There is an old saying in show business: never work with children or animals.
And yet, politicians always seem willing to take the risk that a bored or unhappy child will interrupt their carefully staged event for the chance at a good photo op. And with good reason: every party is clamouring for the support of these children's parents.
The Conservatives on Thursday promised to provide further tax relief to parents looking to adopt, and the expansion of the universal child care benefit has been a fixture of their campaign. The Liberals have pledged to give parents more flexible parental leave along with their own program of monthly child benefits, while the New Democrats promise to model an affordable national day care plan after one in Quebec while promising to retain the UCCB.
Nevertheless, parents with children living under their roofs still only make-up about a quarter of the voting population. Their attractiveness to parties might not be so much about what they are but rather where they live, as swing ridings are heavily represented among those parts of the country with large numbers of parents.
And parents are not the only people who can be swayed by child-friendly policies. Future parents and grandparents may also care about these issues.
But none of the three main parties has a distinct advantage among moms and dads. Polling by Ipsos Reid shows a three-way split among households with children, with the Conservatives and NDP tied with 32 per cent support apiece and the Liberals in third with 28 per cent.
Support is little different between these households and those without children. On average, in Ipsos's polling since the beginning of the year, the Conservatives have done equally well among both groups. The Liberals do slightly better among households without children, and the NDP does slightly better in those with kids. But the difference is negligible.
There has been a shift, though, in recent months.
Who are the 'persuadables?'
The Conservatives have seen their support drop among both groups in roughly equal proportions since the beginning of the year. They may have recovered from a spring slump among parents in July and August, but are still polling lower than they were in the first few months of 2015.
Liberals, on the other hand, have seen their support among households with children grow by about three points in recent months. Liberal support among empty nests has dropped six points over that time.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, have experienced most of their recent growth among households without children. This should not come as a surprise, as the NDP has traditionally polled better among younger Canadians, who are more likely to have children in the home, than among older Canadians — and it is among the latter group that much of the surge in NDP support over the last few months has occurred.
But if the race is as close among parents as it is among non-parents, do parties consider these voters to be particularly persuadable?
There is little in the latest Ipsos poll to suggest that they are. Parents are following the campaign about as closely as other Canadians, and are only marginally more likely to be undecided or uncertain about their choice than non-parents.
But Conservatives may see more to target in these numbers than other parties. Parents are slightly more likely to list the Conservatives (and the Liberals) as their second choice than non-parents. They also feel more positive about the direction of the country, and are more likely to see Stephen Harper as the best person to be prime minister.
Child care is an important factor in parents' decision making in this election, with 51 per cent saying that "helping families deal with the cost of child care" is "absolutely crucial" in their voting choice. Just 34 per cent of non-parents said the same thing. On this question, at least, the New Democrats have the advantage: Thomas Mulcair was seen as the best leader to deal with this issue by a wide margin.
With the national race as close as it is, parties cannot afford to ignore any large group of voters. But parents are a special breed, as convincing suburban parents to support them was key to the Conservatives' majority victory in 2011.
Both the Liberals and NDP need to sway these voters to their sides if they are to replace the Conservatives in 2015. Look for more crying children drowning out leaders' announcements in the weeks to come.
The poll by Ipsos Reid was conducted for Global News between Aug. 7 and 10, interviewing 2,022 Canadians via the Internet and the telephone. As the sample included an online portion, a margin of error does not apply.