Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Strong Liberal results in poll, with or without Trudeau

A new poll from Léger Marketing shows very strong results for the Liberal Party of Canada, even without Justin Trudeau's name being mentioned. When he is added to the mix, the poll continues the trend of a big boost in Liberal fortunes, over-and-above the usual honeymoon that new leaders can usually expect to enjoy.
We don't often hear from Léger at the national level. The last coast-to-coast poll from the firm was released in December. The Conservatives slipped four points to 31% since that poll, putting them well within the range of where other polls have put the party since the beginning of February.

The Liberals picked up an enormous 12 points, however, putting them at 30% and only one point behind the Tories. The New Democrats managed 24%, a drop of six points and their worst result in any poll since the 2011 federal election campaign. Is this a fluke or a sign of things to come?

The Greens fell two points to 7%, putting them even with the Bloc Québécois. All of these changes in support would be outside the margin of error of two polls of this size with random samples.

These are remarkable numbers for the Liberals, but not altogether unusual. This is the third of the last four polls to show the Liberals at either 29% or 30% support. But to give them a six-point lead over the NDP is certainly a change of pace.

At the regional level, the Liberals were up throughout the country compared to Léger's December poll, with double-digit bumps in British Columbia, Alberta (+12 in both), Quebec (+11), and Ontario (+15). The poll actually puts the Liberals ahead in that last province, the first non-Nanos poll to do so since April 2011.

The numbers should be of great concern to both the Conservatives and NDP, as they come without a mention of Justin Trudeau's name. The numbers in Quebec are particularly problematic for the New Democrats, as this represents an 11-point drop from Léger's December poll, but also from their February poll of 1,024 Quebecers. Léger has generally given the NDP higher numbers in Quebec than their non-Quebec competitors, and that always suggested that the lower numbers recorded by Ontario-based firms might have been off the mark. For Léger to show such a poor result should be very worrying to the New Democrats.

Unusual numbers can generally be seen as outliers until proven otherwise, however, so hope is not lost for the NDP. We will have to see what CROP says in their next poll, which we should probably see before Léger reports again. It would be helpful, though, if CROP reports before Justin Trudeau becomes Liberal leader.
And this is why. Léger shows that under Trudeau, the Liberals surge to 37%, pushing the Conservatives down one point to 30% and the NDP down four points to 20%. This compares quite favourably to Léger's Trudeau poll in December, which put the Liberals and Tories even at 31% under his leadership and the NDP at 24%.

Regionally, Trudeau boosts the Liberals only slightly in the western provinces but pushes the party up by 10 points in Ontario and 15 points in Atlantic Canada. He puts the party narrowly ahead in Quebec as well (though, interestingly, the NDP's numbers improve slightly there).

But without Trudeau, the Liberals are still in a strong position and would be well-placed to form the Official Opposition.
With Léger's non-Trudeau numbers, the Liberals take 109 seats to 131 for the Conservatives, 55 for the New Democrats, 42 for the Bloc Québécois, and one for the Greens (all on the 338-seat map).

This makes it difficult for the Liberals and NDP to combine for a coalition government, however, as it puts them five seats short of a majority. The poor showing for the NDP in Quebec (and the small improvement for the Bloc) tips the balance and puts the opposition in the same awkward position of needing Bloc support as in 2008.
There is no such problem with Trudeau's numbers, however. His party takes 146 seats to only 124 for the Conservatives, 35 for the New Democrats, 32 for the Bloc, and one for the Greens. Together, Trudeau's Liberals and the NDP command 181 seats, more than the 169 needed for a majority.

But Trudeau's arrival makes things easier for the Conservatives in the west. Though they drop two points in British Columbia, they win 28 seats instead of 20 as the New Democrats take a big hit that the Liberals cannot turn into seats. They also win two more in the Prairies. Overall, the Conservatives win 10 more seats in the west while the Liberals only win one more and the NDP drops 11.

But the Liberals win their plurality in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada (as they used to). With 71 seats in Ontario, they replicate what the Conservatives did in 2011. They are not able to supplant the Bloc in Quebec, however, as the Liberals have trouble making gains outside of the Montreal area. Most of those battles are between the NDP and the Bloc, but the New Democrats have been hamstrung by Trudeau. 

It makes for a very different political landscape, one that seems to have been constantly transforming over the last two years. Can these hypothetical numbers be dismissed? It would be easier to do so if they were not so consistent. In 10 polls since the end of October from Forum, Angus-Reid, and Léger, the Conservatives have always registered between 29% and 33% against Trudeau, while the NDP has always been between 19% and 24% (and only as high as 22% since December). In seven of the polls, the Liberals under Trudeau have managed between 37% and 42%. 

Maybe this will all disappear once Trudeau actually becomes leader, but he has been increasingly seen as the obvious winner for several months now and he has been getting plenty of media coverage. Things should not change too much once it becomes official, at least at first. But where will things go after that?