The race for the Conservative nomination for the federal byelection in Calgary Centre will likely decide who will next represent the riding, according to a new poll that gives the governing party a wide lead over opposition rivals.

The poll by Forum Research for The Huffington Post Canada was conducted on August 14 and surveyed 250 residents of the riding, giving it a margin of error of +/- 6.2%, 19 times out of 20. It shows the Conservatives have more than twice the support of their closest adversary.

The nomination vote for the Tories will not be held until August 25, but 44 per cent of respondents said they would support the Conservative candidate if an election were held immediately.

The Liberals, with 21 per cent support, finished second and ahead of the New Democrats (14 per cent) and Greens (12 per cent), while eight per cent said they would vote for a candidate from another party.

Conservative Lee Richardson, who announced his resignation as Calgary Centre’s MP on May 30, captured 58 per cent of the vote in the 2011 federal election, while Liberal candidate Jennifer Pollock took 18 per cent. The New Democrats and Greens split the rest, garnering 15 and 10 per cent support, respectively. The vote share for all four parties has been relatively stable over the last three elections, making the recent drop in Conservative support more dramatic.

The changes in support for the opposition parties since the last federal vote, however, are well within the margin of error.

Six candidates are vying for the Tory nomination in the riding, while the Liberals will be choosing between two names on September 15. The New Democrats and Greens have yet to set dates.

But in addition to a lead in voting intentions, the Conservatives benefit from other advantages. Stephen Harper’s approval rating in the riding, at 49 per cent, is far higher than either of his two rivals. Thomas Mulcair has an approval rating of only 27 per cent and, at 44 per cent, his disapproval rating is the highest of the three main leaders. Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae has a net positive score with an approval rating of 36 per cent and a disapproval rating of 33 per cent.

However, the Liberals suffer from a lack of enthusiasm among supporters. Whereas 52 per cent of Conservative voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting for the party, only 32 per cent of Liberal supporters said the same thing. New Democrats are even less enthusiastic at 28 per cent. Green voters are the most keen to cast their ballot at 56 per cent. If these numbers reflect potential turnout on election day, the Conservatives should easily capture a majority of the vote – with the Greens in a race for second.

The candidates for all parties still have to be selected and the byelection has yet to be called, so nothing is set in stone. The departure of Richardson does seem to have put a dent in Conservative support, but the party still holds a wide lead in a riding that has voted for a conservative candidate of one stripe or another since it was created almost 50 years ago. The opposition parties have a huge challenge ahead of them, and the vote among Conservative members on August 25 may be the closest race Calgary Centre can expect.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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