Trudeau Still Most Popular Federal Party Leader

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A new poll from polling firm Abacus Data finds that Justin Trudeau remains the most popular federal political party leader with 37% of Canadians surveyed saying they have a positive impression of the Liberal Party, down slightly from 39% in June.  NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are viewed positively by 30% and 29% of Canadians respectively.

Political Party Leaders: Overall Impressions

When respondents were asked to rate their personal impressions of the leaders of the main Canadian political parties, Stephen Harper was the only leader who registered a net negative impression score.

After a summer where much news media attention has been on the federal Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau’s net impression score slipped by three percentage points from June, dropping down to +10, still slightly better than Tom Mulcair’s overall net score.

A large percentage of Canadians still do not have enough information about Tom Mulcair to form an opinion with 17% saying they were unsure of their impression of the NDP, 11-percentage points higher than Justin Trudeau and 13 percentage points higher than Stephen Harper.


Leadership Attributes

Survey respondents were also asked whether a number of attributes accurately described each of the three main party leaders in Canada.  Figures in brackets track the change for Trudeau since April 2013 (the last time Abacus asked these questions).

Stephen Harper has an advantage when it comes to being qualified to be Prime Minister with 61% of those aware of the Prime Minister agreeing that he is qualified to be Prime Minister.  Another 49% agree that Harper has sound judgement while a majority of respondents who have an opinion agree that he understands the problems facing Canada.  In terms of negative descriptions, 57% of respondents agreed that the Prime Minister was out of touch with ordinary people.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, while less well known than the other two leaders, has an advantage among those who have an impression of the NDP leader on measures of having sound judgement (58%), on substance over style (only 38% agree Mulcair is more style than substance) and on being in touch with ordinary people (only 34% believe he is out of touch with ordinary people).

When it comes to Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, respondents are most likely to agree he is likely (79%) while at the same time being viewed as most likely to be more style than substance (65%).  Since April, the largest drop in for Trudeau’s leadership numbers have been on whether he has sound judgment (down 11 points to 51%) and on likeability (down eight points to 79%).

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Stephen Harper: Two Worlds in One Country

Looking specifically at Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s leadership attributes, it is clear that there are two distinct points of view depending on current and past vote preferences.  Among those who voted for the Conservative Party in 2011, very large majorities of respondents agree that the Prime Minister is qualified to be Prime Minister, has sound judgment, understands the problems facing Canada, and has a clear vision for Canada.  Agreement, not surprisingly, is even higher among those who currently support the Conservative Party.

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Comparing the views of past supporters and non-supporters makes it clear that the Conservative Party will have a difficult time growing support beyond those who voted for the party in the past.  While a large plurality of Canadians who do not support the Conservative Party agree that the Prime Minister is qualified and has sound judgement, a large majority believe he is out of touch with ordinary people.

This might explain why the Federal Government is likely to make a push to appeal to consumers in the next session of Parliament and why it is working so hard to appear as those it puts consumers first over the interests of large corporations.

The Bottom Line

Over the summer, there has been little change in Canadians’ overall impression of the three main federal party leaders.  Justin Trudeau is still viewed positively by the largest number of Canadians while Mulcair remains an unknown quantity to a large portion of the population.

Prime Minister Harper’s personal numbers remain weak with only 29% viewing the Conservative leader positively but he is still viewed as most qualified to be Prime Minister and is tied with Justin Trudeau when it comes to having sound judgement.  However, among those who voted for the Conservative Party in 2011, the Prime Minister’s personal numbers are still quite strong with large majorities believing he is qualified, has sound judgment, and understands the problems facing Canada.  Seven in ten former CPC voters also agree that the Prime Minister is likeable, an attribute not usually associated with Stephen Harper.

Over the summer, much of the political debate centred around Justin Trudeau and his admission that he smoked marijuana while an MP.  As our previous research found, his admission is likely to have any short-term impacts on reputation or support for the Liberals (our last vote intention poll had the Liberals and Tories basically tied).  But since April, there has been some negative movement in one key attribute – having sound judgement.  In April, 62% of those who had an opinion about Justin Trudeau agreed that he has sound judgment.  In early September, that number had dropped 11-points.  Whether this drop was caused by his pot admission or the negative Conservative Party ads released after he won the Liberal leadership is unclear.  Nonetheless, in the five months since he has been Liberal leader, perceptions about his judgement have been weakened significant.

For NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, the results of this survey are more of the same.  More Canadians have a positive impression of the Leader of the Opposition than those with a negative impression but there are still many respondents who do not have a clear image or impression of Mr. Mulcair.  This is both an opportunity and a threat.  The opportunity is that the party still has two years before the next election.  The threat is that Justin Trudeau is so much more known and at this point more popular and it may be difficult for the NDP to define their leader not because he has no image but because it may be difficult to get attention in an environment dominated by the Prime Minister and the Liberal leader.  The good news for Tom Mulcair is that those who do know him view him positively and he compares well against Trudeau and Harper on being in touch with ordinary people and having both substance and sound judgment – two traits often viewed as lacking in Justin Trudeau.


The survey was conducted online with 1,600 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 Aug 30 to Sept 4, 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 1,600 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.5%, 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



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