Earnscliffe Election Insights: Issue #7

Earnscliffe Election Insights: Issue #7

Down to the wire

With just six days to go until next Monday’s election, we have reached the final stretch in the campaign.

  • The well-worn arguments used by the parties to entice support from voters have now been sharpened and narrowed into the final ballot questions, and ridings across the country that are on the bubble are being visited by the leaders for the last time.
  • The last-minute advertising blitzes of all parties are now in full swing.
  • Across the parties, the Get Out the Vote operations are being fine-tuned in advance of voting day, and the various party war rooms are emptying out to work in the ridings with the tightest races.
  • Among the leaders, it’s going to be personal, at times bitter, and noisy!

So, what should we be looking for?

Strategic voting

Strategic voting has long been a feature of Canada’s multi-party political system. The reasons are obvious: with several parties in contention, the votes attracted by third, fourth and fifth parties can significantly influence the results, threatening to overcome a presumed front-runner or moving a second-place contender ahead with the finish line in sight.

Proponents of strategic voting ask voters to put aside their first preference in favour of another objective for a combination of negative and positive reasons—to prevent one of the leading parties from achieving government, to ensure a strong opposition “to keep the government accountable,” to support a set of views “that deserve to be heard in Parliament” or to prevent a “wasted vote.” With the polls predicting a very close result on Monday, it was inevitable we would hear calls to vote strategically in the final days of the campaign, and they’re now growing louder.

Last Thursday, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh offered a creative response to counter calls for strategic voting, highlighting six key priorities that would have to be addressed by any government that emerges on October 21. “These are the six things that we’re going to sit down and say, ‘We need action on these six things, otherwise we’re not going to be able to move ahead,” he said.

On Sunday, Mr. Singh waded further into strategic voting by indicating he would be prepared to join a coalition with the Liberals in order to prevent Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives from forming government.  On Monday, he walked that statement back, saying “That was not my position.  My focus is not on a coalition. I’m not negotiating the future today.  Today, I’m telling Canadians what they can do…if you vote for a New Democrat, you know our priorities and where we stand.”

Repeatedly asked for a comment on Mr. Singh’s coalition ideas, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau refused to take the bait: “Our focus is on electing a progressive government, not a progressive opposition, and ensuring that we stop Conservative cuts.”  Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s reaction was predictable too: “My message to Canadians is this—only a Conservative majority can prevent a government with Justin Trudeau as the spokesman but the NDP calling the shots.”

Where the leaders are this week

As the race heads ever closer to the wire, each leader’s best hopes and worst fears in terms of electoral outcomes are being revealed in the final few days.  Every party starts the campaign with a series of lists that summarize their assessment of the state of play in each riding and grouping them under headings like these: “hold/possible win,” “must save,” “up-for-grabs” and “no hope.”

These lists are updated as the campaign unfolds and adjusted accordingly. Ridings rated as “sure wins” at the start can become doubtful and move to the “must save” category. A rising electoral tide or a strong candidate for a party can switch a riding from “up-for-grabs” or “no hope” to “possible win.” Based on where the leaders are choosing to campaign this week, we are seeing how they rate their chances, and where there’s more work to be done to secure a tight win, score an upset or save the furniture.

Spending and cutting

The Conservatives and the NDP released their full platforms with Parliamentary Budget Office costings last Friday.

The Conservative platform contained some significant surprises that could influence the concluding days of the campaign. In order to finance their tax cuts and spending promises while returning to balanced budgets in five years, they promise to cut direct program spending by more than seven per cent. This opens them up to predictable demands that they reveal the programs and services that would be cut to find the necessary savings.

In addition, the Conservatives propose to delay infrastructure spending by rolling it into the future with spending to be increased after 2030.  That’s an interesting sleight of hand, but in practical terms, it means cuts of $18 billion to infrastructure spending over the next five years and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities was quick to complain.  Finally, the Conservatives promise to reduce federal government non-salary operating expenses by six per cent over five years, but it’s hard to see how this target could be achieved without reducing staff or programs.

The NDP platform forecasts a deficit of $32.7 billion for next year and summarizes the all-in cost of its 70 new spending measures at $35 billion by the fiscal year 2023-24. The spending and taxation plan provided no projected date for a return to a balanced budget.

