The summer has been good to Stephen Harper, at least according to a new poll that gives his Conservatives a sizeable lead over the opposition New Democrats.
The poll by Abacus Data suggests the Conservatives have the support of 37 per cent of Canadians, compared to 32 per cent who said they would vote for the NDP. Abacus was last in the field at the end of June and this represents a two-point gain for the Tories and a three-point loss for the New Democrats. Neither of those shifts in voter support is outside the margin of error. However, the five-point lead is statistically significant.
The Liberals were unchanged at 20 per cent support. All three parties are only a few percentage points away from where they stood on election night in May 2011.
The Conservatives are comfortably ahead in Alberta and the Prairies. More importantly, though, is their 11-point lead in Ontario. The Tories registered 40 per cent support to 29 per cent for the NDP and 24 for the Liberals. The battleground province delivered Harper’s majority government last year, and it will be key for his party’s re-election.
The New Democrats are still dominant in Quebec with 41 per cent support. That puts them well ahead of the Bloc Québécois, at 25 per cent, as well as the Liberals and Conservatives which are both below 20 per cent support. The provincial campaign is being closely watched by all the parties, as the outcome could dramatically change the political situation in Ottawa.
A win for Jean Charest’s Liberals, which is looking increasingly unlikely, would have the least effect on intergovernmental relations. But if the Parti Québécois forms government the issue of national unity will return to the forefront, a potentially significant problem for the Conservatives as they have little support or representation in the province. It would also be complicated for the New Democrats, who draw support across Quebec’s political spectrum, while it could boost the Liberals’ fortunes as the party that has traditionally fought these battles in the past. A win by François Legault’s mildly right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Québec could bode well for the Tories, unless Legault demands too many new powers from the federal government.
The federal contest on both coasts looks as close as the election in Quebec. In British Columbia, the New Democrats have a five-point edge over the Conservatives but the two parties have been running virtually neck-and-neck (with a slight NDP advantage) for several months. The Liberals stand at only 16 per cent support. And the three-way race continues in Atlantic Canada: the NDP holds 36 per cent support to 33 per cent for the Tories and 29 per cent for the Liberals. The New Democrats have led in 18 of the 26 polls taken in the region since Thomas Mulcair became leader of the party, but the runner-up position has usually been split between the two others.
The summertime is always a difficult time to conduct polling, particularly so far from the next election. Little attention is being paid to the small amount of politicking currently going on at the federal level. But it does appear that, generally speaking, Canadians are more or less where they were when the summer began, with perhaps a slight uptick in Conservative support. When parliamentarians return to Ottawa in September the context will be no different than when they left: a Liberal Party that has a lot of ground to make up and a tit-for-tat wrestling match between the Tories and the NDP.
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.