Welcome to the 1st Relay with Kyla Ronellenfitsch!

Poll Results: The Riskiness of Trudeau's Leadership

If you don’t know me - hey! I’m Kyla Ronellenfitsch, a pollster, data scientist, and founder of Relay Strategies. I’ve worked in public opinion research for the past decade in both Canada and the US. I use data to create progressive change - or at least I try! 

I believe that everything is political, but not everything is about Politics. So this will be a place that centers data but flits between politics, culture, social media trends, and business. But today, we’re starting deep in Canadian Politics by asking:

Should Justin Trudeau stay or should he resign?

Why do this research?

The Liberals’ polling numbers are bad and have been for months. There’s been much discussion of whether Justin Trudeau might resign before the next election and if he should. This is a critical question. Staying or going are both risks. Trudeau carries a lot of baggage but he’s also a talented campaigner. Selecting a new leader provides the party with an opportunity for a fresh narrative and point of contrast. But Pierre Poilievre isn’t an easy opponent and it’s unclear if anyone has the chops to take him on. With this study, I hope to inject some hard data into this risk assessment. 


- The Trudeau Liberals are in deep trouble and the budget hasn’t helped. 

- Impressions of Trudeau are bad. Poilievre, in large part, looks good as a contrast but not necessarily in isolation. Far more Canadians think Trudeau represents a scary type of politics, than believe the same of Poilievre. 

- 38% of Canadians would consider voting Liberal today. This number increases by 14-pts when voters are asked about their likelihood of voting Liberal if the party was led by someone other than Justin Trudeau. 

- When thinking about a prospective Liberal leader, voters prioritize someone with distance from Trudeau, although there’s equal division within the Liberal vote pool of if this person should be more economic or social policy-focused. 

- With the exception of Chrystia Freeland, prospective leadership candidates are not well known. 

- Chrystia Freeland faces challenging cross-winds. She’s the preferred candidate among the Liberal base, but she also has considerable negatives among the general public. 

- Mark Carney is the expansive candidate. He’s preferred by those who would only consider voting Liberal without Trudeau. He also tests well among the base, but not as good as Freeland. 

- In this hypothetical exericse, Freeland and Carney are front-runners, but barely. Mélanie Joly, Anita Anand, François-Philippe Champagne, and Sean Fraser also test well and have their own pockets of support. Dominic LeBlanc and Marc Miller test less well. 

Risk #1: Trudeau Stays

Trudeau’s strategy seems to be two-pronged: 1) Double-down on policy vulnerabilities to win back targeted defected Liberals (ex. housing and young voters), and 2) Wait for the public to see that Pierre Poilievre is… kind of an asshole. This study digs into both. 

Targeted Policy 

If you’re a close follower of Canadian politics, it’s probably drilled into your head where the polls stand. The Conservatives are dominant, leading the Liberals by roughly 20 points. According to 338Canada, this has been the case for most of 2024. This poll shows the same. If an election was held today: 

  • 45% would vote Conservative

  • 23% Liberal 

  • 16% NDP

  • 7% Bloc Québécois 

  • 4% Green

  • 3% People’s Party

  • 2% Other

The collective mood is sour. 68% of Canadians believe things are generally on the wrong track (32% right). This negative outlook is holding at a time when I’d argue that this Liberal government has been as strong as they’ve ever been tactically. The budget rollout was textbook. Trudeau’s appearance at the foreign interference inquiry was strong. They’ve been doubling down on earned media efforts. If I didn’t have data, I’d say this is the action that could move votes down the road. The hope is that the underliers move first and then the horse race. But the underliers are bad. 23% of voters report having heard “a great deal” about the budget, and 52% have heard “something” about it. However, despite the individual policies in the budget testing well, voters aren’t impressed. 

  • 3% say the budget greatly improved their impression of the Liberals

  • 11% somewhat improved 

  • 34% no impact

  • 21% somewhat worsened, and

  • 31% say it greatly worsened their opinion. 

When asked what they have heard about the budget, the most common responses relate to spending and the deficit. The increase in capital gains taxes was also frequently mentioned, as was investments in housing.  

