Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Canadians value honesty in politicians, but believe communication is key to success, poll shows

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau arrives at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sept. 17, 2013.


Canadians believe the best trait in a politician is honesty but think good communications skills are a more likely ticket to the top, a new poll suggests Nanos Research asked 1,000 Canadians who were randomly recruited by telephone to complete an online survey to rank nine qualities often ascribed to political leaders according to whether they are "ideal" or a recipe for success.

The findings suggest there is a direct correlation between the positive political personality traits and success – except when it comes to honesty.

"A greater percentage of Canadians said you don't necessarily have to be trusted to be successful," said Nik Nanos, the president of the polling firm.

Story continues below advertisement

While 81.5 per cent of the respondents ranked honesty at the top of the scale when asked what makes an ideal politician, just 65.3 per cent gave it a 10 out of 10 when asked if it would make a politician successful.

Being a good communicator did not rank as high as honesty, in terms of what makes an ideal political leader. But it beat honesty when the respondents ranked it according to its contribution to success.

"This probably explains why the [federal] Conservatives have spent so much on communications and managing the message and how, although many may complain about the level of control that they have, they probably understand that this pays political dividends," Mr. Nanos said.

In addition to honesty and communication skills, those surveyed were asked to evaluate the qualities of humour, strong personal beliefs, creativity, the ability to inspire, consistency, a positive attitude, good listening skills, and willingness to act in the best interests of a political party.

That last trait – adhering to the best interests of the party – ranked at the bottom both in terms of what respondents said makes an ideal politician and what makes a successful politician. Mr. Nanos said he found it surprising that Canadians did not think it would lead to success.

"If you look at politics now, it would be easy for someone to observe that the Conservatives have been very partisan and they have been rewarded with three winning elections and a majority government," said the pollster.

"Are we hitting a tipping point in terms of people being turned off by the intensity of partisanship?" he asked. "I think this is what the Conservatives have to watch out for on a go-forward basis – that perhaps the appetite for that kind of hyper-partisanship that we've seen in the last number of years is beginning to wane."

Story continues below advertisement

The survey, which was conducted between Aug. 18 and 22 is expected to accurately reflect the opinions of the broad Canadian population within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.

Male and female respondents gave similar responses when asked to assess the various traits. But Mr. Nanos said: "I believe women were more likely than men to put a premium on being positive and also being a good listener."

Mr. Nanos said he decided to ask the respondents to rank a sense of humour because it is a proxy for likeability. What the study suggests, he said is that politicians who just want to be liked are probably are not going to be as successful as those who are very disciplined in terms of communications and can convey an image of being honest.

This might pose some difficulties for Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose strict control over his party's message has hit some bumps in recent months, Mr. Nanos said. "The challenge for the Conservatives right now is that Stephen Harper is battling the Senate controversy and the communications related to that is a bit muddied," he said.

That contrasts with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, said Mr. Nanos, who spent his summer talking about the "the secondary issue" of the legalization of marijuana and admitted to his own limited usage of the drug. "Basically, what he is saying is, 'you can trust me, I am going to tell you of any problems or things that are relevant.'"

As for NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who also leads the Official Opposition, Mr. Nanos said, the numbers suggest he should "not confuse his success in the House of Commons and his effectiveness in the House of Commons with building his personal brand related to who he is and what he wants to accomplish."

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