When it was released around the official start of the federal election campaign, a Liberal television ad in which Justin Trudeau directly addresses the Conservative criticism that he's "not ready" raised eyebrows among some political veterans.
But despite a common view that politicians should not repeat opponents' attacks against them, the ad appears to be a hit with people who see it – helping the Liberal Leader sell himself as a champion of the middle class, which he had trouble doing.
In the latest instalment in a series of surveys testing voters' reactions to parties' campaign ads, Innovative Research Group found that the spot – in which Mr. Trudeau, walking with Parliament Hill in the background, pronounces himself "not ready to watch hard-working Canadians lose jobs and fall further behind" and ready instead to raise taxes on the rich – is far more effective than the Liberals' advertising earlier this summer. In fact, it appears to be one of the most effective ads run by any of the parties thus far in the runup to the Oct. 19 vote.
The polling company has in recent weeks shown a total of 10 election ads, including offerings from each of the three major parties, as well as a couple of third-party groups, to more than 2,000 randomly selected participants in an online panel. The ads are rotated so that each participant focuses primarily on one of them, with a series of questions asked both before and after he or she sees the ad in order to gauge its impact.
In the case of the Liberals' main prewrit ad, in which their leader was shown mingling with a middle-class family, that impact was negligible. It produced no statistically significant changes in either voting intentions or impressions of Mr. Trudeau. (Full results and detailed methodology of the voter surveys are available at innovativeresearch.ca).
By contrast, when respondents were shown the Liberals' newer ad for the first time, support for the party went up by 10 percentage points from beforehand. That put it up there with the two other most impactful ads, according to the survey's findings, the Conservative ad attacking Mr. Trudeau as "not ready" and the prewrit NDP ad introducing Mr. Mulcair by having him speak to voters from a coffee shop. (Read more research about Conservative attack ads against Mulcair.)
As for how it affected perceptions of the leaders themselves, the share of respondents who ranked Mr. Trudeau as the most competent leader and the one who most "cares about people like me" went up by six percentage points each. Where the ad seemed to have an especially big impact was on the question of which leader will "stand up for the middle class," with selection of Mr. Trudeau going up 17 percentage points – the single biggest perception shift registered by any of the 10 ads screened so far, on any question.
Innovative Research managing director Greg Lyle, a former strategist for parties that included the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and the British Columbia Liberals, flagged that last metric as particularly significant. "This has been an NDP strength," he said on Monday. "Closing the gap is very helpful to the Liberals."
Mr. Lyle also highlighted that the movement to the Liberals after the ad was seen, in terms of both party support and positive perceptions of the leaders, came fairly evenly from those who initially supported the Conservatives and the New Democrats. "The Liberals have a two-front war, and this helps them on both fronts," he said.
The ad will not be viewed in isolation by most voters the way it was in the survey, and it remains to be seen if it will have much impact in the campaign's broader context. The Conservatives appear to have overwhelmed the other parties with their advertising spend, particularly with variations of their spot in which actors portraying people on a job-interview panel skeptically review Mr. Trudeau's credentials – the only ad that most participants in Innovative Research's survey said they had already seen.
But after struggling to push back against that attack as their poll numbers declined during the first half of this year, the Liberals appear to have at least landed on a response that helps their cause. Considering Mr. Trudeau repeated his "not ready" rebuttal in the campaign's first leaders' debate, and is using variations on the hustings, Liberal research is no doubt pointing in the same direction.