Polls this far out from the next election have little to say about what will happen when Canadians next cast their ballots, but a new survey from EKOS Research highlights some troubling indicators for the Conservative Party.
Conducted between June 27 and July 5, the EKOS poll found 32.3 per cent of Canadians support the New Democrats while 30.2 per cent are behind the Conservatives. At 19.5 per cent support, the Liberals are far behind and only a few tenths of a percentage point above their 2011 election result.
The poll gives statistically significant leads to the Conservatives in Alberta and Ontario and to the New Democrats in Quebec, while also putting the NDP ahead in British Columbia and the Prairie provinces and the Liberals in Atlantic Canada.
For the most part, the results of the poll fall into line with what other surveys have been showing since Thomas Mulcair became leader of the NDP. Early on in a majority mandate and against an opposition leader who may be in the midst of a honeymoon, it is perhaps not too surprising to see the Conservatives struggling.
But this may not be a mere bump in the road. The drops in support since the May 2011 election recorded by EKOS are, in some regions of the country, potentially catastrophic. The Tories are down just over nine points in Ontario, 12 in Atlantic Canada, 19 in British Columbia and 25 in the Prairies. Certainly, smaller sample sizes at the regional level can explain away some of this drop but statistical noise is usually not this loud.
Beyond the regional breakdown, there are other potential problems in the numbers for the Tories. In most polls showing the New Democrats ahead nationwide, the Conservatives have still been able to maintain a lead among Canadian men while the NDP has held the edge among women. But in this survey, the New Democrats are ahead among both men and women, though the margin is small. By age group, the NDP only trails among voters aged 65 or older.
Other indicators suggest Canadians are turning against the governing party. While opinion on whether the government is on the right track has usually been split in EKOS' polling, the gap has now widened considerably: only 35 per cent think it is headed in the right direction, compared to 55 per cent who say it is going in the wrong direction. In only Alberta does the government get a good grade.
More worrisome for the Conservatives is that opinion on whether the country is headed in the right or wrong direction has taken a negative turn. On this question, Canadians have generally been quite bullish, but the latest numbers show opinion split down the middle: 45 per cent say that the country is headed in the right direction compared to 46 per cent who say otherwise. A majority of respondents in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia say the country is not on the right track.
This kind of perception can be toxic to a governing party. A popularity contest between politicians is one thing, but if voters believe the government's decisions have taken the country down the wrong path they will be much more willing to open their arms to an alternative option. Stephen Harper has to do more than take Mulcair down a notch or two; he has to prove to enough Canadians that he is still the right man for the job.
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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