Friday, January 15, 2016

Liberals still well ahead in Abacus federal poll

The latest federal numbers from Abacus Data show the Liberals continue to be in fine form, though their honeymoon surge at the end of 2015 has dissipated a little.

The Liberals led in the poll with 45%, followed by the Conservatives at 28% and the NDP at 17%. Compared to Abacus's previous poll from November, the Liberals are down four points, the Conservatives are up four points, and the NDP is up one.

This follows the pattern also recorded by Forum Research since the election — the Liberals down a little from towering heights as the Conservatives recover their base of supporters. The NDP, however, remains at a very low level of support.

In other words, the gains the Liberals have made since the election have come from the NDP. As I've written in a few recent columns for the CBC, that is potentially a sustainable path to a few terms in government for the Liberals as it replicates their numbers from the Jean Chrétien years. It may seem like the NDP is in better form than at that time, but in reality what we're looking at is a lot of Bloc support from the 1990s and early 2000s now in the NDP column. That doesn't hurt the Liberals much at all.

Abacus also has some numbers on the government's approval rating. It remains high, though disapproval is catching up on approval (both are up).

One of the interesting bits from Abacus's polling is the breakdown of where Canadians place themselves on the political spectrum. The Liberals are doing disproportionately well in the centre and on the centre-left, while the Conservatives are doing disproportionately well on the centre-right and right. The NDP is doing best on the left and centre-left, but it does not dominate this part of the spectrum like the other parties dominate theirs.

I asked David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, if he could break down each party's support by the left-right spectrum. He obliged:

This chart shows just how much of the country is in the centre (or at least thinks it is). But it is also a very revealing look at the make-up of each party.

The Liberals are indeed the 'centrist' party, but they are pulled much more to the left (30%) than they are to the right (12%).

The Conservatives are much more of a centre/centre-right party than the Liberals are a centre/centre-left party, with a substantial right-wing. Just 8% of Conservatives consider themselves left-of-centre, while 49% think of themselves as right-of-centre.

The NDP still has a large portion of supporters considering themselves centrists, but they are pulled to the left more than the Liberals (39%, including 14% who are just on the left).

It shows with numbers what we already know — useful since it backs up conjecture with hard evidence. The Liberals are a centrist party that leans towards the left. The Conservatives are a centre-right party, and the NDP is a centre-left party.

The results for the Greens are illuminating. The Greens are sometimes considered a bit of a centrist party when the environment is left out of things, but their supporters do not seem to agree entirely. The party is clearly centre-left, with the largest portion of people who consider themselves leftists among the five parties. The Greens look a lot more like the NDP than they do the Liberals, though the Greens do have the largest proportion of right-of-centre supporters, by a narrow margin, apart from the Conservatives.

The Bloc is also a centre-left party, sitting somewhere on the spectrum between the Liberals and the NDP. And for all the noise about the niqab, only 9% of Bloc supporters seem themselves as right-of-centre.

Nevertheless, for the Bloc and Greens we're talking about small sample sizes. But it does help us put them on the political spectrum: from left-to-right, this chart suggests the parties should be placed with the NDP first, then the Greens, Bloc, Liberals, and Conservatives.

On an unrelated note, I wrote about a new by-election poll for Oshawa–Whitby here.


  1. It looks to me as if the Tories are simply drawing from a different pool of voters than the rest of the parties are, while the others all fight over the same group.

    1. Looking at the comparison of the Canadian breakdown to party support, the CPC has the majority of Right and Centre-Right (65.3%), while the LPC has the majority of Centre-Left (63.5%), but they also lead support in the Left (38.6%) and Centre (48.3%), while being second in the Right (27.0%) and Centre-Right (22.5%). The CPC is only second is Centre support (21.9%).

      One thing I don't like about the left-right spectrum is that it doesn't allow for the variations of Red Tories, etc. (Socially conservative, economically liberal and vice versa).

      Also, it'd be interesting to categorize people according to answers to questions rather than self-reporting.

    2. Indeed, the right-left split is largely useless.

      I identify as right-wing, but I'm a pretty hardcore libertarian strongly opposed to most social conservatism.

      Really, Donald Trump is great for this, because he espouses traditionally extreme (to an insane degree) right-wing ideas on some issues (immigration, foreign policy), but he also supports single-payer health care and access to abortion, traditionally left-wing views (though in Canada those are both solidly centrist), thus breaking the scale.

