Half a year is a long time in politics, but if you are trailing in the polls it may not feel like it’s long enough.
That’s where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finds itself six months to go before the fall federal election.
And when past prime ministers have been in this area before, it normally has not stopped well for them.
Since the Second World War, when political public opinion polling first began in Canada, the governing party has trailed in the polls to eight months prior to the following election twice.
On two occasions, that celebration was reduced to a minority government. On five occasions, it had been defeated. On only two occasions did it secure a majority.
For parties which led from the polls this far out from election day, it’s a much different picture: of the 14 such instances since 1945, the party leading has been defeated only three times.
That is a poor historical precedent for Prime Minister Trudeau.
According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the Liberals path the Conservatives with a margin of 2.5 percentage points, with 32.7 per cent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s party.
Poll Tracker: Conservatives lead over Liberals slides to 3 points On average, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed in the polls by a margin of three points at the six-month mark. Those parties that went on to re-election with a majority government enjoyed a typical lead of 12 points in the six-month mark.
Obviously, much can change in six days before an election, let alone six months. Nonetheless, the historical record shows it is much better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.
Exceptions that prove the rule Past prime ministers have successfully overcome wider polling shortages than the one Trudeau faces now. But those were scenarios.
Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were behind Lester Pearson’s Liberals with a margin of six factors. In the long run, Diefenbaker was able to continue but was sent back to Ottawa with a shaky minority government that fulfilled its end in a year.
In early 1988, Brian Mulroney’s PCs were behind by seven points. However, Mulroney was able to turn the November national election into a referendum on the free trade arrangement with the United States, maintaining his party in power in the process.
In the end of 1967, the Liberals were monitoring the PCs and their recently installed leader, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It required a change of leadership of their own for the Liberals to win 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.
Pierre Trudeau barely surpassed the odds again after just 1 word in 1972. He was behind Stanfield going into that autumn’s election and arose with a minority government.
That isn’t the sole example that has some recognizable (as well as familial) connections to the current Trudeau government. The Liberals were trailing behind the PCs by a similar margin at the end of 1978, before Joe Clark’s short-lived minority government was elected in 1979.
There are a number of exceptions on the opposite side of the ledger, too. Louis St-Laurent lost despite a 17-point lead in 1957 following 22 years of Liberal government, Paul Martin was ahead by 10 points in 2005 until he dropped his lead to the Conservatives over the span of the 2005-06 campaign. And Stephen Harper was narrowly ahead in 2015 in the six-month mark, though that resulted from the opposition vote being split between Trudeau’s Liberals and Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats.
Scheer, Singh on par with predecessors
Both the Conservatives and the NDP are approximately where those parties are inclined to be in this phase of their pre-election period.
At just over 35 percent nationwide, Scheer’s celebration is all about even with where past Conservative parties under different leaders have stood with six months to go. Excluding the run-up to the 1997 and 2000 elections — when the right was divided between the PCs and the Reform/Canadian Alliance parties — the Conservatives have dropped 34 percent support with six months to go before an election.
It is a level of support that can go either way. Clark’s party was at 37 percent at this stage prior to his defeat in 1980, while Diefenbaker’s PCs were also at 37 per cent before he had been reduced to a minority government in 1962. Stanfield’s celebration had 35 per cent support at the mark before he held Pierre Trudeau into a minority in 1972, while Harper’s Conservatives were 35 percent before he had been re-elected in 2008.
The NDP’s current standing in the polls is very common for the party out this far from voting day. With 15.3 percent, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is only slightly below the 16 per cent average the celebration and its predecessor, the CCF, have managed at this stage in election cycles since 1945. It places Singh right in the center of the bunch of historical NDP performances.
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