Liberal efforts to create wedges may have backfired, new campaign poll suggests

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Published August 31, 2021 at 10:36 am

OTTAWA — A new poll suggests Justin Trudeau’s efforts to create wedge issues over private health care and his Liberal government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic might have backfired.

But the Leger poll also suggests that the prospect of a Conservative victory on Sept. 20 could be the Liberals’ best hope for turning around their slumping fortunes over the opening two weeks of the federal election campaign.

Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives were running ahead of the Liberals, with the support of 34 per cent of decided voters who took part in the survey, conducted Aug. 27-30. That’s an increase of four percentage points since a Leger survey released on Aug. 16 as the campaign got underway.

Support for Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats was also up four points, to 24 per cent.

Support for Trudeau’s Liberals, meanwhile, was down five points to 30 per cent. In key battlegrounds, the Liberals were running one point behind the Conservatives in Ontario and three points behind the NDP in British Columbia.

They retained a small lead in Quebec, at 33 per cent support to the Bloc Québécois’ 29 per cent.

Green Party support was also down three points nationally to just two per cent while the People’s Party of Canada was up one point to three per cent.

The online poll of 2,005 Canadians cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

While 61 per cent of decided respondents said their choice is final, 21 per cent — including 43 per cent of Bloc supporters and 47 per cent of Green backers — said they’re likely to change their minds. Another 17 per cent didn’t know.

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents said they still think the Liberals will win the election.

But asked what they’d do if the election comes down to a tight race between Liberals and Conservatives, 24 per cent of decided supporters of other parties said they’d be more likely to vote Liberal — including 30 per cent of NDP supporters, 24 per cent of Green supporters and 14 per cent of Bloc supporters.

By contrast, 15 per cent said a tight two-way race would make them more likely to vote Conservative, including 18 per cent of Bloc supporters and 34 per cent of Peoples Party of Canada supporters.

The Liberals have tried to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives by raising the spectre of two-tier health care under O’Toole. The Conservative leader supports allowing for-profit, private clinics to provide medical services for a fee, while saying he also supports the public system.

But fully 71 per cent of respondents — including strong majorities in all provinces, as well as 70 per cent of those who would vote Liberal — said they’re fine with private clinics as long as all Canadians continue to have universal access to quality care at no cost. That echoes O’Toole’s position on the issue.

Trudeau has also tried to capitalize on his government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and make a wedge out of his support for mandatory vaccinations for federal employees and anyone travelling by plane or train. O’Toole has rejected mandatory vaccinations, saying he respects individual health choices and would require mandatory COVID-19 testing for people instead.

But the poll suggests most aren’t sold on Trudeau’s handling of the crisis. Should the fourth wave of COVID-19 worsen, 62 per cent of respondents said they’d prefer to change the approach to the pandemic by voting for another party. Thirty-eight per cent said they’d prefer to continue with the Trudeau government’s approach.

Liberals have also tried to wedge the Conservatives over gun control, accusing them of planning to repeal the Liberal ban on assault-style firearms and loosen other gun laws.

But, while 51 per cent of respondents supported tougher laws to prohibit the ownership of all types of guns, only 25 per cent said the Liberals have done enough to limit access to firearms.

Throughout the opening weeks of the campaign, the Liberals have been dogged by criticism that the government failed to do enough to help Canadian citizens and refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

However, the poll suggests that issue hasn’t hurt the Liberals with most voters. Only 25 per cent of respondents said the government has done a bad job during the Afghanistan crisis. Thirty-five per cent said it’s done an “OK job” and another 14 per cent said it’s done a good job, while 26 per cent didn’t know.

The poll suggests Trudeau himself has been a bigger problem for the Liberals. Forty-one per cent of respondents said their opinion of him worsened in the past week, while just seven per cent said their opinion had improved and another 52 per cent said their opinion hadn’t changed.

By contrast, 24 per cent said their opinion of O’Toole had worsened, 23 per cent said it had improved and 53 per cent said it was unchanged.

For the NDP’s Singh, 23 per cent had an improved opinion and 16 per cent a worse opinion, while 61 per cent were unchanged.

Moreover, the poll suggests Trudeau has lost ground on the question of who would make the best prime minister, while both Singh and O’Toole have gained ground.

Twenty-three per cent of respondents rated Trudeau the best choice, down four points. That put him in a tie with Singh, who was up five points, followed closely by O’Toole, who was rated the best choice by 21 per cent, up six points.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2021.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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