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Politics Most Canadians see Trudeau through a telescope, not a microscope

Bruce Anderson is the chairman of polling firm Abacus Data. He has done polls for Liberal and Conservative politicians but no longer does any partisan work. Other members of his family have worked for Conservative and Liberal politicians, and his daughter works for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On the day the 2015 election campaign kicked off, one of Ottawa's most senior and respected journalists suggested to me that the Trudeau campaign had made a grave error in the opening hours.

He thought the Liberals would miss the initial "news cycle" and lose ground to their opponents who were staging launch events for Ottawa media while the Liberal leader was on a plane to Vancouver to attend a Pride Parade he'd signed up for much earlier.

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Looking back, it's easy to see that the Liberal choice did them no harm.

In the end, the Liberals stormed Vancouver, adding more than a dozen new seats. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair cancelled his attendance at the Pride Parade to do a rather stiff event by the Ottawa River. No doubt Mr. Trudeau's first event was worth more votes.

The fellow I was talking with was hardly alone in wondering how the Liberals could choose to ignore an opening day Ottawa platform. Even though a record long campaign lay ahead.

Journalism is accelerating its coverage of everything. Thanks to the in-the-second urgency of social media, and a frantic search for a viable business model for journalism, news is presented as though everything matters to everyone – every moment of the day.

But when it comes to political news, most people form their judgment at a calm, almost leisurely pace.

Looking at polling patterns throughout 2015 and here's what you see.

1. The Conservatives traded in the 29 per cent to 33 per cent range, rarely below or above that.

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2. The NDP pulled about 10 points from the Liberals after Alberta's election, and gave them back to the Liberals by election day.

Those of us who follow politics closely notice many things and hear many arguments that could affect voter support. Most simply don't end up having a large or sustained impact. That was certainly the case during most of the Harper years.

Wright, Duffy, Wallin, Calandra, Poilievre, Alexander, Carson, Kory, Fair Elections Act, Muskoka boondoggles, fighting with veterans, "barbaric cultural practices" snitch lines (add as you see fit)…what was the net effect?

Here's a rough way to look at it. In 2008, 38 out of 100 people voted Conservative. After seven years of heavy opposition shelling, just eight of the 38 walked away.

No single event brought the Conservatives low. And "low" is relative.

In recent weeks, if you only followed news about politics via Twitter, you could surmise that things were coming unglued for the new government.

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Some of the women in Cabinet are only ministers of state! Didn't Trudeau lie about gender parity?

All the Trudeau selfies in Turkey.…did he do any serious work?

We're getting no details on how Canada will screen refugees. Is anyone thinking this through?

It's a very good thing that we've got a energetic, questioning media. But voters dismiss outrage if they feel it is rote or out of proportion.

Normally, events in politics are ignored by one in three people. Another third simply don't want to evaluate their politicians constantly. The social media platforms involve mostly the other third – those most interested and often most partisan, too. This segment can present a false image of what mainstream Canada is thinking.

Media scrutiny of politics can feel like it's handled with a microscope. Meanwhile, the audience for political news – (the Twitterati excepted) – like a telescope view. From a greater distance, details matter less. Only big change is noticeable.

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Twitter is useful for political hobbyists and professionals. But it can convey a false sense of public fascination with in-the-moment detail, and an incorrect assumption that political peril or victory lies just around every corner, every day.

There's no telling whether Mr. Trudeau's current level of support will endure for six months or six years. Nobody's popular forever.

But it's a safe bet that most people won't be judging the government in hourly, daily or even weekly instalments. They'll be alert to the bigger, long-term picture, not the smaller, in-the-moment details.

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