Cursed by catastrophically low approval ratings, Joe Biden is still more popular than Justin Trudeau

Canadian prime ministers typically skate by with approval ratings that would be career-ending to their U.S. equivalents

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Just one year into his first term, U.S. President Joe Biden is experiencing approval ratings so low that even close supporters are calling it a portent of electoral doom. Which might explain why the president was testy enough on Monday to refer to a Fox News reporter as a “stupid son of a bitch.”


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And yet, Biden is still more popular than Justin Trudeau, a prime minister only three months out from his last election win.

The latest numbers from Gallup have Biden’s approval rating at 40 per cent — one of the lowest ever for a U.S. president at the end of his first year in office.

Meanwhile, Trudeau’s latest approval rating stands at 38 per cent , according to the Angus Reid Institute. That’s actually a couple points higher than the 36 per cent approval that Trudeau was enjoying in the days after his victory in the Sept. 20 federal election (and seven points higher than his career low of 31 posted in August 2019).

“In Canada if you’re a politician in the low to mid 30s, that’s actually not fatal,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute.


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And it’s not just the prime minister. Across the board, Canadian premiers are also experiencing rock-bottom popularity compared to U.S. governors.

The latest Angus Reid Institute numbers on premiers saw five out of nine polling below 50 per cent (P.E.I. isn’t polled as the province isn’t big enough to get a reliable sample). Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston currently ranks as Canada’s single most popular provincial leader with an approval rating of 57 per cent.

Compare that to the U.S., where three governors are tied for the ranking of most popular with approval ratings of 69 per cent.

Those kinds of numbers are virtually unprecedented in Canadian politics, aside from the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic when “rally around the flag” sentiments briefly sent many leaders into stratospherically high approval ratings approaching 80 per cent.


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In the pre-pandemic era, Kurl said she’s only seen two politicians come close to 70 per cent support: Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams, both of whom only got there thanks to once-in-a-generation cult-like status.

Even the United States’ single most unpopular governor — Hawaii’s David Ige — has an approval rating that would be the envy of a third of Canadian leaders. At 32 per cent approval, Ige is polling higher than Ontario’s Doug Ford, Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Manitoba’s Heather Stefanson (who has just 21 per cent approval).

A big reason for the disparity is the United States’ general adherence to a two-party system, which usually means that — at any one time — at least half of voters are being governed by their chosen candidate.


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It’s the exception that a U.S. president will win the White House without winning at least half of the popular vote. In the 11 presidential elections since 1980 it’s happened just four times; George W. Bush in 2000, Donald Trump in 2016 and Bill Clinton in both 1992 and 1996.

In vote-splitting Canada, by contrast, even landslide victories are possible with only two fifths of the popular vote. In 1993, for instance, Liberal Leader Jean Chrétien won a blowout 29-seat majority with just 41 per cent of the popular vote.

Since the Second World War, in fact, only two prime ministers have won a federal election while also claiming at least half the popular vote: Brian Mulroney in 1980 and John Diefenbaker in 1958.

Kurl also notes that Americans are generally more extreme in their views — including their likes and dislikes of political leaders.


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“The magnet ends in the United States, they pull a lot stronger than they do in Canada,” said Kurl. “I think there is also a level of Canadian reserve … A more frowny mouth, if you will.”

But while Canadians may hate the individual politicians who run their governments, the picture changes completely when it comes to those governments themselves.

On the eve of the last federal election in September, a poll by the Institute on Governance and Advanced Symbolics found that an incredible 65 per cent of Canadians retained trust in their government.

In the United States, by contrast, numbers from Pew Research Center find that the American people haven’t retained Canada-levels of trust in their government since the days before the Vietnam War. In Pew’s most recent survey in April, just 24 per cent of respondents said they trusted their federal government to do what is right.



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