After a mixed performance at the French-language debate held in Quebec City on Sunday, NDP leadership candidate Paul Dewar has released an internal poll of party members indicating that Thomas Mulcair is the leading choice to replace the late Jack Layton – and that Dewar is the top second choice.
In a leadership vote that will use a preferential ballot (members will list their preferred choices in order), getting support on the second and subsequent ballots is key to coming out on top.
The poll contacted almost 60,000 NDP members and got responses from more than 6,000, a relatively standard response rate in polling today. It found that Mulcair was the first choice of 26 per cent of members, well ahead of rivals Peggy Nash (17 per cent) and Dewar (15 per cent).
Most surprising is that Nathan Cullen and Brian Topp were both at 13 per cent support, with Cullen narrowly edging out Topp for fourth place.
Some of the most heated exchanges of the NDP leadership debates, going back to the one held in Ottawa in December, have been between Dewar and Topp. On Sunday, Dewar grilled the former backroom strategist on how he intended to get a seat in the House of Commons, while Topp harshly criticized the Ottawa MP for choosing another anglophone male from Ontario as his campaign manager. In this context, there is little doubt that the Dewar camp relishes the opportunity to release a poll putting Topp in fifth place. He has been widely seen as one of the top three frontrunners in the race so far, especially after early endorsements from Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow.
But whereas Dewar sits in third in the poll, it is on the second choice question that he gets the best news. Dewar finished ahead with 21 per cent, followed by Nash at 19 per cent and Mulcair at 17 per cent. Here again, Nathan Cullen places fourth ahead of Brian Topp.
This indicates that both Dewar and Nash have the most growth potential among the frontrunners, but also that Mulcair is still one of the favourites to win. Extending these second choice numbers through the entire ballot process would seem to suggest that the final three would be Mulcair, Nash and Dewar, with Mulcair narrowly beating out either Nash or Dewar on the final ballot.
But extending these numbers so far is rife with problems. Nevertheless, there seems to be potential for a victory by any of these three.
However, internal polls are always to be taken with a grain of salt. To make the point, the Topp campaign responded by saying that their own findings show Topp to have the support of 28 per cent of members, ahead of any other candidate. But numbers from the Mulcair campaign reported Monday night seem to confirm Dewar's internal polling.
The Dewar poll was also taken before Sunday’s debate and the withdrawal of Roméo Saganash, who scored four per cent in the survey. And with Dewar and Martin Singh standing out as the only candidates of the seven that had great difficulty with their French in the non-scripted parts of the debate, the numbers may already be out of date.
But Sunday’s debate and the reaction to this poll from the Topp campaign seem to suggest that the gloves are starting to come off in this leadership race – one that, by virtually all accounts, looks like it will go down to the wire.
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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