Opinion: Data Dive with Nik Nanos: Now is the time for an election?


On July 7, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bumps his elbows with a worker at Calgary-based AAA Door.

Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global researcher at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, a research professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo, and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently thought the House of Commons was toxic. He highlighted the difficulty of passing a law, as well as the unprecedented parliamentary warning from the President of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Iain Stewart, a civil servant, for failing to hand over uncovered documents implicating the dismissal. of two scientists in a government laboratory in Winnipeg.

Mr. Trudeau’s solution seems to be to call an election.

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In a twist, the view that parliament has been dysfunctional is unlikely to align with a likely Liberal campaign strategy to play out on the government’s record. Even in the face of a minority parliament, the Liberals managed to put in place significant stimulus measures to help individuals and businesses weather the pandemic. More importantly, after a few bumps, the vaccination campaign was a success, with Canada being among the best countries in the world to administer COVID-19 vaccines.

Is “toxicity” in Parliament a sufficient reason to call an election? If the government had not been able to pass the legislation it needed to respond to the pandemic, an election would be called for. This is clearly not the case.

Has it been a turbulent time in Canadian politics? Yes. Are there differences of opinion between federal political parties? Absolutely. Are the opposition parties working to shed light on the inadequacies of the government of the day? For sure. But that’s their job. If Parliament had nothing but bright days, some would see it as a sign that we are not in a well-functioning democracy.

The risk for the Liberals is that they may very well be half too smart when judging the electorate. The last federal election in Canada was a “joyless outcome”. The Liberals were disappointed that they did not get a majority. The Conservatives could not believe Andrew Scheer. The NDP could not regain the excitement of the Layton-Mulcair era.

But a smart strategist would push for an election.

A look at the most recent election suggests the Liberals were on the verge of winning a majority in the House and losing the popular vote at the same time. Out of 17 million votes cast, they only needed 21,000 votes in 13 constituencies to win a majority.

Meanwhile, the poll numbers currently look exceptionally strong for the Liberals. In the latest Nanos tracking poll, they have a double-digit lead over Erin O’Toole’s Tories (Liberals 38%, Conservatives 24%, NDP 20%, Greens 8%, Bloc 5%, People’s Party 4%, nationally). The most dramatic change in public opinion since the last election is against the Conservatives. A look at trends in weekly polls since the last election suggests the Tories have slipped from 34 percent to 24 percent – a withered level of support for a party that has held power for nearly a decade under Stephen Harper .

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However, campaigns matter, and the best-designed plans can quickly go wrong.

First, calling an election will effectively reset media coverage. Since the start of the pandemic, the government has enjoyed a huge advantage over leaders and opposition parties in terms of attention. On election day, opposition leaders will have more media exposure and the advantage the Liberals enjoyed will be eliminated.

Second, the real impact of the pandemic on the economy has been obscured by the stimulus. Research suggests that there is growing anxiety among Canadians about the future. Over half of Canadians (52%) believe the next generation will have a lower standard of living than the current generation. Negative reviews in May increased by seven points compared to February 2021, while positive reviews fell by around 10 points. The stimulus halo is thin and wears out.

Third, the reality is that real support for the Conservatives is probably much higher than their current poll numbers indicate. Liberal support is too expensive and needs to be corrected. It should come as no surprise if the big Liberal advantage turns into a smaller advantage, and a narrative emerges in the first part of the campaign that the Conservatives are starting to close the gap. Likewise, the 4 percent People’s Party of Canada support likely includes disgruntled Tories temporarily parking with the PPC. They may be unhappy with the Conservatives, but the specter of another potential Liberal victory could put them back in the Blue Column.

René Lévesque waves to members of the press after voting in Montreal, during the 1976 general election in Quebec.

The Canadian Press

We know that early electoral convocations give results that are different from those expected. Quebec Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa lost a snap election in 1976 against separatist René Lévesque. Ontario Liberal David Peterson lost a snap election that brought Ontario NDP leader Bob Rae to power. Federal Liberal Leader John Turner attended in early 1984 and the result was an overwhelming majority for the Mulroney Progressive Conservatives. But an early election is not all risk. Federal Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien, after winning in 1993, surrendered early to voters in 1997 and was rewarded with a second majority government.

The Liberals should not get too comfortable. They have an advantage today, but it is probably overestimated. The gap between the Liberals and the Conservatives will close. Anxiety about the future will grow as stimulus wears off and awareness of our debt levels rises.

It will be an election of mixed emotions – the relief that comes with vaccinations, the hope of an opening up of the economy, anxiety over the real fallout from the pandemic on jobs. These will place close scrutiny on all political leaders. For the Liberals, the decision to call an election now carries both risks and rewards.

Nanos conducted a dual-base (landline and cellular) RDD hybrid telephone survey and random online survey of 1,029 Canadian adults. Presented between May 30 and June 2, 2021, it is accurate to ± 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Voting numbers are based on a dual-base (land and cellular) RDD telephone survey ending July 2, 2021. It is accurate ± 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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