Liberals Shouldn't Plan Victory Parade Just Yet

  • National Newswatch

By Gerry Nicholls | April 05, 2013 According to a recent Forum Research poll, Canada's political landscape has undergone a dramatic seismic shift.If an election were held today, says Forum Research, the Liberal Party, under its sure-to-be-next leader Justin Trudeau, would surge into power with a majority government.The Conservatives meanwhile, thanks to its bleeding support and to its extremely unpopular leader Stephen Harper, would sink to second and the NDP would plummet all the way back into its traditional third place rut.This basically means all the impressive gains the Tories and the NDP have made over the past decade seem to have melted away like snow in spring time, allowing the once-thought-moribund Liberals to reassume their role as Canada's Natural Governing Party.It's like, politically-speaking, the country has gone back in time to the 1970s.Or to put it in biblical terms the son of Pierre Trudeau seems set to lead the Liberal tribes out of the political wilderness. As it says on the cover of *Reader's Digest* it's “ The Second Coming of Trudeau.”Blasphemy?Maybe, but it's the sort of sacrilege Liberal supporters have been dreaming about for years.But just as the Bible warns us to beware of false prophets, so too should we be wary of public opinion polls.First off, it should be pointed out that Forum Research conducts polls using robo-calls, a technique which some within the polling community have criticized for its lack of methodological precision.And let's not forget that Canadian pollsters haven't exactly got a sterling record when it comes to predicting future political events.Yet even if Forum Research's poll is methodologically sound and its results accurate, we should still take it (and for that matter, all public opinion polls) with a grain of salt.To paraphrase the old quote about statistics, “Public polls are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”And while public polls published in newspapers may reveal Trudeau's popularity is on the rise, they don't tell us if that popularity is actually durable.In other words, it's possible Trudeau is giving the Liberals nothing but a temporary “sugar high.”It's certainly plausible, for example, that Trudeau's “surge” in support is simply a function of name recognition; “Trudeau”, after all, is a legendary name in Canada and it still carries lots of positive connotations.Plus Trudeau has enjoyed incredibly favorable media coverage, although perhaps “favorable” doesn't quite cover it; cringinglyfawningadulation might actually come closer to the mark.This too might account for Trudeau's sudden popularity.Or his popularity might be linked to nothing more than weariness with Tory rule; Canadians could be growing weary of Prime Minister Harper, weary of costly fighter jets, weary of Senate scandals and maybe even weary of Economic Action Plan TV ads.Canadians might, in short, be thinking it's time for a change.Enter Trudeau: a bright, idealistic new face, who is almost the exact opposite of Harper in temperament and character.Naturally, he would draw people's attention; he's like an interesting shiny toy, a novelty, something new but also reassuringly familiar, an upgraded version of an old favorite brand – Trudeau 2.0.My point is with all this going for him – famous name, good media coverage, Harper weariness -- it's not surprising Trudeau would soar to lofty heights in some polls.Indeed, I suspect after his upcoming coronation, the media will disgorge a torrent of glowingly upbeat Trudeau stories, which should drive up his numbers even higher.But will this Trudeau support be solid? That's the key question.And this is something we can't establish from the Forum Research numbers which we see splashed on the pages of newspapers.The only way to gauge the possible durability of Trudeau's political future is to dig into the polling numbers and evaluate and analyze the answers respondents gave to other related questions.This might tell you if all those poll respondents who say they support Trudeau are actually putting a whole lot of thought into their answers.And it's possible, if not likely, that many Canadians are not putting a whole lot of thought into their political views.With the election still two years away, people are just not focused on politics.And given all the positive media coverage Trudeau has received, plus his famous last name, plus the possible desire for change, the easy response for a lot of people, when pestered by a robo-calling pollster, is to say they like the Liberals.But what if the person who likes Trudeau also tells the pollster they believe the most important issue facing the country is the economy and what if this person further says, Canada needs experienced leadership at the top to steer the country through what might be choppy economic waters.If this is the case our hypothetical Trudeau supporter, once he starts focusing on the issues and once he gets prodded by Tory TV ads, could very well end up voting Conservative and not Liberal.This person may like Trudeau, but when push comes to shove, he will think Harper is the guy we need running the government and not an inexperienced rich kid who insults Albertans and who once said he would rather live in a separate Quebec than a Harper Canada.And by the way, typically polls show Canadians do rate the economy as a key issue. And rightly or wrongly, the default position for a lot of voters is that Conservatives are better economic managers.Advantage Harper.And let's not forget that over the next two years, the inexperienced Trudeau could make mistakes, he could, and probably will, come under political attack, he might be forced to take unpopular stances, all of which could degrade his image with voters.If that happens, the voters' desire for change could easily be superseded by our inbuilt “status quo bias”. That is voters may not love Harper, but in troubled times, it's better to have the Devil you know.Finally, these Forum Research poll numbers showing Trudeau's massive support, might be planting the seeds for future Liberal trouble.I say that because it's hard to imagine Trudeau's support could go much higher than the 40 percent Forum Research has him pegged at right now. In the 1993 federal election, for instance, the wily and experienced Jean Chretien, who faced a weak and divided opposition, barely broke the 40 percent barrier.Is it realistic to expect the novice Trudeau will do any better against much tougher more entrenched adversaries?I don't think so, which means in terms of polls, Trudeau has already basically peaked, he really has no place to go but down.And if his polling numbers do start to drop, it could lead his friends in the media to start writing stories along the lines of “What's Wrong with Trudeaumania?” which could help to reinforce the perception that Trudeau is just a flash in the pan,This in turn could drive his numbers even lower.What this all means is that Trudeau's public support, as measured in Forum Research, might be more phantom than real.And please don't get me wrong, I am not saying Trudeau will definitely flop. Nor do I wish to pour cold water on Liberal hopes and dreams. (Well maybe I do a little.)All I am saying to Liberals is, despite that Forum Research poll, don't book the Trudeau victory parade yet.About GerryGerry Nicholls is a communications consultant and writer who has been called a “political warrior” a “brilliant strategist” and one of the “canniest political observers in Canada.”He has worked as a consultant in both the United States and Canada and was formerly a senior officer in the National Citizens Coalition, Canada's largest organization for the defence of economic and political freedoms.A regular columnist with the Ottawa Hill Times, his work has also appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post , National NewsWatch and in the Sun Media chain; and he has appeared on countless TV and radio public affairs programs.