What is the appeal of Justin Trudeau? The pollsters weigh in

Justin Trudeau with his wife Sophie (Facebook)Later this week, Justin Trudeau will oversee his party's first policy convention since being elected Liberal leader.

According to reports, the Tories are scheming: a leaked memo to the Toronto Star suggested that the Conservatives will be orchestrating a campaign "to disrupt Liberal communications, highlight disunity in the ranks and question his leadership abilities."

But will it work?

After almost a year as Liberal Party leader — despite the 'he's in over his head' attacks against him — Trudeau remains atop of the opinion polls with no signs of slipping.

To some, that's a little perplexing.

Stephen Harper has a lot more experience as a prime minister, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair has performed better in the House of Commons while Trudeau has very little management experience and hasn't really offered Canadians any substantial policy ideas.

[ Related: Liberal convention: Will Trudeau offer up some meaty policy talk? ]

In a lead-up to Montreal's convention, we decided to seek insight from some of Canada's top pollsters.

Here are their thoughts:

Question 1: What is the appeal of Justin Trudeau?

Frank Graves, Ekos Research:

The most important reason that Trudeau leads is that he has presented an optimistic and fresh option in a political world mired in skepticism and stagnation. He has hit a resonant chord in his diagnosis of middle class decline and he has communicated the possibility that politics and democracy can be done differently. In so doing, he has kept an unremittingly-positive demeanour which is an antidote to the constant attacks and manipulation which seem to have become mainstream

[Trudeau] also appears to be very comfortable and natural politician in the more traditional and positive sense of that terms. He can work a room, deliver a good stump speech and he can hold babies and press flesh with the best of them . Even with his most casual sweater and best Beatle tunes, [Prime Minister Harper] never looks very comfortable with people and Tom Mulcair is very effective in [Question Period] but he still looks much sterner than JT. Perhaps, Canadians are sick of grumpy and want upbeat again. And don’t discount the hair.

Nik Nanos, Nanos Research:

First, the Nanos weekly tracking suggests that although the Liberal brand is stronger than the Conservative brand, Trudeau and Harper are very close on the best prime minister front.

This is quite good for an opposition leader, but we should not confuse the celebrity factor with whether Canadians think he would be the best prime minister.

The research suggests that, under Trudeau, the Liberals have potential but he is still a work in progress.

David Coletto, Abacus Data:

I think there are two factors that explain the Liberal rise into first in the polls. First, is Trudeau's appeal, which is different from both Harper and Mulcair. He is young, appears energetic and many Canadians just like him. He really is the complete opposite to Harper and Mulcair. Second, Trudeau is doing well because the Liberal Party's support base has been rebuilt after a difficult six years. Always remember, during the 2011 election, more Canadians self-identified as Liberal than NDP and many of those "Liberals" voted for another party. Trudeau has made it easy to come home.

Question 2: The Tories are planning more attacks to tie-in to next week's convention. But the "in over his head" attacks don't seem to be working. Will these attacks ever work on Trudeau?

Frank Graves, Ekos Research:

The [Conservative Party] attack ads have been singularly ineffective and they better find something more plausible and resonant than their attempts so far. Shifting to attacks on Trudeau’s position on marijuana is another example of lousy tactics. Polling shows support for legalization soaring and even the majority of their own supporters are now in favour of decriminalization.

The idea that attack ads and negative politics always work is nonsense -- sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. It may well be that Canadians are sick of such politics and rewarding someone who is trying to move to another style. Style won’t be enough to win the next election; that will ultimately be judged by the platforms offered and the balance of contentment and discontent with the current government’s record. But it has been enough to put the [Liberals] in position to merit a serious look from Canadians who are deeply concerned with the national trajectory.

Nik Nanos, Nanos Research:

For attack ads to work, they need the target to validate them. For example, the Tories need Trudeau to make a mistake to show that the Conservative attacks perhaps may be true. In the absence of Trudeau making mistakes, the attack ads are unlikely to have significant traction.

David Coletto, Abacus Data:

I actually believe the "in over his head" narrative is working. The seeds of doubt have been planted and Canadians will assess Trudeau according to the bar the Tories set. In fact, had the Tories not attacked him, the Liberals could be in the low 40s in support instead of the low 30s they are now. Many Quebecers and Western Canadians haven't been convinced that Trudeau is the best alternative. So, I actually think his opponents' attacks have stuck.

(Photo courtesy of Justin Trudeau's Facebook page)

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