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Next election looks to be a ‘two-party gunfight’ between Conservatives and Liberals: poll

A combination photo shows Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Canadian Press and Reuters

Canadians say they want change in Ottawa, but are divided on whether they think the Liberals or Conservatives will win the next election, according to a new poll that shows only a small minority believes the NDP will take power – despite currently enjoying Official Opposition status.

The Ipsos Reid poll, conducted for CTV and released while the Liberals are holding a policy convention in Quebec, holds some good news for Justin Trudeau's party but also shows the Conservatives on competitive footing.

"There's a big love-in going on right now in Montreal, but it's all kind of on the cusp," the polling firm's Darrell Bricker said. "We're at one of those very interesting periods where we're about a year-and-a-half before an election campaign, and anything can basically happen here."

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The Liberals have three key factors working in their favour, he said: People can fathom them forming government, with 51 per cent saying the party is ready to take over; more than two-thirds said that after eight years of Conservative governance, it is time for a different party at the helm; and Mr. Trudeau, who delivered his inaugural convention speech on Thursday evening, is regarded favourably.

But Mr. Bricker warned against viewing the Harper government's approval rating – 44 per cent, according to the poll – as a serious hurdle for the Conservatives. That number, he said, might seem low, but it's actually typical for incumbents that go on to mount a credible fight come election time.

"We know, because we look at this stuff all over the world, that if the government is over 40 per cent in the polls in terms of approval, it usually has a pretty good chance of being competitive in the next election," he said, pointing to U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election as an example.

And although about a third of those polled said they believe the Conservatives have done a good job and deserve another term, that 32 per cent is two points better than in October.

Regardless of which party's box Canadians tick on election day next year, 45 per cent of those polled think Mr. Trudeau's Liberals will win, compared to 43 per cent who believe the Conservatives will emerge victorious. Just 13 per cent would bet on Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats – and that's where that party's "serious problem" becomes most apparent, Mr. Bricker said.

"It looks like it's turning into a two-party gunfight," he said, noting the NDP is sitting at about 24 per cent support. "Being the third party left out is like a bad love triangle. ... The problem is that when it comes to the things that normally drive the vote and make sure it gets delivered on election day – a perception of strong leadership, people thinking the party has a chance to win and just really being part of the game – they seem to be losing the plot a bit."

The online poll, conducted between Feb. 14 and Feb. 19, was based on a sample of 1,036 Canadians and then weighted to reflect more closely the country's actual voting population. The results are accurate within 3.5 per cent.

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