From Sunny Ways and gender parity to SNC Lavlin and Pandemic weariness, much has changed for Canadians and the governing Liberals since Trudeau took the country's helm in 2015. Amid a rising 4th wave of COVID-19, the Liberals are again asking Canadian voters to trust the Trudeau brand. In what amounts to a referendum on his pandemic leadership, the election is essentially a two-horse race with respect to who can form government: Trudeau's Liberals and O'Toole's Conservatives.
Elections are often imagined as battles of detailed policies, positions, and promises. Recent history and academic research have shown however that more and more voters rely on political brands and leader perceptions to help make electoral decisions. Canada is no different.
A brand is a person's gut feeling based on the sum of all impressions one has had with a person, product, service, or organization.
Whether trying to decide which dish detergent to buy or what smartphone is best; for most, a brand acts as a kind of mental shortcut that helps provide simple answers to sometimes perplexing decisions. The more a brand resonates positively with someone, the more likely brand loyalty is formed (the reverse is also true, with more negative feelings leading to brand aversion), making difficult decisions related to that brand easier and easier. The same tenets and decision-making shortcuts can and do work for politics as well.
In 2015, with the promise of change, politics done differently, and a fresh youthful presence, a heavily brand-focused campaign worked wonders for Trudeau's Liberals, skyrocketing them from 3rd place to a majority mandate all under the moniker of Sunny Ways and 'Trudeaumania' 2.0. However, after six years in power, some voters have become less captivated with Trudeau's star power and perceive him to be long on symbolism and short on action. It is also interesting to see an election being called based on the government's handling of the pandemic when COVID-19 is still very much an ongoing threat.
Although polls are showing erosion of voter intent since the election was called, and Trudeau's rock-star civil servant receptions of the past have been replaced by jeering protests at campaign stops, don't count him or his brand out just yet. Abacus Data has found evidence that Liberal votes have been more about PM Trudeau personally than the party and this connection has built stronger over time. Beyond Trudeau’s personal brand, there's still more opportunity to turn things around with the Liberal platform now released, voters begin to pay closer attention with national leaders' debates and election day fast approaching.