Harper Government Approval and the Road to 2015

With Stephen Harper set to shuffle his Cabinet, it is a good time to assess how Canadians judge the performance of the federal government overall and in certain key policy areas.

Our latest national survey (June 19 to 23, 2013) asked Canadians whether they approved or disapproved of the job the federal government led by Stephen Harper is doing overall and within specific policy areas

Throughout this post, we compare the evaluations of Canadians overall and among those who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2011 federal election.  Retaining the support of these voters is critical if the Tories hope to be re-elected in 2015 since it will be very difficult for the Conservatives to expand their political market beyond those who voted for the party in 2011.

Overall Government Approval

Overall, just less than one third of Canadians (31%) said they either strongly or somewhat approved of the job that the federal government was doing.  Fifty percent of Canadians surveyed in June either strongly or somewhat disapproved of the federal government’s performance while 20% said they neither approved nor disapproved.

Among those who voted for the Conservative Party in the last federal election, May 2011 – a slight majority (54%) said that they somewhat or strongly approved of the federal government’s job performance while 19% disapproved.  Another 27% who voted Conservative in the last election neither approved nor disapproved.

With almost half of previous Conservative voters saying they either disapprove of the government’s performance or are neutral towards its performance is troublesome for the federal government and indicative of a need to revamp its agenda as it heads towards the 2015 election.

Q: Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the job the federal government led by Stephen Harper is doing?

Figure 60

But which policy areas is the government strongest and weakest and what does that mean for the coming Cabinet shuffle?

Among all respondents, the Conservative government is perceived to be doing better (or lower disapproval ratings) in its handling of international trade (35% approve vs. 28% disapprove) and crime reduction (33% approve vs. 32% disapprove).  Over a third of respondents said they neither approve nor disapprove of the government’s performance in these areas.

Respondents are more divided in the government’s handling of keeping taxes low (31% approve vs. 41% disapprove), economic management (32% approve vs. 40% disapprove), and job creation (33% approve vs. 39% disapprove).

The Harper government is weakest on its performance on health care and accountability in government.  While 32% approve of the government’s performance on the health care file, 45% disapprove.  Worse, only 20% of Canadians approve of its handling of accountability in government while 58% disapprove.

It is also clear that very few Canadians who disapprove of the government in general give it credit for any specific policy areas.  There is a strong relationship between disapproving with the overall performance of the government and evaluations of its performance on specific policy areas.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job the federal government is doing in the following areas?
(N = 1,008)

Figure 70

Conservative Approval of Government Performance

When we compare the approval among all Canadian voters to that of Conservative Party supporters only we can see some differences in the overall approval of the government.

Those who voted for the Conservative Party in 2011 are much more likely to approve of the job the government is doing on all issues. However, with about 40% of past Conservative Party supporters not approving of the government’s performance in specific policy areas, it is clear why support for the federal Conservative Party is down significantly in the past few months.

Among Conservative voters in 2011, a majority approve of the Harper government’s performance in international trade, crime reduction, health care, economic management, and job creation.  However, less than a majority approve of its performance in keeping federal taxes low and on government accountability.

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the job the federal government is doing in the following areas?

Government Issues

All Canadians

% approve

2011 CPC Voters

% approve

International trade



Economic management



Crime reduction



Health care



Job creation



Keeping federal taxes low



Accountability in government







Incumbent governments need to retain its past supporters by delivering what it promised at the time these voters supported them.  With shaky economic news, higher than average unemployment, and significant ethical lapses, the government’s reputation among its supporters is tenuous at best.

A shuffling of the federal Cabinet provides the government an opportunity to reset and present a new team of ministers to tackle some of the issues facing the country.  But a new team won’t be enough.  The Harper government needs to find a way to rekindle its relationship with its supporters and give them a reason to vote for them again in 2015.

The Conservative government has found success in the past when it  delivered for its supporters.  Masters of the emerging “transactional” politics, the Tories were masters at delivering for its core target market: GST cut, childcare benefit, tax credits, and investments in infrastructure.

But since winning a majority in 2011, it has delivered very little to most of its supporters.  While scrapping the long-gun registry and ending the Wheat Board’s monopoly on selling Western Canadian grain delivered to target segments (mainly its core supporters), the important voting segment of middle class, suburban voters has been largely ignored since 2011.

These voters, living in the suburban regions around Vancouver and Toronto, should be the focus for the government as its outlines its agenda for the next two years.  Without their support, the Conservative majority will disappear in 2015.

When the Cabinet shuffle comes, I’ll be looking at how the new faces in Cabinet appeal to key voting groups and what policies the government places on its agenda if it prorogues Parliament and delivers a new Throne Speech in the Fall.

Survey Methodology
The survey was conducted online with 999 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a representative panel of Canadians. The survey was completed from June 19 to 23, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated. The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 999 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey.


David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248

E: david@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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