Trudeau vs Poilievre 

During the 2015 election, I sat through many of the Liberal Party’s focus groups and saw firsthand how much of an asset Justin Trudeau was: the way people flocked to him, were inspired by him, and the way he can overcome low expectations. He has undeniably been a political force and a once-in-a-generation talent. But this is not 2015, or 2019, or even 2021. 

Trudeau is a drag for the party. Today, 1 in 5 Canadians have a favourable impression of him, 12% have a neutral view and 62% have an unfavourable opinion of him. Nearly half of Canadians have a “very unfavourable view”. 73% of voters agree that it’s time for him to step down as Prime Minister (19% disagree, 8% don’t know), and 64% say there’s nothing he can do that would make them want to vote Liberal in the next election (28% disagree, 8% don’t know).

Poilievre’s numbers are good but not great for a new party leader. He is polarizing - meaning that there are relatively equal numbers of people with very favourable (23%) and very unfavourable (25%) views of him. He’s not winning because he’s broadly beloved. He’s winning because Trudeau is no longer polarizing, he’s alienating. His defenders are few.  

One of the big bets the Trudeau Liberals are making is that eventually, voters will see that Pierre Poilievre and his politics are distasteful and dangerous. Three-quarters of voters have at least some kind of impression of Pierre Poilievre, but when it comes to this specific proposition - that he’s scary - voters remain polarized. 42% agree that he represents a scary kind of politics (27% strongly) and 44% disagree with this idea (30% strongly). Again, this isn’t a great position for a leader who hasn’t yet been through the scrutiny of a campaign. But when contrasted with Trudeau, he’s perceived as the less scary of the two options. Six in 10 Canadians believe that Justin Trudeau represents a scary kind of politics, including 42% who strongly agree with this idea. 

Respondents were provided with a list of 24 attributes and asked to indicate which they would use to describe Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre. Let’s start with Prime Minister Trudeau. The most common perceptions of him are that he has poor judgment, is arrogant, unethical, dangerous and condescending. His highest-rated positive characteristic is “well-intentioned,” although few voters want to assign any positive attributes to him, even those that are factually accurate. For example, just 12% of voters would describe him as “experienced,” compared to the 25% who describe him as “inexperienced”. 

*Note, I regret not asking “good communicator” to this list. From the qualitative data, this appears to be a key part of the Trudeau/Poilievre contrast. 

This feels very retro. Recall that in 2015, the Conservatives ran a very effective set of ads claiming that Justin Trudeau was “Just Not Ready”.  It was an attack on his competency. In focus groups I saw that this ad resonated, but so did a lot of information about Justin Trudeau. Voters liked that he was not Stephen Harper. He was positive, energetic, shared their values, was likable and a breath of fresh air. They were in a mood to be inspired! And Justin Trudeau was very good at that. So voters bet on the good and calmed their fears about the bad. But now, these same negative perceptions are dominant and voters don’t want to see what they previously valued.

In 2024, voters don’t want to be inspired, they want to be led. The cost of living crisis feels existential and they want someone to confidently handle it. Pierre Poilievre is reasonably well-positioned to fill that role. I say reasonably well because impressions of Poilievre are mixed and his vote is greatly outflanking any of his positive attributes. This means he’s receiving a lift from being the natural alternative to Trudeau, as opposed to voters feeling warmly toward him. To those who feel positively about Poilievre, his most common attributes are that he’s smart, hard-working, qualified, has family values, is well-intentioned, and cares about people like you. In a separate question, voters were asked what they know about Pierre Poilievre, and they often said things like “he knows his stuff”, “he has common sense,” and “he says it like it is”. A lot of the time, he’s discussed solely as a contrast to Trudeau (ex. He’s better/smarter/more eloquent than Trudeau). 

He also comes across as arrogant to just over 1 in 4 voters. His next most negative traits are dangerous and risky. Aggressive is indicated in yellow because it’s subjective. There can be aggressive/fighter or aggressive/obnoxious. There’s something in this set of qualities that has to work for the Liberals. Whether it’s in one month, one year, or in a few - I’m sure his demeanor will be a big part of his undoing. 

There’s no gentle way to say it - this opinion environment is brutal for Trudeau. However, despite the preemptive victory march Poilievre seems to be on, impressions of him are not that great, and there’s a lot more space to persuade Canadians of his negative attributes. 

