The latest poll shows Justin Trudeau's Liberals still lead the governing Conservatives in national voting intentions by a wide margin. Or, according to that same survey, Tories are chipping away the Liberal lead.
Which interpretation is correct? Both — at least technically.
The poll in question comes from Forum Research and was reported by the Toronto Star on Thursday. The survey was conducted August 18-19 and interviewed 1,798 Canadians via interactive voice response.
The Liberals led with 41 per cent support, followed by the Conservatives at 32 per cent and the New Democrats at 17 per cent. The Bloc Québécois and Greens rounded out the list with five per cent support apiece.
Compared to Forum's previous poll of July 18, this represents a drop of three points for the Liberals and a gain of four by the Conservatives. The gap between the two parties, then, has been reduced by seven points.
That might seem significant, and it was the angle that both the Star and Forum Research took with the poll. The Star’s headline read: "Liberals lose ground to Harper's Conservatives: poll." Forum's report was headed: "Liberal lead tightens." There was even speculation as to the reason behind "this dip in Liberal fortunes," with events in Ukraine and Gaza, of all things, being identified as possible explanations.
A more likely explanation, however, is that the numbers are merely a regression to the mean. The Liberals had been at 44 per cent in the survey conducted in July, an implausibly high number that the party has not bettered in any other poll in years. The gap stood at 16 points, while the margin between the Liberals and Conservatives has averaged just over six points in polls conducted so far in 2014. In other words, that earlier poll was likely just an outlier, and the new numbers are a reset rather than an actual shift in public opinion.
This is especially the case when we consider the previous poll Forum had conducted in June, which had the Liberals at 39 per cent and the Conservatives at 31 per cent. This latest poll looks a lot like that one, and it is the July poll that stands out from the pack. Reason enough to consider it a fluke rather than to search for causes in the Middle East.
The poll shows Liberal leads in every region of the country except Alberta, where the Conservatives continue to dominate. The race is close in British Columbia and the Prairies, where just a handful of points separate the Liberals from the Conservatives, while in Ontario, the New Democrats have fallen to just 11 per cent. That seems like a rather low result, though Forum had the party at 14 per cent there in July.
In Quebec, the Liberals were ahead with 37 per cent to 26 per cent for the NDP, not too different from a CROP poll published by La Presse on Thursday putting the two parties at 38 and 32 per cent support, respectively. Of particular interest in that survey was the 13 per cent registered by the Bloc Québécois, one of the worst polling results in the party's history. Forum had the Bloc little better, at 18 per cent.
Though the Liberal lead is still somewhat wider than what other polls have been reporting for months — Forum has tended to be the most bullish on the Liberals — it is generally in line with what we have seen in 2014.
With a year to go before the next election, and after more than eight years in power, Stephen Harper's Conservatives remain in danger of being removed from office. Only a little time remains to turn things around, and this poll is not necessarily an indication that this is in the process of happening.
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.
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