Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Liberals surge in Nanos poll

Yesterday was a big day for Liberals, with a poll being released showing the federal party in second place nationwide and Dalton McGuinty announcing his plans to resign as leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario. Both pieces of news were met with a lot of surprise and wild speculation. That McGuinty will run for the federal leadership is about as likely as this new poll marking a real change in voting intentions in Canada - though neither is impossible.
Nanos Research was last in the field Sept. 4-9, and since then the Conservatives gained 0.9 points to hit 33.3% support. The Liberals picked up 5.5 points to move into second place with 30.1%, while the New Democrats were down 2.5 points to 27.9%.

The Bloc Québécois was at 4.7% and the Greens slipped 2.1 points to only 2.9%.

This poll shows a real three-way race, as the edge the Tories have over the Liberals is within the margin of error, as is the edge the Liberals have over the NDP. The shifts in support towards the Liberals and away from the Greens are outside of the margin of error, but caution should be exercised before Liberals start taking measurements for the curtains at 24 Sussex.

There are many innate, unintentional methodological reasons why a polling firm might return better results for one party than the consensus opinion of other firms. And the consensus, thin as it is, does point to an uptick in Liberal support since Justin Trudeau's candidacy for the party leadership was announced. But Nanos Research has had most of the best results for the Liberal Party since the May 2011 election.
Of the top 12 poll results for the Liberals since the last election, seven of them were from Nanos Research, including the top six. No other firm has had the Liberals at more than 26% since that time. That is not to say that Nanos has it wrong - they only over-estimated the Liberals by less than two points in their final poll of the 2011 campaign and were off of the Liberal result by 0.1 percentage points in the Ontario provincial election.

All this does suggest is that Liberal support in this poll may be inflated relative to the polling consensus. Again, this does not mean they are certainly not in second place nationwide, but rather that this apparent surge is less informative than it would be if it was coming from a different polling firm that has had traditionally low Liberal results.

Nevertheless, the poll does hint that Trudeau is having a positive effect on the Liberal Party's fortunes. But other surveys will be needed to confirm if the party is indeed enjoying a surge in support.

Regionally, the New Democrats still hold a lead in Quebec with 35.7%, putting them ahead of the Liberals at 25% and the Bloc Québécois at 17.8%. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have the lead in the Prairies (which includes Alberta in this poll) at 48.9% to 28.9% for the NDP (a gain of 10.5 points) and 20.4% for the Liberals.

The Liberals have the advantage in two provinces: Ontario and British Columbia. Seeing the party up in Ontario is not too shocking as they have been flirting with the high-20s for some time and the margin of error is quite large. British Columbia, on the other hand, is probably an outlier result - in the 76 other polls taken since the last election the Liberals have averaged only 17.9% in British Columbia.

The Liberals picked up 9.8 points in Ontario to reach 36.1% and were trailed by the Conservatives at 33.8% and the New Democrats at 23.9%, a drop of 8.7 points. In British Columbia, the Liberals were up 19.6 points to 40.6% and were followed closely by the Conservatives at 36.5%. The NDP was down 11.5 points to 19.6% and the Greens were down 9.2 points to 3.2% support.

The Conservatives had the advantage in Atlantic Canada with 39.2% to 29.9% for the NDP and 29.1% for the Liberals.
With these numbers, the Conservatives would win 136 seats and have the first crack at a minority government. They would likely fail, as the Liberals would win 107 seats and the NDP 94 seats, giving them a combined 201 seats in the proposed 338-seat House.

The Conservatives would win a decent number of seats in every region except Quebec, battling it out with the Liberals in British Columbia, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada. The New Democrats win more than half of theirs in Quebec, with disappointing results in B.C.

There was not much change in Nanos's Leadership Index, the combination of scores on questions of trust, competence, and vision for Canada. Stephen Harper's total score increased by 2.5 points to 95.9 (i.e., an average of 32% on each of the three questions), while Thomas Mulcair's was down 0.3 points to 47.7 and Bob Rae's was down five points to 33.1.

The Conservative results in this poll are rather consistent with what we have seen in other surveys, suggesting that the real swing vote lies between the Liberals and New Democrats. We should expect to see more strange results like this one as the Liberal leadership plays out. So far, this one is having the same effect as the NDP race did: a spurt of support at the outset (update: which may or may not have been anything real - much like this poll). But the New Democrats lost support as the race wore on, only for it to be recovered by Mulcair (and now on its way back?). Will the Liberals manage to keep the momentum going through to April?