In releasing his platform, Mr. Singh argued that his party’s proposed tax and spending measures were necessary and sustainable.  But Mustafa Askari of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy said the “historic” tax increases and spending increases proposed by the party “come with significant economic and fiscal risk” and that “these objectives are very difficult to achieve without causing significant disruption in the economy.”

The back-weighted ad-buy

Advertising plays a key role in spreading the messages of political parties in an election and in placing specific platform promises and issues before potential voters.  For the final week of the campaign, the parties “back-load” their respective ad buys for maximum effect, starting two or three weeks in advance of election day and increasing sharply for the last few days.

The heaviest buys are still for TV, for both big program ads and major sports events (NHL, CFL and NFL), and on smaller cable outlets that allow for much more targeting. Also, expect to be bombarded with radio ads if you live in a volatile suburban riding where commuting traps you in your car morning and night. These may be both very current and somewhat pointed as the parties make trade-offs between production value and the need for quick turnaround in the final days to respond to late-breaking events and changing context. They may also include negative shots directed towards the leaders and certainly will include appeals to vote strategically.

Television and radio ads are often released publicly by the parties and are relatively easy to see and hear, but less visible are the huge number of ads that target voters either collectively or individually via various social media platforms.  According to Facebook:

  • As of October 8, the Liberals had spent a total of $540,000 on Facebook advertising since June, with $114,000 spent in the period of October 2-8 alone.
  • The Conservatives spent $785,000 on Facebook in the same period, with a ramp-up of $245,000 in the first week of October.
  • Reflecting their fiscal capacity, the NDP numbers were lower, but show a similar trend: $219,000 from June to October 8 on Facebook, of which $47,000 was spent from October 2-8.

The final week

By Elly Alboim

The final week of the campaign is unfolding as it always does, particularly in a close race. Calls for strategic voting are getting more insistent from all three major parties, albeit with different objectives. Backloaded advertising buys are flooding voters with negative messaging with a corresponding ramping up in the tone of leader rhetoric. And the campaigns will be considering “Hail Mary” plays to change the dynamic. This past weekend, our Elly Alboim laid out a road map to the final week in his weekly analysis for Carleton’s Capital Currents. Read it here.

The twists and turns of forming minority governments

By Geoff Norquay

By Yaroslav Baran

With the polls still deadlocked and indicating a likely minority resulting from next Monday’s election, it’s useful to review how a government is formed following an inconclusive vote.  At play are several constitutional conventions and precedents that are often not fully understood.

It is a widespread myth that Canadian elections always decide who will govern the country.  While the seat tallies that flash by on our television screens on election night may appear to ultimately declare a “winner,” the reality is that governments are formed in Canada and not elected.  And in our Westminster-based system, the formation of governments is confirmed by establishing the “confidence” of the House of Commons.

With 338 seats in today’s House of Commons, a majority is reached at 170 seats. If a particular party gains that number of seats or more, confidence is guaranteed. But if no party wins more than half the seats, establishing confidence becomes more complex and may require arrangements involving multiple parties and even potentially independent members of Parliament.

There is no written rule-book that details the process of getting from election night to the swearing-in of a new government in a minority parliament.  Instead, the procedures to be followed rely on constitutional conventions and precedents, past practices that have come to be recognized and accepted by most, if not all, participants.

Who gets “first crack” at being prime mister?

Under our constitution, the governor-general is required to ensure that the country has a prime minister at all times. In addition, a prime minister re-elected with a minority remains in office until he or she secures confidence or is defeated in the House. That’s because a government continues until it is replaced, so incumbency is always the starting point. This rule applies even if the prime minister has been returned with fewer seats than another party. Constitutionally, the incumbent prime minister always has the option of advising the governor-general that he/she has the situation under control and can continue to govern by establishing confidence.

There is one additional condition that must be met by a sitting prime minister with a minority seeking to continue in office—a requirement to meet Parliament as soon as possible to manifestly establish confidence in the government by a vote of the Commons. And in the case of government led by a second party, the governor-general would not consent to allow such a precarious arrangement to continue over a several-month delay.  In such a scenario, it would also mean that the “Caretaker Convention” restricting government actions during an election period would remain in effect until confidence is clearly established. Under this convention a government may only do “housekeeping.” It is restricted from enacting any new policy – a big problem for a new government.

