Justin Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada one year ago this week. When that happened, his party moved ahead in national voting intentions. He has yet to relinquish that lead.
The latest polls give the Liberals about 36 per cent support and an eight-point advantage over the governing Conservatives. In 48 polls conducted since Mr. Trudeau became Liberal Leader on April 14, 2013, his party has led or has been tied for the lead in all but two of them. The Liberals are up five points on where they stood a year ago, eight points on where they were in the month before naming their new leader, and 14 points compared to the support the Liberals enjoyed in September 2012, just before Mr. Trudeau announced his intentions to run for the leadership.
Track record of Harper and Mulcair
Those numbers compare quite favourably to his two main opponents. A year after taking over the New Democrats in March 2012, Thomas Mulcair's party was back in third place and down eight points from its peak in May and June of that year. One year after becoming the first leader of the newly merged Conservative Party, Stephen Harper was still trailing Paul Martin's Liberals by a significant margin. His support even dropped a year after becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002.
The Liberals have now held a lead in the polls for a full year, the longest period the Conservative government has trailed in second since being first elected in 2006. Jean Chrétien's majority Liberal governments of the 1990s and early 2000s never trailed in the polls for any length of time (even if combining the support totals of the Progressive Conservative and Reform/Canadian Alliance parties). The last time a majority government trailed in the polls for as long as the Conservatives have was in the last years of Brian Mulroney's tenure.
Where Liberals lead
The Trudeau Liberals have enjoyed, and sustained, surges in support throughout the country. In the electoral battleground of Ontario, where the party currently has about 40 per cent support, the Liberals have improved markedly on the 27 per cent they managed in September 2012. In 51 polls conducted in the province since Mr. Trudeau became leader, the Liberals have led or been tied for the lead in 42 of them.
In Quebec, where the Liberals sank to just 14 per cent support in the 2011 election, almost 30 points behind the victorious New Democrats, the party is now at about 34 per cent and benefitting from an eight-point edge over the NDP. That is down slightly, however, from the 36 per cent the party averaged a year ago or the 40 per cent the Liberals peaked at in May 2013. Nevertheless, in 62 polls in the province over the last 12 months, the Liberals have led or been tied for the lead in 52 of them.
No region has swung more dramatically towards the Liberals than Atlantic Canada, where roughly 53 per cent of voters support the party. While that is up marginally over the 48 per cent of a year ago, in September 2012 the Liberals were at just 28 per cent in the region and trailing by 12 points. They now enjoy a 32-point lead.
The West has embraced the Trudeau Liberals less enthusiastically, but the party still has significantly higher levels of support than they did before Mr. Trudeau became leader. In British Columbia, the Liberals are currently about seven points higher than the 28 per cent they managed a year ago, while in March 2013 the party had just 22 per cent support in the province. After registering 13 per cent support in Alberta before Mr. Trudeau threw his hat into the leadership ring, the party is currently at 24 per cent. And in the Prairies, the Liberals have about 28 per cent support, equal to where they were a year ago and nearly double their support of September 2012.
But do they like him personally?
The gains the Liberals made when Mr. Trudeau became leader have been retained one year later, and in some cases have been improved upon. The situation is slightly less positive at a personal level, however.
The same proportion of Canadians see Mr. Trudeau as the best person to be prime minister as they did a year ago (about 30 per cent, two points up on Mr. Harper). His approval rating is also static: it averaged 44 per cent in the two months after his leadership victory, and has averaged 45 per cent in the last two months. But his disapproval rating has increased, from an average of 26 per cent in April-June 2013 to 36 per cent in February-April 2014. That higher disapproval rating has come exclusively from those who have formed an opinion over the last year.
But on the whole, the first year of Mr. Trudeau's leadership has been a positive one for the Liberal Party. The surge in Liberal support can no longer be dismissed as the kind of honeymoon a new leader routinely enjoys now that it has been sustained for 12 months. But will it hold for the next 18?
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.