Federal Politics: Pre-Writ period shows narrow gap between incumbent Liberals and CPC challengers

Federal Politics: Pre-Writ period shows narrow gap between incumbent Liberals and CPC challengers

Climate change, Indigenous and economic issues replace COVID-19 response as top of mind

July 16, 2021 – Active speculation that the country is no more than a month away from a federal election campaign means political leaders are already trying to pierce the long-deserved summer reverie of Canadian voters.

In the earliest days of this horse-race, new data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds that would-be voters put the parties most likely to end up forming government in a statistical tie – with the incumbent Liberals under leader Justin Trudeau a mere two points ahead of the Conservative Party led by Erin O’Toole (33% versus 31%). The NDP remains in third place at 20 per cent, with the Green Party (3%) and Bloc Quebecois (7%) in single digits nationally.

These numbers come as focus on the Trudeau government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic falls to its lowest point since the crisis began.

Handling of the pandemic has been a relative strength for the Liberal government over the last year and a half. Now, just one-in-five (19%) identify it as a top issue, down from 45 per cent in March. Replacing this issue in the public consciousness are matters of climate change, economic recovery, the size of the deficit, and Indigenous issues, the latter of which has picked up notable traction in recent months.

And while issues may galvanize voters, they appear to be less inspired by the leaders in main contention. As the favourability of Trudeau and O’Toole decline, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet enjoy slight net positive favourability.

As for the prospect of another Liberal victory – the nation is split. While few say they’d be “thrilled” (6%), a significant segment say it’s an outcome that would leave them “content” (33%). The rest are less sunny about it: one-quarter would be unhappy with that result (25%), while close to three-in-ten would be distraught (28%).

More Key Findings:

  • While the Liberal lead is slim, it is concentrated in key regions of the country. The party leads the CPC by four points in British Columbia and Ontario, and is competitive with the BQ in Quebec, well ahead of the Conservatives.
  • Prime Minister Trudeau has an approval rating of 40 per cent this quarter. Just nine per cent strongly approve of his performance, while 39 per cent strongly disapprove.
  • Three-in-five Canadians (58%) have an unfavourable view of CPC leader Erin O’Toole, the highest level since he took over leadership of the party


About ARI

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.



Part One: Top Issues

  • Top national issues

  • Which voters care about what – and where?

Part Two: Federal leaders

  • Trudeau approval

  • Opposition leaders

Part Three: Vote intention

  • Competitive picture sees Liberals lead by two points

  • Regional vote intent

  • Age and gender

Part Four: Feelings about a third Liberal victory?


Part One: Top Issues

When a federal election is called this year, it will take place in an exceptional time in Canadian history. The nation is coming out of – and actively working to prevent the prolongation of – a once-in-100-year pandemic that has dominated the lives of potential voters for nearly 18 months. As COVID-19 loosens its grip on Canadians, their priorities are shifting to other issues, including another potential global crisis in climate change and the urgency of stimulating an economy that dipped into the worst recession since the Great Depression amid lockdowns and closures.

Top national issues

As nearly 80 per cent of the eligible population has been jabbed with at least one dose of a vaccine — with half having received two — and as countrywide daily case counts plunge to levels not seen since last summer, concern for COVID-19 has plummeted down the list of issues Canadians care most about.

Even as recently as June, the coronavirus response was the second highest priority for the public. Now, just one-in-five Canadians say it is among their top three broad concerns for the country. In its stead, health care and climate change have risen to their own level of heightened priority, followed by key economic issues:

In the face of continuing confirmations of the number of unmarked graves at former residential schools across the country, Indigenous issues continue to be prioritized at levels much higher than those noted over the past 18 months.

Which voters care about what – and where?

The country, however, is not unified in its concern over the environment. Albertans are primarily concerned with the economy, the energy sector, and the federal deficit. Those in Saskatchewan also put these three issues at top of mind, while every other region of the country prioritizes climate change among its top three concerns. Conspicuously absent from the regional priorities list is COVID-19 response. That issue does not rank in the top three in any region of the country:

Priorities also vary for different party supporters. The economy, and issues related to it including the growing deficit and taxes, top the list for those who say they will support the Conservative Party. Potential Liberal and Bloc Quebecois supporters are more keyed into discussions about the future of health care, while all non-Conservative voters currently rank climate change among their top three national concerns:

Part Two: Federal leaders

Trudeau approval

A majority continue to disapprove of the Prime Minister – even as half of Canadians now say he has done a good job of handling the pandemic. Over half (56%) say they moderately disapprove or strongly disapprove of him, while just 40 per cent say they strongly approve or moderately approve:

