A second national poll in as many weeks shows the federal New Democratic Party having trouble holding onto the wave of support it gained in Quebec during the past election campaign.
The Nanos Research Poll, conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, shows the NDP at 28.7 per cent nationally, up from 27.3 per cent last month. However, in Quebec, where the late Jack Layton's popularity helped spur the "Orange Wave" on May 2, the party has fallen to 33.4 per cent from 37.7 per cent.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the Bloc Québécois, which was reduced to four members in the election, has been "the main beneficiary" of the NDP's decline in the province, moving to 19.9 per cent from 15.9 per cent in November.
"What we're seeing here is probably a little bit of residual anxiety about who the next leader of the NDP will be," Mr. Nanos said in an interview. "Jack Layton cast such a large shadow over Quebec in terms of the breakthrough, and it looks like some of those sovereigntists, BQ supporters that opted with the Jack Layton New Democrats in the last federal election, could potentially be moving back to the Bloc."
Nationally, Stephen Harper's governing Conservatives have gained slightly, to 36.5 per cent from 35.6 per cent. The Liberals, meanwhile, have dropped to 25.6 per cent from 28.1 per cent, reversing much of a gain the party made between October and November. The Liberals' December dip was largely due to a seven-percentage-point drop in vote-rich Ontario, where the NDP gained during the month at the expense of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
The Nanos survey comes after a mid-December poll by Harris-Decima that showed the NDP, which holds 59 of 75 ridings in Quebec after a historic election sweep, falling back to more traditional levels of support in the province without Mr. Layton at the helm.
The Harris-Decima poll found NDP support had fallen to 26 per cent in the province, a 16-point plunge since May, and tying the party with the Bloc Québécois. The NDP have struggled this fall to deal with the nomination of a unilingual judge to the Supreme Court. An NDP MP sat on the panel that approved a short list of candidates, including unilingual ones, even though the party is proposing legislation to force all members of the top court to be bilingual.
The NDP's interim leader, Nycole Turmel, has said she doesn't "look at polls" and will stay focused on advancing issues that are important to Quebeckers. Still, it's clear the party has suffered from the fact many of its strongest performers had to give up their positions as critics to run in the leadership race, including the party's star in Quebec, MP Thomas Mulcair.
The NDP's permanent replacement for Mr. Layton will be appointed at a party convention in Toronto on March 24.
Jobs and the economy remain the No. 1 issue for most Canadians in the Nanos poll, despite dropping to 25 per cent from 29.3 per cent in November, and health care is still the second-biggest issue, at 22.6 per cent, roughly unchanged from the last poll.
The environment, though, has moved up to third place as an issue from fourth place, with 9.7 per cent of respondents saying it is their chief concern compared with 4.9 per cent in November.
Mr. Nanos said he suspects that is linked to the government's Dec. 12 announcement that Canada will formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
The poll was conducted by telephone between Dec. 15 and 18.
The Nanos poll also found Prime Minister Stephen Harper maintaining a huge lead over his rivals in Mr. Nanos's "leadership index," with Bob Rae staying in second and Ms. Turmel, a rookie MP who was already serving as interim leader when Mr. Layton died, in third.
The survey of 1,201 adult Canadians has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
With a report from Daniel Leblanc