Carpooling has yet to make it to the leaders’ election tours, but Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh may well have been fellow travelers in the early days of this campaign.

Both headed to Montreal immediately after the election campaign began this week, then to the Toronto area, before heading to western Canada.

The two leaders have even shared a slogan. A version of Trudeau’s old “best is always possible” from 2015 has appeared repeatedly in Singh’s speeches this week.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in campaigns, this kind of overlap tells you where the competition is likely to be fiercest. Trudeau needs New Democratic Party voters to regain a majority, and Singh couldn’t be clearer about his quest for disenchanted liberals.

Essentially, the NDP leader is telling these voters that he will be the guy liberals thought they were electing in 2015, before six years of rule erased all hope, change, and good manners.

In that sense, there is no doubt that Singh has the interest of the people. In all the areas where Trudeau once soared in public opinion polls (authenticity, sympathy, trust) the NDP leader regularly scores higher than the liberal leader these days.

Voter curiosity is not an easy thing to measure, but Google Trends is not a bad place to start. This is a tool that allows you to insert words, phrases, and names, and then compare search volume over time. It does not give results in precise units, but through wavy line graphs.

When Trudeau started looking for liberal leadership, it was Google Trends, in a lurid act of forecasting, that showed people were far more curious about him than they were about Thomas Mulcair, then the leader of the NDP, whose search volume chart was a flat line.

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Singh is not failing these days. While it does not outweigh Google’s enduring search interest in Trudeau, the NDP leader appears to be regularly generating more curiosity than conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

There is surely some correlation here between Singh’s dominance of TikTok and other more youth-friendly and pop culture media. Eight years younger than Trudeau, the 42-year-old Singh can now claim that he has been handed the old Trudeau mantle of a more youth-friendly candidate.

However, TikTok hits and Google searches don’t automatically translate into votes, and Singh still has a long way to go if he’s trying to achieve the kind of stealth victory that came to Trudeau six years ago.

Still, like Trudeau in 2015, Singh isn’t burdened with overly high expectations right now. Though hard to remember now, Trudeau initially approached the 2015 election as a modest attempt to push the Liberals to second place from their third place in the Commons. Even that seemed like a scope at first. The party entered those extra-long summer elections amid serious doubts that it could hold on to the few dozen seats it held.

Singh says he is campaigning for prime minister, but the realistic goal for now is to propel the NDP from its fourth place in Parliament. Even getting the new Democrats back to their traditional place as a third party would be seen as a victory for Singh, given that the party has been eliminating MPs since its big victory under Jack Layton in 2011, when it became the Official Opposition.

If Trudeau is nervous about Singh, or if he sees any echo of his former popularity in the NDP leader’s high approval ratings, he is not saying so. The square focus of Trudeau’s attacks in these early days has been the Conservative Party and Erin O’Toole’s newly launched platform. On Tuesday, the third day of the campaign, the Liberal leader spoke almost exclusively about the blue team, just a word about the orange.

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Singh, on the other hand, talks incessantly about Trudeau. All the alleged failures of the Liberals in government are the centerpiece of every NDP statement this week. The “corporate giveaways from Trudeau” are a constant refrain, as well as gunshots about Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic and vaccination mandates. Not much has been said about the NDP’s opposition to the Conservatives.

So while Trudeau and Singh may be traveling similar roads in the early days of Canada’s 44th election campaign, they are not yet going head-to-head. But if all interest in Singh persists, watch out for Trudeau to change tack and start warning against wasted votes to fight the Conservatives, a very familiar line of attack when the NDP threatens liberal territory.

Trudeau, more than most, knows the potential of an underrated rival, sells optimism and quietly amasses the curiosity of voters. That’s what it was like in 2015.


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