Harper Government Approval at 34%

In our latest national survey, we asked Canadians to rate their approval of the federal government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

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Overall, 34% of respondents either strongly approved or approved of the job the federal government is doing (up three points since January) while 45% disapproved.  The remaining 21% of respondents said they neither approved nor disapproved of the federal government’s job performance.

As expected, approval of the government differs substantially across demographic, regional, and political subgroups.  The charts to the right report the percentage of respondents within in each group who approve and disapprove of the federal government’s job performance.

A number of findings are worth highlighting.

First, the Conservative government performs better than average among all those groups above the red bar in the first chart and performs worse than average among all groups above the red bar in the second chart.

Those that are more likely to approve of the Harper government include Ontarians, suburban voters, those living in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and not surprisingly among those who support the Conservative Party current, those who voted for it in 2011, and those who make up its core base of supporters (only those who would consider voting Conservative).  The Conservative government also gets above average approval scores from parents with young children (under 15).

Those who are more likely to disapprove of the Harper government include middle aged voters (45-59), voters over 60 years of age, Atlantic Canadians, Quebecers, and anyone who voted or supports another opposition party.  Those most disapproving of the Conservative government are those who would consider voting Liberal and NDP, but not Conservative – the group we call flexible left.

Second, focusing more on those voter groups we have developed – fully flexible, flexible left, and flexible right (see description below) – the survey data demonstrates that the Canadian political market is really made up of two different worlds.  Those that see the Conservatives as credible and acceptable versus those who do not.

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Among those who would not consider voting Conservative, only 10% approve of the job the Harper government is doing compared to 70% who disapprove.  Among those who would consider voting Conservative, the opposite is true – 63% approve while 16% disapprove.  The weak national approval numbers for the government masks what is really happening below the surface.  The electorate is highly polarized – more so then it has likely ever been since 2006.

While the Tories do trail the Liberals in vote intention (34% to 28% according to our recent numbers), the approval numbers suggest that the Tories still have an opportunity to close the gap and even take the lead.  But this will require rebuilding its electoral coalition from 2011 in an environment very different from 2011.

Consider the current vote intention and past voting behaviour of the three largest voter groups in the Conservative universe (see chart below).

Among the core CPC base (those who would only consider voting Conservative and not Liberal or NDP), 86% said they would vote Conservative if an election was held at the end of February/early March.  93% of these respondents voted CPC in 2011.

Among those in the “flexible right” group, 74% voted Conservative in 2011.  Now, only 42% say they would vote Conservative and 21% are undecided.

Among true swing voters, the “fully flexible” group, only 17% would vote Conservative now compared to 42% who voted Conservative in 2011.

swingvoter

The reason the Tories are trailing the Liberals nationally is because they have lost considerable support among flexible right and fully flexible voters who have shifted to the Liberals.

While the base still approves of the government, the government has lost considerable support among the less partisan, centre-right voter.  The irony is that most of these voters still approve of the job performance of the government but something is either attracting them to the Liberals or causing them to flee the Tories.

In many respects, these flexible right voters are the target of the Tory anti-Trudeau advertising.  Raising doubts about the alternative (Trudeau and the Liberals) seems to be their strategy for winning these voters back.

What these numbers make clear is that the Conservative Party’s future is dependent upon whether its core turns out and whether it can rebuild support among flexible right and fully flexible voters.   This is no easy task with a energized Liberal Party poaching large chunks of its past support.  But considering that the market outside of the 45% who would consider voting Conservative is a political wasteland for the government , re-election will only occur if it can successfully rebuilding past support among the centre-right and centrist swing voters.

Description of Voter Groups

Fully flexible – would consider voting NDP, Liberal, Conservative (13% of electorate).

Flexible left– would consider voting Liberal and NDP, but not Conservative (21% of electorate).

Flexible right – would consider voting Conservative and Liberal, but not NDP (13% of electorate).

Flexible anti-Liberal – would consider voting Conservative and NDP, but not Liberal (6% of electorate)

Survey Methodology

The survey was conducted online with 1,249 respondents in English and French on a survey platform programmed and managed by Abacus Data.  A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Canadians, recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading provider of online research samples.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy is to limit statements about margins of sampling error with regard to most online panels.   The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.8%, 19 times out of 20.

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding. For more information please contact David Coletto, CEO at david@abacusdata.ca or at 613-232-2806.

ABOUT ABACUS DATA:

Abacus Data is an innovative, fast growing research consultancy, providing public opinion and marketing research using the latest technology, sound science, and deep experience to help generate top-flight research based advice to our clients.  We deliver global research capacities with a strong customer service orientation, fierce attention to detail and providing extraordinary value.

Our team combines the experience of our Chairman Bruce Anderson, one of Canada’s leading research executives for two decades, with the energy, creativity and research expertise of CEO David Coletto, PhD. For more information, visit our website at http://www.abacusdata.ca/