Half a year is quite a while in politics, but if you’re trailing in the polls it might not feel like it’s long enough.
That is where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finds itself with six months to go before the autumn election.
And when past prime ministers have been in this spot 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 six to eight months before the following election twice.
On two occasions, that party 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 celebration top has been defeated only three times.
That’s a bad historic precedent for Prime Minister Trudeau.
According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of publicly available polling data, the Liberals trail the Conservatives by a margin of 2.5 percentage points, with 32.7 percent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s party.
Poll Tracker: Conservatives lead over Liberals slides to 3 factors On average, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed in the polls by a margin of 3 points at the six-month mark. Those parties which proceeded to re-election using a vast majority government enjoyed an average lead of 12 points at the mark.
Obviously, much can change in six days before the election, let alone six months. Nonetheless, the historical record shows it’s definitely better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.
Past prime ministers have successfully overcome wider polling shortages than the one Trudeau faces today. But those were cases.
Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were behind Lester Pearson’s Liberals with a margin of six points. In the end, Diefenbaker was able to continue but was shipped back to Ottawa with a shaky minority government that met 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 from the procedure.
In the end of 1967, the Liberals were monitoring the PCs and their newly installed leader, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It took a change of leadership of their own to get the Liberals to win 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.
Pierre Trudeau barely surpassed the odds again after just 1 term in 1972. He had been narrowly behind Stanfield moving within that fall’s election and arose with a minority government.
That isn’t the only example that has some familiar (in addition to familial) connections to the recent Trudeau government. The Liberals were trailing behind the PCs with a similar margin in the end of 1978, until Joe Clark’s short-term minority government has been elected in 1979.
There are a few exceptions on the other side of the ledger, too. Louis St-Laurent dropped despite a 17-point lead in 1957 after 22 years of Liberal government, Paul Martin was ahead by 10 points in 2005 until he dropped his lead to the Conservatives within the span of the 2005-06 campaign. And Stephen Harper was narrowly ahead in 2015 in the six-month mark, although that was due to 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 roughly where those parties are inclined to be at this stage of their pre-election period.
At just over 35 percent nationally, Scheer’s celebration is all about even with where past Conservative parties under different leaders have stood with six months to proceed. Excluding the run-up to the 1997 and 2000 elections — when the right has been divided between the PCs and the Reform/Canadian Alliance parties — the Conservatives have dropped 34 per cent service with six weeks to go before an election.
It’s a level of support which can go either way. Clark’s party was at 37 percent at this stage before his defeat in 1980, while Diefenbaker’s PCs were at 37 percent before he was reduced to a minority government in 1962. Stanfield’s celebration had 35 per cent support in the six-month mark before he held Pierre Trudeau into a minority in 1972, while Harper’s Conservatives were 35 per cent before he was re-elected in 2008.
The NDP’s current standing in the polls is very typical for the party this far out from voting day. With 15.3 percent, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is only slightly below the 16 percent average the party and its predecessor, the CCF, have handled at this stage in election cycles since 1945. It places Singh directly in the center of the pack of historical NDP performances.
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