Too Early to Count Harper and Conservatives Out?

Prime Minister Harper
Prime Minister Harper
Prime Minister Harper
Prime Minister Harper

Harper and the Conservatives Focused on Economy

OTTAWA – Analysis – According to a new national survey conducted by public opinion firm Abacus Data, the Conservative Party is the most trusted party when it comes to managing the economy and Canadians are more optimistic about the direction of the country than in June.  Note, this survey was conducted before Senator Mike Duffy’s speech in the Senate.

The impact of the Senate Scandal appears over the summer not to have gained a lot of traction with voters, or help the Liberals or New Democrats. Among all eligible voters surveyed, 28% said they trusted the Conservative Party the most to manage Canada’s economy, followed by the Liberal Party at 23% and the NDP at 13%.  Thirty-two percent of respondents were unsure.

When asked about the overall direction of the country, 42% of respondents believed things in Canada were headed in the right direction (up six since June) while 26% believed they were off on the wrong track (down 21 since June).  Thirty-two percent were unsure.

Approval of the federal government’s job performance was also up slightly from June reaching 35% (up 4) while 46% disapproved of the federal government’s job approval.  Nineteen percent neither approved nor disapproved.

Finally, respondents were asked to rank the top three issues from a list of 18 possible issue, collectively health care, job creation, budget deficit and debt, accountability in government, taxes, and economic development were the top six issues selected by respondents.

The message is likely that it is way too early to count Prime Minister Harper and the Conservatives out. The public is more likely in the long run to remember the things that they need or see than the larger political scandals.

That is not to suggest that the Prime Minister or the Conservatives will be unscathed by the Senate scandal. Right now Senators Duffy and Wallin are fighting for their reputations. 

Backed into a corner it is unlikely they will let the Prime Minister or the Conservatives off easily.

Direction of the Country

Overall, 42% of eligible voters in Canada believe that the country is headed in the right direction, up six points since June 2013.  In contrast, 26% believe the country is headed off on the wrong track, down 21 points since June.  A large number of respondents (32%) were unsure.

Regionally, Albertans were most optimistic about the direction of the country (68%) followed by those living in BC (47%).  Quebec residents were least likely to think the country was headed in the right direction (35%).

Men were more optimistic than women (men 49% right direction, women 37% right direction) while those who self-identified as being in the middle or upper middle class were more likely to think things in Canada are headed in the right direction (46% and 48%) than those in the lower middle or lower class (37% and 30%).

There was also a strong relationship between perceptions about the direction of the country and vote intention.  Conservative Party supporters were more likely to think the country is headed in the right direction than Liberal or NDP supporters.  However, interestingly, 41% of Liberal Party supporters thought the country is headed in the right direction while 32% of NDP supporters shared that view.

What does it all mean?

There are lessons for all political parties here. 

For the Conservatives, perhaps the lesson is that the “boys in short pants” as Senator Duffy has dubbed them, the young political science majors who have set the course of action from the Prime Minister need to have more seasoned people working with them. The hyper partisanship is going, in my opinion, in the long run wear thin with Canadians. Getting the message on track and then letting it come over as fair, is a better strategy for long term success.

English: Justin Trudeau promotional photo take...
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau 

For the Liberals, the summer has seen Justin Trudeau ebb up and down in the public eye. 

The youthful and charismatic Trudeau is developing his own storm clouds in his political future. In Ottawa and beyond, Trudeau is gaining a bit of a reputation for inconsistency. That is a long term political coffin. Trudeau has staffed the Liberal leaders office with the ‘friends’ who helped in winning the leadership race. 

Those staffers are developing a reputation for Trudeau of not returning phone calls, of not properly organizing tours and trips, and some political insiders in the Liberal Party are getting frustrated.

Long term Trudeau has not gained traction partly because he has a college atmosphere and too many friends in his office.

For the New Democrats, the official opposition has fallen back in the polls to their former numbers with some gains in place. 

The lesson there might simply be that being seen as effective like a court room lawyer might play well in Ottawa, but the New Democrats need to become warmer and more friendly to all Canadians. Likely if that doesn’t happen, the New Democrats will have lost much of the momentum left to them by former leader Jack Layton.

For Elizabeth May and the Green Party, the lesson is broadening the base. A political party needs more than one single voice. May has become the ‘silent sam’ of Canadian politics. The Green Party remains more like a club than a political party. 

It may not all be smooth sailing for the Conservatives, but right now one of their allies is time. The other is the efforts of the opposition parties.

James Murray


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