Liberals hold slight lead over Conservatives, but their edge evaporates among most likely voters

Liberals hold slight lead over Conservatives, but their edge evaporates among most likely voters

February 17, 2014 – The first in a series of national polls from Angus Reid Global tracking support for Canadian political parties and leaders indicates a literal battle for the ages – and a statistical tie between the Liberals and Conservatives among likely voters.

In spite of polls showing Liberal support ahead of the Conservatives, closer inspection shows a much tighter race when voting turnout factors are applied.


Post-Budget results

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau carries support into his party’s upcoming convention, with 33 per cent of eligible voters saying they would choose a Liberal candidate if an election were held tomorrow. This represents a five-point lead over the Conservative Party of Canada (28%) and puts them seven points over the NDP (26%).

However, among those who are likely voters, the Conservatives under Stephen Harper fare better: those identified as likely voters put the Conservatives in a statistical tie with the Liberals, with the CPC at 32 per cent, the Liberals at 31 per cent, both ahead of the NDP (26%).

In this survey, most reporting is based on eligible voter analysis, except when referring to questions about party standings, in which case likely voter analysis is reported. The broad trends in leader approval ratings and party perceptions are almost identical for both eligible and likely voters. But on the key issue of voting intentions, there are important differences which challenge many conventional assessments of the political landscape. For more information about the differences between eligible voter and likely voter analysis, see the methodological note in the full report.

Where They Stand Today:

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives:

Voters who handed Prime Minister Stephen Harper his coveted majority election win in May 2011 have significantly soured on the Conservative leader in the ensuing three years. But his regional strength and base of older voters remain intact, and on one critical measure a large section of the electorate still sits on the sidelines. It is there that Conservative salvation may lie.

Harper’s job performance ratings are weak.

57 per cent of eligible Canadian voters disapprove of the job he’s doing, while 36 per cent approve.

58 per cent of Canadians also say it is time for a change in government. This includes more than half of eligible voters in key battleground regions (60% in BC, 55% in ON, 67% in Quebec).

Fewer than one in ten Canadians say their opinion of the PM has improved in the last three months (8%) compared to almost half (47%) who say their opinion has worsened.

Still, Harper and the Conservatives maintain a number of ‘magic arrows’ that may bolster some confidence.

Although nearly two-in-five eligible voters feel that Canada is on the wrong track (38%), the other sixty per cent either believe the country is either on the right track (30%) or are uncertain (32%) at this point. This level of uncertainty is unusual and suggests significant opportunity for Harper, despite his unpopularity, to stress the risks associated with a change in leadership.

The Conservatives maintain a committed and solid vote base – two-thirds (67%) of eligible voters who say they’ll support the party in the next election also say they’re “very certain” about their choice.

The Conservatives still hold a powerful grip on older voters, a demographic that is far more likely to vote. Among voters aged 18-34, Conservative support sits at 21 per cent, increasing to 28 per cent among those 35-54, and rising to 34 per cent among voters aged 55 and older – the age group much more likely to actually go out and vote.

Justin Trudeau and the Liberals:

There is little denying the prospects of the Liberal Party of Canada are looking much better than they have in a long time, led by a new leader who isn’t afraid to try new and different things. But improved fortunes do not necessarily lead to election victory.

The Liberals’ five point lead among eligible Canadian voters over the Conservatives (33% to 28%) turns into a one point deficit when the numbers are crunched to reflect the preferences of most likely voters. Trudeau has much work to do.

Heading into his party’s biennial convention in Montreal this week, the Liberals have reason to be of good cheer.

On the question of who is carrying momentum at the moment, the answer is Trudeau: his job performance ratings are positive, with half (51%) of eligible voters saying they approve, compared to 38 per cent who say they disapprove

One third (32%) of eligible voters say their opinion of Trudeau has improved in the last three months compared to one fifth (22%) who say their opinion has worsened.

But the Liberals have not yet locked down the electorate.

On the question of best party to form government, the Liberals (32%) are in a statistical tie with the Conservatives (31%) among eligible voters.

In Ontario, once the most dependable and abundant source of support for the Liberals, it is the Conservative party that leads. In the GTA, Conservative support edges Liberal backing among likely voters (39% to 35%) and there is a similar lead for the CPC across the rest of the province (37% to 33%).

Although Trudeau wins on the question of who would make best the Prime Minister, earning the nod from 36 per cent of eligible voters, it is by a fairly slim margin compared to Harper (32%). (NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair gets the nod from 22 per cent of Canadians on this issue.)

Once again, regional factors remain an area of concern for the Liberals. While party support has rebounded appreciably across the country – in the case of BC and Alberta support has doubled from the party’s popular vote turnout in the 2011 election – the Conservatives still lead in all but two regions: Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

In Atlantic Canada it is the Liberals ahead (58 per cent of likely voters), although here – the strength of their lead does the party less good than it would were such support diffused more evenly through Ontario, Quebec and BC.

Thomas Mulcair and the NDP:

The NDP – which made history in the last election by vaulting into Official Opposition status – remains in the mix. The party’s current 26 per cent support among likely voters is almost in range of its 2011 breakthrough.

Among the key dynamics shaping NDP fortunes: the party has a relatively strong showing with likely voters (26%), a handful of points behind the Liberals (31%) and the Conservatives (32%).

Thomas Mulcair’s approval ratings are at a net positive. Just under half (45%) of eligible voters approve of his job performance, compared to 35 per cent disapproval. Mulcair also inspires less strong disapproval from respondents than Justin Trudeau.

The party leads support among likely voters in Quebec (36%) and is in a stronger position to challenge the Conservatives in British Columbia.

Three key areas highlight potential weaknesses for the party’s ability to hang onto Official Opposition status, let alone form government.

Youth vote: given lower voter turnout among younger vs. older voters, it is not necessarily good news for the party that NDP support is 33 per cent among those under 35 and declines along the generations to 26 per cent among those 35-54 and down to 22 per cent among voters over 55. (Critically, it is the 55+ voters who are twice as likely as younger voters to cast a ballot).

Voter certainty and softer base support: 42 per cent of eligible voters who say they’ll support the NDP in the next election also say they’re “very certain” about that choice. Compare this to firmer numbers for the Conservatives (66%) and the Liberals (55%).

Nearly three-in-ten (28%) eligible voters who say they’ll support the NDP in the next election also say their opinion of Justin Trudeau has improved in the last three months (compared to just 7 per cent of Conservative leaning voters). Perhaps more worryingly, almost one-in-four (23%) of those who are leaning NDP think Trudeau would make the best Prime Minister.

Notably, in a January Angus Reid Global poll, slightly more past NDP voters (70%) said they approved of Trudeau’s maneuver to sever ties with Senators in his caucus than past Liberal voters (68%). Though Mulcair is credited with a steady and impressive job in the House of Commons in exposing the Conservative government’s weakness on this issue, it seems his efforts are not quite paying off.

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