Analysis: Which Canadian party has the biggest tent?

Analysis: Which Canadian party has the biggest tent?

By Ian Holliday, Research Associate

June 8, 2017 – There is a conventional wisdom in Canadian politics that the Liberal Party – flanked on both sides of the political spectrum by more ideological parties – is better able to “find the centre” and appeal to more voters.

The history of elections in this country, with its long periods of Liberal government, suggests there is some truth to this assessment. Ask Canadians about their willingness to consider each of the three main parties, however – as the Angus Reid Institute did just last month – and it becomes clear that there’s less of a “big tent” advantage for the Liberals than might be expected.

The percentage of Canadians who rule out even considering casting a ballot for each party is remarkably consistent. Ranging from a low of 37 per cent who say they would “definitely not consider” the Liberals to a high of 40 per cent who say the same about the New Democratic Party. The percentage who would never consider voting Conservative? 39 per cent. These totals are all within the margin of error of each other. In other words, each party has roughly two-in-five Canadians who say they won’t even consider it.

The inverse of each of these numbers could be described as each party’s “consideration set” – the people who say they would be open to voting for the party in the future.

For each party, the total consideration set is roughly 60 per cent of Canadians. Though, as the following graph illustrates, there’s a big difference between those who say they might think about voting for a party and those who are hardcore supporters.

The darkest party colours in the graph are those who say they “definitely” will support the party in a future election. The lighter colours are, from left to right, those who say they will “certainly consider” the party, and those who say they will “maybe consider” the party. (Data in the graph comes from ARI’s June 1 report: “As Conservative leader, Scheer must balance core voters’ values with party’s need for growth”)

Angus Reid Institute

By this measure, the Conservative and Liberal parties each have a very similar make-up, with a committed core of slightly fewer than one-in-six Canadians. The Liberals have slightly more people who would “certainly consider” them, while the Conservatives have slightly more people who would “maybe consider” them.

The NDP, by contrast, has a committed base less than half the size of those of the other parties.

A similar pattern emerges when respondents’ voting histories are taken into account. In ARI’s recent report on the Conservative Party of Canada and its new leader Andrew Scheer, the institute grouped respondents into four categories – Never, Maybe, Likely, and Core CPC voters – based on their responses to the consideration question and their past voting tendencies. That breakdown looked very similar to the Conservative bar in the previous graph:

Angus Reid Institute

Here are graphs based on the same methodology for the Liberals and NDP:

Angus Reid Institute

The caveat to all of this, of course, is that opinions and vote intentions can and do change over time. The consideration question specifically asked about willingness to vote for the Liberals under Justin Trudeau, the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer, and the NDP under the new leader it will elect this fall. Those who rule each party out completely right now may change their minds as the parties reconstitute themselves over time. Likewise, those who are definite supporters today may find themselves wavering in the future.

Right now, however, the Liberals and the Conservatives are parties with similarly sized bases and similar numbers of Canadians who refuse to support them entirely. The electoral fate of each will depend on how well they entice the rest of their consideration sets to cast a ballot for their candidates, but neither one has an inherent advantage.

Editors’ note: The stories in this Analysis section are opinion pieces. They reflect the views of their authors, not those of the Angus Reid Institute as an organization

Image Credit: Tim Ellis/Flickr