Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Further signs of Conservative slump?

As we approached the summer, it appeared that things were improving for the governing Conservatives. They were no longer routinely scoring under 30% support and had closed the gap with the Liberals enough that they could plausibly hope to win the most seats in a new election, even if they finished second in the vote count. But the two most recent polls - one by Forum putting the Tories at 28% and the other by EKOS showing them at just 25.6% - hint that the Conservatives may have taken a step back.

The question, though, is whether this is a product of which companies are in the field or if it is something real. New numbers today suggest it might be something worth keeping an eye on.

Every week, Nanos Research releases its Nanos Party Power Index, derived from an amalgamation of various questions. I'm not a particular fan of indices like these because it is impossible to compare the results to anything tangible, but two of the questions included and reported by Nanos are revealing. They are on whether respondents would consider voting for a party, and who they prefer for prime minister. On both of these measures, the Conservatives are dropping.

The latest set of data, out of the field on August 8, put Justin Trudeau ahead with 30.6% of Canadians saying they prefer him to be prime minister. That was up 1.6 points from last week's monthly-rolling poll.

Stephen Harper was second with 26.4%, down 2.3 points since last week, while Thomas Mulcair was at 18.6%, down 1.2 points.

But it is not the weekly back and forth that is of note here. Trudeau's numbers have been wobbling up and down for some time now, but Harper's have been decreasing consistently. Trudeau's 30.6% is only slightly higher than the 12-month average of 29.6%, but Harper's 26.4% is quite a bit lower than the 12-month average of 28.6%, and it has been falling.

Four weeks ago, Harper was at 31.1% on this question, near his 12-month high of 32.4%. But that dropped to 30.8% the next week, then 30.3%, then 28.7%, and now 26.4%. In this are we seeing what Forum and EKOS have recently recorded?

On whether respondents would consider voting for a party, the Conservatives have also slumped significantly. Over the last 12 months, they have averaged 39.6% - exactly the share of the vote they captured in 2011. Four weeks ago, they were at 43.2%, just down from their 12-month high of 44.1%.

But they have since fallen to just 37.6%. That is a very low ceiling for the party and even if they captured all of those votes a majority government would be unlikely.

It is an especially low ceiling considering that the New Democrats sit at 42.9%, slightly above average for the last year, while the Liberals are at 53.9%, well above the average. That is a lot of leeway for the Liberals and NDP - they have plenty of room for growth and each could, potentially at least, win more than enough to form a big majority government. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have alienated a large section of the electorate and this limits their ability to win.

We will have to wait and see whether other pollsters will confirm the recent weakness in Conservative support. It was not too surprising to see it from EKOS (which often has the Tories low) or Forum (which often has the Liberals high), but Nanos tends to tack towards the middle and the evidence is mounting. It could be that this is indeed a cruel summer for the Conservatives.