Strong support for Conservatives under new leader, but candidates underwhelm: poll

Click to play video '49% of Canadians say they may vote Conservative in next election with new leader: Ipsos poll' 49% of Canadians say they may vote Conservative in next election with new leader: Ipsos poll
WATCH: 49% of Canadians say they may vote Conservative in next election with new leader: Ipsos poll – Aug 22, 2020

Nearly half of all Canadians would consider voting for the Conservative Party in the next election after a new leader is chosen on Sunday, a new poll suggests.

The poll, which was conducted by Ipsos exclusively for Global News, revealed that support dwindled after Canadians were asked about specific candidates for the Tory leadership — with former cabinet minister Peter MacKay leading the pack among those polled.

Yet even more Canadians surveyed didn’t know a new leader was being chosen at all.

Read more: Liberals, Tories in close race on heels of WE Charity scandal, Morneau resignation

The polling conducted earlier this week asked 2,000 Canadians for their voting preference as the race to replace Andrew Scheer wraps up. Half of those surveyed were polled before former finance minister Bill Morneau resigned, and the rest were asked the day after.

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The results appear to show more support for a viable alternative to the governing Liberals than for any one potential leader, particularly in the wake of the WE Charity controversy. Additionally, those polled after Morneau’s resignation leaned even more toward the Conservatives.

Click to play video 'Ipsos Poll: Gap between Liberals, Conservatives narrows following Bill Morneau’s resignation' Ipsos Poll: Gap between Liberals, Conservatives narrows following Bill Morneau’s resignation
Ipsos Poll: Gap between Liberals, Conservatives narrows following Bill Morneau’s resignation – Aug 21, 2020

Overall, 49 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they may cast a ballot for the Tories under a new leader. But a nearly equal number — 47 per cent — were unaware there was a leadership race going on until they were polled.

“Canadians want a choice because they’re disappointed in the Liberals, but they haven’t really engaged with what that choice is going to be,” Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker said about the results.

He said that will likely change after Sunday, when the results of the party membership’s votes are revealed.

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“All of a sudden the lights are going to turn on them, and we’ll likely see that there’ll be more interest in the Conservative Party leader at that time,” he said.

Read more: 5 things to know about the Conservative leadership race vote

When it comes to the candidates, 39 per cent of Canadians said they would vote for the Conservatives if MacKay was the party’s leader. MPs Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan earned 35 per cent and 31 per cent support for the same question, respectively, while 30 per cent said a Conservative Party led by lawyer Leslyn Lewis would earn their vote.

MacKay was seen as the party leader most likely to defeat the Liberals under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, earning 22 per cent support. Only seven per cent said that leader would be O’Toole, and Sloan and Lewis each earned three per cent.

One in five of those surveyed said none of the candidates had a good shot of unseating Trudeau.

When asked about leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and whether any of the leaders’ values reflected their own, Canadians also leaned towards MacKay, though with even less enthusiasm.

Fifteen per cent of those polled said MacKay would be the best Conservative leader to manage Canada’s economy through a recession and impacts from the pandemic, while 14 per cent said MacKay’s values represent theirs. For both categories, none of the other three candidates earned more than seven per cent support, while roughly a quarter said none stood out.

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New Conservative leader to be named Aug. 23 – Aug 21, 2020

Bricker said while numbers like this would be grim for a Liberal or New Democrat leadership race, where voters tend to look for leaders who inspire, Conservative voters are different.

“They’re somewhat suspicious of politicians,” he said.

“Really, all they’re looking for is the person has to appear to be competent and be prepared to govern, and can represent a viable option for Conservatives and for Canadians in general.”

Overall, 44 per cent of Canadians said the result of the leadership race will impact their vote in the next election, including the 53 per cent of Canadians surveyed who are undecided about who they’ll vote for.

Read more: A new Conservative leader will be chosen this month. Here’s how the vote will work

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In a separate interview with Mercedes Stephenson on The West Block set to air Sunday, Bricker said whoever wins the leadership will have to reach out to that undecided group.

“They really have to position themselves as a true alternative,” he said. “The question is whether or not they can move beyond their base.”

On that front, the polling found all the candidates have their work cut out for them. Nearly half of Canadians surveyed said they did not know enough about MacKay to say whether they have favourable or unfavourable views of him, while 68 per cent said the same about O’Toole. Three-quarters of Canadians could not state an opinion about Sloan or Lewis.

Those numbers fell by 12 points among Conservatives for both MacKay and O’Toole, yet 72 per cent of Tory voters polled still said they didn’t know enough about Sloan or Lewis.