Conservatives gaining momentum on campaign trail: poll

Conservatives continued to gain ground in the first few days of the election campaign, with a significant lead in public support, according to a newly released poll Thursday.

'Polls are like tides; they come and they go,' Dion says of latest survey

Conservatives continued to gain ground in the first few days of the election campaign, with a significant lead in public support, according to a newly released poll Thursday.

However, another poll released the same day painted a different picture of parties' gains in the first week of the election campaign, with the Tories in a "gentle decline" back to minority territory.

The two polls — the first by Canadian Press-Harris/Decima in partnership with the CBC and the second by EKOS Research — offered a glimpse of how the federal parties fared in the days following Sunday's election call, polling voters from Monday to Thursday.

In the Harris/Decima survey, the Conservatives showed a lead nationally of 41 per cent of public support, followed by the Liberals at 26 per cent, while the NDP were at 14 per cent.

The Green Party trails with nine per cent support, while eight per cent of respondents said they favoured the Bloc Québécois.

"This snapshot that we have here will be good news for the Conservative Party," the CBC's David Taylor said Friday following the release of the results.

Harris/Decima president Bruce Anderson described the Conservative momentum as "remarkable," saying the party has gained ground in key subgroups that have eluded them in the past, including urban Canada and women.

Anderson said the boost in support among the groups can be attributed to the party's "massive" advertising campaign compared to the other parties. The Tory ads "have largely been right on the mark in terms of what they needed to accomplish," he said.

Voters pulling back: EKOS

Yet the EKOS poll suggested the Tories were slipping from their "formidable advantage" over the Liberals prior to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Sept. 7 election call, to a seven-point lead Thursday from a 15-point lead Monday.

In that same period, the Liberals showed "modest strengthening," as did the Bloc and Greens. NDP support remained flat.

EKOS Research Associates President Frank Graves said pollsters have seen this pattern before. "Whenever the Conservatives start to edge into majority territory, it seems some voters pull back and re-consider their intentions."

He said it was "remarkable" that Tory support surged the week before the election, typically seen only once a campaign has begun, then slipped back to "something closer to the norm over the last couple of years."

The poll found Stephen Harper's Conservatives with 36 per cent of the public's support, the Liberals with 26 per cent and New Democrats with 19.

Eleven per cent of respondents favoured the Green party, while eight per cent supported the Bloc.

Tories won't bite on majority talk

Harper has repeatedly downplayed talk of a majority during the campaign, saying he still believed the result of the Oct. 14 vote would be a minority government. 

Despite the positive numbers in the Harris-Decima poll, Conservative strategist Lisa Samson said her party was taking nothing for granted.

"Every vote counts on Oct. 14," Samson told CBC News on Friday from Ottawa. "It's one voter at a time, one family at a time."

When asked about the poll Friday during a campaign event in British Columbia, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion dismissed the importance of the numbers.

"Polls are like tides; they come and they go," Dion told reporters in Burnaby, noting that he was not asked about a previous poll from the day before that placed his party only five points behind Harper's Conservatives. 

Gaffes could still influence voters: Liberal strategist

But Liberal strategist Susan Smith said the Harris-Decima poll might prove to indicate "there is such a thing as the Conservatives peaking too soon," especially with this week's high-profile gaffes by the Harper campaign.

On Thursday, the Tories suspended their communications director for questioning the political motives behind comments made by the father of a fallen Canadian soldier.

Earlier this week, Harper was forced to apologize after a crude ad on the Conservative website featured a puffin defecating on Dion's shoulder.  

"We're in the first week of the campaign," Smith told CBC News from Ottawa. "We're watching stumbles and those things are going to start to set in."

In the Harris-Decima survey, respondents were asked for their party preference, second choice, their favourite party leader, as well as how they define themselves as voters. They were also asked whether they had seen campaign advertisements and to what extent they were influenced by them.

The Harris/Decima poll interviewed roughly 300 Canadians every night, as part of a rolling nationwide survey that will continue throughout the election campaign. The sample represents a total of 1,406 interviews gathered between Sept. 8 and 11. The poll's margin of error is 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The EKOS survey, conducted over the same dates, interviewed around 1,000 Canadians each day, for a total of 4,975 randomly selected voters. The margin of error is 1.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.