The Weekly Writ for Sept. 20: The Liberals' cruel summer
How current polling stacks up to past years, plus a floor-crossing in British Columbia and a new poll in Manitoba.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
The Liberals are entering this fall in the worst position they’ve ever been since coming to power in 2015.
It was a rough summer for Justin Trudeau. A cabinet shuffle that was designed to give his government a reboot had the opposite effect, and the Liberals started to dip in the polls to new lows. The Conservatives kept hammering away at their message, introduced their leader in a series of new ads and capped it off with a successful convention that stamped the party in Pierre Poilievre’s image. The Liberals ended the summer trailing the Conservatives in national polling by double-digits with some MPs starting to gripe about their dire straits and question Trudeau’s future as leader.
But it does seem that the Liberals have been electro-shocked into action since the caucus retreat in London last week. Some new (recycled) policies on housing, a populist drive against the big grocery chains and a pledge to bring in new Pharmacare legislation by the end of the year suggest the Liberals are trying to regain control of the narrative.
The announcement on Monday that the government has intelligence connecting India to the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil has also pushed aside some of the domestic political squabbling (though Poilievre sounded skeptical on Tuesday, demanding from Trudeau more evidence on India’s involvement). It’s the kind of event that will have unpredictable domestic and international political repercussions for potentially months and years to come. Next to that, the recent decline in the Liberals’ polling fortunes might be remembered as only a minor story from 2023.
But it has been a decline — and a long-standing one that was only accelerated over the summer. Below, I’ve averaged all the polls conducted in August and September over the last few years (interspersed with the results of the elections in October 2015, October 2019 and September 2021). The numbers show how the Liberals have, with the exception of the pandemic year of 2020, begun each new fall sitting of parliament worse off than in the last.
It’s a pretty straight line heading downwards for the Liberals from one year to the next. What’s changed is the standing of the Conservatives. Since 2017, they have entered every fall sitting stuck somewhere between 31% and 35%, support levels that were confirmed in the 2019 and 2021 elections. In 2022, that same score was enough to put the Conservatives narrowly ahead of the drooping Liberals. But in 2023, the Conservatives broke their ceiling and averaged around 38% support in August and September, putting them 10 points ahead as the Liberals fell below 30% support.
Taking this longer view of the trend shows how difficult it will be for the Liberals to turn things around. Some of their recent decline is undoubtedly related to specific issues like inflation, housing and cost of living. But the natural sagging of the Liberals’ support as the baggage from their years in office starts to pile up plays a big role in this as well. That will make it harder to reverse these trends — at least without any help from the opposition. The kind of renewed focus that we’ve observed over the last week is one essential component of any Liberal comeback. The other would be some mistakes and errors on the part of Pierre Poilievre.
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Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News of a floor-crossing in British Columbia and a stay-putting in New Brunswick.
Polls out of Manitoba and the latest federal numbers.
The Conservative majority if the election were held today is bigger than it would have been last week.
A straight orange vs. blue fight in this week’s riding profile.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer in this week’s instalment of the #EveryElectionProject.