With 6 months to go, Justin Trudeau is up against history

Éric Grenier

Incumbent governments usually lead in the polls this far out from an election — and struggle when they don’t

Half a year is a long time in politics, but when you’re trailing in the polls it might not feel like it’s long enough.

That’s where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finds itself with six months to go before the fall federal election.

And when past prime ministers have been in this spot before, it generally hasn’t ended well for them.

Since the Second World War, when political public opinion polling first started in Canada, the governing party has trailed in the polls six to eight months before the subsequent election nine times.

On two occasions, that party was reduced to a minority government. On five occasions, it was defeated. On only two occasions did it secure a majority.

For parties that led in the polls this far out from election day, it’s a much different picture: of the 14 such cases since 1945, the party leading has been defeated just three times.

That’s a bad historical precedent for Prime Minister Trudeau.

According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the Liberals trail the Conservatives by a margin of 2.5 percentage points, with 32.7 per cent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s party.

On average, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed in the polls by a margin of three points at the six-month mark. Those parties that went on to re-election with a majority government enjoyed an average lead of 12 points at the six-month mark.

Obviously, much can change in six days before an election, let alone six months. Still, the historical record shows it’s much better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.

Exceptions that prove the rule

Past prime ministers have successfully overcome wider polling deficits than the one Trudeau faces now. But those were exceptional cases.

Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were behind Lester Pearson’s Liberals by a margin of six points. In the end, Diefenbaker managed to hold on but was sent back to Ottawa with a shaky minority government that met its end within a year.

In early 1988, Brian Mulroney’s PCs were behind by seven points. But Mulroney was able to turn the November federal election into a referendum on the free trade agreement with the United States, keeping his party in power in the process.

At the end of 1967, the Liberals were trailing the PCs and their newly installed leader, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It took a change of leadership of their own for the Liberals to win in 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.

full story at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/grenier-trudeau-six-months-1.5102336

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