Half a year is a long time in politics, but when you are trailing in the polls it may not feel like it is long enough.
That is where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finds itself with six months to go before the autumn election.
And when beyond prime ministers have been in this area before, it generally has not stopped well for them.
Since the Second World War, when political public opinion polling first started in Canada, the governing party has trailed in the polls six to eight months prior to the subsequent 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 that led in the polls this far out from election day, it is a far different picture: of the 14 such instances since 1945, the party top was defeated only three times.
That is 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 per cent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s celebration.
Poll Tracker: Conservatives lead over Liberals slides to 3 points Typically, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed in the polls by a margin of 3 points in the six-month mark. Those parties that went on to re-election with a majority government enjoyed a typical lead of 12 points at the six-month mark.
Obviously, much could change in six days before an election, let alone six months. Still, the historical record reveals it’s definitely better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.
Exceptions that prove the rule Past prime ministers have overcome wider polling shortages than the one Trudeau faces today. But those were exceptional cases.
Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were behind Lester Pearson’s Liberals by a margin of six factors. In the end, Diefenbaker managed to continue but was sent 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 managed to flip the November national election into a referendum on the free trade arrangement with the United States, maintaining his party in power from the process.
In the end of 1967, the Liberals were trailing the PCs and their recently installed leader, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It required a change of direction of their own for the Liberals to win 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.
Pierre Trudeau barely surpassed the odds again after only one term in 1972. He was narrowly behind Stanfield going into that fall’s election and arose with a minority government.
That isn’t the only example that’s some recognizable (as well as 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-lived minority government has been elected in 1979.
There are a number of exceptions on the other side of the ledger, too. Louis St-Laurent dropped 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 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 tend 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 previous Conservative parties under different leaders have stood with six months to proceed. Excluding the run-up into the 1997 and 2000 elections — when the right was split between the PCs and the Reform/Canadian Alliance parties — the Conservatives have averaged 34 percent service with six weeks to go before an election.
It is a level of support that may go either way. Clark’s celebration was at 37 per cent at this point prior to his defeat in 1980, while Diefenbaker’s PCs were also at 37 percent before he was reduced to a minority government in 1962. Stanfield’s party had 35 percent support in the six-month mark until he held Pierre Trudeau into some minority in 1972, while Harper’s Conservatives were at 35 percent before he had been re-elected in 2008.
The NDP’s current standing in the polls is very typical for the celebration out this far from voting day. With 15.3 percent, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is just 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 right in the center of the pack of historical NDP performances.
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