Polling is a long haul game. Jitters of points inside margins of errors don't showcase who has different levels of support or who is the newest front runner in the media past time of political horse races.
So, as an avid political watcher, I take a step back and look at the long term trends of these polls. One fantastic tool that I use is PollingReport.ca which has long term graphs of different polls and polling companies, all aggregated into one neat and tidy location. Also, Pundits Guide is another useful resource that, while looking at polling, also has great information on trends on party fundraising, riding-by-riding analysis, and a fair amount of useful data for the inquiring reader.
Mulcair's Numbers Are Soft
Since his election as leader of the NDP Mulcair hasn't been through an election. Running up to their respective elections, Liberal leaders Ignatieff and Dion held positive reviews from numerous pollsters saying that they were well liked, had positive scores with several key demographics, and were primed to be successful in several distinct areas.
Mulcair is in the same boat: tested by the party faithful but not yet tried by the Canadian people. During elections a harsher light in spent on politicians and the soft positive feeling toward Mulcair will be lowered. As Abacus notes, "as Canadians become more familiar with Mulcair the number of respondents who say they have an unfavourable impression has begun to increase."
As the NDP have had an extraordinary emphasis on their leader, and their brand, over the current and previous leader's term, this may spell trouble for their party. He may end up as a liability versus Layton's legacy.
Stable Tory Numbers Tell Their Strategic Game
Abacus highlights a core point in their analysis in their latest poll: all those who have heard of Harper and considered voting for him have already made up their mind. It's a cohort of 10% of Canadians that are up for grabs for Mr. Harper which points directly at the method that Harper takes on leadership of issues and prepares for the next election.
For his party there needs to be a a very tight ship of controlled messaging, issues taken up relying on targeting that small group of flippable voters, and continuing to have a well-oiled machine to target and build relationships with that targeted demographic.
Don't expect Harper to say anything crazy, or to go unscripted. His game is to sit tight, be focused, and make sure that his minimum winning conditions last for the next election.
The Rough Case of the Liberals
The Liberals have it tough. The Liberal name in Quebec is getting the run through, with the CAQ and PQ hammering at it in the Quebec provincial election, and the provincial Liberals in British Columbia are expected to toss the Liberal label in favour of better branding. After both provincial elections the Liberal label might find itself increasing from the bump from not being associated with problematic political environments.
But there is some hope on the horizon. With the leadership race beginning to heat up in hopes of the April 2013 leadership convention numerous individuals are already beginning to put together the framework of their teams to engage with Liberals and Canadians. There are riding associations taking their message to local festivals, pride parades, and community functions. There is a fundamental level of grassroots outreach beginning to happen in the party that is reaching not only the membership but to the average Canadian, with small donors beginning to rise in share of the Liberal Party's donor pool.
Which spells trouble for many pollsters as the traditional base of the party might begin to shift over the next six months. This shift will cause a lot of fundamental challenges to several polling agency's traditional means of judging what groups support the Liberals and the consequences of that.