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October 21, 2014

By Bruce Anderson & David Coletto

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One of the most contentious political choices in recent months has been whether Canada should join the US and other allies in a combat role to degrade and defeat ISIS in Iraq. Our latest poll looks at how the public has been viewing the choices made by the three main party leaders in Ottawa.

Here are the highlights of our findings:

• We asked voters if each of the three leaders have been showing good, acceptable or poor judgment in terms of the way they have approached this issue. For the Prime Minister, 20% say he has shown good judgment, 34% acceptable judgment and 23% poor judgment. This suggests a fairly good level of support for Mr. Harper’s approach: even supporters of other parties are not particularly critical of his judgment. Among those planning on voting NDP, half (49%) say the PM has showed good or acceptable judgment; only 30% characterize his approach as “poor”. Among Liberal voters, 44% say the PM has showed good or acceptable judgment, only 33% say “poor.

• For NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, 10% say he has shown good judgment, 29% “acceptable” and 19% say his judgment has been poor. Another 43% say they don’t know enough to say. It is likely a reflection of the fact that many Canadians do not feel sure what the right approach is that they are unwilling to be critical of either the decision to join combat or the argument against doing so. To illustrate that point, it’s worth noting that only 36% of Conservative voters and 10% of Liberal voters say Mulcair has been showing poor judgment. Also worth noting is that in the province of Quebec where the NDP holds a large number of seats, support for Mulcair’s approach is stronger than in any other region, with 18% saying good judgment, 34% acceptable, and 13% poor.

• Among the three leaders, results are less favourable for Justin Trudeau. Three in ten voters say he has showed poor judgment (28%) for every one who says he has shown good judgment (9%) 30% say his judgment has been acceptable. More critical than average are men and those over 45 years old. Among those who say they are considering the Liberal Party but not supporting it at this time, 22% are critical of his approach.

Leadersjudgment

One aspect of the recent debate about the Liberal leader’s approach has centered on an answer he gave which was televised widely. In the course of the answer he referred to Stephen Harper’s approach as “whipping out our F-18’s”.

The clip shown to respondents can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Acq7QDVXSHw&feature=youtu.be

In our poll, we asked several questions about this comment, and showed English speaking respondents a 1 minute 40 second clip of the response to elicit their direct reactions. Here’s what we found (note: results reflect the English proportion of the sample only):

• 12% say they had seen the clip before, and another 18% say they had heard about it. For 70% it was completely new – they had not seen or heard about it before.

• After viewing the clip, we asked whether people agree or disagree with the point Mr. Trudeau was making. 7% said they strongly agree, 50% mostly agree, 32% mostly disagree and 11% strongly disagree. Among the voters most important to his prospects, “Persuadable Liberals” (those who say they will consider Liberal but aren’t yet committed supporters of the party), 62% tended to agree with his position, while 38% disagreed.

• When asked how they feel about “the way Mr. Trudeau made his point” 9% said they strongly approve, 49% mostly approve, 31% mostly disapprove and 11% strongly disapprove. Among Liberal supporters 80% approve, 20% disapprove. Among Persuadable Liberals 63% approve, 38% disapprove. Worth noting is that men were more critical of the manner of making the point (46% disapprove) compared to women (39% disapprove)

• When asked if these comments make them more likely or less likely to support Mr. Trudeau, the majority (55%) said no impact, while 20% said more likely and 24% less likely. Among Liberal supporters, 7% said the comments made them less likely to support the party; among Persuadable Liberals 21% say the comments make them more likely to support the party, 20% less likely.

• Among those who had seen the clip prior to the survey, 23% said they were more likely to support Mr. Trudeau while 41% were less likely to support him. 36% said it would have no impact on their likelihood to support him.

clip

The Upshot?

From Bruce Anderson:

The full implications, if any, of Canada’s involvement in Iraq will only become apparent over a longer period of time. These results should be viewed only as a snapshot of reactions to the political debate to this point in time. So far, the Liberals’ approach taken on the Iraq mission has come with more political drawbacks than benefits.

Our earlier polling showed that most Canadians were in favour of contributing fighter jet support to the initiative and so it is to be expected that Mr. Harper’s choice is more supported by voters. What may give Liberal strategists pause is the fact that while Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair both voted against the government on this action, Mr. Trudeau’s negatives are 9 points worse than Mr. Mulcair’s.

Responses to the much-discussed clip indicate that it has had a slightly negative effect, but not to the extent imagined by the Liberal leader’s opponents. Only 30% had been aware of the quote. Of them, only 32% said it made them less likely to vote Liberal. Of that net 8% of the sample, a third would even consider voting Liberal in any case.

The mission to Iraq may or may not turn out to be a controversial issue in the months ahead. If it poses challenges for the Liberal leader, these have more to do with the substance of his policy choice than the colourful way he discussed it in the clip in question.

From David Coletto:

When we show Canadians the clip of Trudeau’s comment about “whipping out F-18s”, most people actually reactive positively – an indication that how we often assess political rhetoric in Ottawa is not how the public consumes or reacts to it. The comment may still come back to haunt Mr. Trudeau, but as our other data indicates, the harm to the Liberals is more likely to come from the way he and the party handled their decision on ISIS than how Mr. Trudeau expressed his views in an interview.

Methodology

Our survey was conducted online with 1,248 respondents, October 15 to 17, 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 +/- 2.8%, 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.

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, PhD. For more information, visit our website at https://www.abacusdata.ca/

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