Monday, June 18, 2012

Justin Trudeau as Kim Campbell

A poll released today by Angus Reid offers the suggestion that the Liberal Party, if led by Justin Trudeau, would leap to first place ahead of the Conservatives and NDP.

We have seen this before. In 1993 the press and polling firms eagerly produced a series of polls suggesting that if the PCs of the day chose Kim Campbell as leader, a third PC majority would be at hand. 

The polls also continued to ask the standard who would you vote for question.  The conditionalized if Kim Campbell question produced, in some cases, spectacular results for the PCs who had been in a deep polling funk for a couple of years (as low as 11% one month in 1992 in the Gallup Poll).

A Gallup poll in the Globe in April 1993 reported that with Campbell as leader the PCs would have 50% of popular support while the Liberals would have just 29%.  However, in the regular Gallup Poll all through this period where the 'which party would you vote for if an election were held today' type question was asked, the Liberals always led the Conservatives and never fell below 39%. Even when Campbell did become leader and had a honeymoon period (which evapourated as the 1993 campaign unfolded), she never did as well as she did in those early conditionalized surveys.

Once you depart from the regular question, the whole polling exercise becomes quite different from ordinary surveys, and the results have we have seen as about as meaningful as they were in April 1993.
Angus Reid has also polled last year on Canadians' favourite Prime Minister since 1968.  Pierre Trudeau finished ahead of Harper shortly after he won his majority despite the fact that Mr. Trudeau had left office nearly 30 years earlier. Pierre Trudeau is clearly now an icon (largely I suspect due to the popularity of the Charter). However, an abstract icon is quite distinct from a flesh and blood politician who delights some and annoys others. I suspect the father's enduring popularity influences the apparent support for the son, who, it is likely, is not yet well known to most Canadians. In the longer term it will be the reality of the son and not the father that will matter.

The popularity of the father very much makes this a politics of yearning for an earlier, better time if you are a Liberal, a politics of nostalgia.