While a decision of a prime minister (or premier in the case of the provinces) with fewer seats than another party to seek confidence is almost invariably contested by the leading party, it is important to note that the only forum for trying to contest it is public opinion.  The popular vote and a higher seat count in the just-concluded election are not relevant to the established process, other than being a convenient talking point for those mounting a political argument. Another party may have bested the prime minister’s party in popular support or even seats, but the right of a sitting prime minister to meet the House and seek confidence first is supported by precedent and prevails over any political arguments that may be advanced.

There is a recent Canadian example that shows how these conventions and precedents work in practice. In the 2018 New Brunswick election, Liberal Premier Brian Gallant won 21 seats, one less than the Progressive Conservatives under Blain Higgs at 22 seats. Mr. Higgs publicly challenged Mr. Gallant’s right to seek confidence first. However, guided by precedent, Premier Gallant appointed a cabinet and met the provincial legislature and attempted to establish confidence. The government was defeated on its first Throne Speech and Mr. Higgs – the leader who had won the most seats – was then asked by the lieutenant-governor to form a new government.

What does the prime minister need to establish confidence?

In a minority situation, the seat distribution determines whose support is necessary to sustain the government in office. How many seats does the prime minister need to craft a working majority, and where are they located? Obviously if the support of a single third party is sufficient to ensure stability, that will simplify the situation. If the agreement of several parties is required to achieve a “working majority,” negotiations will be more complex.

How specifically is confidence established?

Once a government is in place, confidence is established by a successful vote in the House of Commons or a provincial legislature on a Throne Speech, budget, supply bill or specific motion of confidence/non-confidence. Any one will suffice. In a scenario where a budget is immediately needed, the government could skip over or defer the full vote on a Speech from the Throne, and table a budget. A successful vote on that measure is all that is needed to secure and confirm the government’s authority and legitimacy.

How does a leader go about establishing confidence?

Canadian political history suggests that at both the federal and provincial levels, the strategies necessary for a minority government to survive through arrangements among the parties have resulted in four basic kinds of minority arrangements:

  • The governing party implements its program by negotiating support from another party/parties on an ad hoc/issue-by-issue basis;
  • The governing party enters a loose alliance with another party/parties: agreeing to adopt specific policies of that party in exchange for support on the Throne Speech, budgets and major legislation;
  • The governing party negotiates a formal agreement with another party/parties, a written document with specifics and timelines. (Peterson/Rae in Ontario, 1985-87, and the current arrangement between the NDP and Greens in B.C.); or
  • A coalition government is formed in which cabinet positions are shared among different parties. Such a government was established in 1917 during World War I by Prime Minister Robert Borden. His Unionist Government included 12 Conservatives and nine Liberals and independents, and a general election in December 1917 gave the Unionists a large majority. Borden’s 1917 government is the only example of a coalition government in Canada’s history. In 2008, the opposition Liberal and New Democratic parties proposed a coalition that would vote non-confidence in the Stephen Harper government, coalesce all their seats into a multi-party pact under Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, then form a new coalition government.  Constitutionally, such a plan would have been fully legitimate, but the coalition initiative fell apart after Harper obtained a controversial prorogation from the governor-general to buy time.

Slotting Canadian minority governments over the last 56 years into these three categories is relatively easy. Most have taken the “ad hoc” approach, with the Lester Pearson, Paul Martin and two Stephen Harper minorities all falling into this category. None of these governments had a particular opposition party as a regular “dance partner,” although the Martin government made a one-off deal with the NDP to sweeten its budget and avoid defeat in the spring of 2005. In 1979-1980, Joe Clark chose to govern as if he had a majority with disastrous results, losing his government on a budget vote after being in office for only nine months.

The 1972-74 Pierre Trudeau government was a “loose alliance” minority through its arrangement with the NDP. David Peterson’s Ontario government from 1985 to 1987 was a “formal agreement” minority, again with the NDP. In that case the Ontario Liberals committed themselves to a two-year written “accord” with the NDP to introduce a series of specific progressive measures that included pay equity, enhanced social housing, labour law reform and stronger environmental protections, with timelines clearly set out.

