Behind the Numbers: Harper v. Mulcair v. Trudeau

With the federal Liberal Leadership member/supporter sign up deadline passing last weekend and conventional wisdom being that Justin Trudeau is the front runner and the likely federal Liberal Leader, I wanted to share some data we collected back in February.   Abacus Data asked a representative sample of 1,832 Canadians to compare Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair, and Justin Trudeau and asked which leader (or potential leader) is better on a five attributes.  They included:

  • Looking out for the middle class
  • Being an effective leader who can get things done
  • Having the leadership qualities to be a good prime minister
  • Dealing with issues of concern to women
  • Being able to unite all regions of the country

The question provides us three valuable things to consider.

  1. It gives us a sense of the perceived strengths and weakness of the three individuals as we enter a federal political environment that is more clear and representative of what 2015 may look like.
  2. It gives us insight into the “softness” of party support and how past supporters of the parties evaluate the current leaders.
  3. It provides us a benchmark to compare with over time as he head towards the next federal election in 2015.

Overall, the results demonstrate that Justin Trudeau has some significant advantages over his future competitors (mainly Tom Mulcair) but that Stephen Harper leads in the all important competence and leadership categories.

These results also suggest that for a large portion of the electorate, none of the three leaders are satisfactory offering other parties and leaders with an opportunity.

Looking out for the Middle Class

Throughout his leadership campaign, Justin Trudeau has spoken about his passion for the middle class.  When you asked Canadians which of the three politicians is better at looking out for the middle class, there is no clear choice.  Tom Mulcair leads slightly over Trudeau and Harper with another one in four respondents saying that none of the leaders is best.


Note: The  numbers do not add up to 100 because respondents were given the option of “all of them” and these respondents were grouped with each individual leader.  For example, for “looking out for the middle class” 21% selected Harper while another 6% selected all of them.  Therefore, Harper’s number is 27%

Being an Effective Leader Who Can Get Things Done

When it comes to competence and getting things done, Stephen Harper has a 10-point lead over Justin Trudeau.  Forty percent of respondents selected Stephen Harper, compared with 30% for Trudeau and 22% for Mulcair.

One of Stephen Harper’s personal strengths is the idea that he gets things done.  If we think in terms of percentage needed to win a majority government then the 40% who choose Harper means that he remains in a good position to win an election.  As we approach the next election, this measure will be a key indicator as to whether Harper and Conservatives can hold onto their majority.

Has the Leadership Qualities to be a Good Prime Minister

Along with the ability to get things done, Harper also leads on who is best at having the leadership qualities to be a good prime minister.  Thirty-nine percent of respondents (39%) selected Stephen Harper followed by Trudeau (33%), Mulcair (22%), and none of the above (21%).

When we look at how these results compare across party supporters in the 2011 election, the survey found that a large majority of Conservative voters selected Harper while preferences among Liberal and NDP supporters were more mixed.


Most troubling for Tom Mulcair is that only 45% of 2011 NDP voters considered him to be the political leader with the leadership qualities needed to be a good prime minister. Among those NDP supporters, 35% selected Justin Trudeau.  This number is very close to the percentage of NDP voters who said they would vote Liberal if Trudeau was leader in an Abacus Data survey last June.

Also, looking a little closer at Ontario, we find that Harper and Trudeau dominate Mulcair in three large regions of the province: Metro Toronto (416), the suburban area around Toronto (905), and in Southwestern Ontario.  Harper has a big lead in the suburban region that is a primary component of the electoral coalition that helped him win the last three elections.


Dealing with Issues of Concern to Women

In the U.S. Presidential election, Barack Obama had a significant advantage over Mitt Romney when it came to who was best at dealing with issues of concern to women.  This perception lead Obama to an 11-point advantage among female voters on Election Day.

Among Canadians, Justin Trudeau is seen as best able to deal with issues of concern to women (43%) followed by Tom Muclair (27%) and Stephen Harper (26%) with 26% saying none of the above.


However, when we compare perceptions between men and women, we find that while Trudeau has a big lead on the issue among women (Women – 43% Trudeau 42%, Mulcair 23%, Harper 23%), one in three female respondents (32%) choose none of the above.  This is 11 points higher than men.


Being Able to Unite All Regions of the Country

Finally, we asked which political leader is best at uniting all regions of the country.  Overall, none of the above was selected more frequently (38%) besting all three leaders tested.  However, among the three leaders, Trudeau performed best (32%) followed by Harper (24%) and Mulcair (18%).

When we compare these results across geographic groups, we find that Trudeau leads in Atlantic Canada (35%)  and Ontario (34%) while being statistically tied with Tom Mulcair among Quebec respondents (Trudeau 32%, Mulcair 31%).  In Western Canadian, Stephen Harper is the leader viewed best at uniting the country (31%).

These results reiterate the brand strength of Trudeau when it comes to national unity (outside of Western Canada) and the weakness of Mulcair and the NDP outside of Quebec.


These results are only more instructive considering the recent loss of an Quebec MP to the Bloc Quebecois and Harper’s statement about the NDP is the BQ in sheep’s clothing.  Especially in Ontario, the question of who is best at uniting the country is likely a liability for Mulcair as he faces the difficult task of managing a caucus is more than 50% from Quebec and aims to grow support in Ontario and Western Canada.

Bottom Line

If nothing else, these results demonstrate that if Justin Trudeau wins the Liberal leadership he will start off with a positive frame among many Canadians.

Are Canadians expectations of Trudeau too high?  Does he risk not meeting them?  Sure.

But his image is more defined and positive than that of his primary progressive rival in Tom Mulcair.

For Stephen Harper, he likely never lead on who was best to unite the country or deal with issues of concern for women, but the fact that he holds a significant advantage on leadership qualities and getting things done explains why the Conservatives still lead in our polling and why he is still best positioned to win an election.

As we head towards the 2015 federal election, we will continue to track this question.


The survey was conducted online with 1,832 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 panel of over 150,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from February 5 to 6, 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 1,832 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.3%, 19 times out of 20.

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

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