A little more on that guy

Unclench Liberals, I mean Poilievre 

Readtime: 8 minutes

OK, that was fun! In case you missed it, I was recently on the Herle Burly to discuss my polling on the state of Justin Trudeau’s leadership, and potential alternatives to him going into the next election. I was a little worried about putting out that research, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive (at least to me!). If you were among the many who reached out with kind words, thank you!  

Moving forward, you can expect: 

  • Content every week (or two 😅

  • A mixture of deep dives and shorter analyses

  • Analysis of original polling and external data 

  • A focus on data relevant to Canadian public affairs (and maybe American once in a while, because who can resist)

Today is a deeper dive on impressions of Poilievre and some potential lines of attack.

Let’s Dig

A critical point from the original analysis is that Pierre Poilievre is a polarizing figure. Equal portions of voters have a very favourable (23%) and very unfavourable view (25%) of him. In a more competitive race, his team would be overshooting their shot with some of his tactics and tone. However, voters are hungry for change, so in contrast to Trudeau, he’s looking pretty good. 

For a long-lived government to win (or not be annihilated), the only option is to make the alternative impossible to vote for among a large enough group of voters. So where should the Liberals start chiseling? In short, Women. Women. Women. 

As expected for a Conservative leader, Poilievre is more popular with men than women. His popularity is especially pronounced among men older than 50, although those 65+ are also the men most likely to have a problem with Poilievre. I assume this is an information thing - older Canadians watch the news more and are more likely to have a solidified opinion. He’s also clearly benefiting from adoration among blue-collar men - 61% of those with a trades or apprenticeship education have a favourable view of Poilievre (I know, not all trades people are men. But you get the picture). 

Poilievre is polarizing among women, except those aged 35-49, where he receives net-positive ratings. Young women (<35) have largely not yet made up their mind about Poilievre – this is a huge opportunity for persuasion. Young women with an opinion of Poilievre are almost equally divided. Those older than 50 are much more likely to have formed an opinion. Similar to men, women older than 65 are most likely to have an unfavorable view of Poilievre. 

Regional results follow predictable patterns. Notably, Poilievre receives a net-negative rating in Quebec but tends to be positively received in Ontario, and Western Canada. Atlantic Canadians are equally divided. 

I don’t know if it’s still broadly assumed that new Canadians reliably vote Liberal (I wrote my undergrad Honours essay about immigrant voting patterns from 1965-2011. If you buy me a beer, I’ll bore you to death about it), but it’s a mistake. First Generation Canadians aren’t statistically more likely to have a positive view of Poilievre, but they are much less likely to dislike him than 2nd, and especially 3rd+ Generation Canadians. 

Policy Window

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The Foundation 

When looking at public opinion, it’s critical to understand how firm it is. What’s it built on? Can it be moved? 

I asked voters, “What do you know about Pierre Poilievre?”. Much of the data reinforces the below results. Those who like Poilievre see him as a smart, hard-working, and competent guy. Those who dislike him, tend to see him as arrogant, risky, condescending, and aggressive. But there’s some important nuance. 

Showing results by Pierre Poilievre’s favorability rating

It’s evident how much of a success the Conservatives’ introductory ad has been, and how detrimental it’s been for the Liberals to leave it unanswered. Respondents commonly recited key tenets of the ad: 

  • Leader of Conservative Party, obviously knows something about economics! Married respects his wife! Listening to the people rather than name calling!

  • Long time conservative, current leader of the party. Immigrant wife who is very intelligent.

  • His wife is very convincing.

  • Fabulous personal story; adopted, western, politically experienced. Anti-WEF. Anti-CBC.

  • Average Canadian. Multi-cultural family. Concerned about Canada's economy and future. Uses common sense. Less likely than Trudeau or Singh to engage in virtue signaling.

  • He Is working for the people. He grew up in humble beginnings so he understands what ordinary people are dealing with.

With this ad, the Poilievre Conservatives have effectively defended against two typically fruitful avenues for the Liberals: that the Conservatives govern for the rich and powerful, and they’re a little… prejudicial. 

But this was meant to be hopeful. What is driving voters away from Poilievre? Five common negative themes emerged. 

  1. He’s Canada’s Trump 

  • He wants to speak like TRUMP--and that should be a red flag.

  • He is trying to create a Trumpian wing of the Conservative party, nothing to really like as a very bad copy of policy and character, too loud spewing only hate and no solutions

  • Extreme right conservative who will rescind policies and move us back to the 1970's. Women will have less power, abortion will be banned, Christianity will be the driving force and anyone who isn't a Christian will be treated like an enemy. He is Canada's Donald Trump.

  • He is a Trump want-to be. He would be a very dangerous man to have in the PM office.