In 2017, the British Columbia NDP and the Greens signed the most comprehensive formal minority governing agreement ever seen in Canada. Their Confidence and Supply Agreement runs to 10 pages and spells out consultation arrangements and many specific policy initiatives, all founded on the principle of “good faith and no surprises.” It even establishes a formal secretariat to manage the consultations necessary to support the agreement. As of fall 2019, this agreement looks durable enough to last a full four-year term.

A “wild card”: public opinion

Finally, there’s the non-constitutional dimension: public opinion. As noted above, in 2008, Prime Minister Harper turned to prorogation to stave off an opposition attempt to create a coalition government.

Mr. Harper and the Conservatives used the pause created by the prorogation to mount a public relations campaign against the opposition parties’ plans, casting them as a perversion of the will of the electorate, which had just voted weeks earlier to re-elect the Conservatives. In addition, Mr. Harper’s campaign focused on the membership of the Bloc Québécois in the coalition, accusing the Liberals and NDP of “subverting the democratic will by teaming up with separatists.” The PR blitz worked: by the time Parliament reconvened, the deal fell apart under internal and external pressure and Harper survived the ensuing confidence vote.

This reveals that, as always in politics, public opinion can sometimes matter just as much as the rules.

What does this mean for October 21?

It is never possible to accurately predict the results of an election until the votes are actually cast and counted. The polls and the various projected seat counts currently suggest that either a majority or a minority outcome is possible—for someone. But if Canadians in fact elect a minority, we could have some days or weeks of negotiations and intrigue before we know who the prime minister will be.

Battleground Ontario: How will it shape the outcome?

By Charles Bird

By Chris Ball

The road to electoral success in Canada usually runs through Ontario and this election looks to be no different.  Over the last 15 federal elections dating back to 1968, only twice has the party forming power not secured a plurality of Ontario seats (1972 and 2006).  It is all but impossible to form a majority government without winning in vote-rich Ontario. In 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were able to secure 80 of 121 seats in the province, nearly half of the seats the Liberals would win, thereby forming a majority government. By contrast, in the previous federal election in 2011, the Liberals secured only 11 seats while the Conservatives won 73 seats on their way to a majority victory.

In 2019, 124 of Canada’s 338 ridings are to be found in Ontario, constituting more than a third of ridings across the country with, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) making up some 55 ridings alone (more than all the seats in British Columbia, Canada’s third largest province).  In 2015, the Liberals won all but eight seats in the GTA region and will have to secure a large number of these ridings again if they are to retain power.

At the moment, the Liberals appear to be leading in most of the 25 ridings to be found in the City of Toronto (the so-called “416”), with a handful of ridings finding the NDP in a strong position to win. Those ridings surrounding Toronto, commonly referred to as the “905,” are far more competitive at present with the Liberals and Conservatives fighting for supremacy in most of them. This speaks to the singular importance of the parties’ respective ground organizations and the ability to get out the vote in the lead up to and on election day. Despite substantial gains in the 2018 provincial election in Ontario in places like downtown Toronto and Brampton, the NDP have yet to find inroads into the vote rich GTA in more than a few ridings. All of this could change given the momentum the NDP is presently enjoying according to recent polling data.

The NDP do enjoy some core strength in other urban areas such as Windsor, Hamilton London, and in parts of Northern Ontario and the remaining days of the campaign could be key to solidifying NDP support in these areas and then turning out the vote on election day. The Green Party will be fortunate to secure even one seat in Ontario. At the same time, any increase in NDP or Green Party votes in the province could spell trouble for the Liberals, resulting in vote splitting in a way that might allow the Conservatives to emerge victorious in ridings where they would not other be expected to win.

As we draw closer to election day, the Liberals and other parties will couch their messaging to voters in increasingly strategic terms, with each arguing that any vote for its rivals could result in unintended electoral consequences.

For their part, the Conservatives are performing well throughout rural Ontario and in the 905, but likely must count on the NDP in particular being strong enough to bleed away Liberal votes in order for Conservative candidates to have a viable chance of winning those ridings.  Some have suggested that this has been made more difficult by Ontario Premier Doug Ford who is unpopular in some parts of the province but who has been extremely disciplined in not allowing himself to be drawn into the electoral fracas over the course of the federal campaign.  By contrast, Alberta Conservative Premier Jason Kenney and a number of his Ministers have made forays into the GTA in support of federal Conservative candidates in an effort to appeal to potential Conservative voters.

