A spate of federal polls released over the last few days tell a somewhat contradictory story that speaks to the volatility the Liberal leadership race has introduced into national politics.
Of the three national polls released since the end of last week the one by Nanos Research is the oldest, conducted January 26-31. It showed the Conservatives in the lead with 34 per cent to 28 per cent for the Liberals and 27 per cent for the New Democrats, virtually unchanged from the polling firm’s last report in mid-November.
Abacus Data, reporting for the QMI Agency, was in the field more recently between February 5 and 6. The poll also put the Conservatives ahead with 35 per cent support to 31 per cent for the New Democrats but only 21 per cent for the Liberals. These numbers were also steady, at least compared to Abacus’ last poll conducted at the beginning of December.
Then there was a poll by Forum Research for The National Post, conducted entirely on February 6. It put the Conservatives narrowly in the lead with 32 per cent to 30 per cent for the Liberals and 26 per cent for the New Democrats. This poll showed more significant movement from the firm’s mid-January survey, with the Tories down four points and the Liberals up by five.
The three polls agree the Conservatives have the advantage, with a lead of between two and six points over either the Liberals or the New Democrats. Results of between 32 and 35 per cent are relatively tight and easily explained by the polls’ respective margins of error. They are also well in line with what the polls have been showing for months.
The NDP numbers vary by a greater degree, but still place the party in a relatively tight band between 26 and 31 per cent support. This, too, is within the norm.
But because of the very different Liberal results, NDP ends up either trailing the Conservatives in second place or trailing the Liberals in third. The results of 21, 28 and 30 per cent are much harder to explain away by just sampling error, though that could be one cause. Also likely is that the Liberal leadership race is making different people think different things about the state of the Liberal Party. Are respondents voting for Bob Rae, Justin Trudeau, or one of the other contestants in the race?
The Forum poll in particular shows just how much of a wildcard Trudeau’s leadership could become. With Trudeau at the helm, the Liberals are boosted by 11 points to 41 per cent -- a level of support no party has enjoyed since the Conservatives put up a similar number in a poll taken just after the 2011 federal election.
Whether or not a Trudeau-led party would actually get 41 per cent is a little beside the point. That such a large proportion of Canadians are willing to ditch their current party of choice easily is more significant. With so little attachment to any of the main parties, a huge number of votes are up for grabs -- particularly those who have swung back and forth between the Liberals and New Democrats since the last election.
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.