Liberal MPs are pointing to a strong economy and more generous Canada child benefit program to explain their party’s surge in the polls since mid-October, while one pollster is pointing to a steady advantage among female voters for the Grits, despite a deluge of negative news headlines and withering opposition attacks.
The opposition Conservatives haven’t been able to capitalize on controversies tied to Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) or high-profile Liberals named in the Paradise Papers, says pollster Nik Nanos, in part because they haven’t done enough to win over female voters.
The weekly rolling polls from Mr. Nanos’ company, Nanos Research, had the Liberals up nearly nine percentage points on the Conservatives as of Nov. 17, at 39.3 to 30.7 per cent, respectively, and rising slowly but steadily since the Grits hit a post-election low of 34.6 per cent on Oct. 13, when the Conservatives sat at 31.3 per cent. The New Democrats sat at 16.6 per cent on Nov. 17, and have polled as the top choice for between 13 and 21 per cent of respondents in all of the Nanos polls since the election.
The margin for error of the weekly Nanos polls, which roll over to include the past four weeks of polling data, is plus or minus 3.1 per cent (19 times out of 20), meaning that the result for both parties put together at any one time could theoretically be off by as much as 6.2 per cent.
However, those same polls show the Liberals with a double-digit lead over the Conservatives among female respondents nearly every week since the Oct. 19, 2015 election, with a more than 14 percentage point gap on Nov. 17. The NDP typically polled third among female voters in the Nanos polls, though it pulled even with or briefly surpassed the Conservatives on a few occasions.
The same polls show a much tighter race for male voters, with the Liberals and Conservatives running neck-and-neck since the summer. The last time the Conservatives and Liberals polled within one percentage point of each other among women, according to the Nanos ballot tracker, was July of 2015.
“For the Conservatives to do well, they fundamentally have to do better among women voters,” said Mr. Nanos.
Conservative MP Lisa Raitt (Milton, Ont.), her party’s deputy leader, said she wasn’t sure why the polls showed the consistent gap between the two parties among women voters, but said it was one of the things the Conservatives would look at as they developed their policy ahead of the next federal election in 2019.
“It comes down to having people’s voices heard, women or men, at the grassroots level,” she said.
She also noted the presence of herself, immigration critic Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, Alta.), and House leader Candice Bergen (Portage-Lisgar, Man.) as “effective” players on the Conservative front bench. “I think that’s positive, and that’s a message that should be out there more and more.”
Economy buoying Liberals, and Morneau at the helm
The Liberals’ mid-October low of 34.6 per cent—minority government territory—occurred after a public backlash to tax changes proposed by the federal government, which numerous Liberal backbenchers have said they felt from their constituents.
The subsequent rise in Liberal support in the Nanos polls occurred despite a barrage of news stories related to the fact that Mr. Morneau had not put his substantial holdings in his Bay Street human resources consultancy, Morneau Shepell, into a blind trust before entering Parliament; that he had introduced a major piece of government legislation relating to pensions, which Morneau Shepell potentially stood to gain from; and other negative news headlines related to the Canada Revenue Agency and top Liberal fundraiser Stephen Bronfman’s alleged ties to a legal offshore tax avoidance scheme.
Mr. Bronfman has issued a statement denying any impropriety or illegality, and Mr. Morneau has since divested his shares in Morneau Shepell, and promised to donate the profits to charity.
Some Liberal MPs told The Hill Times that rookies in the caucus, or those who narrowly won their seat in the House, were nervous about the accumulation of negative headlines linking the Liberal brand to the appearance of conflicts of interest, entitlement, or inappropriate use of taxpayer dollars. Others, however, said those news stories and the daily attacks over them by the opposition Conservatives weren’t being raised by their constituents. They pointed to Canada’s strong economy and the Liberal introduction of the Canada Child Benefit program as possible explanations for the Liberals’ recent rise in the polls.
Mr. Morneau, the embattled finance minister, was responsible for both the government’s economic strategy and the rollout of the Canada Child Benefit, and is due some credit for the economic success that is keeping voters happy, said Liberal MP Raj Grewal (Brampton East, Ont.).
This government is succeeding despite its stumbles because it is “getting the big things right,” said an Ottawa lobbyist and former Liberal staffer speaking on a not-for-attribution basis. The lobbyist and Liberal MPs Francis Drouin (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Ont.) and John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.) all raised the government’s management of the NAFTA negotiations with the United States and Mexico as another strong point for the Liberals.
“Morneau’s personal ethics issues aside, the economy is performing reasonably well, and the low unemployment actually translates into real jobs for people, and people have some reason for hope,” said Mr. McKay.
Mr. Nanos said his polls showed the Liberals dropping in the polls “week after week after week” after the first negative stories tied to Mr. Morneau and the government’s proposed tax changes, before the Grits began to fight their way out, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) stepping in to address the issue in Question Period and in front of reporters, and other stories diverting some of the media attention in other directions.
“The biggest impact on a lot of these controversies is at the beginning,” he said. “When there are new twists and turns in the story, people are already desensitized after the first negative shock. So there could be more revelations, but the damage was already done with the…first surprise of Bill Morneau having the villa [in France.]”
A CBC story revealed that Mr. Morneau had failed to disclose to the federal ethics commissioner his holdings in a company that owns a villa in France until after the CBC began to inquire about it earlier this year. That story broke on Oct. 13, the low point for the Liberals since the 2015 election in the Nanos polls.
The Nanos poll also showed a huge gap between the Liberals and Conservatives in Quebec, where the Liberals stood at 45.6 per cent support on Nov. 17, and the Conservatives at just 14 per cent, trailing the NDP, at 14.7, and Bloc Quebecois, at 21 per cent. The Conservatives held more than a 20 percentage point advantage over the second place Liberals in the Prairies, while the Liberals had a smaller advantage in Atlantic Canada, Ontario, and B.C.
Forum poll tells another story
A poll conducted between Nov. 4 and 6 by Forum Research showed 38 per cent of respondents supporting the federal Conservatives, versus 36 per cent for the federal Liberals, and 14 per cent for the New Democrats. The poll included the voting intentions, if an election were held the next day, of those who said they had either decided or were leaning towards one party. The telephone poll of more than 1,200 Canadians had a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The Forum and Nanos polls do not necessarily contradict each other. The Forum poll shows voter attitudes during a three-day span, while the Nanos poll incorporated data from four weeks. Forum polls taken every month or two since the 2015 election show Liberal support softening recently after a prolonged post-election honeymoon period.
The most recent Forum poll showed the Liberals with a seven percentage point advantage over the Conservatives among women voters, at 39 per cent to 32 per cent. As with any poll, sub-samples have a larger margin of error.