Thursday, November 12, 2015

First post-election poll is not bad for the Liberals

The first post-election poll is out, and it is a doozy.

Does a poll conducted four years before the next federal election mean a lot? No. Of course, it says nothing about the next election and, really, has no impact on where things stand today. But it is an indication of how Canadians are reacting to the new Liberal government. And before you say "It's only Forum", remember that Forum nailed the election results almost exactly.

Oh, and it marks the first salvo in what will undoubtedly be a barrage of Conservative leadership polling that we will see between now and the date that the next leader is actually chosen.

The poll gives the Liberals the support of 55% of Canadians, an enormous number that the Conservatives never managed in any poll throughout their tenure. My records only go back so far and are incomplete the earlier they go, but even back in the days of 2002 and 2003, when the Liberals faced a divided opposition and the coming Paul Martin juggernaut was poised to deliver Liberal rule for the rest of time, the party was only polling at around the 50% mark.

The Conservatives have dropped down by seven points to 25%, a number they were flirting with in the dark days of the Mike Duffy scandal. The New Democrats have also dropped by a similar amount, down to just 12%, a score that brings them back to the earliest days of Jack Layton.

The numbers in this poll are just astounding: 61% for the Liberals in British Columbia, 56% in Ontario, and 58% in Quebec (the Conservatives, remarkably, are holding firm in Alberta and the Prairies). The NDP takes the brunt of the hit in most parts of the country, down to just 11% in Quebec. All told, these numbers would likely deliver around 245 to 280 seats to the Liberals, with the Conservatives taking 55 to 90 and the NDP less than 10.

This poll does not look like a normal honeymoon poll, or at least not like one the Conservatives ever saw after their election victory. The two post-election polls in 2011 taken at about the same time after the vote as this Forum poll (by Abacus Data and Harris-Decima) gave the Conservatives between 38% and 40% support, identical to the 39.6% they managed on election night. Instead, the NDP was up a little to 33%, dropping the Liberals to 15% to 16% support. There was no honeymoon — just a confirmation of where people stood a few weeks earlier, with maybe a little NDP uptick at the expense of the Liberals.

Polling averages, 2009-2015
The significance of this new poll should not be exaggerated, as its significance is minimal. But there are some worrying signs in these numbers for the New Democrats. Thomas Mulcair's approval rating is now a net -5, after being a robust +17 even in the last week of the campaign. Justin Trudeau has gone from a +9 to a +40, with Canadians approving of him by a margin of 3 to 1.

More problematic for the NDP is that a lot of their supporters seem perfectly fine with the Liberal victory. Fully 53% of current NDP supporters approve of Trudeau, compared to 62% who approve of Mulcair. And 18% of NDP voters say they are very satisfied with the election's outcome. That increases to 72% when we include those who say they are somewhat satisfied.

Of course, much of this satisfaction could merely be with the defeat of Stephen Harper. And Trudeau is at a very high risk of losing much of this new support if he doesn't deliver entirely on his progressive rhetoric. Nevertheless, the NDP has some work to do to convince its traditional supporters that while Trudeau might sound good to them, Mulcair and the NDP remains the real deal.

MacKay leads the name-recognition primary

Perhaps more significant (and we're still talking low significance here) were Forum's numbers on the Conservative leadership race. As he has been in Conservative leadership polling for the entirety of Stephen Harper's time in the job, Peter MacKay was at the top of the list.

Among all Canadians, MacKay was the choice for Conservative leader of 29%, more than double the next most popular candidates.

These were John Baird and Rona Ambrose at 14% apiece, despite the fact that Baird has ruled himself out and Ambrose has been officially ruled out due to her becoming the interim leader.

Next, at 11% each, were two Alberta MPs: Jason Kenney and Michelle Rempel. Scoring below 10% was Kellie Leitch (9%), Tony Clement (7%), and Rob Nicholson (6%).

Among Conservative supporters, MacKay was still well ahead of the pack at 32%, followed by Baird at 18%, Kenney at 16%, and Ambrose at 12%.

Do these numbers mean much? Not really — as the former leader of the Progressive Conservatives and one of the Tories' most high-profile cabinet ministers he should be expected to have the most name recognition. In fact, it is somewhat impressive that Rempel and Leitch, who were both only elected for the first time in 2011, scored as well as they did, beating out such fixtures of Conservative politics over the last decade or more like Clement and Nicholson.

There was some regionalism in the numbers, with the former Nova Scotia MP MacKay scoring best in Atlantic Canada and Kenney and Rempel doing significantly better in Alberta than they did nationwide.

And in terms of gains or losses, if any can be determined, it does seem like Ambrose's rise to the interim leadership of the Conservative Party has helped her. The last Forum poll asking the question in May 2014, if we exclude those who were undecided in that survey (as that was not an option in this one), had Ambrose at 8% among all Canadians, compared to 14% today. MacKay dropped from 38% to 29%, while Kenney, Baird, and Clement (the only other names to be in both of these polls) had no movement of any significance. So, possibly MacKay has lost a little lustre in the eyes of Canadians, or there is just too much apples-to-oranges comparisons here to make anything of it. I'll lean towards the latter.