• November 27, 2021

Liberals can’t afford voter apathy: 338

Philippe J. Fournier: A new Abacus poll points to growing pessimism with the government. It’s not a reassuring sign for Justin Trudeau and his team.

Dissatisfaction with the federal government is on the rise, according to the most recent survey from Abacus Data, who was on the ground taking the pulse of Canadians when Justin Trudeau asked Governor General Mary Simon to dissolve the House of Commons.

According to the results, only 41% of Canadians believe that the country is “going in the right direction.” A week ago, just before the start of the federal campaign, Abacus Data had measured that proportion at 46 percent. Obviously, this five-point drop is still modest, but it is still statistically significant considering the sample size of this survey.

In his report, Abacus Data CEO David Coletto stipulates that this voter sentiment could be related to the anxiety triggered by the fourth wave of the pandemic. Namely: In its July poll, Abacus had measured that 46 percent of those surveyed believed the worst of the pandemic was behind us. This share has dropped 15 points since then and now stands at 31 percent. During the same period, those who believe the worst is yet to come jumped from 15 percent to 24 percent.

Obviously, these data cannot be a reassuring sign for Justin Trudeau and his team.

Furthermore, while the net impressions of the opposition leaders have been generally stable this summer according to Abacus, we note that the negative impressions of the Prime Minister have increased 5 points since July. Could this be a throwback to Trudeau’s decision to call snap elections this summer? It is a plausible hypothesis. However, if that’s the case, it may also go away in the next few weeks. However, Trudeau’s net approval (positive impressions minus negative impressions) is at minus-4 (negative 44%, positive 40%), a value within the ranges of the last months in the Abacus Data surveys.

For the sake of comparison: NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has the highest approval rating among federal leaders with a net score of plus 15 (39% positive, 24% negative). Conservative leader Erin O’Toole still scores well below his opponents at -21 (41% negative, 20% positive).

What effect do leaders’ impressions have on race status? Although the correlations between party support and leader approval are not always linear, these numbers can help establish the “floors” and “ceilings” of each party. For example, the current unpopularity of the Conservative leader means that the party’s growth could be considerably limited outside of its current base (estimated at about 30 percent of Canadian voters). As I have written before, the conservative base, although generally stronger and more faithful than those of other parties, cannot by itself propel the CCP to power in Ottawa.

For Jagmeet Singh, his party appears to have the greatest potential for growth: as of this writing, Singh leads the only party that is projected to post significant seat gains (see table below) according to the most recent federal projection of 338 Canada (updated daily here).

Obviously, good polls early in a campaign don’t necessarily mean more controlled ballots on vote day, but it could allow Singh to campaign hard for his party to get in the way of Trudeau’s majority.

Interestingly, most of this potential and theoretical growth comes from Ontario. In 2019, the Liberals won 79 of the 121 districts in the province, against just 6 districts for the NDP. Based on the latest figures, the LPC is projected 10 seats below its 2019 result in the province (see table below), and most of those districts could potentially go to the NDP. It goes without saying that without a dominant seat count in Ontario, the majority that Trudeau covets could be out of reach.



We could paint a similar picture about Yves-François Blanchet’s Bloc Québécois fight in Quebec, where about a dozen constituencies could switch between the BQ and the Liberals. However, polls have measured BQ’s support slightly below the party’s 2019 results so far.

Getting the vote is often a much greater challenge for the ruling party, especially when the numbers indicate growing pessimism and / or apathy. Liberals simply couldn’t allow it to happen.

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