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Politics Liberals aren’t competing for Conservative voters, they have more hope winning over New Democrat, Green, undecided voters

When Justin Trudeau went to the annual meeting of the Canadian Teachers Federation last week and delivered a kind of mea culpa to progressive voters, it gave us a glimpse of the Liberals’ election strategy.

It’s not that Mr. Trudeau will spend the fall repeating, as he said Thursday, that he’s made mistakes. It’s the warning about Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives that comes with it that sums up the Liberal strategy. Mr. Trudeau’s message was – to paraphrase – I’m not perfect, but if you don’t support me, you get Conservatives.

If that sounds like a lukewarm pitch to give to voters, it is nonetheless tailored to the people Liberals have to win over: There are a sizable number of people who aren’t excited about Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals, but won’t even consider Mr. Scheer’s Conservatives.

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So, while Mr. Scheer is Mr. Trudeau’s chief rival, the Liberals aren’t really competing for Conservative voters. They have a lot more hope of winning over New Democrat and Green supporters, along with the undecided. A set of data from polls conducted by Nanos Research illustrates why.

The horse-race results from the polls now show the Liberals a few percentage points ahead, but it’s summer, the election is still months away and voters’ choices remain fluid. But Nanos surveys also ask respondents another question: whether they would even consider voting for a particular party. That helps provide a sense of the potential voter pools for each party.

The numbers make it pretty clear why Mr. Trudeau isn’t competing for votes with Mr. Scheer as much as he is warning NDP and Green voters about him.

Most Conservative supporters – those who say that if an election were held today, they would vote Tory – won’t even look at Mr. Trudeau. Only 15 per cent said they would consider voting Liberal. But 39 per cent of NDP supporters and 34 per cent of Green Party supporters said they would consider voting Liberal.

That is in some ways similar to 2015, when polling data showed there was a lot of overlap between the NDP and Liberal voter pools. Mr. Trudeau’s path to victory then was essentially to unite the left, and it’s his best hope now.

In truth, the differences between voter pools are probably not as simple as a left-right, conservative-progressive cleavage. Voters, and parties, don’t always fit neatly on a spectrum. But it does appear that in recent years many voters have identified themselves with a somewhat fluid, Liberal-NDP-Green pool.

Of the voters who would consider voting Liberal, over 60 per vent would consider voting NDP, and roughly the same proportion would consider the Greens. Just under half of those considering voting NDP (46 per cent) and Green (43 per cent) would also consider voting Liberal, and a substantial number are still unsure if they would consider the Liberals. Most of those NDP and Green voters (63 per cent in each case) indicate they rule out voting for the Conservatives. (The Nanos data comes from a four-week rolling survey of 1,000 voters, with the latest sample completed July 12; overall results have a margin considered accurate with 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

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“The results explain why the Liberals have a campaign based on being popular with progressive voters,” said pollster Nik Nanos.

But maybe what the Liberals are shooting for this time is popular enough – convincing voters who don’t see Mr. Trudeau as first choice.

In 2015, Mr. Trudeau gathered momentum and won when he emerged as the most likely “progressive” leader to oust then-prime minister Stephen Harper. Now, Mr. Trudeau is trying to warn “progressive” voters about Mr. Scheer.

Last Thursday Mr. Trudeau warned teachers about small-c conservative provincial governments coming into power and cutting education – he loves to raise the spectre of unpopular Ontario Premier Doug Ford – and warned Mr. Scheer would combine with them to reverse “the progress we have made.” Never mind that the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over education – it was a visceral stop-the-right warning. And it got bigger cheers than the appearance that same day of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party is supposed to represent labour.

It’s no secret that Mr. Trudeau has disappointed many. For those voters, it’s probably wise to admit he’s not perfect – they already think so. This time, Mr. Trudeau is trying to win over voters who don’t see him as their first choice – but rule out Mr. Scheer.

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