"Don't shoot the messenger," Carleton University communication professor Andre Turcotte joked Friday to the largely conservative audience at a conference by the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.
It was the fifth year the former Reform Party pollster has delivered state-of-the-movement polling results to the conference, which he calls the "barometer."
This time Turcotte says the change in the numbers "are in the wrong direction for the Conservative movement."
His online poll of 1,000 Canadians found that 31 per cent of respondents identified as Liberals, compared with 26 per cent for the Conservatives and 18 per cent for the NDP. He conducted the poll from Dec. 16-18.
"For the first time since 2010, we see the re-emergence of the Liberal label," Turcotte said.
What's potentially more worrisome for the Conservative government is that on the top concern for the public — the economy — respondents scored the Liberals higher in their perceived ability to handle the issue.
"Control of that particular issue has been lost to the Liberals," Turcotte said, noting the Liberals also rated higher on health care.
Turcotte recommended that the Conservatives embrace an issue that the public cares keenly about, and which they already have positive feedback on, such as the aging population.
"This is an opening for the Conservative movement to take up that mantle," he said.
At one point an audience member asked Turcotte if his polling numbers would be different if he had conducted the survey after a series of controversial remarks made by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
For example, Trudeau had to apologize for making a joke on a Quebec television show about Russia's approach to the conflict in Ukraine.
But Turcotte said those types of gaffes don't usually move numbers significantly. Moreover, he said the downward trend for the Conservative started two years ago.
"There's resilience to the Liberal brand," he said.
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