Half a year is quite a while 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 with six months to go before the autumn election.
And when past prime ministers have been in this area before, it normally has not ended 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 prior to the following election twice.
On two occasions, that celebration was reduced to a minority government. On five occasions, it was defeated. On only two occasions did it secure a majority.
For parties that led from the polls this far out from election day, it is a much different picture: of the 14 such instances since 1945, the party top was defeated just three times.
That’s a bad historic precedent for Prime Minister Trudeau.
According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the Liberals trail the Conservatives by a margin of 2.5 percentage points, with 32.7 per cent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s celebration.
Poll Tracker: Conservatives lead over Liberals slides to 3 points On average, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed at the polls by a margin of 3 points in the six-month mark. Those parties that went on to re-election using a majority government appreciated an average lead of 12 points in the six-month mark.
Obviously, much can change in six days prior to an election, let alone six months. Still, the historical record reveals it’s much better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.
Past prime ministers have overcome wider polling shortages compared to one Trudeau faces now. But those were cases.
Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were supporting Lester Pearson’s Liberals by 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 within a year.
In early 1988, Brian Mulroney’s PCs were behind by seven points. But Mulroney was able to turn the November federal election into a referendum on the free trade arrangement with the United States, maintaining his party in energy from the procedure.
At the end of 1967, the Liberals were trailing the PCs and their recently installed leader, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It took a change of direction of their own to get the Liberals to win 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.
Pierre Trudeau barely overcame the odds again after just 1 term in 1972. He had been narrowly behind Stanfield going within that fall’s election and arose with a minority government.
That isn’t the sole example that has some familiar (in addition to familial) relations to the recent Trudeau government. The Liberals were trailing behind the PCs by a similar margin at 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 decades 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 at the mark, though that resulted from the opposition vote being divided 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 in this phase of the pre-election period.
At just over 35 percent nationally, Scheer’s party is about even with where previous 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 weeks to go before an election.
It’s a level of support that may go either way. Clark’s party was at 37 percent at this stage before his defeat in 1980, while Diefenbaker’s PCs were also at 37 per cent before he was reduced to a minority government in 1962. Stanfield’s party had 35 percent support in the six-month mark before he held Pierre Trudeau into some minority in 1972, while Harper’s Conservatives were 35 percent before he was re-elected in 2008.
The NDP’s current standing in the polls is very common for the celebration this far out from voting day. With 15.3 per cent, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is only marginally below the 16 per cent average the party and its predecessor, the CCF, have handled at this point in election cycles since 1945. It places Singh directly in the middle of the pack of historical NDP performances.
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