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Conservatives surge to within three points of Liberals in newest Nanos poll, though may be too early to decipher trend

By Marco Vigliotti      

In the tracking survey for the week ending Jan. 12, the Liberals remain ahead of the pack with support from 37 per cent of respondents, followed closely by the Conservatives at 33.8 per cent, and the New Democrats at 20 per cent, though pollster Nik Nanos cautions that it's just one poll and it's too early to see a clear trend.

The federal Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer, pictured here in the House foyer, are polling only three points behind the governing Liberals in the latest Nanos weekly tracking poll.
The Hill Times file photograph by Andrew Meade

The governing Liberals are ceding ground to their rivals in the House in the wake of a series of ethics controversies involving the prime minister and finance minister, with the opposition Conservatives now sitting only three points off first place, according to the latest weekly poll from Nanos Research.

In the tracking survey for the week ending Jan. 12, the Liberals remain ahead of the pack with support from 37 per cent of respondents, followed closely by the Conservatives at 33.8 per cent, and the New Democrats at 20 per cent.

The weekly tracking figures are based on a four-week rolling sample comprised of 1,000 random telephone interviews with respondents on land and cell lines. A comparable survey of 1,000 respondents boasts a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, or 19 times out of 20.

The newest numbers show a precipitous decline for the Liberals, who only last week nursed a healthy ten point lead over the Conservatives, and haven’t led by less than five points in a Nanos weekly poll since October.

However, Nanos Research president Nik Nanos is cautioning against reading too much into the latest results, saying “a one week change, a trend does not make.”

“We would like to see another week of data to see if this a new trend, or whether last week was just a bad week for the Liberals,” he told The Hill Times.

Nevertheless, polling numbers from Nanos suggest the ethical controversies dogging the government could be eroding voter support for the Grits.  

The Liberals have been trending down in each weekly survey conducted entirely after then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson released her bombshell report last month that found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) breached conflict of interest rules by accepting a vacation on the private island of the Aga Khan in 2016.

After topping out at 42.77 per cent in the poll released on Dec. 22, the Liberals have lost support in each weekly survey, while the Tories have consequently risen by nearly five points. The NDP has remained steady at 20 per cent over that span, though those results represent a nearly five point gain from the last weekly poll completed before Jagmeet Singh was elected leader on Oct. 1.

But perhaps most troubling for the Liberals may be that the party now sits second in seat-rich Ontario in the newest Nanos poll, four points behind the Tories, after nursing a 13-point lead only four weeks prior. Interestingly, the NDP has seen a slight drop-off over that span in Ontario, going from 18 per cent to 15.

“The support [for the Liberals] has been negatively affected, the question is, last week we saw a noticeable shift, so we have to see if that continues or not,” said Mr. Nanos, adding that many times, the polling numbers are “hostage” to news cycles.

“If you’re a Conservative strategist, you’re probably [thinking], ‘We have to feed the beast’ for this Liberal negative trend to continue. If you’re a Liberal strategist, you’re probably saying, ‘We need to change the channel’ in order to regain support among some Canadians.”

The Liberals have been hounded for the majority of the fall session of Parliament for a series of real and purported ethical lapses.

Before Parliament rose for the traditional winter break in mid-December, Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) was under heavy fire in the House from the opposition ranks for failing to place his lucrative shares in family business Morneau Shepell in a blind trust after the 2015 election.

While Mr. Morneau pointed out that Ms. Dawson informed him at the time that it wasn’t necessary, in the ensuing media firestorm, he announced he would sell his shares and donate the proceeds to charity.

But Mr. Morneau was slapped with a punitive fine from the ethics commissioner earlier in the fall for failing to disclose his ownership of a villa in France that was controlled by a private corporation that listed him and his wife as controllers. The finance minister, though, was recently cleared by Ms. Dawson of any wrongdoing in selling some of his shares in Morneau Shepell in late 2015 prior to the introduction of a promised tax hike on high-income earners that could hurt the stock price, since information about the tax increase and when it was to go in effect was known publicly weeks prior to the sale date.

If the most recent polling bears out this trend, Mr. Nanos said it would suggest the Liberals are paying the price for an accumulating list of missteps and worrisome political trends, including the well-publicized ethics issues, Mr. Trudeau’s questionable decision to meet and pose for a photo with recently released Taliban-detainee Joshua Boyle, and even, the uncertainty surrounding the renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He also pointed out that the numbers suggest the Liberals have been bleeding support to the Tories, instead of the more ideologically similar New Democrats, hinting the party is losing support among its more conservative-leaning backers.

“If this trend holds up, it means they are probably some ‘Blue Liberals’ that could be drifting away from the Justin Trudeau government towards the federal Conservatives, ” he said.

Despite lingering ethical controversies and other perceived missteps, the Liberals are still nursing a healthy double-digit lead in Atlantic Canada in the newest Nanos poll, winning nearly 46 per cent of support compared to 30 per cent for the second-place Conservatives. The NDP is back in third with 12 per cent of support.

However, the Liberals were enjoying support from 59 per cent of voters in the region in the Nanos poll released on Dec. 22.

The Grits also fell precipitously in B.C. over that span, dropping from 43 per cent to 34 per cent, with the NDP rising from 29 to 31 per cent. The Conservatives are now third in the province at just under 24 per cent. The Green Party sits in fourth with 11 per cent, up six points from the Dec. 22 survey.

In the Prairie provinces, the Liberals went from 26 per cent all the way down to 19 per cent, and now sit third in the region, behind the first place Tories (54 per cent) and runner-up New Democrats (21 per cent).

In Quebec, though, the slide was less severe, with the Liberals going only from 50 to 47 per cent. The NDP sits second at 21 per cent, followed by the Bloc Quebecois at 15 per cent, and the Conservatives at 14 per cent.

mvigliotti@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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