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Canada’s most polarized voters really, really hate Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during a Liberal fundraising event at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario, on Wednesday Dec.19, 2018. Trudeau is hitting British Columbia today as part of an outreach tour. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

Maybe it’s the meanness of social media or the low bar set by Donald Trump, but politics—as Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer have both warned—is feeling nasty in the run-up to next fall’s election. Figuring out how many voters really fall into camps of mutual loathing, though, is tricky. After all, even loyal partisans are sometimes open-minded rather than ideologically blinkered.

To try to sort out who’s truly hardline, the polling firm Abacus Data asked a set of questions meant to probe polarization among Canadians, and provided the findings to Maclean’s. The pollster counted as “polarized” anyone who answered that they hate Liberals or hate Conservatives, while also disdaining compromise or viewing people who don’t vote like them as their enemies.

By that combined test, 26 per cent of the population counts as polarized, leaving 74 per cent somewhere between extremes. The polarized group is fairly evenly split between left and right: 47 per cent would vote Conservative today, while a combined 45 per cent back the left-of-centre options—21 per cent Liberal, 16 per cent NDP and eight per cent Green.

For Trudeau, the findings point to growth potential among the non-polarized majority, but not much upside in pitching to the polarized quarter. Asked generally about how Canada is faring under him, 50 per cent of non-polarized voters agreed it’s “headed in the right direction,” while only 32 per cent of the polarized group concurred with that sunny prognosis.

On the supercharged issue of climate change, 37 per cent of non-polarized voters found Trudeau’s approach good or very good, but just 22 per cent of those whose views are polarized held the same opinion. That fits with the Abacus finding that a remarkable 55 per cent of polarized voters agreed with the statement that “climate change is blown out of proportion by radicals,” a view shared by 31 per cent of non-polarized voters—still a significant number not yet convinced of the urgency of global warming.

On Trudeau’s handling of immigration and refugees—another election-year hot button that’s bound to be pressed repeatedly by Scheer—59 per cent of polarized voters think the Prime Minister is doing a poor or very poor job, far higher than the 34 per cent of non-polarized voters who sharply disapprove.

In some other areas, though, favoured Conservative themes look solidly popular no matter which group is under the microscope. For instance, 75 per cent of polarized voters agree that Canada needs “deep cuts to taxes,” but even among the non-polarized majority, a sizable 58 per cent want to see those cuts.

Abacus conducted the survey Dec. 13-18 online with 2,000 Canadian adults, weighted to match the population for age, gender, education and region.