      We should stop using the right-left descriptors.

  2. Looking at the Undecided data is very revealing. While the PC hold the lead amongst individuals that are 'Certain' of their leaning (39% to 33%), they trail heavy in the 'Unlikely' to lean category (63% to 5%). 'Likely' is in favour of the OPC (13% to 28%) and 'Might' is in favour of the PC (40% to 4%), but both have a majority of undecided.

    I would say this means the OLP has more upside, if they can get the vote out.

  3. I appreciate this. It helps me to see where I fit and how that compares to the rest of the country. You made the comment that most of what's left of the NDP support is coming from former Bloc supporters. Is there a graph or chart to illustrate this based on data that was accumulated? I think that statement is politically significant.

    1. I meant that the biggest difference between the support levels of the NDP from the Chrétien-Martin years is that they've picked up about 15 points' worth of support in Quebec from the Bloc.

  4. While the Greens tried to assert that their ideology is neither "left" nor "right", any reading of their detailed policy document, Vision Green (, shows very clearly that they are in fact somewhat to the left of today's NDP in many domains of public policy. For example, they favour withdrawing from NAFTA (pg. 166), a policy that many New Democrats would share but that the party as a whole has not been willing to advocate.

    In my view, the reason the NDP has failed to resonate with Canadians is that they have not had the courage of their convictions and have been unwilling to face down the corporatist mainstream media and blogosphere by talking past them to Canadians. The NDP has tried to be all things to all people, instead of writing off that portion of the commentariat that will never, under any circumstances, support them. The NDP has accepted many of the underlying assumptions of neo-liberalism, just as New Labour did in the UK, instead of loudly announcing that we are social democrats and proud of it. Canadians figured out that instead of voting for mice pretending to be cats, they'd just vote for the cats.

    It's long past time for the mice to once again campaign as mice, and for socialists to campaign as socialists.

    1. The problem for the NDP is they are no longer mice. Mulcair is a lwayer, Layton was a third generation politician, most of their candidates were solidly middle or upper middle class-The NDP leadership and elite are identical to that found in any other party. The NDP is composed of corporatists!

      If they get rid of Mulcair in April they may have a chance otherwise, expect the Greens to continue to campaign on the left of the NDP and take away more votes.

    2. Here's the thing, though, jerrymacgp, that seems to escape most people proliferating the ideal of "returning to roots" among UK Labour or the NDP - New Labour, or moderate new Democrats, win.

      They don't win every time of course, but every time they do is one more win than an unreconstructed party has ever had. And as Paul McEwan said, the NDP hardly has a base of hardcore democratic socialists left, they exorcised the Waffle decades ago and embraced the "corporatist" world. Whatever party you're advocating for here doesn't exist my friend.

    3. Jerrymacgp,

      As the chart above demonstrates a majority of Canadians consider themselves to be centrists. Less than 20% of Canadians place themselves on the left side of the spectrum so, campaigning on the extreme left or right is unlikely to produce a government. The majority of voters land on either side of the median voter. Brokerage parties not ideological ones win!

    4. All the parties at this point are either populist right wing like the Conservatives or centrist to centre-left like the Greens, Liberals and NDP.

      All have accepted free trade and globalism and are for neoliberal economics.

      The only thing that distinguishes them is the messaging in elections and the groups that they go after.

      For the NDP to remain relevant, they need to keep their party united and make social democracy necessary in today's society. All Western democracies are moving left wing within social democratic parties or new parties are springing up that are anti-austerity, anti-globalist and democratic socialist. The NDP accepted free trade during the time of Alexa McDonough and Audrey McLaughlin. Most of the complaints back in the 90's I feel were based on the way that NAFTA got instituted. The same goes with the US-Canada free trade deal. As a Canadian nationalist, I have to agree!

  5. The point here may be that an accumulated perception and arguability of a neoliberal economic consensus of the mainstream does make political and electoral counteraction from the ideological Left a possibility. Reconstruction (i.e. third way) is important for the NDP and UK Labour, however, because it provides a context by which they can calibrate their electoral success with the more pragmatic notion of "progressive", and moving it from neoliberalism towards broadly acceptable communitarian values. This would be desirable, even if it meant holding power less often than might be possible with a blanket socialist program in a politically polarized environment.


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