Analysis: Trudeau momentum spurs party to “sunny ways” majority as ever-soft NDP voters stampede to Liberals

Among “head versus heart” voters, Liberals won over hearts, spurred by desire for change


October 20, 2015 – On the way to a majority government mandate, the Liberal Party of Canada led by Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau continued to build on momentum and support – at the expense of the crumbling New Democrats – in the final days of one of the longest and most volatile election campaigns in Canadian history.

The Conservatives’ and leader angus reid instituteStephen Harper’s defeat came despite a committed base that turned out for their party, but was ultimately no match for the electorate’s massive desire for change.

When the writ was dropped August 2nd, the narrative of this election quickly became and continued to be the question of which left-of-centre party pro-change voters would coalesce behind: both the NDP and the LPC boasted a less-than-committed vote base at the beginning of the writ period. By the end, voters had made their choice, as stopping a CPC victory took precedent over voting for their preferred party or candidate.

That said, polling from the Angus Reid Institute also pointed to an extraordinary volatility among the electorate, with roughly one-in-six saying they’d yet to lock in their votes heading into the final weekend of the campaign, and half of those saying they would make up their minds on election day itself.

Volatile Electorate:  

A key dynamic the Angus Reid Institute canvassed over the course of this election campaign was the large segment of volatile and uncommitted voters – and this remained a potentially major factor as the campaign entered its final days. Indeed, among those who did not vote in advance, fully half admitted their party choice was not absolutely certain.

Of those who hadn’t fully ‘locked-in’ their choice, one-in-three (34%) said they would remove any doubt about their decision on the final weekend, while almost half (45%) said they wouldn’t actually lock in until voting day itself.

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In the end, a large portion of the 52 per cent of NDP supporters who said they could change their minds voted instead for the LPC – opting to vote strategically for the party best-positioned to defeat Stephen Harper.

Another nail in the Conservative party’s proverbial coffin on election night was strong voter turnout nationally. The CPC’s base of older Canadians – who are always more likely than other age groups to vote – was offset by the highest overall turnout since 1993. An estimated 69 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots in the election, and those of them who were between the ages of 18 and 35 were especially likely to vote for the Liberals:

 

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Trudeau wins on voting ‘from the heart’:

One of the major factors on which this election result may well have hinged on was whether voters were making their decisions with their “heads” – i.e. reasoning and intellectual considerations, or their “heart” or “gut”. Among those voting with their heads, Justin Trudeau was competitive among the three main party leaders:

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But it was among voters relying on their heart and gut where Trudeau inspired the most:angus reid institute

Late Campaign Momentum

The biggest advantage the Liberals had going into election day was momentum. While Conservative support remained stubbornly consistent throughout the campaign – hovering around the 32 per cent of the popular vote the party ultimately claimed – the LPC was the only party on a significant and steady upward trend as the election approached.

Our polls conducted during the campaign showed opposite trend-lines for the Liberals and New Democrats:

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The departure of NDP supporters to the Liberals throughout the campaign reflects the LPC’s standing as the “second-choice” party for large portions of both the NDP and CPC bases.

The Liberals also had the most appealing leader in Justin Trudeau. More than half of all Canadians (54%) said they find him appealing, more than the total who said the same of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair (47%) and especially more than said they found CPC Leader Stephen Harper appealing (32%).

Trudeau’s appeal can also be seen in the percentage of people reporting an improved opinion of him over the last week or so. More than one-quarter of voters (28%) said they thought better of Trudeau last week than they did the week before. That’s virtually three times the number who report an improved opinion of any other party leader.

This difference comes into focus when we create a “momentum score” for each leader by subtracting the percentage who say their opinion of each leader has worsened from the percentage who say it has improved. While both Harper and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair receive negative momentum scores, Trudeau’s moved farther into positive territory over the campaign’s final month:

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Liberal Breakthroughs in urban Canada:

Data from Angus Reid Institute’s final poll in this campaign showed national-level gains for the Liberals are coming largely from Ontario’s urban centers, where the winning party had taken a commanding lead in key battlegrounds in the GTA – both the “416” and “905” areas. In Metro Vancouver, the party saw an unprecedented surge, winning 18 seats on the basis of a commanding lead in BC’s most populous region.

Voters preferred deficits to balanced budgets:

The Liberal Party pledged to run “modest deficits” for their first three years in government, with the goal of stimulating the economy through additional spending. Philosophically, the majority of Canadians – and indeed even a small majority of Conservative supporters – agreed with the Liberal approach. Notably, this support was stronger among so-called “soft” or uncommitted Conservative voters – those who said were planning to vote for the CPC before the election, but allowed that they could change their minds before election day.

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What went wrong for the Conservatives and the NDP?

The biggest factor sinking the Conservatives may have been Harper’s lack of appeal as a leader. Though he retained the support of 28 per cent of Canadians on the question of who would make the best Prime Minister, that number roughly corresponds to his base. Roughly that same number – the 32 per cent Conservative base – said Harper was appealing to them.

angus reid institute

Harper’s lack of appeal combined with the cumulative effects of a long campaign to repeatedly knock him off message, and force him to play up political wedge issues that were ultimately rejected by voters on election day.

Among the issues that derailed the Harper campaign were the trial of Senator Mike Duffy, the global refugee crisis, and the debate over a Muslim woman’s right to wear a niqab while taking the oath of citizenship.

This last issue was also arguably responsible for the demise of the NDP campaign in Quebec.

 

MEDIA CONTACT:
Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693
shachi.kurl@angusreid.org

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