Election 2015: NDP leads, but CPC’s base is most solid

Election 2015: NDP leads, but CPC’s base is most solid

Nearly one-in-three Canadians choose a Liberal-NDP coalition as the most preferred election outcome

August 26, 2015 – As the 2015 general election in Canada closes out the first month of campaigning, the New Democratic Party (NDP) carries momentum – and the lead – among likely voters.

But lest “Orange Crush” angus reid institutedrinkers
get too excited, new polling data also shows both Conservative and Liberal campaigns with advantages they’ll be looking to build on in the weeks ahead.
For the Conservative Party (CPC), it is the notable solidifying of its vote base. For the Liberal Party (LPC), a notable jump in favourability for leader Justin Trudeau.

The Party Standings: 

An online survey of more than 6,000 eligible Canadian voters – analyzed and released by the Angus Reid Institute – indicates the NDP ahead by a nose in the national horserace, with 36 per cent of decided support among likely voters (see notes on methodology at the end of this report), four points ahead of the governing Conservatives (32%), while the Liberals pull up third at 23 per cent.

Perhaps reflecting the fact that the electorate is squeezing out the last of summer, these results are statistically unchanged from data released by the Institute in June.

These latest survey findings show the NDP and leader Tom Mulcair holding their own in the first four weeks since the writ was dropped – and in the wake of the first leaders’ debate held Aug. 6. Despite what has been generally viewed as a competent campaign thus far for the LPC and Trudeau, the party remains stuck with about one-fifth of the likely vote. And while the Conservatives have taken a pounding in the news cycle, seen their leader’s credibility come into question in the wake of testimony from the Mike Duffy trial, the party’s fortunes among those most expected to cast a ballot haven’t fallen. Neither, however, have they improved.

The Uncommitted: A Key Advantage for the Conservatives  

While political junkies may sift the tealeaves for what these – and many other – polling results actually mean so early in the race – one picture begins to emerge: the CPC may not have gained much momentum with the electorate at large, but it has spent the summer successfully locking in an already largely committed base.

Indeed, the number of uncommitted voters in Election 2015 is significant. Each wave of this poll asks respondents not only which party they intend to support, but also how certain they are that they will vote for the party (versus changing their mind before election day). The most recent wave shows the uncommitted comprising roughly half the electorate (50%), slightly lower than the 56 per cent measured in June.

The reduction in the ranks of the uncommitted may be explained in the graph below: as each party has managed to build on the number of committed – or certain – voters over the last two and a half months.

The next graph shows the significance of this “locking-in” for the Conservative Party. In the case of the NDP and the Liberals, support is essentially split between committed voters who say they won’t budge – and “soft” voters who leave themselves the option to switch parties between now and Oct. 19 (55% versus 45% NDP and 52% versus 48% Liberal respectively).

But the CPC enjoys the advantage of its committed vote outnumbering its soft vote by a margin of nearly three-to-one: 74 to 26 per cent.


Second Choices: Who Stands to Gain Most?

In a campaign as long as this one, gaffes, twists and surprises can change the direction, momentum and ultimate outcome of the election result. When something goes wrong enough for a party leader to turn supporters off entirely, voters’ second choices take on more significance.

At the end of month one, the NDP and Liberals have the most advantage on second choice:

  • The NDP: picked by one-third (34%) of soft CPC voters and nearly two-thirds (61%) of soft Liberal voters as second choice
  • The LPC: picked by 28 per cent of soft CPC voters and half (50%) of soft NDP voters
  • The CPC: second choice of just one-in-ten soft LPC voters (10%) and about the same number (11%) of soft NDP voters.

Preferred election outcomes:

Given their second-choice options, it may come as little surprise that Canadians also choose an NDP-Liberal coalition as the most preferred of likely election outcomes.

With polls and seat projections pointing to one of the closest elections in this country’s history, respondents were asked about five possible outcomes to the election that appear – based on polling analysis – to be more probable than others at this stage of the campaign. The Angus Reid Institute listed these five possible for those surveyed:

  • A Conservative majority
  • A Conservative minority
  • An NDP majority
  • An NDP minority
  • An NDP-Liberal coalition government

It was this latter response that respondents opted for more than others, but in essence, Canadians were split three ways between a coalition, an NDP majority, and a CPC majority. These follow general voting intention preferences. Totals for all five choices may be seen below:


The clear preference in these results is for a government with the seats necessary to form a majority, which makes sense – partisans would prefer to see their party dominate than eke out a narrow victory.

The relatively high level of support for a coalition comes largely from those who are inclined to support the Liberals in the upcoming election. Almost three-quarters (73%) of this group favour a coalition, despite the fact that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has repeatedly rejected such an arrangement.

The Regional Picture:

Election 2015 has been described as a series of provincial elections across the country – with niche campaigns created for key regional battlegrounds. The sample size of this poll – well over 6000 respondents – enables the Angus Reid Institute to provide rich data sets on voter preference, not only in terms of national voter intent, but provincially and regionally too.

