Swing voters, week 1: ‘Election is no slam-dunk’

“We’re taking viewers through the looking glass of a focus group boardroom, done virtually, and into the minds of everyday people,” Herle said.

POLITICO is working with Air Quotes Media, publishers of “The Herle Burly” and spin-off podcast, “Curse of Politics,” to bring exclusive content to readers during the federal campaign, including daily analysis and weekly voter focus group results.

The first focus group was held on Zoom and much of the session was devoted to introductions and campaign basics.

Worth noting is the fact every participant in Saturday’s focus group knew a campaign was imminent. All seemed to agree the only reason Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called a campaign was to win back a Liberal majority.

When presented with a photo of O’Toole, many in the group were at a loss to identify the leader.

“He’s a middle-aged man who needs more exposure,” said Dragan (top row, middle square), an airport customer service manager from Mississauga who might vote Conservative. Or maybe NDP. “Not Liberals this time.”

Few in the group could name Jagmeet Singh, but when offered a photo of the NDP leader, they all seemed to know. “Even people who aren’t voting for him right now think he has potential to lead the country in the future,” Herle said.

Sisi (middle row, center) is originally from China. She lives in Vancouver, works for a telecommunications company and can’t wait to travel again. She said she plans to vote Conservative, though was stumped to identify O’Toole.

Jane (bottom row, left) is a competitive swing dancer who “escaped to the West Coast” from Toronto 35 years ago. She’s the one with the parrot. She called O’Toole a “dandy” and told the group she plans to vote strategically.

Daryl (middle row, left) is a former Red Seal chef now working in sales and living in Mission, B.C. He’s “leaning Liberal” and away from the Conservatives and has questions about Canada’s recovery plan.

During a session of almost two hours, participants shared their thoughts on Trudeau’s decision to call an early election. They identified the issues at the top of their lists — health care, dental care, housing, the environment.

“The election is on and people know it,” Herle said. “And they have opinions about what it ought to be about.”

Tara, (middle row, right) a teacher from Oakville, is leaning Liberal and placed health care and education at the top of her priority list, though she acknowledged they are provincial responsibilities.

Polite interaction gave way to testy exchange when talk turned to mandatory vaccinations. Sisi and Yi (bottom row, right), both originally from China, argued the state should have no say in the matter.

“This is going to be an exciting race,” Herle said after the close of the session. “I didn’t hear the foundations of a slam-dunk reelection for the government. I heard the foundations for a vigorous debate and a vigorous contest.”

Next week the group will discuss advertising and platform initiatives.

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