Policy Window

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Risk #2: Trudeau Goes

There are two ways to cut the proposition of Trudeau resigning and the Liberals choosing a new leader. There’s the hypothetical - if the Liberals chose a new leader, how would that impact voting behaviour? And then there’s the reality. If a specific candidate were to run how would that make voters feel? I’ll first examine changes to the vote pool and then look at the appeal of eight prospective candidates: 

  • Anita Anand

  • Mark Carney

  • François-Philippe Champagne

  • Sean Fraser

  • Chrystia Freeland

  • Mélanie Joly

  • Dominic LeBlanc

  • Marc Miller

The Hypothetical

Within the current political environment, many voters feel confident that they’ll vote Conservative in the next election and that they won’t be voting for the Trudeau Liberals. The Conservatives are nearing majority territory with their base alone - 32% are certain to vote CPC in the next election and 14% say they are “likely” to. Their total vote pool is 62%, compared to 47% for the NDP, and 38% for the Trudeau Liberals. 

The proposition of a new Liberal party leader isn’t an immediate game changer, but it does breathe new life into the race. Given the possibility of someone other than Justin Trudeau leading the party, the Liberal vote pool increases by 14 points. 

How exactly do voters move? 20% stay exactly as they are - 13% would be certain or likely to vote Liberal regardless of who is leading the party, and 7% would possibly vote Liberal. Ten percent of Canadians would be more likely to vote for Trudeau over another party leader (ex. they might be “certain” to vote for Trudeau but only “possibly” voting for a different candidate). Conversely, nearly 1 in 4 voters would be more likely to vote for the party if it was led by someone other than Trudeau. 45% of Canadians are resolute that they will not vote Liberal, regardless of who the leader is. 

Of those in the expanded vote pool (54% of all voters), 43% are currently planning to vote Liberal, and equal portions currently plan to vote Conservative (21%) and NDP (22%). The prospect of a new leader disproportionately attracts younger voters, and men, while the current base is skewed female, younger than 35, and older than 65. 

When thinking about a prospective next leader, Canadians are most compelled by a candidate who is more economic-focused than social policy-focused, who is not close to Justin Trudeau, who has spent their life outside of politics, and who is fluently bilingual. Being a Minister in Trudeau’s Cabinet, and a close friend or political ally of Justin Trudeau are the top weaknesses in a potential candidate. 

Of course, the Liberals need not concern themselves with the preferences of people who will never vote for them. Among the expanded vote pool, there is a nearly equal divide between those who want the economy prioritized over social policy and those who feel the opposite. Being bilingual is viewed as important by many. Having spent their professional life outside of politics, being a woman, a long-time Liberal, and not being close to Justin Trudeau are also commonly perceived attributes. Being a close friend or political ally of Justin Trudeau is the greatest liability, even among these voters who are more inclined to vote Liberal. 

The (Approximate) Reality

It’s always hard to test the appeal of a hypothetical leadership candidate. Unless they’re a star with a high name ID, most voters won’t have a pre-existing opinion, meaning vote intention data will be pretty useless. To work around this challenge, I took several runs at testing the appeal of eight rumoured leadership candidates. 

I started by looking at awareness. Respondents were shown a picture of each candidate and asked who they recognized. They were also asked about their impression of each person by name only and were given the option of indicating if they had “never heard of” the candidate. 

The images used are included in the toplines linked in the Methodology section

Chrystia Freeland is the most recognizable and has the highest name ID. Just over half of voters recognize her image, and 83% can register some type of opinion of her. Joly is next most recognizable, followed by Anand and Champagne. Carney, LeBlanc, Miller, and Fraser are recognizable to 15-21% of Canadians. 

For the most part, simply recognizing these candidates’ names is not telling a lot. Among voters who registered an opinion, most feel “neutral” about each candidate. In a general election, each campaign would be starting from scratch-ish (the party has an existing brand, as does the government). This could be a blessing or a curse. There would be space to craft a personal brand and narrative but there’s no way to know if voters would see it and if it would resonate. It also provides the opposition with a blank slate.

The exception is Chrystia Freeland, who has a significant contingent of voters with a negative impression of her (38% unfavourable, 30% very unfavourable). She would face the strongest headwinds out of any of the prospective candidates. 

