Andrew Scheer's Conservative leadership bump the smallest any new party leader has had in 14 years

Three months after winning the Conservative leadership, Andrew Scheer has had little positive impact on his party's standing in the polls — giving him a historically modest honeymoon.

Three months after becoming Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer has had little impact on the polls

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has not had the same honeymoon as some of his predecessors. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Andrew Scheer's honeymoon as the leader of the Conservative Party is the worst any new party leader has experienced in 14 years, as the Conservatives are only marginally more popular today than they were when Scheer won the party's top job three months ago.

But while Scheer's leadership bump has been below average, ranking him in the bottom half of new leaders since John Diefenbaker, the relationship between a new leader's honeymoon and his or her subsequent electoral success is far from clear cut.

In polls conducted over the three months since Scheer was named leader, the Conservatives have averaged 32.1 per cent support. That's 1.3 points higher than the Conservatives' average poll support in the three months prior to the May 27 leadership vote.

That score is below the average increase of 2.3 points experienced by past leaders since 1956, when comparing average support three months before and three months after a new leader is put in place.

It is even further behind the average leadership bump of new Conservative leaders (including those of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties), which has come in at about four points — the same average increase newly-installed Official Opposition leaders have experienced.

That puts Scheer roughly in the middle of the pack of the new party leaders the Tories, Liberals and NDP have had since the 1950s and for which polling data is available.

Scheer's honeymoon also compares poorly to that of Justin Trudeau, who boosted his party's support by about eight points in 2013. Tom Mulcair also experienced a bigger bump than Scheer, increasing the NDP's support from around 28 to 34 per cent in 2012.

The fates of those two leaders in the 2015 federal election, however, were considerably different.

But the numbers suggest that no new leader since 2003 has had such little positive impact on the polls for his party.

That year, Jack Layton had no discernible impact on the polls after he took over the NDP, while support for the PCs dropped slightly under Peter MacKay. Paul Martin, the new Liberal prime minister, saw his party's support slip by about four points — though from a higher base.

Cruel summer

Scheer only got a few days as Opposition leader in the House of Commons before it adjourned for the summer, a period when politicians of all stripes struggle to keep up their profile. This could have contributed to his flat honeymoon.

The average honeymoon boost for leaders who spent their first months in the job under the summer sun has been similar to Scheer's at about one point.

But these leaders include Jean Chrétien and John Turner, who lost support over the summer months after their leadership victory from a much higher base than Scheer, and MacKay, who was in the midst of talks to merge his PCs with the Canadian Alliance. 

More successful summer honeymoons include those of Brian Mulroney in 1983, Kim Campbell in 1993 and Stockwell Day in 2000, though ultimately only Mulroney subsequently won an election. 

Glass half full or half empty?

Undoubtedly, the Conservatives would prefer to be in the midst of Scheermania rather than the historically unremarkable honeymoon period they find themselves in. But the record is full of leaders who had similarly sized — or smaller — honeymoons before later electoral success.

Diefenbaker, who, like Scheer, represented a riding in Saskatchewan, saw his support drop slightly after taking over the PCs in 1956. But he won the next election in 1957. Chrétien, too, saw a slip in support in 1990 before winning in 1993.

Tommy Douglas, Lester Pearson, Jean Charest and Layton all had worse initial honeymoons than Scheer and later success in their political careers.

Additionally, leaders who had better honeymoons than Scheer — Robert Stanfield, Audrey McLaughlin, Stéphane Dion, Michael Ignatieff, Campbell, Day and Mulcair — either never became prime minister or led their parties to worse showings than under the leader they replaced.

But two-thirds of new leaders saw their honeymoon levels of support drop by the next election. The average decrease has been 3.5 points — which would further widen Scheer's present deficit in the polls. And there are more future prime ministers among new Opposition leaders above Scheer in the rankings than there are below him.

Overrated honeymoons

Nevertheless, it is clear that a big honeymoon boost is not a prerequisite for future success. Stanfield's 11-point surge in 1967 did not help him win in 1968 against Pierre Trudeau, while Joe Clark's 10-point bump in 1976 put him on the path to only a slim minority victory — and popular vote loss — in 1979. 

Ignatieff's eight-point increase in 2008-09 did not prevent him from leading the party to the worst showing in its history in 2011.

So there is good reason for Scheer to brush off the initial lack of enthusiasm for his leadership. He has two years to make a better impression on voters.

But his early showing suggests he has his work cut out for him.


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.