Kurl: Trudeau and Poilievre face a similar challenge to attract voters

Perhaps it’s a strange, naive wish that one of the two would find a way to get past the divisions they are both responsible for in different ways.

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Plus ça change. It should come as no surprise to Canadian political viewers worth their salt that the Conservative Party of Canada seems to be having some wind in its sails after the election (well, the coronation actually) of leader Pierre Poilievre. After years of essentially being locked in a statistical tie with the ruling Liberals when it comes to voters’ intent, several polls (including that of the Angus Reid Institute) reflect the increasing daylight between the parties – with the CPC leading the way.

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What remains the same for now, though, is the inability of Poilievre and his rival, Justin Trudeau, to overcome an unappealing factor beyond their own ranks, rendering both unable to impress a wider segment of the population.

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Without change, the result will undoubtedly be lasting frustration for the actors involved. Those witnessing an increasingly polarized political climate are unlikely to fare much better looking for leadership that unites rather than divides.

Consider some of the traits Canadians used to describe messieurs Poilievre and Trudeau in our same recent study: The most commonly attributed trait for both is “arrogant” (40 percent say this of the CPC leader, 49 percent say this of the liberal chief).

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But it is especially striking what supporters of one man say about the other. Those who voted conservatively in the 2021 elections will most likely describe Trudeau as “arrogant”, “corrupt”, “weak”, “dishonest” and “indifferent”.

The other side – former liberal voters – don’t think much of Poilievre and use almost exactly the same negative qualities to describe him: “arrogant”, “dishonest”, “corrupt”, “indifferent” and a “bully”.

So, essentially, what conservatives believe is wrong with Trudeau is exactly what liberals believe is wrong with Poilievre. Oh dear.

It helps neither the leader (and presumably voters who search in vain for common ground) that they are faced with a staggering gender gap in their support. Gone are the days when Trudeau’s once-stratospheric post-cannabis-legalizing approval levels were supported by men ages 18 to 34, among others. Man, did those guys ever fly into the loft? Two-thirds of younger adult men now disapprove of the prime minister, while nearly half approve of Poilievre. Older men look at Poilievre with a slightly more wary look, but over the age limit they are tired of Trudeau.

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Poilievre, on the other hand, has a problem with women, or rather, they have a problem with him. Majorities in all demographics of women view the CPC leader unfavorably. They get on well with Trudeau, but who really manages to capture their admiration (especially women aged 18 to 34) is NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

Perhaps it’s a curious, naive, retro-era wish that one of Poilievre or Trudeau should find a way beyond the rhetoric, beyond the divisions they’re both responsible for, each in their own way. Trudeau denies the division and marginalization that many feel in this country, while rightly condemning the worst and most extreme segments of that population. Poilievre speaks accurately about the fact that not all Canadians agree with the policies and direction of this government, but has firmly established a foothold with the most detestable elements of that segment. (Read this if you forgot).

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But the material point is that neither will be able to truly earn a defensible majority mandate from multiple voters if they don’t bridge the gap somehow. Conservatives won’t be able to win the government unless they can once again invade urban centers. The Liberals bought more time for themselves, but their supply and trust agreement with the NDP is not guaranteed to last, and there is a degree of fatigue in their government. While it barely worked in the last two elections, “we are the least worst option” is hardly a campaign slogan.

Let’s hope for – even if we don’t quite believe in it – change for the better.

Shachi Kurlic is chairman of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, non-profit, impartial public opinion research foundation

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