‘Charismatic’ and ‘Modern’ or ‘Arrogant’ and ‘Flaky’? Canadians weigh in on the Trudeau Brand

‘Charismatic’ and ‘Modern’ or ‘Arrogant’ and ‘Flaky’? Canadians weigh in on the Trudeau Brand

While they have mixed feelings about Trudeau’s celebrity, most Canadians say it’s good for the country


October 19, 2017 – Justin Trudeau’s public persona – the selfie-taking, magazine-cover-gracing, colourful-sock-wearing, global celebrity Prime Minister – has been an integral part of his Liberal Party’s first two years in government. As much as any policy, Brand Trudeau is what comes to mind when thinking about Canada’s government these days.

So, what do Canadians think of their PM’s fame?

The second installment of the Angus Reid Institute’s two-year review of the Trudeau government finds respondents divided in their personal opinions on Trudeau the celebrity – roughly one-third like it, one-third dislike it, and one-third profess to be “neutral.” Asked whether Trudeau’s celebrity is good or bad for Canada, however, a full majority (54%) say it’s a net positive for the country, compared to fewer than one-in-five (19%) who say it’s a bad thing.

 

Related: From Sunny Ways to Midterm Blues? Two years after Trudeau majority, Liberals and CPC in dead heat

 

This positivity coexists with some more negative views of the Trudeau Liberals’ image-conscious government. Three times as many Canadians say the government has been “putting too much emphasis on ‘PR’ and photo-ops” in its first two years than say it has been “making real progress and getting things done” (44% versus 13%, respectively).

 

More Key Findings:

  • Canadians are most likely to describe Justin Trudeau as “Charismatic” (50%), “Modern” (43%) and “Compassionate” (31%), but at least one-fifth also describe him as “Arrogant” (26%), “Flaky” (23%), and “Weak” (22%)
  • The number of Canadians saying the government is making real progress has decreased by 12 percentage points since the Angus Reid Institute asked last year, and the number saying it is putting too much emphasis on scoring style points has risen by 8 points
  • Views on the Trudeau brand are highly correlated with views on the Trudeau government. Those who approve of the government’s performance at mid-term are also much more favourable toward the PM’s celebrity

 

INDEX:

  • Prime Ministerial personality: How do Canadians describe Trudeau?

  • Too much style, too little substance when it comes to governing

  • Canadians mixed on Trudeau’s celebrity status, but say it’s good for Canada

  • Conclusion: Fame is valuable, but it’s no substitute for policy

Prime Ministerial personality: How do Canadians describe Trudeau?

Tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of words have been written about Justin Trudeau since he ascended to the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2013. Many of those words – such as those in Rolling Stone’s cover story on him – have been fawning. Many others have been anything but.

Asked to choose up to six words to describe the Prime Minister from a list of two dozen, Canadians seem to settle on two main adjectives: “Charismatic,” chosen by half of all respondents (50%), and “Modern,” chosen by 43 per cent. Though these two words lead the way, seven words are seen as describing Trudeau by at least one-in-five Canadians. They are:

The full list of words – weighted by the relative frequency with which they were chosen – can be seen in the word cloud at the beginning of this report. For a detailed breakdown of responses to this question, see comprehensive tables.

The words Canadians choose to describe Justin Trudeau are highly correlated with their opinion on his government’s performance so far. Among the roughly half (48%) who approve, more than half choose each of the top three words (Charismatic, Modern, and Compassionate) in the preceding graph. Among the 45 per cent who disapprove, the next three words (Arrogant, Flaky, and Weak) are much more common:

In a similar vein, those who voted for Trudeau’s Liberal Party in 2015 are more likely to choose the words with a more positive connotation, while those who voted for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the last election are much more likely to pick negative words.

Notably, fully one-third of past Conservatives and six-in-ten past New Democrats see Trudeau as “charismatic,” but the number describing him as “modern” and “compassionate” drops off significantly among each party’s supporters, as seen in the graph that follows.

At the other end of the list, there are several words that relatively few Canadians think apply to their Prime Minister. Fewer than one-in-ten (9%) would describe Trudeau as “Transparent,” “Uncaring,” or “Boring,” and only 7 per cent describe him as “Traditional.” This finding suggests that the vast majority of Canadians don’t think of Justin Trudeau in these terms.

