By choosing Justin Trudeau as the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the 104,552 members and supporters who cast a ballot selected the candidate who had the best chance of boosting Liberal support and putting the party back into a position where it could challenge for top spot. The polls have already shown just how much of an effect Mr. Trudeau has had on national voting intentions.
The last polls that were released before the announcement of Mr. Trudeau’s win on Sunday demonstrated a consistent trend in favour of the Liberals, one that had been growing as his victory became more and more assumed. Six of the last 11 national polls before the weekend put the party at 30 per cent or more support. To put that into context, you have to go back 144 polls (to early April 2011) to find six surveys with the Liberals at that level of support.
Every polling firm that was in the field in April has shown gains for the Liberals over the last few months, particularly since January. Compared to their last poll released prior to Mr. Trudeau’s entry into the leadership race on Oct. 2, the growth has been staggering: eight points for Forum, nine points for EKOS, 10 points for Abacus and Nanos, 11 points for Léger, and 14 points for Ipsos-Reid. Those are trends that are hard to ignore.
The chart below shows the general trends in Liberal polling since May 2012. The party was increasing its support slightly as the launch of the leadership race approached, but it was Mr. Trudeau’s entry that seemed to galvanize Liberal numbers. They remained volatile for the last months of 2012, but the numbers have since become more consistent and the trend more pronounced – particularly since Marc Garneau withdrew from the race on March 13 (which made the win a lock for Mr. Trudeau in the eyes of many observers).
The chart also shows where the polls were placing the Liberals in surveys that included his name. These surveys were relatively consistent as well, pegging Liberal support with Mr. Trudeau at the helm around 40 per cent. The polls that did not mention Mr. Trudeau’s name have begun to approach those levels of support. We will see over the next few weeks if the Liberals will in fact push past 40 per cent. However, in all likelihood the “with Trudeau as leader” polls artificially boosted Liberal numbers somewhat, due to the survey questions only mentioning Mr. Trudeau’s name and not those of the other leaders.
The Liberals’ polling numbers have improved in every region of the country, particularly in the last month. The Liberals have led in four of the last six polls in Ontario, something that has not happened since before the 2011 election.
In Quebec, the party has polled at 21 per cent or higher in 13 consecutive polls (and over 30 per cent in four of the last five), something that has not happened since 2009. They have surpassed the New Democrats in most surveys, while the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois remain moribund. And this after polling in the mid-teens for the year after the 2011 election.
The biggest Liberal surge has occurred in Atlantic Canada, where the party is now regularly polling at over 40 per cent support. They were third in the region as recently as the summer.
Growth in the West has been more modest, but Mr. Trudeau has nevertheless boosted Liberal fortunes there. The Prairies are suddenly competitive for the Liberals (they are now polling in the mid-20s, rather than the mid-teens) and have moved ahead of the NDP in most polls in Alberta. In British Columbia, the Liberals have been pegged at 21 per cent or higher in nine consecutive polls, which has not occurred since the 2011 election campaign.
Polling on Mr. Trudeau himself has also been broadly positive: both Abacus Data and Ipsos-Reid have recently shown him either a few points behind or a few points ahead of Stephen Harper on the question of who would make the best prime minster, almost twice as much as Thomas Mulcair’s numbers.
Generally speaking, this puts the Liberals under Mr. Trudeau where they were under Michael Ignatieff shortly after he became leader of the party. In April 2009, the Liberals were leading in the polls nationally (with around 35 per cent support), as well as in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. In the West and in Quebec they posted among the best numbers they have had in the past four years.
Considering where Mr. Ignatieff took the party in May 2011, that may not bode well. Of course, the fate of a very different leader may have little to do with what will happen to the new one. But what it does suggest is that Mr. Trudeau has pushed the party back into the position it had been prior to 2011’s debacle: a party vying for government and the leading alternative to the Conservatives. After its obituaries were being written following its disastrous showing in the last election, that alone is a considerable achievement.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.