Was Kevin O’Leary the Conservative Party’s best hope to beat Trudeau? Data suggests he wasn’t.

Yesterday, Kevin O’Leary shocked many, including myself, by dropping out of the Conservative Party leadership race.

In announcing his decision, O’Leary claimed that while he thought he could win the leadership, he feared he would be unable to win a general election because of an inability to win enough support in Quebec.

Data we collected over the past weekend confirms Mr. O’Leary’s assessment that he did not have a clear path to beating Prime Minister Trudeau. However, Quebec wasn’t his only liability.

In our survey, we asked respondents samples they would be more likely to vote for Mr. Trudeau or one of the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership if that person was elected leader. Respondents were shown a random set of 3 hypothetical scenarios as a way to test the pulling power of the main leadership candidates.

The results show that Mr. O’Leary, despite a wide advantage in name recognition and a high profile leadership campaign, has not been any more successful in growing the Conservative Party tent with the general public or the group of voters accessible to the Conservative Party. Our survey in February found his negatives had almost doubled among the general public.

In fact, a deeper analysis suggests Mr. O’Leary, along with Kellie Leitch, could have the opposite effect and stymie growth opportunities for the Conservative Party.

I computed a push and pull score for each candidate we tested. The push score is the percentage of 2015 Conservative voters who say they would be more likely to vote for Mr. Trudeau. The pull score is computed as the aggregate percent of the electorate who voted for a party other than the Conservative Party in 2015 but say they would be attracted to the party if it was lead by the candidate mentioned. Recognizing this is a crude measure, it does give us some insight into the potential impact of each of the leading Conservative candidates.

The data shows that Mr. O’Leary and Ms. Leitch both have a net negative impact on potential party support while all the other candidates either have the potential to grow party support marginally or at least have a mostly neutral effect on it. Since so few Canadians know who these other candidates, they are more likely blank slates and their push/pull scores are more a factor of partisanship and views on Mr. Trudeau than a preference for the candidate.

Moreover, the net impact of the Conservative Party’s leadership race seems to have done little to grow the party’s appeal beyond those who voted for it in 2015.

So when Kevin O’Leary said he didn’t see a clear path to victory in a general election, our data supports that assertion. And as the one candidate with substantial profile across the country, his inability to grow support for his party is evidence he may have had a difficult time when trying to appeal to the general public.


Our survey was conducted online with 1,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from April 21 to 24, 2017. 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 1,500 is +/- 2.6%, 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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