Regionally, some interesting quirks emerge. The following map shows the top three words in each region of the country. Click on the map to see a larger version, and see comprehensive tables for greater detail.

Too much style, too little substance when it comes to governing

The fact that most Canadians believe Justin Trudeau’s public persona is a net benefit to their country doesn’t necessarily mean they approve of his government’s focus on scoring style points.

In June 2016, as the House of Commons rose for the summer after Trudeau’s first parliamentary session as PM, the Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians whether they thought the then-still-relatively-new government was “making real progress and getting things done” or “putting too much emphasis on ‘PR’ and photo-ops.” One-in-four respondents chose the former, while a larger number chose the latter.

This month, two years after they won the election and formed government, the Trudeau Liberals fare worse on this question than they did back then, with only one-in-eight (13%) saying they have been “making real progress.”

Even among those who voted for them, the Liberals are more likely to be seen as both making real progress and overemphasizing image concerns (32%) than they are to be seen as doing just the former (26%).

On this question, past supporters of the other two major federal parties are considerably less kind to the government, as seen in the following graph:

Canadians mixed on Trudeau’s celebrity status, but say it’s good for Canada

From the start of his government, Trudeau’s critics have referred to him as “PM Selfie,” a moniker meant to highlight his emphasis on personality and style at the expense – some would argue – of serious policy and governing skill.

There is no doubt that Trudeau’s persona looms large in his government and – by extension – Canadian society as a whole today.

Asked how they feel about this fact, Canadians are split roughly evenly: One-third like it (34%), one-third dislike it (32%), and one-third are neutral (34%). It’s worth noting, however, that twice as many say the “hate” Trudeau’s celebrity status as say they “love it,” as seen in the following graph:

Canadians’ personal feelings about Trudeau’s fame vary by age. Those under 35 are more likely to describe themselves as “neutral” toward it, while older respondents – especially those ages 55 and older – are more apt to have an opinion overall, and more likely than young respondents to have a negative one.

Personal opinions on Trudeau’s celebrity also vary predictably by approval of the government’s performance and by past voting habits. Those who voted for the Liberals or approve of the job they’ve done so far tend to feel much more positively toward the PM’s international renown than those who voted for the Conservatives or disapprove of the government’s performance:

While Canadians are deeply divided in their personal opinions on Trudeau’s public image, fewer divisions emerge when they are asked how Trudeau’s fame affects the country he leads. More than half (54%) say the Prime Minister’s high-profile personality is good for Canada, while fewer than one-in-five say it’s a bad thing for the country. Indeed, almost three times more say it is “great for Canada” than say it is “terrible.”

As might be expected, answers to these two questions are strongly correlated with each other. Those who like Trudeau’s fame, personally, overwhelmingly say it’s good for Canada, while most of those who dislike it say it’s bad for Canada. The thing that makes responses to this national question so different from responses to the personal one is that those who describe themselves as feeling personally “neutral” toward Trudeau’s celebrity mostly say it’s good for Canada:

 

Conclusion: Fame is valuable, but it’s no substitute for policy

On some level, there is a contradiction in the way Canadians view Trudeau’s celebrity status. While they see it as a net positive for the country, they also see the Trudeau government’s image-conscious messaging – arguably an extension of the Trudeau brand – as a distraction that inhibits the government’s ability to make progress.

This apparent contradiction is reflected elsewhere in this Angus Reid Institute poll. In the first report from this survey released last week, most Canadians said the Trudeau government has had a positive impact on Canada’s reputation on the world stage, but gave more mixed reviews to the government’s impact on other files.

One possible explanation – which fits with data discussed earlier in this report – is that global reputation is less tangible than other concerns canvassed in this survey, and thus more easily altered by the popularity of a charismatic leader. On the world stage, Trudeau’s celebrity is an asset to Canada, and a good thing overall. On domestic issues, however, Trudeau’s celebrity is no substitute for policy results.

 

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

 

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.

For detailed results by 2015 federal vote and approval of government performance, click here.

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey

 

MEDIA CONTACTS:

Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693 shachi.kurl@angusreid.org @shachikurl

Ian Holliday, Research Associate: 604.442.3312 ian.holliday@angusreid.org


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