TORONTO — Polls in the immediate aftermath of the first election debate suggest no one managed to break away from a tight three-way race, though at this early stage of the 11-week campaign, they may have just been shouting into the wind. Surveys conducted in the days after last week's debate show drops in NDP support and slight boosts in Liberal support, but the changes are mostly within the various margins of error. The Maclean's magazine debate attracted more than four million viewers, but that's a fraction of the audiences that have tuned in for the traditional televised debates in past campaigns. With the campaign less than a week old, debate viewers were likely the most politically engaged Canadians and therefore those least likely to change their voting opinions, said Carleton University political science professor Conrad Winn. "The only other people are people who watch television and couldn't find something better to watch," Winn quipped. The largest impact of the debate at this stage is likely to be to remind Canadians the country is in campaign mode, he added. "We can ask them how they're going to vote, but they really only seriously start thinking in some cases as they walk to the balloting box," he said. In a poll conducted for Global News, Ipsos specifically asked people who had watched at least part of the Maclean's debate who the winner was. The responses were relatively evenly split between Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Green party Leader Elizabeth May. The slight shifts could perhaps be attributed to the debate, since the campaign is off to a slow start in the dog days of summer, said pollster Lorne Bazinoff. "In the absence of anything else really going on, probably we could say the debate had a small impact in the numbers," said Bazinoff, the president of Forum Research. Forum's poll had the NDP at 34 per cent support, down five percentage points from the start of the election, the Conservatives unchanged at 28 per cent and the Liberals up two percentage points to 27 per cent. It's hard to say if Trudeau's small tick upward can be attributed to a good debate performance or lower expectations, said Bazinoff. Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke said ahead of the debate that Trudeau would exceed expectations if he walked on set "with his pants on.'' The NDP lead becomes less stark when seat projections are factored in, giving the NDP 125 seats and the Conservatives 120, said Bazinoff. "They have a greater lead in the popular vote than they do really in the seat counts because the Tory vote is much more efficient, it's much more evenly spread across the country," he said. The polls themselves can be an influencer of people's voting intentions, rather than a reflection of them, said Dennis Pilon, an associate political science professor at York University. "A big part of that is a pragmatic assessment of who can win, so the coverage of things like polls becomes really important, because it doesn't matter whether they are true, but if people believe they are true it could influence their decisions," he said. Pilon isn't putting much stock in the polls, especially at this early juncture. But if a noticeable gap between one or all of the parties emerges and holds as a trend, that will be "very interesting," he said.
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