The Trudeau Liberals are well-positioned to hold onto government going into next October’s national election.
Why? The story isn’t in today’s national vote numbers, where the Liberals hold a five-point lead over the second-place Conservatives, with the NDP well behind in third place. The story of the Liberal Party’s strength is told in the regional and sub-regional numbers.
Experienced political observers know that there is no such thing as a national election in Canada. Our national elections are really a series of regional and sub-regional elections all held on the same day.
What do the regional and sub-regional numbers show? That the Liberals are strong because they’re doing well where they need to win enough seats to form government again — that’s Ontario, Quebec and B.C. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are only five points behind the Liberals in the national vote numbers, but are over-performing in regions where there aren’t enough seats available to impact the election outcome.
Case in point is the huge CPC lead in Alberta — the biggest gap between first and second place in the country.
Alberta only has 34 seats, though. It’s a similar story in the Prairie region where the CPC has a strong lead, too. Together, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have a total of 28 seats. Compare this to Ontario (121 seats) and Quebec (78 seats), two provinces where the Liberals lead. This disparity in regional seat numbers shows how doing well in popular support sometimes doesn’t translate into the number of seats won. A party must do well in places where it counts in terms of seats. Over-performing in votes in regions with few seats is what analysts refer to as inefficient voting. The Conservatives are suffering from this in the current numbers.
Apart from their lead in most of the West, the one other bright spot for the Conservatives is that they are competitive with the Liberals in Toronto’s 905 regions.
This could be critical to the outcome of the election. Depending on how the ridings are grouped, the 905 — the doughnut of suburban communities around Toronto — has as many as 40 seats. This is where Stephen Harper won his majority in 2011, and Justin Trudeau won his in 2015. The 905 will once again be critical to the outcome of the 2019 election. That’s why it is important to look at sub-regions — especially suburban sub-regions — in the polling results.
One other feature in the overall vote numbers is the NDP. While they are firmly in third place in the national numbers, getting 18 per cent (what they have now) would be their second-best performance in a national election ever. So, despite the grumbling in the national media, they still have brand appeal with an important group of voters. While the NDP is very unlikely to win the election, even a three-point increase in their support would be problematic for the Liberals, especially in Ontario or B.C.
WATCH: Alberta and prairie provinces a big challenge for Liberals, says Darrell Bricker
To beat the CPC, most of the progressive vote needs to be united behind a single party as they were in 2015. Otherwise, a united CPC is tough to beat. Yes, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party could hurt the CPC by dividing the conservative coalition of voters, but we haven’t seen any impact from them yet in our polling.
What should we look at in the polling this far out from an election? Mostly, it’s the directional questions. On these, the Liberals are looking solid. Half of those surveyed approve of the Trudeau government’s performance, and half approve of the prime minister’s performance. To win another majority, the Liberals need to win about 40 per cent of the vote. Having half the electorate liking the leader and what his government is doing is more than enough to win again.
The one dark spot in the directional questions for the Liberals is their “deserve to reelect” number. That’s down at 46 per cent. In other words, more than half of the electorate would prefer another party to win the next election. But, even at 46 per cent, the Liberals have more than enough voters thinking they deserve a second mandate to win handily in 2019.
Bottom line, then: While it is a fool’s errand to predict the outcome of an election that’s 10 months away, from our current vantage point, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party is the odds-on favourite to repeat.
Darrell Bricker is the CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.