An underappreciated part of understanding a politician’s appeal is image (I’ll always nominate Adam Scotti, Justin Trudeau’s photographer, as one of the Trudeau team’s MVP). Our campaigns play out on visual mediums. Voters receive a lot of information and draw conclusions based on aesthetics. It’s a hard thing to ask about because… no one likes to admit we’re that shallow. But I tried. Respondents were shown each persons’ image, and asked who looks like a potentially exciting politician. Women - notably Freeland and Joly - come out on top, although a plurality of voters don’t find any of these candidates to look exciting. 

Once provided with more information Mark Carney emerges as the most interesting potential candidate. Fifty-one percent of voters think he sounds like an exciting candidate, compared to 45% for Joly, 44% for Anand, 43% for Freeland, and 42% for Fraser. Carney has the least baggage out of the candidates - just 22% think he is “not at all exciting”. This compares to 37% who say the same for Freeland and 35% for Marc Miller. 

The tested bios are linked in the toplines in the methodology section

Is 51% enough to beat Poilievre? Is 45%? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know it’s above the 25% of Canadians with a favourable view of Justin Trudeau, and it’s on the same plane as Poilievre’s 42% favourability. It’s a start. 

Who excites whom? Carney and Joly have the greatest appeal among men, although there is a big gap in the enthusiasm between young men and all the rest. Young women are Anand-stans (Kidding, kind of. The sample size is pretty small but it’s interesting). All the candidates test quite well among women 35-49. Women 50-64 are the least open to any of the candidates, and women older than 65 prefer Carney.  

Regionally, Carney is preferred in Western Canada and Ontario. The sample size is small but Carney, Fraser, and LeBlanc test best in Atlantic Canada. The big question is - what about Quebec? Joly has the slightest of edges, followed by Carney, Freeland, and Champagne. 

Obviously, not everyone votes in a leadership campaign. We see a critical bifurcation between the preferences of those who are the most committed Liberals and those who need persuasion. This is the plight of party politics. Among those who would certainly or likely vote Liberal no matter what, or who are loyal to Trudeau, Freeland is preferred. However, it’s important to note that except for LeBlanc and Miller, all of these candidates test well among the base. It’s simply that Freeland is preferred. 

Among the quarter of voters who are more open to the party if it’s not led by Trudeau, Carney comes out on top. He’s also an exciting candidate to 35% of voters who say they have written the party off. Joly also does quite well among this group.

Given a forced choice between Justin Trudeau and each prospective leadership candidate, Trudeau comes out behind among the general public. Carney, Joly, Fraser and Anand are the front-runners in this forced choice, while Marc Miller and Chrystia Freeland perform worst overall. 

But among those who could vote in a Liberal leadership race, Trudeau comes out ahead, although Freeland comes pretty close. All the candidates win out among those who are only open to the party if Trudeau isn’t the leader, but Carney has the greatest advantage. 

Summary: The Risk Assessment

While this data is clear, it does outline a hypothetical scenario. It measures the appeal of the idea of a candidate, not the full picture of that individual. It doesn’t test a candidate’s political acumen, organizational skills, or caucus management. These are critical factors at play but I would argue there’s nothing more fundamental than the public’s willingness to hear you speak. 

In any long-lived government, there comes a time when voters tune out what you have to say. The history is too deep. They feel like they’ve heard it all before. I fear we’re at that moment. 

There's certainly a path to weakening Pierre Poilievre’s brand. But will voters notice if they’re too busy fixating on what they dislike about the other guy? Admittedly, I have a bit of OLP 2018 PTSD, but the parallels are self-evident. In that campaign, I documented, night after night, how the ads we were running were effective at damaging impressions of Doug Ford - only for voters to turn to the NDP. They simply Could. Not. vote for Kathleen Wynne (forever my Premier, but that was the dynamic). I worry that Poilievre’s perceived positive attributes will further solidify in the next year. And if that doesn’t happen and his negatives rise, voters will plug their noses and vote for him anyway. Or they’ll move to the NDP because they really, really don’t like Justin Trudeau. 

While a risk, a new leader has the opportunity to bring a new narrative and reason for being in government, something the Liberal Party desperately needs. 


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%. The toplines are included here.  

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