Federal election 2015

What you should know about the Trudeau poll numbers

Paul Wells compares new numbers against real-world results. Spoiler: Justin Trudeau has rocketed to Stéphane Dion-like heights

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau operates a crane while touring a crane operator training facility Thursday, August 27, 2015 in Oakville, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Building momentum? Justin Trudeau operates a crane while touring a crane operator training facility last week. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Is it time to call Justin Trudeau the Comeback Kid of 2015? Sure, if only to watch the way it gives the Liberals’ opponents conniptions. But while this morning’s Abacus poll features disquieting news for the still-leading New Democrats and continued lousy news for the governing Conservatives, it should encourage Liberals only insofar as they are doing better than their appalling 2011 result. Trudeau still has a long way to go.

This morning’s poll shows the NDP down in every region of the country except Alberta since Abacus’s last poll two weeks ago. A four-point increase in NDP support in Alberta, from distant second to distant second, won’t help them much. The largest decline was in Ontario, which counts for the most seats, both because it has 121 ridings and because it’s home to so many close races. For the Conservatives, it’s pretty much status quo across the board since mid-August.

For the Trudeau Liberals, the poll has a number of encouraging trends: The party is up in every region except B.C., where the story seems to be a Green party jump to 15 per cent.

    But polls jump around, and it’s not super-helpful to measure gains seven weeks before the election against polls nine weeks before the election. How do these numbers compare against real-world results?

    To find out, I compared the latest Abacus numbers against the results of recent elections. I concentrated on results in the three largest battleground provinces, Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. (I assume the Conservatives will substantially hold Alberta.)

    For the NDP, today’s Abacus numbers are within two points of the vote that party obtained under Jack Layton in 2011 in Ontario, Quebec and B.C. For the Conservatives, the news is lousy: down 11 points from their 2011 score in Ontario, down four points in Quebec, down 14 points in B.C. The Liberals are up nine points in Ontario, nine points in Quebec, and seven points in B.C.

    But so what? The 2011 election was, by far, the worst ever for the Liberal party. Michael Ignatieff may not be around much anymore, but he’s still working hard to make Trudeau look good by comparison. Looking a little further back, we see the Liberals did about as well in today’s Abacus as in our three battleground provinces: Trudeau is within one point of Stéphane Dion’s 2008 score in each of Ontario, Quebec and B.C. And Dion lost big.

    Trudeau is still six points short of Paul Martin’s 2006 score in Ontario, and eight points below Martin’s B.C. vote. And Paul Martin lost in 2006. He’s 19 points below Martin’s Ontario vote in 2004, 11 points below Martin’s Quebec vote that year, and nine points below the result Martin obtained in BC in ’04, the last time Liberals won an election.

    Related reading:
    Election race tightens as NDP support slips
    This or that? Find out where you stand this election with the Maclean’s Policy Face-Off Machine

    The modest reversal in Liberal fortunes since this long campaign began is, I think, real; it’s reflected in other recent polls; and it begins to reverse a 10-month trend in Liberal fortunes. I think it’s one of the stories of the campaign so far. It comes despite the fact that many observers must have assumed Trudeau had fallen so far, he couldn’t get up. He’s running against two formidable campaigners, Harper and Mulcair. He’s had some bad days on the trail, such as when he said in Saskatchewan that he wants to run economic policy “not from the top down, but from the heart out.” That one put Trudeau on the front page of several papers, sounding goofy. His closing statement in the Maclean’s debate was so lethargic, the hapless moderator accidentally talked over Trudeau’s conclusion. Yet he is the clear winner of the past two weeks.

    For his pains, he is now doing about as well as Dion did when the latter lost the 2008 election. The NDP are still winning, and the numbers suggest the Conservatives cannot keep their majority and will need a lot of luck, if they are to have any hope of winning the largest number of seats. Today’s numbers won’t hold. But where they’re going, I would not want to hazard a guess.

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