Yesterday I wrote about how the signs of the Fall election are starting to be seen. Well another sign of an upcoming election is an uptick in polling and the release of more and more polls. All of the firms are in the field more and more and all start putting out their results on a more regular basis. This has been true for about a month now and the results have mostly been relatively stable in regard to the state of play.
Everyone seems to have their own pollsters that they trust and others that they always find suspect. But there are few pollsters out there who hold a general amount of respect amongst a majority of Canadians. When one of those firms puts out a poll, it tends to get noticed and talked about. And when one of those firms comes back with a big finding, it gets everyone talking. Today Angus Reid, a firm who I count amongst that group of the broadly respected, put out a poll that has got tongues wagging, as much for its headline numbers as the details inside:
For starters, the Conservative number is very similar to what we’ve seen in other polls, so no shockers there. What’s striking is to see the Liberal number falling, all the way to 25%. When was the last time we saw a Liberal number so low? Probably the pre-writ period in 2015. On top of that, the New Democrats and Greens are on the rise, with only 7% separating the NDP from the Liberals for second overall. But it’s when you look at the regional breakdowns where things get really wild:
As usual, the Conservative number is goosed by running up the margins in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and while they lead in BC and Ontario, those are not insurmountable leads. That’s especially true in Ontario, where the Doug Ford effect will surely come to bite at some point. The Liberals only lead in one province, Quebec, where they only have 28%. That’s it. In Quebec there are five parties with over 10% of the vote, which is crazy. If that kind of pattern holds, that will make for some crazy results all over the place. And if you thought that was crazy, look at Atlantic Canada: four parties have at least 22% with only 6% separating 1st and 4th. Of course, that region has a small sample size, so that could very well be the culprit here but still, it’s striking to see that number and what that might actually look like come election time.
For the Liberals, there are many warning signs here that should make the PMO nervous. The Liberals are only first or second in two provinces, Ontario and Quebec, and in both cases, not with strong margins. Everywhere else in the country, the Liberals are running a weak third, pretty solidly behind the NDP, with the Green gaining strength. This is true in BC, the Prairies and the Atlantic region. The next bit of bad news for the Liberals comes here:
Look at that graph people; in this poll the Liberals are only holding onto 49% of their vote from 2015. 51% is looking to vote elsewhere, with the New Democrats being the biggest beneficiaries. Add to that figure that this poll also says 44% who voted for Liberals in 2015 now disapprove of the Prime Minister. Now that number could and will move over time but the over sign here is clear; many former Liberal voters are shopping around and looking for another option. If that were to ever coalesce around a single option, that could be huge. And in a campaign where the Liberals have seemingly wanted to make this a binary choice between the Conservatives and a progressive champion they assumed would be them, this could push people to get around a single party, one that is not the Liberals, and could accelerate this.
If I’m the Liberals, this poll should scare the living heck out of me for many reasons. For one, it confirms something that many have postulated for a while; while Justin Trudeau was the biggest reason for their win in 2015, he has become the biggest drag on his party in 2019. This poll proves that, showing him with 28% approval versus 67% disapproval. That’s a devastating number. Can that turn around? I never say never to these things, but I would argue it isn’t very likely. Also, this poll confirms that progressive voters who are not happy with the current government and are looking at their options. This gives the NDP and Greens a gold chance to make their case to the people, which is a stark different from six months ago when this upcoming election looked to be baked in as a Conservative/Liberal fight. It seems that the whole SNC/PMO might have been the straw that broke the camels back for progressives. And add to this that both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott haven’t made their decisions where to go yet. Their decisions about their political futures could further goose these figures, helping to send more progressives in a direction thanks to their credibility and how well the public views them.
Finally, if I were in the PMO, I would be asking myself if a change of course is due or if it’s too late to do that. The Prime Minister has found himself offside with half of those who voted for him last time, which is so striking to see. Can they correct that course in a way that will be believed? That’s harder to picture. One sole scandal didn’t bring the Prime Ministers approval numbers to that point; it had been building over time and was waiting for something to break it all free. That came with the SNC scandal. I’ve always been of the view that you can’t undo that kind of damage with a simple 180% change of political direction, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be tried. To pull that off, you need to have credibility in the eyes of the voting public, and right now this Prime Minister is serious lacking that. We’ll see where this all leads but this poll is sure to give a shot of energy to some parties, while should lead one in particular to ask itself some serious, introspective questions.