Federal Politics: Tories Most Trusted to Manage Economy

According to a new national survey conducted by public opinion firm Abacus Data, the Conservative Party is the most trusted party when it comes to managing the economy and Canadians are more optimistic about the direction of the country than in June.  Note, this survey was conducted before Senator Mike Duffy’s speech in the Senate.

Among all eligible voters surveyed, 28% said they trusted the Conservative Party the most to manage Canada’s economy, followed by the Liberal Party at 23% and the NDP at 13%.  Thirty-two percent of respondents were unsure.

When asked about the overall direction of the country, 42% of respondents believed things in Canada were headed in the right direction (up six since June) while 26% believed they were off on the wrong track (down 21 since June).  Thirty-two percent were unsure.

Approval of the federal government’s job performance was also up slightly from June reaching 35% (up 4) while 46% disapproved of the federal government’s job approval.  Nineteen percent neither approved nor disapproved.

Finally, respondents were asked to rank the top three issues from a list of 18 possible issue, collectively health care, job creation, budget deficit and debt, accountability in government, taxes, and economic development were the top six issues selected by respondents.

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Direction of the Country

Overall, 42% of eligible voters in Canada believe that the country is headed in the right direction, up six points since June 2013.  In contrast, 26% believe the country is headed off on the wrong track, down 21 points since June.  A large number of respondents (32%) were unsure.

Regionally, Albertans were most optimistic about the direction of the country (68%) followed by those living in BC (47%).  Quebec residents were least likely to think the country was headed in the right direction (35%).

Men were more optimistic than women (men 49% right direction, women 37% right direction) while those who self-identified as being in the middle or upper middle class were more likely to think things in Canada are headed in the right direction (46% and 48%) than those in the lower middle or lower class (37% and 30%).

There was also a strong relationship between perceptions about the direction of the country and vote intention.  Conservative Party supporters were more likely to think the country is headed in the right direction than Liberal or NDP supporters.  However, interestingly, 41% of Liberal Party supporters thought the country is headed in the right direction while 32% of NDP supporters shared that view.

 

Direction of the Country by Current Vote Intention
All Eligible Voters

All Respondents

Conservative

Liberal

NDP

Green

BQ

Right Direction

42%

72%

41%

32%

38%

38%

Wrong Track

26%

10%

35%

34%

26%

20%

Unsure

32%

18%

24%

35%

36%

43%

 

Keeping in mind that our latest vote intention results found that 25% of all eligible voters said they would vote Conservative, there is a big gap (17 points) between those who think the country is headed in the right direction and those who would vote for the incumbent party.  This indicates that while Canadians may be more optimistic about the country, they either don’t credit federal government policy or there is something they do not like about the Conservative Party that is preventing them from voting Conservative.

Perceptions of the federal government’s job performance demonstrate the dilemma faced by the Harper government.

Federal Government Job Performance

When asked to rate the job performance of the federal government led by Stephen Harper, 35% of Canadians either strongly (9%) or somewhat (26%) approved while 46% either strongly (22%) or somewhat (24%) disapproved.

Approval was highest in Alberta (60%) and lower in Quebec (24%) and Atlantic Canada (24%).  In vote rich Ontario, 38% of respondents approved of the government’s job performance while 42% disapproved.

When we look at the Harper government’s approval rating by how respondents voted in 2011, we find that 73% of those who voted Conservative in 2011 approve of the job the federal government is doing while 17% disapprove.  Approval, not surprisingly, is significantly lower among past Liberal (22%) and NDP (17%) voters.

Political Party Most Trusted to Manage Canada’s Economy

Respondents were also asked to pick which federal party they trusted the most to manage Canada’s economy.  Overall, 28% of respondents selected the Conservative Party followed by the Liberals in second (23%) and the NDP in third (13%).  Thirty-two percent of respondents were unsure.

In Ontario, the Tories have a seven-point lead over the Liberals on this measure (32% vs. 25%) with the NDP well back at 10%.  In Quebec, the Liberal Party (25%) comes ahead of the NDP (19%) and Tories (16%) while the Tories have a big advantage over the Liberals in Alberta (48% vs. 18%).

When we compare current vote intention with party most trusted to manage the economy we find a strong relationship between the two – especially among those who currently support the Conservative Party.

But there a number of current Liberal and NDP supporters who identify another party as best able to manage the economy as well as a large number who are unsure.  This presents an opportunity to all parties if the economy remains a top issue of concern for voters.

Trust to Manage Economy by Current Vote Intention
All Eligible Voters

All Respondents

Conservative

Liberal

NDP

Green

BQ

Conservative

28%

86%

6%

7%

6%

23%

Liberal

23%

2%

69%

12%

9%

15%

NDP

13%

1%

4%

51%

8%

15%

Green

3%

1%

50%

2%

BQ

1%

1%

32%

Unsure

32%

11%

20%

29%

27%

13%

 

Top Issues: Health, jobs, deficits, and accountability

Finally, we asked respondents to rank their top three issues of concern from a list of 19.  Overall, respondents were most likely to rank health care, jobs, deficit and debt, accountability, taxes, and economic development as their top issues.

The table below details the percentage who ranked an issue first and within their top three.

