April 15th 2013: The Trudeau effect?

The Liberals have a new leader, one that got elected even more easily than expected. Justin Trudeau is currently seen as the savior of the LPC and many hope he will bring this party back to power.Looking at his leadership run and the recent polls, Liberals might indeed be right to have high hopes for the next election. The object of this post is to look at the potential "Trudeau effect" and try to quantify it.

1. Justin Trudeau's performance in his own riding.

Before looing at the potentiel for the party, let's look at his results in his riding of Papineau. He ran there in 2008 after Pierre Pettigrew lost to the Bloc in what was one of the great victories for the Bloc in the 2006 election (taking a riding on the Island of Montreal is never easy). He successfully reconquered this seat for the Liberals and kept it in 2012 despite the rise of the NDP. The original win in 2008 wasn't easy and if you look at the numbers, Trudeau increase the Liberal share of votes by 2-3 percentage points, the same average as for the LPC in the province in general (people are quick to forget tht Dion actually managed to increase the support for the Liberals in Quebec). I understand the Bloc probably ran a tough campaign then (hey, they really wanted to keep this riding and they really, and I mean really wanted to prevent the son of the former PM Pierre-Elliot Trudeauto win). Thinsg are better for Justin Trudeau in 2011 where he seemed to have got a boost or bonus. Indeed, he managed to keep his seat by losing only about 3-points, way less than the average for the Liberals. It could be beause of an incumbency effect, but data shows it was more of a specific effect. Advanced econometrics methods show the same thing: no effect in 2008 (when the Liberals got some votes from the Conservatives, province-wide), but a large (between 3-4 points) and significant effect in 2011 when the Liberals lost votes to the NDP.

What can we learn from this? Mostly that Trudeau can  be especially good at fighting a rising NDP. While most of the island (and the province) was turning orange, Justin managed to fight the orange wave quite well

2. The recent polls.

All along the Liberal leadership campaign, we've got polls. Some were even as specific as to ask the vote intentions twice: with and without Trudeau as the leader of the Liberals. I won't try to list all the polls of the last 6 months, but we can look at these two: Legermarketing (March 30th) and Leger (December 8th 2012, so at the beginning of the race). For the former, let's ignore the ridiculous numbers (both with and without Trudeau) of the Atlantic. If we look at Quebec and Ontario, we see that Trudeau as leader would greatly benefit the Liberals. In Quebec, we're talking of a net gain of 4-points, at the expense mostly of the Bloc. Right there, if you follow politics, that shoud be a red herring. To me, it doesn't make any sense that Justin Trudeau would manage to convince Bloc supporters to switch to the Liberals. Especially when the Bloc is already quite low and therefore, the Bloc voters are more likely the "die hard" ones. In Ontario, the LPC would gain around 10-points, mostly from the NDP. In the latter poll (the one from late 2012), we see a boost for the Liberals, taken from the NDP. That makes sense. In Ontario, similar boost, taken equally from the CPC and NDP.

What I'm trying to show here is that the "Trudeau effect" isn't that obvious in the polls and hasn't been very consistent, at least not in terms of which party would lose votes. Generally however, it seems, the NDP would be more affected by a Trudeau-led Liberal party. Angus-Reid polls show the same: NPD down, CPC barelly affected.

Other polls have been released and the Liberals have been quite volatile. They could be very high in most Forum polls, but very low and a distant third in most polls from Angus-Reid. In both cases, Trudeau as leader would help. The volatility is definitely too important and reminds us to be use caution while looking at polls, especially outside of an election period.

What is also weird is that people were clearly expecting Trudeau to win this race, from months. So over the months, polls shouldn't show such a big Trudeau effect since people should be factoring the fact that Justin Trudeau would be the leader, no matter if the question asked for it specifically. In uebec, because people were pretty sure (and rightfully so) that Phillipe Couillard would win the Liberal leadershop (provincially), we didn't see any real boost for this party after the leadership. Which makes sense. No such consisteny at the federal level.

At the end, even if we do observe such a boost (and we most likely will in the next couple of polls, we always do when there is a new leader), it'll likely be at the expense of the NDP. While it's great for the Liberals to climb back, that leaves Harper and the Conservatives ahead. It's almost like LPC and NDP will simply split the vote differently among them. The effect could be particularly visible in Quebec where some scenarios actualy allow the Bloc to become the first party (in term of seats) again, simply because Liberals and Neo-Democrats are splitting the same vote. Both Trudeau and Mulcair have said no to any deal or coalition. We'll see in 2015 if they were right.

The real key battle will obviously be (as usual) Ontario and it'll be interested to see if Trudeau can really get some of the Conservatives vote back. First in the polls, later during the actual election.