Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How the leaders stack up, literally (almost)

In my column today for the CBC, I compared each of the party's approval ratings by looking at polls conducted since mid-June. The crux of it is that Thomas Mulcair's numbers are good and getting better, Justin Trudeau's are middling and getting worse, and Stephen Harper's are bad and not improving. Click on the link for the full analysis.

It is interesting to do a regional comparison of the leaders, though, to see how they stack up. In the chart below, I've ordered the three leaders according to their net approval ratings (approval minus disapproval).

The first thing you see is that there is a clear order for the three leaders. Mulcair is on top, Trudeau in the middle, and Harper at the bottom. This is because Mulcair's approval ratings are all a net positive, Trudeau's are mostly breaking even, and Harper's are mostly negative.

But there are a few interesting divergences from this.

Start with Mulcair. His approval rating in Quebec is stellar, and it is also very good in British Columbia. This is important as these are the NDP's two keys to a minority government. But he also has good scores in Atlantic Canada and Ontario.

His popularity drops off in the West, however. He is less popular in the Prairies and Alberta than Trudeau is in Atlantic Canada and British Columbia, while he ties Harper in Alberta. That latter score is actually quite good, relatively speaking. Harper is from Alberta after all.

For Trudeau, he only has good numbers in Atlantic Canada, where he is more popular than Harper is in any part of the country. The same can be said for his modest result in British Columbia. He breaks even in Quebec, the Prairies, and Ontario, but that puts him low on the table.

His very low score in Alberta, though, suggests the party may not have bright chances for a breakthrough. Albertans dislike Trudeau as much as Ontarians dislike Harper. Only in Quebec, British Columbia, and Atlantic Canada, where Harper is deeply unpopular, does anyone score worse than Trudeau in Alberta.

For Harper, none of these numbers are very good. Even his net +2 in Alberta is worrisome for the Conservatives, as that is supposed to be their fortress. His low scores in battleground provinces like Ontario and British Columbia do not bode well for a Conservative re-election, and he is plumbing the depths of unpopularity in Atlantic Canada.

If there is a silver lining for Harper, it is that he leaves few people unmoved. That means that his low scores still give him an approval rating of 30% or more in Alberta, the Prairies, and Ontario. Enough to keep him competitive, if those people who approve of him go out and vote for him. But he's a long way from a majority government at these numbers.

Just for fun, let's calculate how each of the parties would do if they could replicate their leaders' approval ratings in every region of the country. To do this, I've reduced (or increased, as need be) the support of other parties equally to accommodate for the adjustments.

For the Conservatives, they would still be in it - but only just. The Conservatives would win 127 seats, putting them nearly in a tie with the NDP and far from majority status.

That might seem pretty good, considering how bad Harper's numbers look and where the Conservatives stand in the polls right now. But when we compare it to what Mulcair's and Trudeau's approval ratings would produce, we see how far Harper trails.

If the Liberals replicated Trudeau's approval ratings at the ballot box, the Liberals would fall just short of a majority - but close enough that it would still be possible. They'd win 165 seats, taking 65 in Ontario, 35 in Quebec, 25 in Atlantic Canada, and 21 in British Columbia. The NDP and Conservatives would be in a tight race for runner-up spot.

It would not be nearly as competitive in the NDP's scenario, though. If the NDP replicated Mulcair's approval ratings, the party would win a landslide. The model would give the NDP 257 seats, with the Conservatives and Liberals splitting 80 seats between them. The NDP would win all but three seats in both B.C. and Quebec, and almost 100 in Ontario. If Mulcair's approval rating represents a ceiling for the NDP, then the sky is (nearly) the limit.

This simple exercise shows how Mulcair and Trudeau are draws for their party, whereas Harper does about as well as his party is doing. After more than 11 years as leader, Canadians may see Harper and the Conservative Party as inseparable.