Analysis

Tom Mulcair needs to break out of his Quebec base in 2015

The NDP remains competitive in Quebec, the site of its historic 2011 breakthrough, but it will need to make strides outside of the province in order to have a hope of winning the next election. Polls analyst Éric Grenier looks at the numbers.

NDP leader popular in Quebec, but party support lags in rest of the country

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will need to win over new voters outside of Quebec if his party is to form Canada's next government. (Jimmy Jeong/The Canadian Press)

Although the NDP remains competitive in Quebec, the scene of its historic breakthrough in 2011, the party will need to make significant gains in the rest of the country if leader Tom Mulcair is to become prime minister in 2015.

In Quebec, the party still holds the support of most of the voters who cast their ballot for the party in the last election. Though they have dropped into a close race with the Liberals for top spot in the province, the party continues to poll first among francophones, who will decide the outcome in most of the province's 78 ridings next year.

If the party holds on to those voters through to 2015, a majority of NDP MPs from Quebec can expect to be re-elected.

But it is in the rest of the country that the ultimate fate of the party will be decided.

Strip away the 59 seats the party won in Quebec in 2011, and the New Democrats took 44 seats. A strong performance by the party's historical standards, but far from a government-in-waiting. Outside of Quebec, the NDP captured 26 per cent of the vote in that election. By comparison, the Conservatives took 48 per cent.

At this point, the NDP does not seem poised to improve upon that showing.

The party is polling below the level of support it received in 2011 throughout the country. In Ontario, the NDP is down almost six points from its 2011 showing to 20 per cent, according to a weighted average of the polls.

The party is also down slightly in the Prairies (to 28 per cent), while in Alberta (11 per cent), British Columbia (26 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (22 per cent), the New Democrats are currently polling at or below where they stood in 2008, let alone 2011.

Is Mulcair a drag or an asset?

Compared with his predecessor, however, Mulcair is doing well in a pre-electoral setting.

A poll by Angus Reid conducted on the eve of the 2011 election campaign found Jack Layton to be the choice of 17 per cent of Canadians for prime minister. His approval rating was 37 per cent. 

Although the latest polls suggest Mulcair's numbers on who would make the best prime minister are similar, his approval rating stands at around 48 per cent. That gives Mulcair almost identical approval ratings to those enjoyed by Layton at the end of the last campaign — but by that point, Layton's support as the best choice for PM had risen to 29 per cent of Canadians, according to Angus Reid's final election poll.

With his high approval ratings, it is difficult to argue Mulcair is a drag on party fortunes. However, he does seem to be less popular than his own party in some regions.

If we compare the voting intention results in Angus Reid's most recent federal poll to the numbers on who would make the best prime minister (after removing undecideds), we see that Mulcair polls significantly lower than his party in British Columbia, the Prairies and Ontario. Only in Quebec does Mulcair poll higher than his party.

Growth opportunity?

Mulcair does have room for growth, however. Layton demonstrated that a popular leader can turn sympathy into votes in the right circumstances, and perhaps Justin Trudeau will prove to be as ineffective a campaigner in 2015 as Michael Ignatieff did in 2011. Across the country, Mulcair's approval ratings are markedly higher than the support levels for his own party. Some of those voters who approve of the job the Official Opposition leader is doing may be accessible for the NDP.

In Ontario, for example, Mulcair has recently averaged a 47 per cent approval rating, against just 27 per cent disapproval. His approval ratings throughout the country are, for the most part, comparable with Trudeau's. And he fares even better in Quebec, where Mulcair's approval rating stands at an average of 63 per cent. In no region does a federal leader have a higher approval rating than that, including Stephen Harper in his home province of Alberta.

But strong personal numbers are not a guarantee of success at the ballot box. Before the 2008 election, for example, Stéphane Dion was polling behind Jack Layton, yet his party finished the election well ahead of the New Democrats. It took Layton four elections and almost 10 years to finally capitalize on his personal popularity.

Mulcair may find it difficult to pull off the same feat in his first attempt.


ThreeHundredEight.com's weighted averages include all publicly published polls weighted by three factors: the age of the poll, the size of the sample, and the track record of the polling firm.

The approval ratings averages were calculated by averaging the results of recent polls by EKOS Research, Forum Research, and Angus Reid Global. Methodology, sample size and margin of error if one can be stated vary from survey to survey and have not been individually verified. See the firms' respective websites for full methodological details.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

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