The NDP remains in the lead in British Columbia, though the gap between it and the second-place Conservatives has shrunk slightly:


In Alberta, the Conservative lead remains as commanding as ever, while the bump the federal NDP experienced after Rachel Notley’s victory in the provincial election has kept it ahead of the Liberals in second place:


Likewise, the Conservatives still hold commanding leads in Saskatchewan and Manitoba:



In Ontario, the race has remained tight since the national NDP surge began this spring. In fact, it’s gotten tighter:


Unlike Ontario, Quebec has seen the gap between parties widen and stay wide. A narrow majority of Quebecers now say they support the NDP, while the re-emergence of Gilles Duceppe as the leader of the Bloc Quebecois has had no practical impact on that parties fortunes in la belle province.


Atlantic Canada remains the only region where the Liberals hold a lead. Although it has narrowed in recent months, it remains a sizeable one. This sounding also finds the NDP ahead of the Conservatives in the region for the first time since before the 2011 election:



Leaders’ Favourability and Momentum 


Asked whether they have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of each of the party leaders, almost two-thirds of Canadians (64%) say they have an unfavourable view of Stephen Harper, while majorities express favourable views of the other leaders:

  • Mulcair leads the way with 63 per cent favourability
  • Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has the next-highest favourability rating (53%)
  • And Trudeau is a close third, with just over half the population (52%) expressing a favourable view of him

Fully two-fifths of respondents (41%) say their opinion of Harper is “very unfavourable,” nearly triple the total reporting a “very favourable” view of the Conservative leader (15%).

Among soft voters, nearly seven-in-ten (69%) have an unfavourable view of Harper, roughly the same number as have a favourable view of Mulcair (71%). Soft voters also tend to be more favourable toward Trudeau than the general population (61% favourable among soft voters, compared to 53% overall). 


The general pattern seen in favourability ratings is also reflected in each leader’s “momentum score” –derived by subtracting the percentage of people reporting that their opinion of a leader has worsened in the last three months from the percentage who say it has improved.

  • On this metric, there is reason for Justin Trudeau and his Liberals to be sunny. Though his score remains in negative territory (-3) significantly more people have an improved view of him view of him since June – up by 13 points since June. Indeed, 24 per cent of respondents report seeing him in a better light over the course of the summer
  • Stephen Harper enjoys no such warmth from Canadians: his credibility bruised as a result of conflicting testimony from the Duffy trial (56% reported a worsened impression of him last week) the PM’s current momentum score is -39. This represents a decline from the -35 he registered in June, and -28 in March
  • While Tom Mulcair remains the only main party leader with a positive momentum score (+9), his momentum has actually declined more than Harper’s off five points since June:


Best Prime Minister:

Mulcair is viewed as the federal leader would make the best prime minister – 29 per cent of Canadians now say so. The NDP leader’s fortunes have changed substantially since March, when just 16 per cent reported him as their top choice, well behind incumbent Stephen Harper, who held a seven-point lead on his closest challenger at the time, Justin Trudeau (30% to 23%).

Where Mulcair has gained, Harper and Trudeau have ceded ground.

  • Roughly one-quarter (26%) say Stephen Harper is still the best man for the job. Harper has trended downward in the past six months (see chart below).
  • Trudeau, who last held a lead on this question in February 2014, is now the choice of 18 per cent of Canadians.
  • 21 per cent of Canadians are yet unsure whom would be the best person in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Best on Key issues:

Just one issue dominates Canadian minds in this election: the economy. Fully two-in-five (42%) list it as one of the two most important issues facing Canada today, up significantly from the 30 per cent who listed it as such back in June.

The percentage of respondents choosing the economy as a top-two issue is more than double the 20 per cent who choose each of the next two most-selected issues: “jobs/unemployment” (itself a type of economic concern) and “health care.”

The dominant position of economic issues in the minds of Canadians could bode well for Harper’s re-election effort. More respondents (29%) see him as the best party leader on the economy – the highest endorsement among the three main party leaders.

But Mulcair isn’t far behind on this key metric. One-quarter (25%) of Canadians see Mulcair as best on economic issues. The NDP leader has narrowed the gap between he and Harper on this question since June, when 30 per cent chose Harper as best on the economy and 22 per cent chose Mulcair.

The percentage of people who choose Trudeau as best leader on the economy has also ticked up slightly, from 15 per cent in June to 17 per cent.

On other issues:

  • Mulcair is seen as best on health care (32%), well ahead of both Harper (20%) and Trudeau (15%)
  • Harper is still seen as best to deal with crime and public safety, capturing the confidence of nearly one-in-three Canadians (30%), well ahead of Mulcair (19%) and Trudeau (15%)
  • He leads by a similar margin on the issue of foreign affairs. Some 29 per cent choose Harper, compared to 21 per cent who choose Mulcair and 17 per cent who choose Trudeau
  • The only metric on which Trudeau holds an advantage over Harper and Mulcair is “promoting unity among French and English Canadians” (28% versus 13% and 21%, respectively)
  • Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is seen as the best on the environment by a wide margin. One-third (33%) of respondents choose her on this issue, compared to less than one-fifth who choose Mulcair (17%), Harper (14%), or Trudeau (11%)

A Note 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 gender, age and education and region. 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.

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693

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