Top Ranked Issues
All Eligible Voters

Ranked 1st

Ranked in Top 3

Health care

20%

48%

Job creation

13%

30%

Budget deficit and debt

11%

29%

Accountability in government

11%

31%

Economic development

9%

23%

Taxes

9%

27%

Retirement security

5%

21%

Environment

4%

16%

Affordable housing

4%

11%

Poverty

4%

14%

Crime and safer communities

2%

6%

Education

2%

15%

Natural resource development

2%

7%

Homecare

1%

4%

Public transit

1%

4%

Interest rates

1%

7%

Security and terrorism

1%

4%

Skills training

0%

4%

 

When we compare issue priorities across different party supporters we find that health dominates as the top issue regardless of party support.  Moreover, job creation, budget deficits, and accountability appear near the top as well.  In other words, health, jobs, budget deficits and accountability are valence issues – issues that all voters care about.

But there were other issues that were unique to different party supporters.  For example, Conservative Party supporters were more likely to rank security and terrorism, crime, and skills training in their top three while NDP supporters were more likely to rank education, the environment and poverty.  These issues are more positional.

The point here is that on the big issues, voters are looking for which party will best handle the issue while the positional issues are more specialized and have the ability to drive voters to a party because they make it a priority.

Issues Ranked in Top Three by Current Vote Intention
All Eligible Voters

All Respondents

Conservative
Supporters

Liberal
Supporters

NDP
Supporters

Undecided Voters

Issue 1

Health care
48%

Health care
48%

Health care
49%

Health care
48%

Health care
49%

Issue 2

Accountability
31%

Job creation
33%

Accountability
35%

Job creation
33%

Budget deficit and debt
31%

Issue 3

Job creation
30%

Budget deficit
32%

Budget deficit
31%

Accountability
27%

Job creation
30%

Issues ranked higher than other groups

Security and terrorism
Skills training
Crime

Crime

Education
Environment
Poverty

Taxes
Poverty
Interest rates

 

Finally, since job creation and economic development were ranked in the top three by so many respondents, it is worthwhile to understand which party those respondents who care about jobs and economy trust most to manage the economy.  In the table below, we divide respondents into two groups: those who ranked job creation in the top three and those who ranked economic development in the top three.  While both are related to economic management, they are slightly different in terms of motive and outcome.

Trust to Manage Economy by Issue Priority
All Eligible Voters

All Respondents

Ranked Jobs in
Top 3

Ranked Economic Development in
Top 3

Conservative

28%

29%

38%

Liberal

23%

22%

24%

NDP

13%

14%

11%

Green

3%

1%

BQ

1%

2%

1%

Unsure

32%

33%

25%

While the Tories have a lead on which party Canadians trust to manage the economy among all eligible voters, their advantage grows among those who ranked job creation and/or economic development in their top three issues.  Most striking is the party’s 14-point lead among the 23% of Canadians who ranked economic development as one of their top three issues.  If the ballot question in 2015 is about the economy and the Tories continue to have such an advantage over the other two parties, it will be tough to beat the Stephen Harper and the Tories.

For Trudeau and Mulcair, they will either have to change the channel (focus the ballot question on something other than the economy) or beat the Tories at their own game.  The ability to do this is partly out of their hands as the state of the economy in 2015 and the public’s perception of it will be a key determinant of what the 2015 election will be about.

Bottom Line

Canadians are more optimistic today about the direction of the country than in June but that optimism hasn’t improved evaluations of the federal government’s job performance.  Among those who voted Conservative in 2011, 73% approve of the government’s performance while 9% neither approve nor disapprove and 17% disapprove.  Convincing this 27% of former Tory voters that the Harper government is on the right track and a better alternative to either a Mulcair or Trudeau led government is what the next two years is all about.

The Tories have an advantage on the second most important issue for Canadians – the economy and jobs.  They are most trusted to manage the economy and more importantly, among those who believe the economy and jobs are the top issues, the party’s advantage is even larger.  Keeping focus on the economy is the first objective for the government.  The second, and more difficult one, is demonstrating to its former supporters that the government has delivered – that its policies have actually improved the economy.  Right now, more Canadians are giving the Harper government the benefit of the doubt but there’s a large segment who aren’t convinced yet.

These results also underscore the immense challenge faced by Tom Mulcair in keeping the NDP competitive and positioning it challenge for government.  Not only is NDP support down to the lowest level we have tracked it since the 2011 election, but it is not seen as credible on economic management.  Mulcair must do two things: (1) he needs to overcome the charisma and excitement around Justin Trudeau while (2) building confidence in his team’s ability to manage the economy.  A tough journey for even the most resourced and experienced political operation.

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Methodology

The survey was conducted online with 1,459 respondents in English and French using an internet survey programmed and collected by Abacus Data. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a representative panel of Canadians.  The survey was completed from October 18 to 22, 2013.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated.   The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association prohibits statements about margins of sampling error or population estimates with regard to most online panels.

The margin of error for a probability-based random sample of 1,459 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 2.6%, 19 times out of 20. 

The data was weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, education level, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

These questions were posed as part of the Abacus Data monthly Omnibus survey. 

For more information about the poll’s methodology or the results, please contact David Coletto, CEO at david@abacusdata.ca or at 613-232-2806.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248

E: david@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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