Voters reacted promptly and sharply Monday to revelations of possible misspending by the Conservative government during the G8 summit, sending Stephen Harper's leadership approval into a one-day nosedive.
The Nanos Research Leadership Index - which has been tracking voter responses daily to questions about which party leader scores best on questions of trust, competence and vision - gave the Conservative Leader a score of 94 on April 11, compared to the score of 110 he posted the day before.
While with daily polls individual results matters less than trends over time, this drop is significant, because it coincided with a leaked preliminary Auditor-General's report that heavily criticized the Conservatives for spending tens of millions of dollars in the District of Muskoka that had nothing to do with the G8 summit being held there.
Specifically, when voters were asked which leader they trusted most to lead the country, only 25 per cent chose Mr. Harper. The day before the number was 32 per cent, putting the drop outside the 5-per-cent margin of error.
"Harper still has an advantage," observed pollster Nik Nanos, but that advantage has been blunted by the leaked report - proof, he said, "of the likely credibility Canadians assign to the office of the Auditor-General."
The Conservatives insist the final report is much less critical, and have leaked material from another interim report to show it. But that final report will not be released until after the election.
And whatever it says, the damage has already been done. Mr. Harper will have to repair it when he confronts Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and Bloc Quebecois chief Gilles Duceppe in the leadership debates Tuesday and Wednesday evening. Otherwise, his dreams of a majority government could vaporize.
Both Mr. Layton (with a score of 54) and Mr. Ignatieff (scoring 48) posted modest gains, Monday. The challenge for both of them will be to continue trending up in voter confidence, while pushing Mr. Harper's score farther down.