You also won’t have to look far to see the barrage of party advertisements that will blanket the airwaves as the leaders make their final pitches to voters in the last days of the campaign. What you may not see is the huge number of ads that will be delivered to individually targeted voters via social media. It remains difficult to gauge the cumulative impact of all this, except to say that the messaging is expected to become increasingly negative if not downright nasty as we approach election day.

Battleground BC: The final week

By Don Stickney

Entering the final week of the federal election, British Columbia remains a complex and fluid political battleground where three-and four-way splits between the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP and Greens may lead to surprising outcomes on October 21. Given the close national race, the results from B.C. are expected to decide the overall outcome of the election next week.

At the start of this election campaign, the B.C. seat count was:

  • Liberal – 17
  • NDP – 13
  • Conservative – 9
  • Greens – 2
  • Independent – 1
  • Total: 42

The leaders of the four main political parties have campaigned vigorously across B.C. throughout the election and are expected to spend significant time in the province in the final week, highlighting the number of seats that continue to remain in play. Keeping a close eye on the movement of the leaders this week provides a solid indication of where the campaigns believe they have opportunities for holds or gains.

Policy issues such as affordability, transit and the environment continue to dominate traditional media coverage but are expected to take a back seat in the final days to strategic voting considerations in a province with a long history of polarized politics.

For analysis purposes, B.C. can be divided into three sub regions: the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and the Interior-North, each of which has their own unique political calculus and potential for delivering interesting results on election night.

Lower Mainland – This region represents the lion’s share of B.C.’s 42 seats with numerous competitive races involving the Liberals, NDP and Conservatives. The Green vote is unlikely to be significant enough to deliver a seat here, however, depending on the constituency, it could act as a wild card that could either help elect or prevent the election of a current incumbent.

The Liberals have featured their leader Justin Trudeau and his B.C. roots in a series of made-in-BC ads that have run in high rotation both on traditional and digital media platforms. Burnaby South MP and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has energetically campaigned in traditionally-held NDP ridings in this region including those found in Burnaby, Tri-Cities and the eastern neighbourhoods of Vancouver and Surrey.  Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer continues to focus on target ridings south of the Fraser River, choosing the swing riding of Delta to launch his party’s platform October 11. Bottom line: there is a lot at stake in the Lower Mainland for all the political parties and they are deploying significant campaign resources in this region in their attempts to win.

Vancouver Island – Green Party leader Elizabeth May has mounted a strong campaign from her home riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands. We expect to see three-way races between the Greens, NDP and Liberals in the three southern Vancouver Island ridings, especially Victoria and Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke with the Conservatives being competitive in four ridings north of the capital region, including Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.

Interior-North – While this “populist”-oriented region of B.C. has historically seen a competition between the Conservatives and the NDP, the Liberals made a historic breakthrough in Kelowna in 2015. How the strong Liberal campaigns in the larger interior urban centres like Kelowna and Kamloops fare October 21 is an open question in a region that has traditionally returned New Democrats and Conservative members.

Leveraging Leadership:  Two parties can, others struggle

By Doug Anderson

The two measures that election polls track most consistently are vote intention and assessments of who would be the best PM. Trying to understand how Canadians develop their impressions of the leaders, the criteria they use to form these judgements and how that translates to their vote intentions form part of Earnscliffe’s most recent survey of 1,756 eligible Canadian voters.

You don’t need a poll to know that the party leaders are a crucial force in election campaigns, but it is surprising just how strongly leader assessments drive considerations to vote for either the Liberals and Conservatives but not the other parties. In part, the relative lack of familiarity and overall impression (positive or negative) for the four secondary leaders (Singh, May, Blanchet and Bernier) accounts for this difference.

The past eight months have seen Canadian opinion about each of the federal leaders change in different ways.  Since a survey Earnscliffe conducted in February, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh and the BQ’s Yves-Francois Blanchet have both been able to establish much broader and decidedly more positive impressions.  For the Green Party’s Elizabeth May, there has been a slight shift from not holding an opinion of the leader to holding a positive one and for Maxime Bernier of the People’s Party, the shift has been from not holding an opinion to holding an unfavourable impression.

