Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On perceptions

CanWest reports on a new Ipsos Reid poll on Canadian party leaders. And with a wide range of factors in the mix, it appears that while Layton and Dion both have some work to do, Harper may be past the point of being able to change a significant set of negative perceptions:
The Ipsos Reid poll, conducted exclusively for CanWest News Service and Global National and released yesterday, reported 46% of respondents said Mr. Harper would make the best prime minister. Mr. Layton was second choice at 29%, while Mr. Dion trailed at 25%...

Mr. Harper and Mr. Dion were virtually tied when those surveyed were asked which leader is "sincerely committed to dealing with climate warming." Mr. Harper scored 30% and Mr. Dion scored 29%. Mr. Layton came out on top with 41% of the vote...

The only good news for the Liberal leader was the finding that 45% of those polled said they viewed Mr. Harper as someone with a "hidden agenda."...

A total of 51% of respondents saw Mr. Harper as "someone who will get things done," compared with 25% for Mr. Dion and 24% for Mr. Layton.

The Prime Minister trailed Mr. Layton on questions about his willingness to be open to the ideas of others, but he topped the pack at 40% on the question of which leader best knows when to compromise for the greater good.

Asked which leader came off as being "conceited and full of themselves," 47% chose Mr. Harper, 30% chose Mr. Dion and 23% chose Mr. Layton.

Mr. Harper and Mr. Dion were almost tied -- 40% and 38% respectively -- on whether they were leaders "who will say anything to get elected."
The numbers confirm the conventional wisdom that Dion has an awfully long way to go to build his own image in the eyes of voters. And it has to be particularly problematic that Dion has managed to couple some fairly high negative numbers with virtually no strong positive scores.

Conversely, Layton manages to earn high scores for environmental commitment and willingness to listen to others, while avoiding high rankings in any of the negative categories. Which suggests that the biggest task for Layton going forward seems to be to make sure the current perception of him spreads further, rather than a need to outright redefine the public's view of him.

So what about PMS? While the article seems eager to paint the numbers as a relatively unqualified success for Harper, it's far from clear that such a conclusion is justified. Granted, some of his positive-sounding numbers are again high, particularly on the "getting things done" question (where it has to be a disappointment for Layton to rank in third after making "getting results" a major campaign theme).

But this survey also fills in a few of Harper's negatives which were lacking from Strategic Counsel's poll. And PMS surely can't relish the possibility of going into a new election with voters seeing him as conceited, full of himself, willing to say anything to get elected but unwilling to listen to anyone, and still maintaining a hidden agenda - which seems from the numbers to already be a widely-held (not to mention all too justified) view.

In sum, it appears clear that even as his "best PM" numbers remain high, Harper has plenty of vulnerable areas for all other parties to exploit. And the more PMS confirms the existing problems with his leadership, the easier it'll become for the opposition parties to define him all the way out of office next time Canada goes to the polls.

(Edit: typo.)

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