New poll hints at potential in Harper’s foreign stances

Abacus poll: PM’s foreign policy earns approval, just not enough to pull votes his way

Prime Minister Stephen Haper takes part in an economic question and answer session at Mansion House in London, England on Wednesday Sept. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Stephen Haper takes part in an economic question and answer session at Mansion House in London, England on Wednesday Sept. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Stephen Harper enjoys solid approval among Canadians for most of his main foreign policy positions, yet hasn’t been able to convert that issue-by-issue support into much of an edge over Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, when it comes to representing Canada on the world stage, a new poll shows.

The poll by Abacus Data finds that 28 per cent of voters think Harper is doing a better job than Trudeau would if the Liberal leader were to become prime minister. But nearly as many, 23 per cent, expect Trudeau would do better than Harper. The rest don’t see much difference between the two alternatives when it comes to foreign policy.

Harper’s edge over Thomas Mulcair is wider, with only 19 per cent preferring the NDP leader on foreign policy, while 28 per cent favour Harper over Mulcair in international affairs, according to the Abacus poll released this morning.


Abacus CEO David Coletto says Harper is succeeding, in the limited sense that more Canadians support him on a range of foreign policy issues than actually say they intend to vote Conservative. But to turn foreign policy into a reason for those voters to actually migrate back to the Tory fold, Harper needs to convince them that the alternatives—Trudeau or Mulcair—are actually worse.

“That’s the next step,” Coletto told Maclean’s. “I don’t think we’ll know that answer until closer to the next election. People don’t need to make a judgment call yet.” (The next federal election is set for fall 2015.)

Harper is expected to use that UN speech to highlight Canada’s leadership on boosting maternal and child health in developing countries, and many observers anticipate more of his hard-hitting rhetoric on international security issues, notably, staunch support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, and for combating Islamist terrorism, especially in northern Iraq, where Canadian special operations troops have been deployed to help Kurdish fighters in an advisory and training role.

Other findings:


The Abacus poll found that 45 per cent agree with Harper’s position on helping Ukraine, against just 27 per cent who disagree. On his use of Canadian forces against terrorists such as the so-called Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria, 45 per cent agree with the Prime Minister, while 32 per cent disagree.

In a notable exception to Abacus’s finding overall of substantially more support than opposition on foreign files, Harper has just 36 per cent of Canadians in agreement with his stance on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, while almost as many, 33 per cent, disagree with his adamantly pro-Israel stance.


Still, that close split on Israeli-Palestinian tensions is the exception. More typical is the 49 per cent who agree with Harper on Canada-U.S. relations, compared to just 27 per cent who disagree, and the 41 per cent who like the sounds of Harper’s tough rhetoric on Russian President Vladimir Putin, on which only 29 per cent disagree with the Prime Minister’s remarks about Putin.

“His foreign policy doesn’t seem to be objectionable to a large number of people. It’s, at least on the surface, one of those issues where he benefits,” Coletto sums up. “There’s not a huge advantage there, but you can see why he’s trying to make foreign policy a bigger part of his agenda.”

Related reading:
Stephen Harper to world: We are angry, and we have adjectives
Harper, Mulcair or Trudeau: Who is the man for this moment? 
Islamic State recording lists Canada as enemy

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.