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Trudeau Attack Ads Have Backfired, Failed To Hurt Liberals, Poll Suggests

Conservative attack ads aimed unapologetically at Justin Trudeau have not had any impact on national voting intentions, as federal Liberals gain ground and move ahead of the Tories.

If Stephen Harper was hoping Conservatives could blunt the effect of Trudeau’s arrival as Liberal leader, the early indications are that they failed. In fact, of the 39 per cent of respondents who said they saw the ads, Liberals held a 10-point advantage over the governing Tories. The two parties were tied among Canadians who hadn't seen the commercials.

Not only has the ad campaign apparently backfired in the polls, it appears to have helped boost Liberal fundraising. Trudeau announced in a video released Monday that the party had raised over $1 million from 14,000 donors since he became Liberal leader less than a month ago.

But it comes as no surprise that poll respondents reacted negatively to the attack ad. Other surveys have shown similar results, only for the message contained in the ads to seep its way into how viewers perceive those on the receiving end of the attacks. It is possible that, over time, the ads will take their toll on the new Liberal leader.

However, the practised casualness of the video in which Trudeau announced the fundraising milestone takes the Conservative attack head-on. Instead of trying to prove the attack ads’ claims wrong, as Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff tried and failed to do, Trudeau is attempting to own them. Young and inexperienced? Rather than appearing in a suit-and-tie in an attempt to give him more gravitas, Trudeau wore a t-shirt and cargo shorts. The message is clear — this is supposed to be a different kind of leader, and the Liberals think that is what Canadians want.

By one measure, though, the Conservative ad campaign had some success. A quarter of respondents said the ads made them less likely to vote for the Liberal Party (though only 8 per cent of Liberal supporters said so). But most of those would have come from voters already in the Conservative camp. And, generally speaking, Ipsos-Reid said the ads performed poorly compared to others put through their market research tests.

Perhaps, this time, the attack on a new Liberal leader will fall flat.

That would be bad news for the prime minister if these current numbers hold. The Liberals edged out the Tories in British Columbia, were within two points of Conservatives in Ontario, and held statistically significant leads in Quebec and Atlantic Canada. That is the kind of broad electoral coalition that could put Trudeau in the prime minister’s office by 2015.

Pushed to the side in this equation is the NDP, whose support has fallen back to 2011 levels in British Columbia, the Prairies, and Atlantic Canada. The party is down a few points in Ontario and has shed almost half of the new support the party captured in Quebec. With these sorts of numbers, the best that Thomas Mulcair could hope for is a position of influence in a minority legislature.

However, 2015 is a long way off. Both Harper and Mulcair have plenty of time to make their parties more appealing to voters once again, and take advantage of any stumbles Trudeau might make over the next two years. But both would rather be leading the pack than having to play catch-up.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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