Tellingly, however, it remains the case that a majority of voters cannot offer a positive or negative impression of any of the leaders of the NDP, the BQ and the Green and People’s Parties.

For Jagmeet Singh, the number of people with no impression totals 56%.  For May it is 61%, Yves-François Blanchet, 54% of Quebec voters, and Maxime Bernier 66%. Considering how long these leaders have held their positions – and at this late date in the campaign – it is very unlikely that the other leaders can bridge this familiarity gap between now and election day.

Opinions of the Liberal Party’s Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer of the Conservative Party are the most highly polarized, but compared to the other leaders, significantly more voters do at least hold a view one way or the other.

For Mr. Scheer, the past eight months have seen the number of people able to offer either a favourable or unfavourable impression increase from 38% to 51%, but where the balance of opinion in February had been favourable, the reverse is true today.  Favourable impressions increased slightly from 23% to 26%, but the proportion holding an unfavourable impression more than doubled from 15% to 35%.

As a sitting Prime Minister and as one of only two leaders who had been a leader during the previous election campaign, it should not be surprising that Canadians have held opinions of Mr. Trudeau for some time already.  Both in our February survey and in the most recent study, fully three quarters (74%) of Canadian voters indicate holding an impression one way or another.  However, since our survey in February, despite some high-profile controversies, there has been only a modest shift in impressions of Mr. Trudeau. Six per cent have moved from holding a favourable impression to an unfavourable one, tilting the balance of opinion from somewhat favourable to marginally unfavourable.

Generally, research indicates that there is a correlation between how favourable people feel about a leader and how they say their impression of a leader has changed.  If people feel positively about a leader, it is often the case they are also saying their impression of that leader has improved.

However, these results show an interesting phenomenon involving Mr. Trudeau. He stands apart from the others in that a sizeable segment of voters (9%) have an overall positive impression of him and at the same time, say their impression has gotten worse. In other words, he may have disappointed some voters but they are still prepared to stand by him.


Our survey also shows that a negative assessment of a leader is a primary litmus test of how people vote. Fail it and your party will not be considered. In short, if a person feels negatively about a leader, there is virtually no chance they would vote for that party and are highly unlikely even to consider that choice.

Neutrality is not much more helpful. If a person holds a neutral opinion of a leader, there’s typically some willingness to consider, but little actual current preference.

Positive feelings have a different impact. Holding a positive view of a leader certainly makes it much more likely that a person is willing to consider or is currently intending to vote for a party, but relying on positive assessments alone isn’t enough in all cases. When it comes to assessments of leaders, Liberal and Conservative supporters display an almost tribal like ferocity. If a person holds a positive impression of either, over 80% are willing to consider that leader’s party and 70-80% say they currently intend to vote that way. Conversely, holding a positive view of one leader means an almost certain likelihood of holding a negative view of the other, creating a sort of exclusivity that is a key aspect of tribalism.

For supporters of the other parties, leadership impression has significantly less influence in shaping vote intention. Holding a positive impression of leaders like Mr. Singh or Ms. May does not translate into nearly the degree of exclusivity, party consideration or current vote intent that is generated by the leaders of the CPC and LPC.

Breaking our data down, we show the full extent of how partisan loyalty is driven by leadership assessments.

Liberal voters have a major problem with only one leader. Of the people who hold a positive impression of Trudeau, only 18% say the same of Scheer, but majorities of Liberals hold positive impressions of Singh (64%) and May (57%).

The Liberals have a distinct edge among the voters who hold simultaneous positive impressions of the other center-left leaders

  • Among the 15% of Canadian voters who hold a positive impression of both Trudeau and Singh, 78% are willing to consider the Liberals while only 54% are willing to consider NDP. Of note, nearly two-thirds (64%) currently say they are voting Liberal.
  • Among the 12% of Canadian voters who hold a positive impression of both Trudeau and May, 78% are willing to consider Liberal while only 43% are willing to consider Green; 63% currently say they are voting Liberal.

