Conservatives and the New Democrats are still fighting for top spot federally in the minds of Canadian voters, but the Liberals have made some gains in Quebec and their interim leader's popularity has taken an uptick since he announced he would not seek the top job on a permanent basis, a new poll suggests.
The opinions of the 1,200 randomly selected Canadians who were surveyed by Nanos Research between July 7 and 12 did not differ dramatically from those who were surveyed by the firm two months earlier. The poll suggested that the Conservatives had the support of 33.6 per cent of decided voters – about where they were in May – while the NDP had dipped a little more than three percentage points to 30.3 per cent.
"The New Democrats are still doing exceptionally well, especially if you look at it from a historical point of view," said Nik Nanos, the president of the polling firm. However, he said, there has been some softening of their support since Thomas Mulcair was elected party leader in March and since the Conservatives put some distance between the issues that have dogged them, including the troubled procurement of F-35 fighter jets, allegations of election improprieties, and Mr. Mulcair's assertion that Canada is afflicted with Dutch Disease, a hollowing out of other sectors as oil and gas markets boom.
The Liberals were well behind at 26.5 per cent, but that was a slight increase from the previous poll. And they were up significantly in Quebec, from 17.3 per cent support to 25 per cent.
It is a climb that is not easy to explain. "The only thing that has been on the agenda has been speculation about the Liberal leadership in the province of Quebec and who might be running and who might not be running and whether anyone from Quebec might be running," said Mr. Nanos.
But the Quebec numbers are going to be the ones to watch for a number of reasons, he said.
"First of all, they are critical to the New Democrats in terms of remaining the opposition," said Mr. Nanos. "Second of all, the numbers for the Tories are flat in Quebec and the Liberals at least have had a good wave of polling."
A poll of this size is expected to accurately reflect the broad opinions of the Canadian population within 2.8 percentage points. Regional margins are higher.
As for the popularity of the party leaders, Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to have an advantage, but his numbers fell dramatically earlier this year and remain down when measured on the basis of trustworthiness, competence and his vision for Canada.
Bob Rae, the interim Liberal leader, meanwhile, jumped from 32.2 on the Nanos leadership scale to 41.5 when judged on the same qualities. Mr. Rae announced in June that he was out of the race for the leadership of his party. "Many times when leaders step down, people have a more favourable opinion of them," said Mr. Nanos. Mr. Rae "has a little bit of an exit honeymoon."
It is important to bear in mind, however, that many Canadians don't like any of the party leaders. One in three people surveyed were undecided or said "none of them" when asked to pick out who was the most trustworthy, competent and visionary. "There is still a significant level," said Mr. Nanos, "of what I would call political grumpiness out there with the political menu."