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Gap between Liberals, Conservatives narrowing, poll suggests, though Scheer still seen as an unknown

By Samantha Wright Allen      

The Tories are enjoying a post-leadership-race bump that’s seen the Liberal lead cut almost in half from 16 to nine points. Though the Liberals are still in better shape than earlier this year.

Forty per cent of those surveyed said Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, right, would make the best prime minister, and 15 per cent said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, left, while 12 per cent said no current major federal party leader would be best in the top job and 19 per cent said they didn't know. The Hill Times photographs by Jake Wright
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The Liberals maintain their lead in voter support after climbing back from earlier controversies, but are seeing a narrowing popularity gap as Conservatives ride a bump in support from their leadership race, according to a new poll.

About 39 per cent of the 2,767 Canadian voters who participated in the online survey conducted by Campaign Research from June 9 to 12 said they would most likely vote Liberal or were leaning that way if a federal election were held tomorrow, compared to 30 per cent for the Conservatives.

This represents a slight tightening of the gap between the two front-runner parties from a similar Campaign Research poll done May 9 to 13 when 43 per cent of survey respondents said they would support the Liberals, versus 27 per cent who preferred the Tories. The NDP remain with the same 19 per cent support as the previous month. 

Some of the blue bump could stem from interest in and coverage of the Conservative leadership race, said Campaign Research’s CEO, which came to a dramatic ending May 27 after Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) won on the 13th round with 50.95 per cent of the vote over Maxime Bernier’s (Beauce, Que.) 49.05 per cent. But Eli Yufest noted another significant factor in the poll results could be the distance from issues that plagued the Liberal government earlier this year.

“There was a whole host of controversies—and that noise has quieted off over the last number of months,” said Mr. Yufest in an interview. “And that’s why we’ve seen the approval ratings increase from the low that we saw at the beginning of this year to where they are in the forty-ish per cent range.”

A Campaign Research poll in February pitted the two leading parties at an even 34 per cent support each.

Mr. Yufest said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) has emerged from controversies that plagued the party earlier in the year, including a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, a broken promise to change Canada’s electoral system, and private party fundraisers where cabinet ministers mingled with wealthy businesspeople.

“We see the numbers normalize, if you will, where the Liberals are typically at 40 [or] 42. So for them to drop a couple of points on account of the Conservative leadership race, I’m not surprised.”

Half of respondents approved of Mr. Trudeau as prime minister, followed by NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s (Outremont, Que.) approval rating of 34 per cent (with another 40 per cent saying they didn’t know how well he was doing, and 25 per cent disapproving of his performance). Mr. Scheer got a 23 per cent approval rating, with 17 per cent of respondents disapproving and 60 per cent saying they didn’t know.

“We don’t see any dramatic shifts,” added Mr. Yufest. “The results are in line with what the government has been doing and sort of keeping out of the news.”

He leads the Toronto polling firm with principal Nick Kouvalis, a former campaign manager for failed Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch (Simcoe-Grey, Ont.), and principal Richard Ciano, a former national vice-president of the Conservative Party of Canada and volunteer for Ms. Leitch’s campaign.

The June Campaign Research poll results are similar to those of Nanos Research Group, released June 13, which put six percentage points between the Liberals and Conservatives, with Liberals leading the ballot at 36.8 per cent. Chairman Nik Nanos told CTV News the Liberal “honeymoon” is over, especially because Canadians now have an alternative leader in Mr. Scheer.

The Nanos poll was based on a four-week rolling average of poll results, while the Campaign Research poll surveyed voters between June 9 and 12. Campaign Research asked respondents which party they were most likely to vote for if a federal election were held tomorrow, or if they hadn’t made up their mind, which party they were leaning toward.

Mr. Yufest characterized the last month’s tightening gap between red and blue as “a small shift” especially taking into account the likely margin of error—though it can’t be called that because online polls are not considered truly random. That said, a probability sample of that size would have a margin of error of plus or minus two per cent, 19 times out of 20. Smaller subsets, such as those measuring regional support, would have a higher margin of error.

The poll suggested the Liberals have the most support in Toronto (51 per cent), the Greater Toronto Area (47 per cent), and Atlantic provinces (52 per cent). Conservatives picked up the most support in Alberta (53 per cent) and the rest of the Prairies (42 per cent).

The pollster noted NDP support is “especially strong” in British Columbia with 31 per cent, though the Liberals still maintain a five-point lead over them. Green Party support is also strongest in B.C., at 13 per cent. The provincial NDP there just came close to winning last month’s B.C. election, and are expected to form a minority government with the help of the Green Party, after years of Liberal rule.

Scheer an ‘unknown’

Conducted two weeks after the May 27 Conservative leadership vote, about half of the respondents declined to offer an opinion on Mr. Scheer, making him an “unknown,” according to the pollster.

“I’m not surprised. We see that quite consistently with any new leader,” said Mr. Yufest, whose survey suggested 30 per cent of voters felt Mr. Scheer did not share their values, with 20 per cent saying he did and 50 per cent saying they didn’t know. But, among Conservatives, 51 per cent said he shared their values, with only seven per cent saying he didn’t and the rest saying they didn’t know.

“It’s really incumbent on any new leader to make themselves available to the public and get their recognition up. That’s really the only way they’re going to be able to resonate with the electorate,” said the pollster.

After a leadership race that displayed differing opinions between social and fiscal conservatives and libertarians, 56 per cent of Conservative respondents said Mr. Scheer could unify the party, with only six per cent disagreeing.

A survey by the Angus Reid Institute noted June 1 that Mr. Scheer “begins his term in relative anonymity,” with only eight per cent of Canadians saying they are “familiar” with him. A further 75 per cent “had no knowledge of him other than his name before taking this survey,” which was conducted between May 28 and 31, starting the day after his victory.

Mr. Yufest noted “there’s no doubt” the Conservatives are enjoying an uptick because of the interest in and coverage of the leadership race, and the NDP could follow, given the party’s ongoing leadership contest that is set to end in the fall.

“Depending on how much chatter and excitement that [NDP] candidates make, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw their numbers go up as well,” he said.


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