Election 2015: Liberals edge Conservatives as volatile electorate mulls final choice before last campaign weekend

Election 2015: Liberals edge Conservatives as volatile electorate mulls final choice before last campaign weekend

Momentum and softness of NDP vote give Liberals more room to grow late in writ period, CPC appears stalled

October 16, 2015 – Election 2015 enters its final weekend with the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) holding a four point advantage in popular support over the Conservatives (CPC) among eligible voters.

That lead narrows to a statistical tie when the vote intention of likely voters are measured, while in both scenarios – the NDP remains stuck in third place and losing momentum.

angus reid poll

It’s this stagnation on the part of the New Democrats that may enable the LPC to pick up yet more backing during the last days of the campaign among those voters for whom stopping a CPC victory takes precedence over voting for their party and candidate of choice.

Indeed, a key narrative of this 42nd federal election has been which left-of-centre party eligible voters would coalesce around. Indeed, it seems clear now that they have picked the Liberals.

That said, this most recent public opinion poll from the Angus Reid Institute also points to extraordinary volatility among the electorate, with roughly one-in-six saying they’ve yet to lock in their votes heading into this final weekend. While the Conservatives appear to have failed to attract or retain support beyond their traditional base, the commitment of that base and its relatively older age also leaves opportunity for the incumbent party to leverage loyal voters.

National Party Standings:

This ARI poll shows the Liberal Party continuing to build on gains made over the course of the campaign, moving up another four points this past week to 35 per cent of decided eligible voters while the Conservatives have slipped two points to 31 per cent. The contest between the two parties tightens among likely voters, who have a higher propensity to vote (see notes on methodology at the end of this release). Among this segment, the parties are essentially tied (34% Liberal, 33% Conservative). Among both eligible and likely voters, just over one-in-five indicate a preference for the once-front runners, the NDP (22%).

The Regional Story: 

The data from this survey shows recent national-level gains for the Liberals are largely coming from Ontario, where the Liberals have surged, taking a commanding lead in key battlegrounds in the GTA (both within the “416” area and across the “905” as well). Across the province as a whole, the Liberals lead the Conservatives by ten points, and open up a whopping two-to-one lead over the NDP.

The narrative in Quebec is more complex: support for each of the four main parties, combined with Canada’s first-past-the-post system, offers the potential for some unpredictable finishes on election night.

The good news for the NDP is that after hemorrhaging support over the last several weeks here – largely due to the niqab debate — the party has stabilized, retaining a slim lead over the Liberals and a slightly wider one over the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois. That said, the NDP’s dominance in Quebec – the factor that propelled it to Official Opposition status in 2011 – no longer exists.

In British Columbia the main parties are in a virtual three-way tie among eligible voters, with the Green Party chosen by about one-in-ten voters here. A closer look shows that the Liberals are much stronger in the Metro Vancouver area than in the rest of the province where there is much more of a two-way contest between the CPC and NDP.

Volatile Electorate:  

A key dynamic the Angus Reid Institute has canvassed over the course of this election campaign concerns the large segment of volatile and uncommitted voters — and this remains a potentially major factor as we head into these final days. Indeed, among those who have yet to vote, fully half admit their party choice is not yet absolutely certain.

Of those who haven’t fully ‘locked-in’ their choice, one-in-three (34%) say they’ll remove any doubt about their final choice this weekend, while almost half (45%) say they won’t actually lock in until voting day itself. What remains to be seen is the rate at which these leaning, but unresolved voters will actually show up at polling stations on October 19 — and of course whether they stick with who they are currently leaning towards or decide to switch at the last minute.

shachi kurl angus reid

Liberal strengths: 

The biggest advantage the Liberals have going into election day is momentum. While Conservative support has remained stubbornly consistent since August, and while NDP support has plummeted, the LPC is the only party on a significant and steady upward trend as Monday looms:

The Liberals also have the most appealing leader in Justin Trudeau. More than half of all Canadians say they find him appealing. On this question, CPC Leader Stephen Harper runs last, with roughly one-third – a number that corresponds to his support base – saying they like him (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%) say they think better of Trudeau now than they did a week ago. 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 has moved farther into positive territory since last week:

trudeau has the momentum

Conservative strengths: 

As has been the case throughout the campaign, the CPC still has the most committed support base. Roughly two-thirds of Conservative supporters (65%) say they’re absolutely certain they will vote for the party’s candidate in their riding, compared to just half of Liberal and NDP supporters who are this firm in their party support.