  • He is an insane conservative... And Trump is influencing people like him to be even more wacko then they used to be.

  1. He’s extreme 

  • He is a radical conservative and a demagogue

  • He is a liar, a populist and a religious fundamentalist with a hidden agenda.

  • He is a liar, has no policies, fakes as though he's a Christian, doesn't believe in women's rights, climate change or the Charter of Rights. He could run a tricycle let alone a country. He is backed by big grocery and oil.

  • He is pro-convoy, anti-vaccine, anti-environment, and anti-LGBT rights... basically, he is everything wrong with this country, and we are in deep trouble if he gets elected

  • I think that he associates with bad actors, such as members of the freedom truckers or whatever they call themselves.

  1. He’s a career politician 

  • Swamp king who’s done nothing but whine and slop from the government trough. A despicable human.

  • Career politician, poor track record in Harper govt. Never held a real job in his life outside of politics Untrustworthy to say the least

  • Career politician who has accomplished nothing. He has actively worked to limit the democratic process. Several of his inner circle are corporate lobbyists. He's been endorsed by a conspiracy theorist and disgraced journalist. He's smug.

  • He is a career politician. A cabinet minister under Stephen Harper

  • Never had a job, never has none anything in Parliament. Has no idea how to run a country. He doesn’t say how he will ruin the country.

  1. He’s all talk

  • Lots of bitching but no concrete policies Don’t trust him

  • I find him very right wing. He creates his campaign on criticism of others. I have no idea what his platform is?

  • Gas lighter all talk no substance

  • He doesn't have a platform

  • Not enough - he spews amusing hate memes but is very short on practical policies that might actually solve problems.

  • Not much. He proposes simple solutions to complex problems. Not sure if I trust him

  1. He’s a jerk 

  • I know that I don't like him. He's rude, condescending, and he has no constructive ideas for Canada. All he can do is insult others.

  • Not to be trusted. His people tell him to go from geek to Mr. Cool. He is who he is. You can put lipstick on a pig; but, he is still a pig. Not for Canada.

  • He seems like a bully.

  • He is radical and often too rude

  • That he is a basic trouble maker with no substantial basis for most of what he spews. He is insulting and a total disrespectful individual!!!

  • That he is an arrogant big mouth that just never makes sense!!!

  • Too focused on personal attacks. Not a very pleasant individual.

  • Thrown out of the assembly for his rudeness no respect whatsoever

Where do we go from here? 

I’m sure these themes sound familiar, but what do we do with it? Right now, the Liberals are throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. For any attack to work, it must be rooted in something that voters already believe. This is far from enough data to build a complete anti-Poilievre strategy, but it provides some helpful direction. 

Poilievre’s demeanor is a big part of what has alienated voters but it’s not enough to persuade those who don’t yet have a problem with him. Voters need to believe they will be negatively impacted if he’s elected.

When figuring out candidate branding, we often present voters with distinctive narratives to see which resonate the most, and with whom. I would test: 

The hypocritical politician
Pierre Poilievre has been a politician for nearly half his life. Yet, despite his government salary, residence, and fat pension, he thinks it’s ok to strip regular Canadians of the support they need. He plans to cut $10 a day childcare and pharmacare, and to starve the healthcare system. 

The extreme politician
In the twenty years that Pierre Poilievre has been in politics, he’s been aggressively pursuing an extreme conservative agenda. He thinks Stephen Harper was too mainstream, and would instead push for big cuts, big fights, and radical change [in Ontario: similar to the Mike Harris government in Ontario]

The blowhard
We all know that guy - the one who speaks loudly but has nothing to say. Pierre Poilievre may sound like he has great plans for the country, but if you listen closely, his plans don’t make any sense. How are Canadians supposed to be better off if he’s cutting the programs they rely on most? We need to take another look at this guy. 

The American
We’re set to see the nastiest, most divisive Presidential campaign in American history. We don’t need to bring that type of politics to Canada. We’ve already seen Poilievre support the Freedom Convoy and spread conspiracy theories. If elected, he will make Canadians more divided, sour the tone of our politics, and make our country less free. 

Whether it’s one of these, or something else, the Liberals need to establish an overarching narrative. What is Poilievre’s fundamental flaw among persuadable voters? This is a separate question from what motivates the base. Both are important, but right now the party needs to get Poilievre’s numbers down and expand the Liberal vote pool. 

Interested in seeing how these narratives test? 

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This survey was conducted online in English and French from April 28-May 9, 2024. A nationally representative sample of n=1555 Canadians completed the survey. The data was weighted to census parameters for region, gender, age and past voting behaviour. For a representative sample, the margin of error would be +/-3%.