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Can you name the Conservative leader?
Gauging the public's awareness of Pierre Poilievre and Justin Trudeau's cabinet
A majority of Canadians have a pretty good idea of who the leader of the Conservative Party is, even if many of them think his name is Paul.
But cabinet ministers? Most can’t name a single one — and only a quarter can rhyme off the name of at least two of the 38 men and women who sit around Justin Trudeau’s cabinet table.
A new poll conducted by Pollara and provided to The Writ tested Canadians’ knowledge of some of their political leaders. The survey went deeper than most polls by requiring respondents to write-in the name of the Conservative Party leader and as many cabinet ministers as they could think of. This wasn’t about choosing from a list or saying whether they recognized Pierre Poilievre’s name or not — they had to come up with these names all on their own.
The poll interviewed 1,519 Canadians online between August 23 and September 5, so it concluded just before the Conservative convention. The survey provides a good glimpse of how well Canadians knew Poilievre (and the Liberal cabinet) before he was the centre of attention in the media for a few weeks.
The results showed that most Canadians polled could correctly identify Pierre Poilievre, or at least some variation of that name, as the leader of the Conservative Party.
The poll found that 57% of respondents were able to name Poilievre as leader of the Conservatives, though apparently his name is quite difficult to spell. Among the variants were Poillieverre, Pavillia, Poilaugnol, Poliveau, Pois-Lièvre, Poilie de chevre, Polly and, my personal favourite, Power Poliver. At least eight respondents thought his first name was Paul, not Pierre.
I’m not sure if 57% correctly naming the leader of the opposition after a year in the job says good or bad things about the population’s civic knowledge. Frankly, I thought it would be lower.
In addition to these 57%, there were 25% of respondents who said “I have a general idea of who it is, but I forget their name right now”, while 15% said they had no clue. Another 4% thought they knew but guessed wrongly. Here were some of the top incorrect responses (with total number of responses, not percentages):
Justin Trudeau (9)
Doug Ford (8)
Éric Duhaime (5)
Andrew Scheer (4)
Erin O’Toole (4)
Danielle Smith (3)
Jagmeet Singh (3)
There wasn’t much regional variation in Poilievre’s recognition — he scored lowest in British Columbia at 51% and highest in Alberta with 61%. He did better among men (67%) than women (48%), and recognition increased with age from a low of 43% among those under the age of 35 to a high of 77% among those 65 or older. Conservative voters (73%) also reported high recognition.
Among those who did not know who the leader was, the highest rates were among young women (26%), undecided voters (29%) and those who didn’t cast a ballot in 2021 (35%).
That his recognition among women is particularly lower suggests he has some opportunity for growth among this group of voters, one in which the Conservatives have already made some strides forward. But I think it is fair to say that Poilievre’s recognition level is fairly good for an opposition leader two years out from an election.
Freeland, Joly are known — a little
When it comes to cabinet ministers, however, Canadians’ knowledge is quite low.
Pollara asked respondents how many cabinet ministers they thought they could name, then gave the slots to write-in the names of up to three cabinet ministers. Most, however, didn’t even bother trying.
The poll found that 60% of Canadians could not correctly name a single cabinet minister. A few people ventured a name that was incorrect, with the top wrong guesses (with just two guesses apiece) being François Legault, Marc Garneau, Jagmeet Singh and Stephen Lecce.
In total, only 40% of Canadians could correctly name at least one cabinet minister. Just 26% could name more than one.
The only cabinet minister that had relatively widespread notoriety was finance minister Chrystia Freeland, with 30% of Canadians naming her — or a variation of her name (as with Poilievre’s surname, Canadians struggled with Freeland’s first name). Second on the list was foreign minister Mélanie Joly, who was named by 15% of respondents.
(Note that since respondents could name up to three cabinet ministers, the percentages add up to more than the 40% who were able to name at least one cabinet minister.)
After Joly, the numbers get very low. Only 7% named treasury board president Anita Anand, while 4% named defence minister Bill Blair and another 4% named environment minister Steven Guilbeault. François-Philippe Champagne, Sean Fraser and Dominic LeBlanc were the only other ministers to muster up at least 2% recognition.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that only 2% of respondents know Champagne, Fraser or LeBlanc — it’s possible those that could name three ministers (14% of respondents) could have kept the list going. Pollara limited it to three. But this does show how only a very limited number of ministers crack that top three that come to mind. Of those who named three ministers, more than half put Freeland and/or Joly on their list.
Nevertheless, these low numbers are enough to make any cabinet minister humble. Beyond Freeland and Joly, other ministers even struggled in their home regions or provinces. Harjit Sajjan scored only 5% in British Columbia, Randy Boissonnault only 3% in Alberta and Dan Vandal just 1% in the Prairies.
Freeland was the most-named minister in every region (she scored between 25% and 34% depending on the part of the country) except Quebec, where Joly was named by 35% of respondents to Freeland’s 30%. Joly was a distant second to Freeland throughout Western Canada, where Anand narrowly finished third. In Ontario, it was Anand that was one point ahead of Joly, while in Quebec it was Guilbeault who squeezed into third place (10%, Champagne was not far behind at 7%). In Atlantic Canada, Dominic LeBlanc was second to Freeland at 8%, while 6% of respondents in the region named Fraser or Seamus O’Regan.
These numbers show that most of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet have a lot of work to do to become better known, particularly if they have their eye on his job. Even among Liberal voters, only Freeland (42%) was widely named, well ahead of Joly (17%) and Anand (12%). Half of Liberal voters couldn’t name a single member of cabinet.
The contrast to Poilievre is stark. Justin Trudeau’s recognition, which wasn’t tested here, is undoubtedly sky-high. Poilievre, who has been a politician for two decades but never a high-profile minister, already has 57% recognition after one year in the job. Chrystia Freeland, a potential successor to Trudeau (and opponent to Poilievre) who has held very high-profile portfolios over the last eight years, was highlighted by just 30% of respondents.
One of the reasons Trudeau’s position as leader is more solid than some of his predecessors is simply that he doesn’t have an obvious successor — or, at least, one who would start out as a known quantity to Canadians.
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