Indeed, this commitment is reflected in the party preference of those who have already voted in advance polls. Among advance voters, the Conservatives and Liberals are tied at 34 per cent apiece.

Older Canadians – long a key component of the CPC base – are primarily responsible for this result. Those over age 55, and especially those over 65, are disproportionately likely to have voted at advance polls. They also continue to disproportionately favour the CPC:

angus reid institute

This older base is one of the Conservatives’ greatest strengths, because actual voter turnout is historically — and recently — much higher among older voters than among the younger groups.

Because of this variation in turnout across age groups, the Angus Reid Institute reports not only eligible voters’ intentions, but also likely voters (see notes on methodology at the end of this release).

Using our likely voter model, we find the Liberals’ lead over the CPC narrows to a single point. Ultimately, so much will depend on the Liberals’ ability to deliver its vote – a task made more challenging given their relative youth.

Another potential rally point for the Conservatives: Harper remains competitive with Justin Trudeau on the key question of which leader would make the best prime minister (see the additional discussion later in this release).

Anticipated Election Night Outcomes: 

Regardless of how respondents themselves indicate they’ll vote, their views on which party they think will win the election are of note.

On this question, the Liberals again have the momentum. More Canadians think the LPC will win the election (42%) than the CPC (26%) or the NDP (7%).

The top two parties have switched positions since ARI asked this question earlier in October. At that time, one-third (33%) said they expected the Conservatives to win, while only 27 per cent predicted a Liberal victory and 10 per cent picked the NDP:

angus reid institute

While opinion on which party will win the election is still somewhat divided, there is a clear consensus that whichever party wins is not likely to capture a majority of seats in Parliament. Fully two-thirds (67%) of those predicting a winner in the election say they expect the victorious party to form a minority government.

The following graph shows how respondents view each of the parties’ chances for a majority or minority:

angus reid institute

Best Prime Minister:  

On the key measure of best Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau finds himself in a statistical tie with Stephen Harper – the highest he’s been over the course of this campaign:

Angus Reid Institute



While the LPC has the lead and the momentum as voters head to the polls, other factors may lead to shifts in support over the last 72 hours of the campaign. Among them:

  • Late breaking events that either galvanize or turn off voters as they commit to their voting choice. Some examples may be the resignation of Liberal co-chair Dan Gagnier over allegations of inappropriate lobbying, or Conservative rallies attended by Rob Ford. While it is arguably getting too close to the wire for potential scandals or negative reports to create a stampede away from a party, final days are no strangers to significant shifts in support.
  • Vote efficiency: An “efficient” vote distribution is one that spreads a party’s total support over the country or a given region in such a way that it maximizes the number of seats won. Under Stephen Harper, the Conservatives have had a higher vote efficiency than any other party – spreading its share of the popular vote over a collection of ridings won by just a few percentage points more than the runner-up.
  • The “Shy Tory” effect: While many polls – especially those with live telephone interviewers – show the Liberals with a substantial lead over the CPC, past elections in Canada and elsewhere (most recently in the U.K. earlier this year) have yielded higher-than-predicted turnouts for conservative parties. One explanation for this is that supporters of these parties are reluctant to tell pollsters that they plan on voting for them. Whether would-be Canadian Conservative voters have kept mum this time around remains to be seen.

Notes on Methodology

ARI has analyzed this political polling data through two sets of filters.

The data from all survey respondents or “eligible voters” uses standard census-based targets to ensure a national sample that is representative of the adult Canadian population as a whole by key demographics such as region, gender, age and education. All survey results are reported for this total group.

For the vote projection numbers, we also report on “likely voters” where we’ve applied a weighting structure that further adjusts our sample to reflect known variations in voter turnout – specifically across age groups – while also filtering based on respondents’ own identified reported past voting attendance.

We have developed this approach because we feel strongly that it is the responsible thing to do when reporting on electoral projections. With declining voter turnout, there exists an increasingly important divergence between general public opinion – which still includes the still valid views of the almost 40 per cent of Canadian adults who don’t vote — and the political orientation of the 60 per cent of likely voters whose choices actually decide electoral outcomes.

Image Credit – Andrej Ivanov

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693

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