Skip to main content

Prime Minister Stephen Harper.The Canadian Press

For the first time, some Conservatives are whispering what had previously been impossible to say out loud: what comes next for the party after Stephen Harper? But if the Senate scandal has put a dent in the Prime Minister's popularity among Conservative voters, it has yet to register significantly in the polls. Instead, it is possible that Thomas Mulcair is taking advantage of the opportunity.

Over the last six months, Mr. Harper's approval ratings have averaged around 29 per cent among all Canadians, well behind his opposition rivals. The approval ratings of Mr. Mulcair have averaged about 37 per cent and those of Justin Trudeau almost 47 per cent.

But among the people who intend to vote for their respective parties, Mr. Harper scores better than either of his opponents.

Since Mr. Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party, the Prime Minister has averaged about 84 per cent approval among Conservative supporters. That puts him marginally in front of Mr. Trudeau, who has averaged an 82 per cent approval rating among Liberals, but well ahead of Mr. Mulcair, who has averaged 64 per cent. The NDP leader has also averaged the highest disapproval rating among his own party's supporters, at 13 per cent to 10 per cent for Mr. Harper and 5 per cent for the Liberal leader.

The Prime Minister's approval ratings among Conservatives has remained quite stable over the last 18 months, with only a slight downtick since the beginning of 2013. Polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of the re-ignition of the Senate scandal at the end of October showed no significant changes in his approval rating among Conservatives.

Among the general population, however, the Conservatives have taken a hit. While Mr. Harper's support among Conservative voters has held steady, that pool has been shrinking from roughly 35 per cent of poll respondents in 2012 to 30 per cent in 2013. But though there have been fewer people saying they support the Conservatives recently, those who have stuck with the party seem as happy as ever with Mr. Harper.

There has been much less stability in the NDP leader's approval ratings among New Democrats. This is to be expected considering he is still a relatively new leader. His approval ratings among New Democrats stood at barely over 50 per cent when he first became leader, but that was primarily due to the 40 per cent or so who said they were unsure of what they thought of him. As those New Democrats did form an opinion, however, his approval rating increased to over 60 per cent. Nevertheless, some 20 to 25 per cent of New Democrats still say they are not sure whether they approve or disapprove of his performance as opposition leader.

That might be changing, however, and it may not be a coincidence that it comes on the heels of his strong performances in Question Period. After his initial introduction, Mr. Mulcair's approval ratings among New Democrats had stood between 60 and 70 per cent for most of 2012, when support for the party ranged from 35 per cent in the spring and early summer to around 30 per cent in the fall.

Mr. Mulcair's ratings dropped to below 60 per cent, however, as the party dropped to its current level of national support of around 24 per cent and as the Liberals moved ahead in the polls. But in the last few surveys that have been conducted, Mr. Mulcair's approval ratings among New Democrats has increased to about 79 per cent. That puts him in the same ballpark as the other two leaders, with a disapproval rating of only 7 per cent. Whether this was a fluke in the polls will be borne out in the coming weeks, but it does bode well for the NDP.

Just as it has been impossible to ignore the Liberal surge in the polls (from the low-20s in 2012 to the mid-30s and the national lead over the last seven months), it is equally impossible to ignore the effect that Mr. Trudeau has had among his own party's supporters. Bob Rae, who held the title of interim leader before the end of the party's leadership race in April, averaged an approval rating of about 62 per cent in the 12 months before he gave up the job to Mr. Trudeau, and a disapproval rating of 17 per cent. But that support for the party leader surged by 20 points when Mr. Trudeau arrived, with the disapproval rating being cut by more than two-thirds.

It is also worth noting that Mr. Trudeau's notoriety among his own supporters has been significantly higher than Mr. Mulcair's, despite having been in the job for a third of the time as the NDP leader. The number of Liberals who say they are unsure of their opinion of Mr. Trudeau is closer to Mr. Harper's score among Conservatives, and he has led the party for almost a decade.

There is a possibility that Mr. Trudeau's approval ratings took a bit of a hit in October, dropping from around 87 per cent to 83 per cent. But, again, whether this is part of a trend or just a blip remains to be seen.

It would seem that Stephen Harper is at little risk of being pushed out by his own party's supporters – they still think he is doing a good job. Justin Trudeau also appears to be secure among his own base, something that Liberal leaders have not enjoyed for some time. But after 18 months in office, Thomas Mulcair had not connected as powerfully with his own party's supporters. If that is now changing in part due to his grilling of the Prime Minister over the Senate scandal, it may put the three parties on a level playing field going forward.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at