As Conservatives prepare to choose their next leader, a new survey of how voters perceive the party and its main competitor should give party members something to think about.
The survey found that while the values of the Conservative Party are easily differentiated from those of the Liberal Party, the Conservative brand is generally associated with a number of negative ideas and concepts.
“The general image on top of peoples’ mind is that this is a party that is aged, is old, and this notion of tradition is strongly tied to the brand of the Conservatives,” David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, told Power and Politics guest host Catherine Cullen.
And while respondents pointed to a number of “negative associations” with the Liberal Party — particularly it being seen as untrustworthy and inauthentic — the majority saw the party as open, diverse and ambitious.
The findings may pose a challenge for the Conservative Party as it prepares for a leadership race to replace Andrew Scheer, who resigned on Dec. 12 following a disappointing election result.
Assessing party brands
Coletto’s firm, in collaboration with conservative strategists Dennis Matthews and Kate Harrison, conducted the “brand assessment” of the two main political parties using market research techniques normally used to measure the reputation of corporate brands.
Fifteen hundred Canadians of voting age, selected randomly from an online platform, were asked to associate words, phrases and images with the Conservative Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada.
When asked which words people associate with the Conservative Party, the three most common terms volunteered were “old,” “tradition,” and “closed.”
The report also found that voters associate the Conservative brand with the oil and gas industry, the military and religion, but not with diversity, equality or climate change.
Voters generally see the Conservative Party as cautious and restrained, the survey found.
“While being seen as realistic and restrained can be a virtue, the party’s perceived lack of ambition is a challenge,” Coletto said.
The survey also found major issues with the Liberal brand. Words such as “liar,” “dishonest” and “corrupt” featured prominently in a list of the top 30 words people associate with the party.
Dennis Matthews, a former Conservative strategist who helped design the survey, said the Conservative brand has become a barrier standing in the way of people voting Conservative, and that it’s in need of an update.
“Brands go through this all the time and they have to find a way to sort of retool or refresh themselves,” said Matthews. “The Conservatives have hit a point here where they haven’t really gone through that process since the early 2000s, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper came onto the scene.”
Matthews said the party’s brand issues can’t simply be solved by choosing a new leader. Instead, he encouraged party members to refocus on attracting a broader swath of the electorate.
“This really requires some rethinking of policies and particular stuff that would appeal to the parts of the country that are growing and changing the fastest,” said Matthews “By this, I’m thinking urban and suburban Canada, but also finding a way to just insert yourself into culture and be a bit more contemporary.”
One of the most striking findings of the survey, Coletto said, is the difference in perception between Conservative supporters and the party’s accessible voters — those who would consider voting Conservative in the future.
“When you compare what Conservative voters think about the party versus what accessible voters, or the rest of the population thinks, it’s almost night and day,” said Coletto.
The views of accessible Conservative voters are very similar to the general public’s, in that they see the party as “old, traditional, closed-minded, bad, elitist and untrustworthy,” the report said.
In contrast, Conservative supporters see the party as “trusting, caring, honest, realistic and good.”
A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said the party has a history of inclusion and that Canadians of all backgrounds have long been welcome in the party.
“Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity and ensuring everyone has the chance to fully participate in the life and governing of our country,” said Cory Hann. “Our party is about to have a competitive leadership race where candidates will have the opportunity to share their vision for the future of our party.”
Abacus Data said its survey was conducted online with 1,500 Canadian adults selected randomly from a set of partner panels on the Lucid exchange platform between Dec. 10 and 12. The results were weighted according to census data “to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population.”
The margin of error for a comparable survey is estimated to be plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.