Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swept to power in 2015 with the help of younger Canadians captivated by his positive messaging and socially progressive views. That same group of voters may eventually be his undoing.

Trudeau’s chief rival, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, has been making huge gains with younger voters since he began attacking the prime minister forcefully on the cost of housing. In public opinion polling, the Conservatives now lead Trudeau’s Liberal Party by a 2-to-1 ratio among voters 18 to 29.

It’s been a dramatic fall for a prime minister who was the second-youngest ever to take office, who pledged to address youth issues and even appointed himself youth minister. While he fulfilled promises to legalize recreational cannabis and implement stronger climate policies, those issues have fallen down the list of priorities for young people.

One number helps illustrate his problem with voters in their twenties: 60 per cent. That’s the increase in national home prices since he took office. 

“If you can’t get into the housing market and you’re still living with mom and dad, that’s probably impacting your day-to-day quality of life more than X, Y, Z progressive social policy,” said Andrew Perez, a 37-year-old longtime Liberal volunteer and strategist and principal at Perez Strategies.

Support for Trudeau’s Liberal Party among 18- to 29-year-olds has averaged just 20 per cent over the past three months, trailing the Conservatives at 40 per cent and the left-leaning New Democratic Party at 25 per cent, according to weekly surveys by Nanos Research Group. The Liberals are also doing poorly among those 30 to 39 years old.

Provincial and local governments have much of the responsibility for where and how housing gets built in Canada, not the federal government. Still, Trudeau is keenly aware of his vulnerability on the issue and has been fighting back.

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The government made a series of announcements ahead of the finance minister’s April 16 budget, most of them focused on improving housing affordability for Generation Z and millennials. The prime minister kicked it off in March in Vancouver — a key electoral battleground — standing behind a podium that bore the words “Fairness for Every Generation.” He’s set to unveil a new plank in his housing strategy Friday.

The Nanos data shows an eight-point jump for the Liberals among the youngest group of voters in the week after the announcements began, though it’s too short of a time period to see a trend. Overall, it’s a clear deterioration from Trudeau’s election in October 2015, when his party commanded 39 per cent of this voter bloc.

Jaide Kassam, 22, said she voted Liberal in the past mostly because her parents did. Now, after an internship with Ontario’s conservative-leaning provincial government, she found she identified more with conservative values, and now backs Poilievre. He’s doing more to appeal to young workers and students, she said.

While Kassam is hopeful she’ll be able to own a home one day, many members of Gen Z are less optimistic — and considerable doom and gloom has set in among millennials in their 30s. Perez said most of his peers in white-collar jobs aren’t homeowners, mainly because their parents can’t help with a down payment — a generational transfer of wealth increasingly viewed as necessary to enter the property market in Canada.

Urban, socially progressive Canadians who previously voted Liberal are now ready to “roll the dice on a right-wing, populist government,” Perez observed in an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star. Their values don’t actually align with Poilievre’s brand of “aggressive conservatism,” he argued, but they don’t see a path to economic mobility under the current government.

David Coletto of Abacus Data, whose polling has also shown the Liberals bleeding support among young people, pointed out that Poilievre is doing so well across all age groups that he doesn’t necessarily need to mobilize the youth vote in order to win — if his support holds until an election that’s due in 2025.

But winning among young people would be a “feather in his cap,” Coletto said.

A separate Nanos poll for Bloomberg showed that cost of living and housing affordability were the most important issues to voters under 35. The survey of 1,069 Canadians between March 31 and April 1 has a margin of error of 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. There are also margins of error involved in narrowing down polls to specific demographics.

Chief data scientist Nik Nanos said the results were worrying for the prime minister. “Considering the Trudeau Liberals built their coalition in 2015 on younger voters, trailing on these issues is a serious political disadvantage.”