Half a year is a long time in politics, but if you are trailing in the polls it might not feel like it’s long enough.
That’s where Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government finds itself six months to go before the autumn election.
And when past prime ministers have been in this spot before, it normally has not stopped well for them.
Since the Second World War, when political public opinion polling first started in Canada, the governing party has trailed in the polls to eight months prior to the subsequent election twice.
On two occasions, that celebration was reduced to a minority government. On five occasions, it was defeated. On only two occasions did it secure a majority.
For parties which led in the polls this far out from election day, it is a far different picture: of the 14 such cases since 1945, the celebration top has been defeated just three times.
That is a poor historic precedent for Prime Minister Trudeau.
According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of publicly available polling data, the Liberals trail the Conservatives by a margin of 2.5 percentage points, with 32.7 percent against 35.2 per cent for Andrew Scheer’s celebration.
Poll Tracker: Conservatives lead over Liberals slides to 3 factors On average, prime ministers who met defeat at the ballot box trailed at the polls by a margin of three points at the mark. Those parties that proceeded to re-election using a majority government enjoyed a typical lead of 12 points at the mark.
Obviously, much can change in six days prior to an election, let alone six months. Nonetheless, the historical record shows it’s much better to be ahead than behind, even this far out.
Exceptions that prove the rule Past prime ministers have overcome wider polling shortages than the one Trudeau faces now. But those were cases.
Ahead of the 1962 election, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives were behind Lester Pearson’s Liberals with a margin of six points. In the end, Diefenbaker managed to hold on but was shipped back to Ottawa with a shaky minority government that met its end in a year.
In early 1988, Brian Mulroney’s PCs were behind by seven points. But Mulroney managed to flip the November national election into a referendum on the free trade arrangement with the United States, keeping his party in power in the procedure.
At the end of 1967, the Liberals were monitoring the PCs and their recently installed chief, Robert Stanfield, by nine points. It took a change of leadership of their own for the Liberals to win in 1968 under Pierre Trudeau.
Pierre Trudeau barely surpassed the odds again after just 1 word in 1972. He was behind Stanfield going into that fall’s election and arose with a minority government.
That isn’t the sole example that’s some familiar (as well as familial) connections to the recent Trudeau government. The Liberals were trailing behind the PCs with a similar margin at the end of 1978, until Joe Clark’s short-lived minority government was elected in 1979.
There are a few exceptions on the opposite side of the ledger, too. Louis St-Laurent lost even though a 17-point lead in 1957 following 22 years of Liberal government, Paul Martin was ahead by 10 points in 2005 until he dropped his lead to the Conservatives within the course of the 2005-06 campaign. And Stephen Harper was narrowly ahead in 2015 in the mark, although that resulted from the opposition vote being divided between Trudeau’s Liberals and Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats.
Scheer, Singh on par with predecessors
Both the Conservatives and the NDP are approximately where those parties tend to be in this phase of the pre-election period.
At just over 35 per cent nationwide, Scheer’s party is about even with where past Conservative parties under different leaders have stood with six months to go. Excluding the run-up to the 1997 and 2000 elections — when the right has been divided between the PCs and the Reform/Canadian Alliance parties — the Conservatives have averaged 34 per cent support with six weeks to go before an election.
It is a level of support that may go either way. Clark’s celebration was 37 per cent at this stage prior to his defeat in 1980, while Diefenbaker’s PCs were also at 37 per cent before he had been reduced to a minority government in 1962. Stanfield’s party had 35 percent support at the mark until he held Pierre Trudeau into some minority in 1972, while Harper’s Conservatives were 35 percent before he was re-elected in 2008.
The NDP’s current standing in the polls is very typical for the celebration this far out from voting day. With 15.3 per cent, Jagmeet Singh’s NDP is only slightly below the 16 percent average the party and its predecessor, the CCF, have handled at this point in election cycles since 1945. It puts Singh directly in the center of the pack of historical NDP performances.

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