The context: Setting the stage for a very negative campaign 

Among the many things that keep political parties and strategists up at night during an election is getting their supporters to the polls. So, while talk of energizing “the base” has become cliché, it is no less key to victory. The rise in the polls of the Green Party of Canada and the birth of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, makes voter mobilization as relevant today as in any previous Canadian election. When the ballots are counted in October, it is likely that several MPs will emerge victorious with less than a third of the vote. Indeed, for the first time in a while, several four-way races are likely, particularly in British Columbia and Quebec.

In his review of the literature on the consequences of negative campaigning, Martin Haselmayer notes that “… if the outcome of an election is uncertain, the level of negative campaigning by frontrunners and challengers should increase” [1]. If recent polls and Haslmayer are right, Canadians may witness an election that is unprecedented in its negativity [2].

H+K’s #elxn43 insights platform

H+K has created a data and analytics platform for the 43rd federal election to examine voter attitudes and behaviours at the national and local riding levels. This insights platform includes:

  • Results from several national surveys.
  • A detailed analysis of 28 key ridings across the country based on a hybrid methodology featuring Advanced Symbolics Inc. (ASI) Artificial Intelligence (AI).
  • Qualitative research insights from in-person interviews with a range of voters about their motivations and the issues that matter most.

Results are in: Enthusiasm for the election is tepid

The first of the national surveys is in (conducted August 2 to 9, 2019 with 1,000 Canadians nationally). In this first release, we look at the “mood” of Canadians at the incipient stage of the campaign.

Overall, we find that enthusiasm is tepid, particularly outside of the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservative Party of Canada camps. Similarly, few voters are “optimistic” about the election and almost none describe themselves as “excited” or “energized.” It’s also worth noting that men are much more sanguine about the election than women. About half of Canadians feel that it is time for a change, while about one in three think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals deserve another mandate.

About four in 10 Canadians (39%) say they are enthusiastic about their political options in the upcoming election, compared to almost a third who are not (29%), and another third who are somewhere in the middle (30%).

To describe stats

 

Results are consistent across regions and according to most sociodemographic characteristics, except for gender, where we find that women (33%) are significantly less enthusiastic than men (45%).

The results presented below show that enthusiasm about the election varies significantly according to party support. Would-be Liberal and Conservative voters are most enthusiastic, while Bloc Québécois supporters are least so. It may be surprising to see that current Green Party supporters are not more enthusiastic, given the relative newness of the party and its recent momentum in the polls. It may be that the relatively low level of enthusiasm that currently surrounds the Green Party stems from the number of disenchanted NDP (New Democratic Party), and to a lesser extent Liberal and Conservative, supporters who are either parking their votes or have yet to be entirely convinced.

To illustrate stats

Frustration, pessimism and indifference outdoes optimism as Canadians prepare to head to the polls 

For 62% of Canadians, the upcoming election evokes feelings of frustration, pessimism and/or indifference. On the other side of the emotional spectrum, we find that only a quarter of Canadians are feeling optimistic about the election (23%). Consistent with their relatively low enthusiasm for the election, we find that women are also much less optimistic (17% compared to 29% of men). Looking at the data based on political party support we find that:

  • Sunny Ways … for some – feelings of optimism are more prevalent among Liberal supporters.
  • In contrast, feelings of frustration, pessimism and fear are most common among would-be NDP voters.
  • Turbulent – but is there light at the end of this tunnel? Among Conservative supporters, we see a potent mix of frustration, optimism and fear.
  • Momentum in the polls, but Green supporters have the highest proportion of people who are feeling indifferent.

To illustrate Party logos

Half of Canadians say it is time for a change at the federal level

Based on the results of a referendum-type question, we find that half of Canadians say that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Government has done a poor job and that it is time for a change (51%). A total of 35% hold the opposite view while the remaining 14% are not sure.

Stats

The desire for change is highest in Alberta (76%) and lowest in Quebec (41%) as well as among those with a university education (46%).

As could be expected, Liberal supporters prefer the status quo (86%), while almost all current Conservative supporters are looking for change. More interesting is the ambivalence we find among current supporters of the Bloc Québécois, NDP, and to a lesser extent the Green Party.

Much work to be done …

The survey results suggest that the NDP and the Bloc Québécois have the most work cut out for them when it comes to motivating their base and would-be supporters. The level of motivation among Green Party voters is dangerously low for a party that many perceive is on the rise. Taken together, the results should be encouraging to the Liberals, given that they are much more likely than the Conservatives to benefit from softness in the NDP and Green support.

About the survey:

Hill+Knowlton Strategies’ data + analytics’ research practice, Perspectives+, conducted a national survey of Canadians. This survey focused on the public’s thoughts on the upcoming federal election.

In total 1,000 adult residents of Canada were surveyed online, between the dates of August 2 to 9, 2019. Post-stratification weights were applied to the sample based on the 2016 census population parameters to ensure representation by province of Canada, age and gender.

Respondents who claimed they were not eligible to vote were removed.

An associated margin of error for a randomly selected sample of this size would be ±3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

[1] Haselmayer, M. Fr Polit (2019) 17: 355. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41253-019-00084-8

[2] My colleague Chris Davies, H+K Canada’s Executive Creative Director, wrote a great piece recently on negative and positive political ads: https://hkstrategies.ca/en/the-anatomy-of-a-great-political-commerical/