11/06/2013 02:11 EST | Updated 11/06/2013 02:12 EST

Poll Suggests Liberals Not Seen As Best To Handle Any Major Issue


New Democrats and Conservatives have their areas of expertise clearly marked out in the minds of Canadians, a new survey suggests.

Does that make the Liberals the porridge that is just right, or a party without any strong issue with which to be identified?

The poll by Ipsos-Reid, conducted Oct. 16-20, asked Canadians which of the three parties they felt would be best able to handle various issues. While the survey showed a close race in terms of support, the results also offer a good baseline from which to analyze where each party stands out.

Conservatives polled very strongly on economic issues. On trade, Tories were considered the best party to expand our relationships around the world at 42 per cent. New Democrats, perhaps still remembered for opposing free trade with the United States in the 1980s, polled at only 23 per cent on this issue. Even 40 per cent of NDP voters thought the other parties would do a better job on trade.

Tories were also seen as the party best able to keep taxes under control (38 per cent), and 40 per cent said Conservatives were best able to manage the economy. Liberals placed second on this important question with 32 per cent, followed by the NDP at 28 per cent. In vote-rich Ontario, the Tory edge increased to 42 per cent against 31 per cent for the Liberals.

The NDP led on a whole slew of issues, suggesting Tom Mulcair has gone a long way to make the party a reasonable option for government.

But the NDP's ties with the labour movement are still seen as strong, as 49 per cent of Canadians said the party was the best to protect the rights of the average working person. That was the highest any party scored on any topic. The NDP led in all regions and among all age groups on this issue, and even 37 per cent of Liberals and one-fourth of Tories thought New Democrats were most likely to protect those rights.

The NDP was seen as the best party to reduce unemployment among young people (38 per cent), find a balance between economic growth and protecting the environment (38 per cent), and ensure food safety (37 per cent) and that consumers are treated fairly (36 per cent).

New Democrats also did well on some money-related topics: they were seen as the best party to spend taxpayers' dollars wisely (37 per cent), have policies that promote innovation, prosperity, and jobs (36 per cent), and find a balance between protecting consumers and treating businesses fairly (34 per cent).

Has the NDP shaken off any last perceptions of being anti-business?

It is worth noting, however, that numbers for Conservatives improved among Canadians over the age of 55, a cohort that votes in large numbers. Among these Canadians, Tories also led on questions of balancing growth and environmental protection, spending taxpayers' dollars wisely, having policies that promote innovation, prosperity, and jobs (they tied the Liberals on this), and ensuring food safety.

But on the question of simply managing the economy, the advantage Tories held over Liberals among older voters shrunk to just two points.

That is the rare bit of good news for Liberals in this survey, as the party skated in second or third on all of these issues, varying no more than between 25 and 35 per cent. Conservatives, by contrast, scored as low as 26 per cent and as high as 42 per cent, while the NDP registered between 23 and 49 per cent on these questions.

All this suggests that Canadians have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the Tories and New Democrats, but have no strong feelings either way about the Liberals. While that could be seen as a positive (being decent on all issues makes Liberals a potential option for everyone), it does make it more difficult for the party to galvanize its vote over specific issues.

The Liberals might do well to give themselves more policy clarity as the next election approaches, so that they can stand out for more than their well-liked leader against their well-defined opponents.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

Also on HuffPost

Photo gallery Trudeau Glam Shots See Gallery

America Votes
The latest polls, breaking news and analysis on the U.S. election from HuffPost’s Washington, D.C. bureau