Monday, January 7, 2013

Angus-Reid gives two-point edge to Tories

On Friday, Angus-Reid released its latest federal numbers giving the Conservatives a narrow two-point advantage over the New Democrats in national voting intentions. They also included some numbers on the federal Liberal leadership race, showing that Justin Trudeau remains Canadians' favourite choice.
Angus-Reid was last in the field quite some time ago, between June 15-16 of last year. The Conservatives, at 35%, picked up one point since then while the New Democrats were down two points to 33%. The Liberals were unchanged at 19%.

The Greens were up one to 6% while the Bloc Québécois was unchanged at 6%. Another 2% said they would vote for other parties. None of these changes in support appear to be statistically significant.

Angus-Reid has been around now for a very long time and has had a lot of success, but their reports still leave something to be desired. Regional sample sizes should be a minimum, while unweighted samples would be great. It should not be a problem for Angus-Reid to do this, as their poll on Scottish independence that was released today includes a great deal of methodological information that the firm does not include in its Canadian reports.

The Conservatives led in Alberta with 55% support, followed by the NDP at 18% and the Liberals at 13%. Fourth in the province were the "others" at 8%, up seven points since June. That is an unusual result. The Tories also led in the Prairies with 57% to the NDP's 23% and the Liberals' 11%. That is a very low number for the New Democrats, the lowest since an Angus-Reid poll in May (going back 27 surveys). In fact, the lowest result that the NDP has registered since the 2011 election, 20%, was also by Angus-Reid. For some reason, the NDP can do very poorly in Angus-Reid polls in the Prairies.

The Conservatives were also ahead in Ontario with 36% to 35% for the NDP and 23% for the Liberals, and were up in British Columbia with 43% to 30% for the NDP and 16% for the Greens, a gain of nine points since June for that party. The Tories were also in front in Atlantic Canada with 38% and trailed by the NDP at 31% and the Liberals at 29%. The Greens dropped eight points to 2% in the region.

The New Democrats led in Quebec with 40% support, and were followed by the Bloc Québécois at 23%, the Liberals at 20%, and the Conservatives at 13%.
While the margin between the Conservatives and NDP was very small nationwide, the Conservative advantage in western Canada is crushing in the seat projection.

On the 338-seat map, the Conservatives would win 180 seats and a majority government, with the NDP winning 115, the Liberals 38, the Bloc three, and the Greens two.

The Conservative majority is really built in the West, thanks to dominating performances in the Prairies and British Columbia. This shows how essential strong NDP numbers in these two regions are if the opposition is to keep the Conservatives to a minority. It is a problem for the New Democrats if they win 83% of their seats in Ontario and Quebec, leaving 86% of the seats in the four western provinces to the Conservatives.

Angus-Reid included some approval rating numbers, showing Stephen Harper's approval rating virtually unchanged at 37%, compared to 54% disapproval. Thomas Mulcair managed 44% to 34% approval/disapproval, also steady, while Bob Rae dropped six points to 32% approval against 43% disapproval. Elizabeth May was unchanged at 35% approval. At 47%, she had the highest approval rating of the four leaders in British Columbia.

In terms of the Liberal leadership race, Angus-Reid shows that Justin Trudeau is still seen as a good choice by many more Canadians than his opponents, and he improves the Liberals' numbers dramatically. But the numbers also hint to a little stagnation, while Marc Garneau and, to a lesser extent, Martha Hall Findlay have improved their own numbers since June.
45% of Canadians think Trudeau would make a good choice as Liberal leader, up three points since June. Another 26% think he would be a bad choice, up two points. Those who are not sure stood at 29%, down five points. He is certainly gaining renown, but that renown is not improving perceptions (or hurting them).

But Marc Garneau was up eight points to 31% as to whether he would be a good choice, while his bad choice score dropped three points. He is still unknown to 56% of Canadians, but whereas Trudeau is not gaining any ground as he becomes better known as a candidate for leader, Garneau is making a good impression - even among those who had originally thought he would be a bad choice for leader. That is a positive sign for the former astronaut.

Hall Findlay's good choice score doubled to 12%, while 14% (-2) thought she would be a bad choice. Nevertheless, 74% of Canadians were still unsure. For Joyce Murray, Deborah Coyne, Karen McCrimmon, and George Takach, too many people were not sure of who they are or what they think of them to make their numbers very meaningful. It does seem, though, that about 1-in-10 respondents thought that their lack of renown made them a bad choice for leader.

But while Garneau does seem to be gaining some ground on Trudeau, he has actually lost ground on how his leadership would influence voting intentions. With Justin Trudeau as leader, the Liberals would take 42% of the vote in an election held today, compared to 26% for the Conservatives and 19% for the New Democrats. He takes nine points from the Tories and 14 from the NDP, almost certainly winning a large majority government on these numbers. The 42% is even an improvement on the 40% he registered in June's poll.

Garneau, on the other hand, would boost Liberal numbers to only 24%. That is four points less than he did in the June poll. The Conservatives take 32% and the NDP 27%. With Hall Findlay, she does not improve Liberal numbers at all. They stay at 19%, but the Tories drop to 33% and the NDP to 29%.

Why? The poll seems to show growing levels of frustration on the part of the respondents with the questions. Trudeau on the ballot sent one point's worth of decided voters to the "other" parties, boosting them to 3%. That rose to 6% with Garneau on the ballot and 8% with Hall Findlay. It is almost as if respondents were getting fed up with the questions. Why didn't these people say they were 'not sure'?

The hypothetical Trudeau numbers also seem to exasperate a lot of people in the commentariat. Did you know that François Legault was also polling really well before he launched the CAQ? If you didn't (or even if you did), I can find a few dozen people to tell you so.

That sort of approach misses the point. Will 42% of Canadians be willing to vote for Trudeau when he becomes leader? Probably not - unless he does extraordinarily well in the next few months. Undoubtedly, once a little reality meat is thrown on to the hypothetical leadership bones the numbers will change.

But what the 42% shows is that Canadians are open to voting for a Trudeau-led Liberal Party. It does not mean that their support is in the bag. But it does mean that Canadians will be paying attention, and that is something any political leader should desperately want. The question is what Trudeau would do that with that extra attention. Will he squander it and disappoint a large proportion of that 42%? That is what happened with François Legault and the other examples of new leaders who saw their stellar numbers plummet to Earth. It is a very high bar and that is why most new leaders don't live up to the hype. The challenge is to capitalize on as much of the opportunity that is presented as possible. Can Trudeau boost the Liberals to 42% in 2013? Probably not. But he can he boost them to 30%? That's where his candidacy becomes interesting.