Conservatives, on the other hand, are significantly more exclusive than Liberals, gravitating to “their” leader and only their leader. Of the voters who have a positive impression of Scheer, only 22% say the same of Trudeau, while Singh (35%) and May (42%) are regarded slightly more positively, but those sentiments are still not widespread.

In trying to understand how people develop a preference, the question of the influence of personal characteristics of a leader arises. Our analysis demonstrates that ascribed personal attributes are, at best, only secondary influencers of voter choice. Those who like a leader are generally more predisposed to saying all or most of the dozen positive traits we tested apply to that leader. Conversely, if they do not like the leader, respondents have a very hard time saying any of the attributes apply to them. Having said that, voters are more likely to have an overall favourable impression of a leader than they are to attribute any specific positive attribute applies to that leader. In other words, a general preference for a leader is not necessarily built on particular positive traits. However, some attributes do bear more influence than others on voters’ choices and differently for each leader.


An examination of the correlation between the specific leadership attributes and the willingness to consider voting for that leader’s party shows:

  • The attributes that are available to each party to leverage vary from leader to leader.
  • For each party, broadening the number of people who feel one or two specific attributes describe their leader, and stimulating voters to consider that trait, is likely to be more strategically valuable than others.
    • PC: Scheer is a good choice to run/manage federal government;
    • LPC: Trudeau is a good choice for representing Canada internationally;
    • NDP: Singh has values like yours and is a good choice for representing Canada internationally; and,
    • Green: May has values like yours.

Strategic Implications for a focus on Leadership

  • Marketing the leader. Leadership matters most. There is little chance of convincing voters to cast their ballot on the basis of policy – or pretty much anything else – if they do not hold a favourable impression of the leader. Conversely, creating a negative impression of an opposing leader –especially if you are targeting the Liberal or Conservative vote – will drive votes away
  • Position a leader against their strength attributes. Highlight the personal traits that the leaders already possess and try to drive up the salience of these attributes.
  • Throwing shade works. If voters can be turned off of another party’s leader, it’s akin to poisoning that party’s well. The math is clear, disliking a leader means losing nearly all willingness to vote for that party. For good or ill, this is why negative advertising or messaging has become such a central part of modern campaigning.
  • Increasing exclusivity of choice. The “two tribes” dynamic that is so evident in Liberal and Conservative voting keeps those who like Scheer from liking Trudeau and vice versa. Currently, both parties seem to be successfully leveraging favourable impressions of their own leader. However, the Liberals appear more vulnerable, given the high propensity for people who like Trudeau to also like at least one other leader. Thus far, the NDP and Green Party have not been terribly successful at drawing these “mutually friendly” voters to their fold, but the opportunity exists if the right levers can be pulled in time.

The polls

Overall, the biggest trend in national vote intention at the beginning of the last week of the campaign is the rise of the NDP.  The uptick in support appears to have taken off in the days immediately following the English language debate. The Conservatives and Liberals remain in very close competition, typically with neither party opening a gap large enough to be called a lead.  The NDP gains appear, on aggregate, to be at the expense of both of the larger parties, but regionally the gain is more at the expense of one of these parties than the other.

Also noteworthy is the rise of the BQ in Quebec. There’s a maxim that Quebec tends to coalesce around a consensus pick and if that is happening, the BQ may continue to gain voter share beyond the current levels and deny precious seats from the two parties with a realistic chance to achieve a majority, the Liberals and Conservatives.  As our own research has shown, voters are as volatile as ever and support can certainly shift in material ways between now and election day.


Earnscliffe is pleased to present the results of our latest survey of the Canadian electorate.  In this Special Bulletin of Earnscliffe’s Election Insights, we share insights on what could still happen in this election; how to leverage leadership; and, how (if at all) voters are considering the parties’ electoral promises.

In the coming days, we will share further insights on the issues influencing voters’ choices as well as other topics covered in the survey.

About our survey (Methodology):  The results are based upon an online survey of 1,756 eligible Canadian voters randomly recruited through the use of the Leger Opinion (LEO) online panel.  The survey was conducted between October 1st and 6th, 2019.  Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to age, gender and region in order to ensure sample reflective of the population.  As this was a non-probability sample, no margin of error can be associated with the results, nor is it appropriate to offer any comparative margin of error indicating the level of accuracy of results had the study been conducted using random probability sampling.