Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Justin Trudeau won’t be so easy to ill-define

The day after Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, as predictably as the sun rises in the East, the Conservatives did what the Conservatives do – they released negative personal attack ads. It’s all they know how to do.

And it has worked for them before (see Dion, Stephen and Ignatieff, Michael). Will they make it a hat trick? Time will tell, but it was interesting, as these ads were released, to read a new poll from Ekos. I said the other day to ignore the polls, and that advice holds, particularly the horse race numbers. But in the context of these attacks – and the Conservative attempt to again negatively define a Liberal leader before he can define himself – the job approval numbers merit examination.

Trudeau registered 36 per cent approval and 26 per cent disapproval, for a +10 margin. Not a runaway freight train, but significantly ahead of Stephen Harper, at 28 per cent approval and 50 per cent disapproval (-22) and Thomas (Tom) Mulcair at 26 approve, 30 per cent disapprove (-4). Harper’s negative number is quite striking, but otherwise take these numbers with a grain of salt – Trudeau just had his first real day on the job yesterday, after all. His opponents aren't starting from positions of strength, however.

One measure that is more durable (and interesting) though is the "don’t know" response on the approval rating. Trudeau was at just 34.6 per cent, down steadily from 60 per cent when the leadership race was gearing-up last September.

What does this show? Trudeau is rapidly becoming less of a blank slate. For better or worse (mostly for the better at the moment) two-thirds of Canadians have already formed their impression of him. As Ekos president Frank Graves put it, “more than 5 million voters have a view on him who didn't at the outset of the race.” Which means it will be more difficult for any coordinated Conservative attempt to cement a negative impression to be effective.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have largely given Mulcair a pass, but he remains surprisingly undefined with Canadians, with 40.7 per cent answering don’t know with regards to his job approval. For that number to be that high after one year as leader of the official opposition, with all the media attention that entails, and with the Liberals lacking a permanent leader, is astounding (and a credit to the effectiveness of interim Liberal leader in Bob Rae). Even in Quebec, Mulcair’s home province, home of the Orange Wave, where Mulcair was a popular provincial environment minister, 44.2 per cent answered don’t know. He remains remarkably undefined, which speaks to the work he still has to do.

Luckily for Mulcair and the NDP, the Conservatives don’t seem in a hurry to step in and fill that void with a negative impression – they’re more focused on Trudeau and the Liberals (which is telling). But as the numbers show, that will be a rather more difficult challenge.

Which isn’t to say it’s not impossible. For the Liberals and Trudeau, continuing to drive down that don’t know number, and replacing it with a positive (and substantive) impression, must be a focus.

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ch said...

Do you know where these ads are showing on TV? I don't watch TV, but heard they were playing in Atlantic Canada, were not playing in Quebec. Not sure if that is correct info and also what is happening in other parts of Canada.

Jeff said...

I hear they are out in the wild, but I haven't seen them. A friend at work confirmed a Toronto sighting. I'm not sure what the scope of the buy is.

Kyle H. said...

I've heard they're airing in Atlantic Canada right now.

Paul Raposo said...

I saw the new ad last night during "Mike and Milly" between 9:30PM and 10PM on CityTV.

Paul Raposo said...

I saw the ad last night during "Mike and Molly" on CityTV.

JF said...

I haven't seen them on TV in Alberta (not sure why the Tories would bother in Alberta but they did for Dion and Ignatieff).

I think the Liberals do need to put something on the air once the width of the Tories ad buy is made clear. Just a nice positive serious Justin Trudeau with a "I'm Justin Trudeau and I'm going to help you make your life better" type ad message. The Liberals cannot just gamble that the Tories Ad campaign won't work... they did that with Ignatieff and it did work. Take nothing for chance... otherwise what was the point of the Leader Defense Fund and Justin's impressive (and unused) fundraising. Hope for the best but assume the worst is the credo that the Liberals must adopt here.

Get on the air and defend the top of the ticket. Do it positively but just do it.