Andrew Scheer's personal numbers suggest he was part of the problem in October

Over the last four election campaigns, no party leader saw his net approval ratings worsen more during the campaign than Andrew Scheer did this year.

Over the last four election campaigns, Scheer is the only major party leader whose approval rating dropped

Andrew Scheer has highlighted the gains his Conservatives made in the last election, but polls suggest his own personal brand took a big hit during the campaign. (Dave Chidley / Canadian Press)

It might be hard for Andrew Scheer not to take the calls for his resignation personally.

After all, under his leadership the Conservatives won more seats and more of the popular vote in October's election than they did in 2015.

The Liberals under Justin Trudeau were reduced to a minority and lost the popular vote. Jagmeet Singh led his New Democrats to their worst performance in years. Nobody in those two parties is calling seriously for either leader to step aside.

What gives?

Polls conducted during the last federal election campaign suggest that Scheer himself might be the problem. An analysis of data from recent campaigns shows no party leader has seen his or her personal approval rating during an election campaign worsen more than Scheer's did.

Between the beginning and the end of the recent campaign, Scheer's net approval rating (approval minus disapproval) decreased by an average of 10 points, according to polls conducted by Forum Research and Campaign Research. That's the biggest decrease in a major party leader's net rating in any of the last four federal election campaigns.

This chart compares changes in party leaders' approval ratings over the course of election campaigns. (CBC)

In other words, Scheer actually lost ground personally during the 2019 campaign — despite his party's stronger showing at the ballot box.

With an average approval rating of 27 per cent and a disapproval rating of 55 per cent, Scheer's net -28 rating at the close of the 2019 campaign was worse than any other leader's post-campaign score — except Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion (-32.5) and Michael Ignatieff (-37.5) and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper after his losing 2015 campaign (-32.5).

All three of those leaders resigned on election night, or shortly thereafter.

For Dion and Ignatieff, those ratings were actually an improvement over where they were when those campaigns started. Dion's net rating increased by 10.5 points, and Ignatieff's by 3.5 points, over the course of their disastrous 2008 and 2011 campaigns. Despite their deep unpopularity, their ratings still improved (relatively speaking) once Canadians saw more of them.

That was not the case for Scheer, who was a net -18 in Forum and Campaign's pre-campaign polling.

Trudeau also improved his net rating during the campaign by about three points — although at -21 it was significantly worse than the +11.5 rating Trudeau enjoyed at the end of his first campaign in 2015.

Scheer lost while gaining, Singh gained while losing

So what looks like a double standard in how the three leaders are being viewed now isn't really a double standard at all. Calls for Scheer's resignation have been ramping up since it became clear that his campaign performance worsened Canadians' views of him.

Singh, meanwhile, seems safely ensconced as NDP leader despite losing nearly half of his caucus. But Singh impressed many people during the campaign, turning around the negative impressions some voters had of him.

Singh's net approval rating improved from -13 at the outset to +26 by the end, an increase of 39 points. That puts him far and away ahead of all other party leaders over the last four election campaigns. His nearest competition is Jack Layton, whose approval rating increased by 18.5 and 20 points following the 2008 and 2011 campaigns, respectively.

The major difference is that Layton started those campaigns with significantly better ratings than Singh brought into the 2019 campaign.

While Andrew Scheer's net approval ratings took the biggest hit in recent years of any party leader, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh experienced the biggest improvement. (Chad Hipolito / Canadian Press)

Still, Singh ended this campaign with an average approval rating of 50.5 per cent. That's the best approval rating of any leader coming out of the last four election campaigns; it's just slightly ahead of Layton's result at the end of 2011 and Trudeau and Mulcair's scores at the end of the 2015 campaign.

This explains the numbers in a recent poll by Léger for the Canadian Press. It found that 87 per cent of NDP voters think Singh should remain as leader, compared to just six per cent who want to see him step down.

Among Conservative voters, however, just 48 per cent said Scheer should stay on, while 40 per cent want him to go. And these are the people who still say they will back the Conservatives — a number that decreased in the Léger poll compared to October's election result.

Among all Canadians, just 24 per cent think Scheer should hold on to his job, while 52 per cent say the same for Singh.

Scheer only recent leader to lose approval during campaign

Dion, Ignatieff and Harper (in 2015) are the only other leaders to end one of the last four campaigns with an approval rating of less than 31 per cent. Dion and Ignatieff ended each of their campaigns as Liberal leader with an approval rating in the low-20s — worse than Scheer's 27 per cent — but they had started their campaigns in the low teens.

Scheer is the only major leader over that time to see his approval rating actually drop over the course of the campaign. It went down by a single point, but every other leader has either seen that approval rating hold steady (which happened to Mulcair and Harper in 2015) or improve by at least 2.5 points (and often much more than that).

The nine point increase in Scheer's disapproval rating is also the biggest over the last four elections, outpacing Harper's 8.5-point disapproval increase in 2011 and Mulcair's eight-point jump in 2015.

Scheer's disapproval rating increased across the country — it spiked the most in Quebec, jumping by 18.5 points. With the exception of Atlantic Canada, Scheer's net rating got worse in every region.

So how did Scheer's Conservatives make gains if he is so unpopular?

Those gains were not uniform. The bulk of them came in Western Canada, where dissatisfaction with the Trudeau government was more likely than enthusiasm for Scheer to have been the main factor driving voters' choices. The rest of the Conservatives' wins came in Atlantic Canada, where the Liberal brand took a beating in recent provincial elections and where, after sweeping the region in 2015, the federal Liberals had nowhere to go but down. In Ontario and Quebec, the Conservatives took less of the vote than they did in the last election.

Summing up: Scheer's introduction to Canadians did not go very well. With some justification, Conservatives calling for his resignation have come to the conclusion that it likely wouldn't go any better the second time around.


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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