Strong disapproval of Trudeau is also at a pandemic peak and is nearing a return to pre-COVID-19 levels when over 40 per cent of respondents strongly disapproved of him:

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While over half of all age and gender groups voice net disapproval of Trudeau, he enjoys the most support from women aged 55 and older, importantly, the largest voting block in the 2019 election. That said, among the second largest voting block, men over the age of 55, he enjoys the strongest disapproval, with two-thirds saying they moderately or strongly disapprove of him:

Opposition leaders

Little has changed for Conservative leader Erin O’Toole over the last month. While his 58 per cent unfavourable mark is a new low (or high) since he took over party leadership, opinions towards him are statistically identical to those from June as he continues to experience an overall unfavourable view from the electorate:

O’Toole’s unfavourability is at majority levels among all age and gender groups, though men over the age of 54 offer him a 43 per cent favourability – his highest such mark:

The Liberals and Conservatives can only look enviously at the favourability of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet. Both enjoy net favourable ratings amongst the electorate (Blanchet in Quebec only). On the other hand, and more importantly, Bloc and NDP supporters may in turn look enviously at Liberal and Conservative vote intent levels.

Meanwhile, voters aren’t warming up to embattled Green leader Annamie Paul, whose party is considering revoking her membership as the fight over her leadership grows ever more public, and publicly uncomfortable. While two-in-five (39%) don’t know enough to form an opinion, slightly more (42%) see her in an unfavourable light:

Jagmeet Singh’s net favourability is driven by younger demographics, in particular women under the age of 35. Within this group, 64 per cent view him favourably, while just 21 per cent disagree:

In terms of net favourability, only Jagmeet Singh and Yves-Francois Blanchet receive a positive score. Each of the other three major federal party leaders are much worse off:

Part Three: Vote intention

Competitive picture sees Liberals lead by two points

Federal vote intention is competitive, with the Liberals and Conservatives locked in a neck-and-neck race. One-in-three (33%) say they would vote for a third Liberal term if an election were held, while 31 per cent would support the opposition CPC. Despite having the most optimistically viewed leader, the NDP garners just 20 per cent of the vote:

The picture remains largely unchanged from recent snapshots. The largest gap between the Conservatives and the Liberals this year was in January, when five percentage points separated the two parties. Even at the peak of the Liberals’ pandemic climb in May 2020, the gap between the two parties was six percentage points:

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Regional vote intent

The regional picture also looks familiar since ARI last checked in. The Conservatives continue to enjoy majority support in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and a plurality of support from Manitobans, while the three-way NDP-CPC-Liberal split in B.C. has narrowed since June.

In Ontario and Quebec, the Liberals fare well. Trudeau’s party leads by four points in Ontario and leads the Bloc Quebecois in Quebec by three. Importantly, the CPC generates the support of just 16 per cent of voters in Quebec.

Age and gender

Each party will enter a potential election with its own demographic strengths and weaknesses. The Liberals lead by a considerable margin among women over the age of 34, while the NDP hold the advantage with younger women. Men of all ages show a preference for the CPC, though among young men all three parties receive considerable support:

Part Four: Feelings about a third Liberal victory?

Reflecting Trudeau’s majority disapproval noted above, feelings about the prospect of another Liberal victory inspire more anger than euphoria, a far cry from the “Trudeaumania 2.0” of the 2015 election.

Just two-in-five would be pleased with a Liberal majority.

Meantime, 25 per cent say that result would leave them “unhappy” while nearly three-in-ten say they would be outright “distraught”:

Interesting, though they say they would support the Liberal Party if an election were held, just one-in-five supporters of the incumbent party would be thrilled if it resulted in a majority. Half of NDP supporters say a Liberal majority would be fine with them, while CPC voters are near unanimous that it would result in very negative feelings for them:

The people unhappiest about the possibility of a Trudeau majority are in Alberta and Saskatchewan (where the CPC enjoys majority support). A majority in Alberta (57%) and half (49%) in Saskatchewan say they would be “distraught” by that outcome, while those in Ontario and on the east coast in the Atlantic provinces would be happiest if that came to pass:

A plurality of women of all ages, and of men under the age of 35, would be “content” with a Liberal majority, while a plurality of men age 35 to 54 and men over the age of 55 would be “distraught”:

Survey Methodology:

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from July 14-16, 2021, among a representative randomized sample of 1,625 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.0 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI. Detailed tables are found at the end of this release.

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

To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here.

For the full questionnaire, click here.


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

Dave Korzinski, Research Director: 250.899.0821 dave.korzinski@angusreid.org

Image Credit – Erin O’Toole, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons