An interview with Quito Maggi of Mainstreet Research

Quito Maggi is the president and CEO of Mainstreet Research, one of the first pollsters to show a Conservative lead in Canada and one of the more frequent pollsters in recent weeks of the Canadian campaign.

Goldsmith: Can you explain your polling demographics?

Maggi: Yeah so Mainstreet uses IVR, stands for Interactive Voice Response, which is an automated polling system. Traditionally we ask age, gender and we only waive for those two factors. For this election we wanted to do a bit of a dive into demographics so we added recently, income, education, race and vote type. Vote type not quite being a demographic but we are asking people how they intend to vote, whether by early by mail in ballots, early in advance poll or at a returning office or if they are going to wait right until September 20th. We believe that because Canada is sort of on the verge of a possible fourth wave of this pandemic that the mail-in-the-ballot may be a significant portion of the vote. So those are all the breakouts that we provide for our readers. 

Goldsmith: So what is the polling telling you?

Maggi: As of today (08/27/2021), our methodology is a 3 day roll, so it’s not a three-day average, it’s the summary of three days of polling and it’s reported daily. So when tonight’s sample is brought up, the one that is 3 days old drops out. Today’s latest 3 day roll reported 36.8% for the Conservative party lead by Erin O’Toole, 31.4% for the Liberals led by the incumbent, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and 18.5% for the New Democrats lead by Jagmeet Singh. Then in Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois at 5.6%, the Green Party has all but disappeared at this stage to about 2.6%, and there is a populist party here in Canada called the People’s Party led by former Conservative Maxine Bernier, and should note there also at over 4%, 4.3%. So it’s quite surprising what we are seeing today versus what we were seeing pre-election.

Goldsmith: So what factors do you think put play to this result?

Maggi: I think there’s a lot of things that have, that have happened, primarily two main factors. Factor number one was what’s been happening in Afghanistan. With our allies, Canadians are hearing everyday in the news about, you know, what is happening in Afghanistan right now to people who worked with Canadian troops and allied troops. But they want to get out and the government is simply not able to, to help them so thousands of people have already been evacuated, thousands more still waiting, that news hit about two days before the election began and it’s just that constant coverage of the Afghan issue. So foreign affairs, playing a huge role in Canadian elections, it’s never happened before. It’s not necessarily the defining issue but it puts people, voters in the mood to blame the government for something, which can happen, that’s the backdrop.

And then obviously we are in a pandemic, people have been calling on the government not to call this election for many months, including the opposition parties and early on, I believe that the narrative put by the Liberals about why this election had been called was insufficient to address those concerns. Just before the election, about two days before the RIT’s were issued, so just before the campaign period started, we had done a poll that showed that 65% of Canadians didn’t want an election and just 35% did. Ironically, those who said they did want an election were mostly people who were not people who were gonna vote for the incumbent party, those who said they did not want an election were and so that’s why we are where we’re at. That question, although it was answered and addressed on the very first day of  the election, I don’t believe that it’s been successful in getting people to accept the reasons why this election is happening, so there’s still lingering questions about why the election has taken place in the first place. 

Goldsmith: Thats a really interesting answer because my next question is kind of based on that, a bit, because obviously very early on in the campaign, Erin O’Toole released the party platform and called it this Great Recovery Plan. To me, when I saw that, it was almost make it seem like a government in waiting rather than an opposition party, so how much of the Conservative success is a result of them putting themselves as a government in waiting or putting themselves in a position where they seem as if  they would take the country in a direction rather than simply people are not happy with Trudeau and the Liberal government? 

Maggi: Yeah, so we had a recent provision election here that you probably didn’t follow here in Nova Scotia. November 17th was election day and I had set our final poll, got out of the field on the 15th, but I said it wouldn’t surprise me if the opposition PC party won the popular vote, sure enough they did and they got a majority government. Surprising to most, but you know, in full fairness to us, we were just in the field last. We came very, very close to extremely low variants between the poll numbers and the actual results in the end. You know the one take away form that, for me was that, it was the first election that wasn’t sort of a referendum on pandemic performance whether that’s keeping people healthy, giving the healthcare system the necessary resources it needs to deal with things. All previous pandemic elections that have happened, at least here in Canada, have been about pandemic performance, and pretty much just a straight referendum on that one question.

What I think has happened now here in Canada with I think is well over 60% of the population that’s double vaccinated like myself, I think it’s close to 80% that has at least one dose. The pandemic and the pandemic performance, although they judge, in our numbers, the governments did a really good job in terms of the vaccine acquisition and the rollout and approvals for both the federal and provincial level governments in terms of how they performed was very high; people have moved on, it’s more of a “What have you done for me lately or what are you going to do for me now? Now that the pandemic is almost over, what are you going to do?” And so, while I see very similar paths here for what the Liberals in Nova Scotia did and what the Liberals federally did. And the PC opposition, now government, in Nova Scotia, they had a very, they rolled out a platform very early, they stuck to a plan, they focussed on health care, and that delivered the win for them. It’s more the lesson is you cannot sit on your laurels of your pandemic performance, Nova Scotia, probably one of the best jurisdictions in the world in terms of case counts and hospitalisations, probably very low, the Atlantic bubble, very well known for having done that.

All the Atlantic Premiers have done a great job, and I think that’s the same thing that’s happening now, and to your point about the releasing of the platform very early on, I think it was day two or three, by the Conservatives. It’s smart because that’s what people want to see, they want, they don’t just want to say, “okay well you did a good job here’” what they want to hear is “what is my plan for the next thing?”, “what is my plan for the next 18 months?”, the “How do we handle the delta variant?”. And plus at the same time maintain the economy, increase the economy, what are you gonna do about taxes, what about the deficit? Some outstanding, some long-standing issues like climate change and other things are still there; affordable housing, affordability in general of some goods and services here in Canada have been long standing. Cell phone rates and data rates in Canada are a big thing. Erin O’Toole and his people did a really smart thing, putting out the plan early, talking about different aspects of it every single day and connecting directly with voters instead of doing it through the media lens which can sometimes have, you know, sometimes backfire, gaffes can happen more times a party leader is in front of journalists, facing tough questions, it can backfire.

So while Justin Trudeau has been sort of front and centre the whole time, Erin O’Toole has been talking to voters, their plan is getting rave reviews, its much more centrist then, and is some ways, far more left than anything anyone expected from a Conservative party, of course but it’s certainly having appeal and, you know what we are seeing in the question is, who is best prepared to handle pandemic and pandemic-related? Trudeau still leads that question but every other question: healthcare access, jobs and the economy, foreign affairs, all the way down the line, every issue he is being beaten by either. Truth and recognition by our first nations and racial equality in Canada, Jagmeet Singh beats him on that factor, so when he’s only winning one out of seven factors, and its pandemic related, this tells me more Canadians are actually going to vote on the basis of the plans. You know, and I coach all that to say that, you know its early days, we are in summer, I’m here at my cottage, its still beautiful summer weather, lots of Canadians are traveling, they’re on vacation, once people really pay attention, and tune in, in September, a lot of these numbers can change, and shift and most likely by then, the Liberals would have released their plan as well and I think that will level the playing field. 

Goldsmith: Its interesting you brought up the Nova Scotia election because historically in Canada, from an outside observer, thats the more success that a party has got in provinces, that generally speaking hasnt translated to federal politics, and what we are seeing at the moment is the Progressive Conservatives have been dominating provincial politics, you know we’ve seen places like Ontario get Doug Ford and also the Nova Scotia election, which if you were to look at the history, in terms of Federal elections, you wouldn’t really assume that, it was the first majority for the Progressive Conservatives since 1999, so whats been an interesting thing that I’ve seen is that despite the fact that the Conservatives have all these Premiers, a lot of them haven’t been involved in the campaign, and in 2019 it was often talking about in Ontario because that was the main area the Conservatives really struggled in. So do you think that the Conservatives plan of seemingly shutting out the Premiers is being successful in terms that held to the record of their premiers? 

Maggi: Yeah, I mean what your referring to is called Balance Theory, here in Canada. Basically its, although it never perfectly overlaps, at least with the two main provinces, when you have a federal Liberal government, you usually have right-leaning parties in those two provinces and a few others, and vice versa, when there/s a Conservative government, usually all the provinces have Liberal governments. I think that unlike 2019, there was no desire to look for help from, say Premier Jason Kenney who has been under a mountain of bad press, and bad opinion research, and I think Doug Ford, was more decided to sit this one out, had actively feuded with Trudeau in the last one. If you hear the tone from most of the progressive Premier, especially the ones in Atlantic Canada, I mean remember that the guy who won, Tim Houston, the new Premier in Nova Scotia, described himself as more ideologically like Trudeau, they ran a very centrist, centre-left platform, not super ideologically Conservative minded. I think the only three provinces that are potential problems for Trudeau would be Scott Moe in Saskatchewan, Pallister, who’s just resigned in Manitoba and there’s a leadership ongoing, and Doug Ford in Ontario. Doug Ford, remember he has his own election in I think nine months after the federal election, he’s got his own election to fight, and I don’t think he wants to waste any ammunition or any energy or political capital on the federal election. Made sense going in, the way the numbers are sitting today, I guess, wait and see if thats a smart thing or not. 

Goldsmith: So, when you talk about the fact that Trudeau is winning one of seven on issues, well I was doing research when I was looking at personality traits like trustworthiness ect, what I also saw there was the fact that Jagmeet Singh was winning the vast majority of those. Now with the NDP, of course last election a lot people saw him as the savior who saved them from complete annihilation, what impact do you think Singh is having on the NDP because currently with most pollsters are putting them up 3-5% which could make the difference between 27-47 seats. So how do you think him being one of the most popular individual leaders is going to boost the NDP nationally? 

Maggi: Yeah, I think, they’ve also had very smart strategy, in terms of how they’ve, not just in the campaign but leading up to it, focussing on these, i dont want to make them seem small but I guess smaller economic concern issues, the issue of affordability, cell phone rates, data, rental housing, etc. It’s a huge issue, especially for younger people, people of lower income, its tends to go hand in hand and so hes made his gains. You know traditionally, Liberals have always led the under 35 vote during the Trudeau-era in polling, and not so much now for the last year, it’s been dominated by Jagmeet Singh and the NDP. On the education side, we’ve seen the NDP make huge gains among university education voters, which was predominantly Liberal territory. So whats it done is, in our polling its today at 18.5%, I think we’ve had them as high as 20%. Other polls, as high as 21/22% ive seen. The biggest issue is their voter fission I’ve seen, if you go onto ipolitics where our polling data is, we run 20,000 simulations a night to see, to get the probability of what kind of electionomiter on twitter, idk if you have seen it. (Interviewer says “I have”).

Oh great, so on the electionomiter, if you click through on the first page, theres a ternary graph which is a triangle which shows, it plots all the 10,000 simulations that we ran the night before, and in some of those simulation, what you’ll notice is that the NDP in comes second in vote share in quite a few of those simulations, but what you’ll also notice is that it never translates into second in seat count because their vote is quite fission in where it is. So I think that Jagmeet is well liked and his popularity is as high as you say. I guess I cant see him getting to the Jack Layton levels in terms of momentum and where his appeal would pass a certain critical mass. I think its been very effective, his use of TikTok and other social media has made him extremely well known and well liked among younger people. I kind of see his strategy as building one that in another few elections, he’ll be able to get that critical mass of people that do like him. Its nice being likeable but sometimes it’s not enough for people to vote for you. 

Goldsmith: Now if we can move onto the Bloc Québécois, the election Barometer, has seen them consistently lose seats, whether it be by a couple or more then that, because I think I saw them at around 10. Is it a case of the last election being so good that they won’t be able to match rather than a specific issue they are facing after the last few years or just bad electoral strategy? 

Maggi: Yeah, I think, remember going into the election there was the SNC Lavalin scandal, largely, I think Quebecers felt that the Prime Minister had embarrassed their province by doing this in such a way that was not proper and it was embarrassing Quebecers and to have this issue at the forefront of national politics. So I think largely I think that hurt Trudeau, him talking about it all the time, bill 21 and other things. He did it during the debates in 2019, it literally overnight we saw that same night, in Quebec, Liberals dropped five points, every time he addressed it, he went down. This time, I think he’s paid Legault and Quebecers the ultimate respect which is staying out of it. He has not talked it, he has not addressed it, he has not answered questions about it, and I think thats what largely Quebecers want and they’ve rewarded him so far, at least in our polls and the average of all polls have him leading pretty substantially in Quebec. So when you have a very strong premier, François Legault is an extremely popular, highest approvals of any in Canada, has done for a very long time, very very popular right across the political spectrum. Remember, neither Conservative or Liberal, a coalition party. Coalition Avenir means the coalition of the future, right, of what’s to come. So, this is a very powerful political individual, you have Trudeau, who is of course the Prime Minister, and then Blanchet steps into that, trying to get any political oxygen in that sphere, can be difficult, he’s a very smart guy, I don’t think he’s been entirely successful. Why does the Federal scene need a strong Quebec voice when it has the two strongest voices already in François Legault and Justin Trudeau, so the Bloc Québécois raison d’etre is in question in this election. 

Goldsmith: So in regards to the Green Party, I told you before we started, I spoke to Robert Martin and I asked him if Elizabeth May not being the leader of the Green Party that was really gonna be their detriment going into the election, and there have been various different models and workings out, from your own putting the Greens on one seat, and in fact Earl Washburn of EKOS, he also put them at one seat with Elizabeth May being their sole Member of Parliament. So, is it simply put that Elizabeth May is the only Green Party member who can really garner enough long term support because obviously the MP who defected to the Liberals and Paul herself is not very popular among voters, as polling suggests?

Maggi: Yeah, you know, I think the Green Party has a lot of problems. The Green Party had a hotly contested leadership race last year, very contentious. The top two candidates on that final ballot, they really had very stark differences, the guy who came in second was, lets say, a very ardent supporter of Palestine, and the main opponent being Annamie Paul being a Jewish, Black Women didn’t sit well with the sensibilities of some of the Green Party’s supporters. This issue of what happened with Jenica Atwin calling Israel an apartheid state is indicative of some of the misinformation that some political ideologies follow or decimate. None of this is Elizabeth May’s fault, people have been asking her to move on for some time, remember that the 2019 election would’ve been her 5th election, you know and it was right for her time to go, no one could’ve foreseen what happened and I think Annamie Paul has gotten of to this rocky start, but did well in the by-election in Toronto centre but the likeliest outcome, giving where they are nationally, I think the NDP has eaten up most of their vote, except for a few patches in British Columbia, its staying still. I think the likeliest outcome will return to that one seat which will be Elizabeth May. They have to go back to the drawing board with a different leader, I don’t think Annamie Paul has the remotest chance of winning her seat in Toronto Centre and I just think the Green Party has done itself a very a huge disservice in over the last year in the lead up to this election. All this infighting, legal challenges ect these are the types of things that happen behind closed doors, for good reason because its damaged their political brand significantly, and they will be reduced potentially to nothing. 

Goldsmith: The final main party in Canadian politics, if you can really call it that, is of course the People’s Party which very recently its been stated that they will not be participating in the leadership debate. Which actually following that saw them rise in polls, in some of them, up to around 7%. Is this really a do-or-die situation for the People’s Party, in that if they don’t materialize any electoral success, people wont see them as a viable option, almost like UKIP from 2015 to 2017?

Maggi: Most political parties that are founded by individuals, tend to be very charismatic, Maxime Bernier is very charismatic but I think the mistake he made was to kind of embrace the populist base just a little bit too much, its the difference between accepting and acknowledging some lunatics will be your supporters and sort of playing to those lunatics, I’m not sure thats the best way of expressing that. And yeah, you know, the People’s Party is legitimately above 4%, we saw a bump for them in fact the day after they announced they would not be in the debate. Theyve actually increased since then, and we’ve had them as high as 7%. They’ve come back down a little bit but they are for sure above that 4% threshold. If Maxime Bernier doesn’t make it into the debates, there’s no runway but I suppose maybe he could take back his old seat, potentially. I’m not sure what Robert [Martin], would say about the other potential seats. They could play spoiler in a couple dozen seats in Western Canada, competitive seats in Edmonton, Calgary, even the Saskatoon region where they could be the difference between, in some cases the NDP winning a seat or in some cases the Liberals taking a seat, instead of being held Conservative. So from a spoiler standpoint, I think they are still a viable party. I would hesitate to say they are anything beyond that. 

Goldsmith: Moving onto the battleground for this election because what it seems to me, is that at the beginning of the election, it was very much seen in the Atlantic side, where the Conservatives were seemingly making ground in places such as Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia as there are multiple marginals there. But what seems to have happened in the two weeks of the election is the battleground has moved into Ontario more, with the 905 being one of the biggest battlegrounds in Canada, and seemingly making up ground in those areas in which they didnt do in the last election. Why do you think theres been a shift from the Atlantic region to Ontario?  

Maggi: Well yesterday, or today (08/27/2021) this morning, what was reported was the Atlantic has now tightened up again so I think there are two factors at play in Atlantic Canada early on in the election. First off all, the fact that they were in the midst of their own provincial election in Nova Scotia, there was some, what we call, ballot confusion whenever theres some provincial contest going on at the same time, sometimes it makes people confused about  Conservative and Progressive Conservative and provincial Liberal and federal Liberal, we saw that return, but the other factor thats at play in Atlantic, is the factor we talked about in the beginning, which was Afghanistan.

So the Atlantic provinces have the highest concentration of serving military and former military families. So I think this issue, whats happened in Afghanistan, plays much, much more significantly in Atlantic Canada and we saw this again after Mr O’Toole’s statement on Afghanistan yesterday early in the day and since then we’ve seen that tightening back to where Conservatives are closing the gap on Liberals in Atlantic Canada. So I think that that’s a continues to be one of those background issues that is impacting the race in Atlantic Canada. And now more recently, its been Ontario and Atlantic Canada thats been the most unstable in terms of the swings over the course of the election so far and Federnall, the Liberals have had a lead of between 7-12 points in Ontario for most of the last year, and so what’s happened is that in the early part of this election, some pollsters went as far as to say that the Liberals can’t lose around a week into the election because there was still a  10 point lead in Ontario, 15 point lead in Quebec. Those two things add up to a massive structural advantage, but then something strange happened in Ontario. After week one, and I attribute this to the platform launch of both the NDP and the Conservatives doing it early, kind of caught the Liberals by surprise and I think Ontario are no different to Nova Scotia voters. They want to know the plan for this next step, the Prime Minister went out and told them himself “hey, you need to choose how we exit this pandemic and the economic recovery post pandemic” and yet they have not yet put out their plan, and I think thats whats at play in Ontario, and maybe to a lesser extent in British Columbia. The prairies will always been the Prairies, and I include Alberta along with Saskatchewan and Manitoba. We see always in every election we’ve ever done, and I think that this is our 5th, pretty stable numbers right from beginning to end. You never see huge swings in those regions. Issues tend to be large urban centre issues focused  and in Prairies and Alberta, where yes they have some large cities, but the majority of the population is outside those large cities, those issues tend to be less vote movers. 

Goldsmith: In the hypothetical instance which is looking more likely at the current place we are at, that Justin Trudeau remains as the winner with a minority government, but a reduced minority, how long would you suppose that he stays as Prime Minister and the Liberals just oust him?

Maggi: Yeah, I think thats an interesting question, I don’t think, in that event, I mean on day one of the campaign, the media asked, and i was quite surprised they asked this question, especially the number, because they asked it four times, four outlets asked the same question, “if you didn’t get the majority, would you resign?” And of course he didn’t answer that question, but I think that question will be asked the same if the numbers stay as they are today or if they get worse or obviously if the Liberals lose government, thats it. Although the numbers are starting to point in that direction, I kind of, I think that this is end of summer opinions we are gathering here. Not to say the polls aren’t accurate, it’s just not a full audience yet, come September, if the numbers stay as they are, you know, you could see a potential change in government. I dont think they will stay like that, I think they will tighten up, but yeah if a minority Parliament returns, I guess that’s what Canadians wanted so you shouldn’t have called this election and many people would’ve said that, including polls and the general public saying they didnt want this election, at least to us, the pollsters. If it does come out as a minority government, yeah I don’t think he has long being the Liberal leader anymore, or Prime Minister.

Goldsmith: So Indegenous people, they were strongly in favour of Trudeau in 2015, for obvious reasons, considering the issues with Stephen Harper. Their overwhelming support for Trudeau very much disappeared or was greatly reduced as many people felt let down by Trudeau’s government in that they didn’t keep their promises that were stated during the campaign. So how influential do you think Indegenous people’s voting will be and do you see any degree of swings towards the NDP or Conservatives with the Indegenous vote?

Maggi: I think the Indegenous vote is still, I mean all parties have candidates running for first nations. But you’re right, there was a definite disappointment with how Trudeau handled truth and reconciliation. I think largely the issues around SNC Lavalin and Jody Wilson-Raybould, those issues really impacted. I guess turnout will matter, we are tracking with part of our polling, you know I told you that we added race to our demographics, and so we are breaking out Indegenous vote and I forget off the top of my head, its pretty split evenly among Indegenous, I dont know if that varies by province, I havnt done that level of a deep dive yet. Its certainly a vote that was part of the coalition in 2015, that majority coalition that’s not there for him in 2021, anywhere near the same extent as it was then. 

Goldsmith: Final question, and I’ve asked this to Robert Martin, I want to hear your thoughts as well, for the Liberals and the Conservatives, we’ve seen them generally around even within most polling up until your poll today, what percent above each other do you think each will need to get a majority or minority?

Maggi: Those are very different numbers, because even today when we have the Conservatives leading by 5.4%, we still have the Liberals winning the seat count, because of Quebec largely, and Liberals keeping the lead in Ontario, so I would have to think that for Conservatives, they need to be six to seven points ahead as long as thats in the mid-30’s and the Liberals drop down, and have a split between them and the NDP, and have the NDP around 24 or 25% and have the Liberals around 28 or 29% for them to form government, for them to win a plurality of seats.

I’m not so sure who they would make a deal with in that scenario, that would make some interesting negotiations after the fact, so like I said, it would have to be 6-7% with the Liberals being in the high 20’s, that would require the NDP to increase its vote share as well, significantly above where they are today. On the other hand, the Liberal vote is extremely efficient. Even with a tie, we saw it last time, the Liberals lost the popular vote by 1% and they won the plurality of seats, and came fairly, I guess close, 10-15 seats away, so could rely on NDP or Bloc support at different times for different things, and of course with Conservatives on others, to be able to govern for two years. Even a tie, Robert [Martin] and I have talked about this quite a lot, in that, there are scarious where even a tie on popular vote, could actually give the Liberals a majority, theres not many, its a low, low probability, the last 20 seats would win by 1-2%, but they are simulations where a tie vote, and even a slight loss on popular vote, are not quite as big as the one from last time. But if its 35% to 34-34.5% in that range, even that tie could yield the majority government for the Liberals. So the Liberals are in a much stronger position structurally than the Conservatives. The Conservatives would literally have to get above 40% to get a majority, that’s what they got in 2011, 39.6% or something like this.

Aaron is an objective journalist who does analysis on the current climate of politics and political party successes and looks back at recent political history to see where we are headed for. You can find him on Twitter @aaron_gsmith.

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