POLITICS
05/28/2014 11:18 EDT | Updated 05/28/2014 11:59 EDT

Pollsters Suggesting Trudeau's Pro-Choice Stance Hurt Him Didn't Ask About Abortion

CP

The latest federal poll to hit the newsstands seems to suggest that Justin Trudeau's pro-choice stance has hurt the party, or so says Forum Research and the Toronto Star.

In fact, the numbers do not suggest anything of the sort.

The poll was conducted by Forum on May 22-23 and surveyed 1,694 Canadians via interactive voice response, showing the Liberals in the lead with 36 per cent against 30 per cent for the Conservatives and 23 per cent for the New Democrats. Compared to Forum's previous poll done at the very end of April, the Liberals have dropped three points.

According to Forum, "it appears Justin Trudeau's restrictions on Liberal candidates with pro-life views has peeled off a small but important tranche of support." The Toronto Star led with that opinion, the headline reporting that "Justin Trudeau, Liberal support, dip over pro-choice stance."

And, in the end, that is what it was — an opinion.

There were no questions in the Forum poll related to abortion or Trudeau's pro-choice stance, yet this did not stop Forum's analysis from leaping to the conclusion the decrease in support was related to abortion. But as the poll did not investigate what Canadians felt about the issue, there is no evidence the dip is related. It could have been due to any number of other reasons, including but not limited to normal statistical variation from one poll to the next.

In fact, the drop in support of three points for the Liberals is within the margin of error of Forum's last two polls. This means that, while the decrease could be real, it could also very well be a statistical wobble. Forum's next poll may show the Liberals back up two points and it would mean absolutely nothing.

That the Liberals lost three points over their pro-choice stance to the resolutely pro-choice NDP does not make much intuitive sense.

But perhaps this is unfair. Is there anything we can find in the numbers suggesting Trudeau's position may indeed have influenced the shift?

The Liberals lost support in three regions of the country since Forum's last poll: British Columbia, Atlantic Canada, and Quebec. Are these bedrocks of anti-abortion support? Not exactly.

When Forum last asked Canadians their views on abortion, in October 2012, the three regions of the country showing the greatest support for abortion being legal in all circumstances were British Columbia, Atlantic Canada, and Quebec.

Worse, the loss in support for the Liberals was primarily due to a 16-point drop in B.C. from an abnormally high 45 per cent at the end of April. It appears more likely that the 16-point drop to 29 per cent was more of a reset, as that puts the Liberals generally where other polls have pegged the party to be in the province.

To chalk that up to abortion makes little sense — B.C. was, by far, the province showing the highest support for abortion being legal in all circumstances (70 per cent). The most recent abortion poll done by Angus Reid also showed that B.C. was the most supportive of the pro-choice position.

Demographically, we see the Liberals lost support among the youngest Canadians but held steady among older Canadians — exactly the opposite of what you'd expect if abortion was the cause of the drop.

Among Christians, support for the Liberal Party slipped by an insignificant single point. Among evangelicals, the group one would consider the most anti-abortion, support for the Liberals actually increased by four points, and approval of Trudeau himself by six.

On the other side of the ledger, support did drop among Catholics, but the sample size suggests this group included many people who identify as Catholics but are not regular churchgoers.

Certainly, it is still possible that Trudeau's pro-choice stance did knock him down in public opinion. But there is little in this poll suggesting this is the case, and in fact there is much more evidence that argues against it.

Pollsters should not be creating narratives when they cannot be backed up by their own polls. But considering a significant majority of Canadians are pro-choice, criticism of his stance has been extremely overrepresented in newspaper column inches and chatter on the Hill.

If Trudeau's stance has indeed hurt him in the court of public opinion, it is likely to have been for causing a fuss.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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