As Canadians head to a unique holiday break, the perceptions of voters on the performance of the prime minister have become more positive. When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about federal political leaders earlier this month, 55% said they approved of the way Justin Trudeau is handling his duties.
This month’s numbers represent a five-point increase since our previous survey in September, when speculation about an early election was rampant. Trudeau’s approval rating is highest among women (58%), Canadians aged 18 to 34 (63%), Atlantic Canadians (60%) and Ontarians (59%).
The impending arrival of vaccines for Canadians who want them may be playing a role in these fluctuations. Since the start of the pandemic, at least three in five Canadians have said they are satisfied with the performance of the federal government on COVID-19 (63% the last time we asked in late November).
On voting intention, the governing Liberal Party remains six points ahead of the Conservative Party at the national level (37% to 31%). The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) is now the choice of one in five decided voters (20%), followed by the Bloc Québécois at 7%, the Green Party at 3% and the People’s Party at 1%.
The regional disparities that have been the norm for most of this century persist. The Liberals are still popular in Atlantic Canada (44%) and Ontario (43%), and have extended their lead over the Bloc in Quebec (45% to 35%). The Conservatives remain the top choice for voters in Alberta (51%) and Manitoba and Saskatchewan (48%). In British Columbia, the NDP and the Tories are virtually tied (34% and 33%), with the Liberals in a close third place (29%).
The current level of voter support for the Liberals is steady across all age groups. The Conservatives continue to be more appealing to voters aged 55 and over (35%), with support falling slightly among those aged 35 to 54 (31%) but dropping to just 15% among those aged 18 to 34. The New Democrats have the opposite challenge, with the support of more than a third of voters aged 18 to 34 (35%), but only 19% of those aged 35 to 54 and 15% of those aged 55 and over.
Official Opposition and Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole remains a contentious figure, with 35% of Canadians approving of his performance (up two points), 38% disapproving (up four points) and 26% still undecided. The job of an opposition leader during a pandemic is not easy, and O’Toole has so far been unable to reach 40% on approval in any province outside Alberta. An emotional connection outside the usual base of support has not been established yet.
The approval rating for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh increased slightly to 46% this month, with 41% of Canadians disapproving of his performance. Newly anointed Green Party leader Annamie Paul has an approval rating of 25%. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier, also without a seat in the House of Commons, has lower numbers (17%). On a separate question about who Canadians would prefer as prime minister, Trudeau maintains a large lead over O’Toole (39% to 22%), with Singh a distant third (13%) and the other party leaders in single digits.
Recent elections have shown the clout that a successful management of the pandemic can have on the electorate, as exemplified by the substantial majorities now enjoyed by the premiers of British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. At this stage, the federal Liberals continue to enjoy a comfortable lead at the national level. The past three months have not been particularly kind to the Conservatives outside of their usual areas of dominance, while the New Democrats have benefited thanks to younger voters and British Columbians.
When Canadians are asked to name the most important issue facing the country, 15% select the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care is the most mentioned choice (28%), followed closely by the economy and jobs (27%). Other matters, including the environment, are not as salient.
What makes the issue question particularly compelling at the end of 2020 is the age breakdown. Canadians aged 18 to 34 – who are more likely to say they approve of Trudeau’s performance – are more likely to be worried about the economy and jobs (36%) than those aged 35 to 54 (26%) and those aged 55 and over (25%).
Canada’s youngest voters have so far been pleased with the way COVID-19 has been managed at the federal level, and have always been more receptive to Trudeau’s leadership style. However, if they end up becoming disenchanted with the look and feel of the post-pandemic recovery, they may be ready to explore other options before the next election arrives.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from December 12 to December 14, 2020, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.