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What Nanos' tracking tells us about Canadians' mood, party preference heading into 2024

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Heading into a new year, Canadians aren't feeling overly optimistic about the direction the country is heading, with the number of voters indicating negative views about the federal government's performance at the highest in a decade, national tracking from Nanos Research shows.

"Very few Canadians would give the federal government a very good score at this particular point in time," said Nanos Research founder Nik Nanos in the latest episode of CTV News Trend Line.

According to the latest round of tracking, completed between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, 2023, when asked how Canadians would describe the performance of the federal government on a scale from "very good" to "very poor," 37 per cent of survey respondents said they think Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's team is performing "very poor."

Just five per cent thought the minority Liberals were doing a "very good" job.

The last time Canadians’ disapproval was this high, was in 2013 when 38 per cent of respondents graded then-prime minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government as performing very poorly. But at that time 12 per cent of respondents considered the federal government to be doing a "very good" job.

(Nanos Research)

"When we look at the 17-year trend, you can see that the Liberals are breaking a record probably no government ever wants to break, breaking a record for the lowest positive scores," Nanos said.

Trudeau had "pretty good numbers" starting in 2015 with a 38 per cent "very good" score, the pollster said, and then saw a boosted performance score again in 2020 as the federal government led the COVID-19 pandemic response. But, since then, Canadians' views of their performance have been on the decline.

Nanos said these figures show a "similar trend" to what happened to Harper just ahead of his 2015 federal election defeat.

"Now, the big question is, you know, could the Liberals turn it around?" Nanos said. "A lot of things that could go wrong did go wrong for the Liberals [in 2023] and we're seeing that in their scores."

CANADA’S DIRECTION

Similarly, when it comes to Canadians’ views on the direction of the country, more Canadians in 2023 said they think Canada is moving in the wrong direction, than any year since 2013, when 55 per cent of those surveyed said Harper's government was moving the country in the wrong direction.

At both moments in time, just 31 per cent of people surveyed said they thought Canada was on the right track.

(Nanos Research)

"They've tied for the worst score right now. About three out of every ten Canadians or thereabouts, believe that the country is moving in the right direction, 49 per cent say the wrong direction," Nanos said. "If we look at the Liberals back in 2015, in their first year of their mandate, 63 per cent of Canadians thought that they were moving in the right direction. So it's kind of cut in half."

"The thing is, 31 [per cent] … is not enough to win an election, that's for sure," Nanos said.

BALLOT TRACKING CHECK-IN

Looking at the latest ballot tracking numbers as of Jan. 5, starting off 2024 the Conservatives are maintaining their lead over the governing Liberals, with 38.3 per cent of ballot support, down 1.5 per cent from four weeks ago.

The Liberals' numbers have increased slightly, hitting 26.4 per cent ballot support with a 0.3 per cent boost, the same bump the NDP received, putting them at 20.5 per cent.

(Nanos Research)

Trudeau's party is still 12 points behind Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's team, and looking at the trend coming out of 2023, despite their recent slight dip, "it's obviously favouring the Conservatives."

Asked then what these numbers may indicate about the possibility of an early election, Nanos said based on the New Democrat's current standing, he doubts NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh would consider pulling out of his deal with Trudeau this year, but if their polling fortunes change, so could the fate of the two-party confidence-and-supply pact.

"The other thing that the New Democrats have to do, is deliver on something other than the dental plan… He's got to get something else in the window," Nanos said, suggesting a win on housing or inflation could result in a bigger gain for Singh.

ECONOMIC OUTLOOK IMPROVING?

The dominating concern for Canadians last year was the cost of living and related affordability issues. That trend is expected to continue, Nanos said, with the latest survey data showing economic woes outpacing voters' preoccupation with issues such as the environment or health care.

"We're starting 2024 with Canadians firmly focused on their pocketbook, their expenses. Can they pay for their groceries? Can they pay for rent or their mortgage?" Nanos said, noting that right now approximately one out of every two Canadians say they feel personally worse off financially than they did one year ago.

(Nanos Research)

Nanos suggested that with economists forecasting a soft first quarter of 2024 followed by some potential improvement, Canadians' views on finances may start to improve as the year progresses.

"Based on the Nanos Bloomberg index, which predicts out six months where the GDP is going to be, we could see a little bit of positivity in the second and third quarter of 2024. Which, if you're an incumbent government, you'll take something like that, especially if you've got numbers like this," Nanos said.

This makes Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland's upcoming spring budget one to watch, in terms of what it may offer Canadians to help them feel more economically secure, Nanos said.

'TURBULENCE': CANADA IN THE WORLD

When looking internationally, Nanos said his latest tracking of how Canadians would rate Canada's reputation around the world in the last year shows an "all-time low" when it comes to how many people surveyed think this country's standing has improved.

As of the end of 2023, just three per cent of those surveyed said they think Canada's international reputation improved in a year that saw the federal government stickhandle a series of major global incidents, from foreign interference allegations, to tensions with India and the Nazi veteran debacle during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit.

(Nanos Research)

While 39 per cent said Canada's reputation had not improved in 2023, in 2013 45 per cent of survey respondents felt that under Harper the country's standing on the world stage had not improved that year.

Still, Nanos said the Liberals are "going to have to do something to put a win in the window" to try to patch up international relations with key economies in the year ahead.

With a U.S. presidential election on the horizon in 2024, Nanos was asked what impact a hot political year south of the border will have on Canadians.

He said should Donald Trump secure the U.S. Republican presidential nomination and go on to reclaim the presidency, given the "very difficult time" Canada and other allied countries had while he was in the White House, to expect "turbulence."

"Who knows what will happen... But the one thing that we should say is that, I would expect that Donald Trump if he does win will be much better prepared, at least from his perspective, to be president and try to institute change," Nanos said. "It's something that everyone is going to have to manage."

Watch the full episode of Trend Line in our video player at the top of this article. You can also listen in our audio player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. The next episode comes out Wednesday, Jan. 24.

METHODOLOGY

For 'mood' tracking surveys on federal government performance, direction of country and change in international reputation of Canada:

Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random surveys, Dec. 27 to 29, 2023, n=1006, accurate 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.

For issue and ballot support tracking:

1,063 random interviews recruited by RDD (land and cell lines) random telephone survey of 1,063 Canadians aged 18 years and over, ending Jan. 5, 2024. Data based on four-week rolling average where each week the oldest group of 250 interviews is dropped and a new group of 250 is added. Random telephone survey of 1,063 Canadians is accurate 3.0 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20

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