 47% a Conservative government. In BC 58% would prefer the Liberals, in Ontario 55%, in Quebec 56%.

8. 53% said they heard a lot about the blackface story, another 34% have heard some. 13% had not heard of it at all.

9. Asked how they reacted to the story, 42% said it didn’t really bother them, 34% said they didn’t like it but felt Mr. Trudeau apologized properly and felt they could move on, and 24% said they were truly offended and it changed their view of Mr. Trudeau for the worse. Worth noting is that of that 24%, two-thirds are Conservative voters.

10. Among those aware of the photos, asked how this might affect their vote on Election Day, 40% said they were not planning to vote Liberal anyway, 48% said it would not affect their vote and that they would decide on other issues. Of the 12% who said it was affecting their thinking, half said they were considering the Liberals but leaning away from them because of the incident and half said they were considering the Liberals but cannot support them now.

11. That 12% tend to be younger with 71% under the age of 45. 62% voted Liberal in 2015 while 23% voted Conservative. 27% identified as a member of a visible minority or racialized community, 9-points higher than the national average in our sample. 57% of this group would still prefer the Liberals to win compared with 43% who prefer the Conservatives.

12. Those who identify as members of a visible minority community and voters under 30 were both 9 points more likely to say they were bothered by the photographs compared to non-visible minorities and older voters. However, both groups were also 12 points more likely to say that they accepted the apology and could move on. Both groups also more likely than average to say this has caused them to reconsider whether they will support the Liberals, suggesting that the ultimate impact on their voting intention is somewhat uncertain.


According to Bruce Anderson: “This election may feel to combatants as though it has been going on for a long time, but many Canadians have not yet been following it very closely.  Still, last week Mr. Trudeau’s reputation was damaged, albeit perhaps less than might have been surmised or expected.

Other leaders have not gained at Mr. Trudeau’s expense through this period, and the relative standing of the parties is largely unchanged.

It’s clear that Mr. Trudeau wearing blackface has affected many people, and the impact on their final decision can’t really be predicted. The race is close enough that it could make the difference and cause the Liberals to lose office – but the results also show that Mr. Trudeau’s apology was accepted by many people and that the plurality is inclined to say other issues will have a bigger impact on their choice.

According to David Coletto: “The photos and video released late last week was a shock that changed the focus and conversation of the election campaign. But so far, evidence that they have fundamentally changed people’s impressions or intended voting behaviour is quite limited.

The race remains very close, all the party leaders are viewed less favourably than at the start of the campaign, and most people say that so far, the events of the past few days won’t change their vote. But two key voter groups for the Liberals are more likely to say it might impact their choice.

Perhaps most important, among those who are aware of the story and say it has them reconsidering their support for the Liberals, 57% would prefer the Liberals to win, and 43% would prefer the Conservatives. The campaign has been, to a large degree, about this choice and will continue to be so.

Ultimately, the blackface photos may be the campaign moment that prevents the Liberals from being re-elected. But the initial reaction and how voters are reacting so far suggests there’s way too much campaign left to make that conclusion today.”

By the way, Abacus Data is growing and looking for an analyst to be based in Ottawa. Find out more here.



Our survey was conducted online with 1,929 Canadians aged 18 and over from September 18 to 22, 2019. A random sample of panellists 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 +/- 2.3%, 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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