With two weeks to go in Nova Scotia's election campaign, Stephen McNeil's Liberals continue to hold a significant lead over their PC and NDP rivals and are on track to be the first government to secure a second consecutive majority in the province in nearly 30 years.
But the Liberals' support has shown some vulnerability as the vote approaches — a vulnerability Jamie Baillie of the Progressive Conservatives and Gary Burrill of the New Democrats will be looking to exploit in Thursday's leaders' debate.
- Nova Scotia Poll Tracker: Check out the latest projections
- CBC Nova Scotia to host leaders' debate on May 18
According to the CBC's Nova Scotia Poll Tracker, an aggregation that weights all available poll data by date, sample size and a polling firm's track record, the Liberals lead with 41.9 per cent support, followed by the PCs at 30.9 per cent and the NDP at 25.1 per cent.
At those levels of support, the Liberals are projected to win 30 seats, with the PCs winning 15 seats and the New Democrats taking six. To win a majority government, a party needs to win 26 of the province's 51 seats.
The polls suggest that McNeil's Liberals have managed to halt the decline in public support the party suffered earlier this year.
As recently as January, the Liberals were polling at 58 per cent support in a survey by MQO Research, echoing the results of a Corporate Research Associates (CRA) poll conducted in November. But when CRA next polled in February, the Liberals had dropped precipitously to 44 per cent — cutting the margin between the Liberals and PCs by more than half.
There were some early indications in CRA's daily tracking polls for the Halifax Chronicle Herald that the party was continuing to slip after the campaign had officially kicked off. By May 9, the party had fallen to just 37 per cent support and held a five-point lead over the PCs. That narrow gap put the party firmly in minority territory.
Little traction for PCs, NDP
But since May 9, CRA has recorded an uptick in Liberal support. In the CRA/Herald poll published Monday, the Liberals were back up to 42 per cent support and enjoyed a 12-point lead over the Tories.
The Mainstreet/iPolitics poll published over the weekend put the Liberals at 40 per cent and down just two statistically insignificant points, corroborating the movement in Liberal support tracked by CRA.
Neither the Progressive Conservatives nor the New Democrats have gained much traction since the campaign began. Both the CRA/Herald and Mainstreet/iPolitics polls show support for the two parties having changed by no more than a single point.
Debate presents opportunity for Baillie, Burrill
But Thursday's leaders' debate might provide the last chance for Baillie and Burrill to move the dial in their favour.
So far, however, they have not had much success. In the first CRA/Herald poll of the campaign, 23 per cent of Nova Scotians thought Baillie would make the best premier, while 18 per cent believed Burrill would do a better job. In Monday's release, Baillie's score had only increased to 24 per cent while Burrill's had slipped to 17 per cent.
Both leaders are seen positively, but a CRA/Herald poll from the first week of the campaign showed that many Nova Scotians had no opinion of the two. Fully 28 per cent had no opinion of Baillie, who has led the PCs since 2010, and 42 per cent had no view of Burrill, who was elected leader of the NDP in February 2016.
The debate could go a long way toward forming new opinions regarding the two leaders, but that is no guarantee that those newly formed opinions will be positive — or that they will shift voting intentions.
Majority or minority?
But it wouldn't take a significant shift to put the Liberals' chances of winning another majority into doubt. Just a swing of a few points from the Liberals to the Tories could tip McNeil's party back toward a minority government.
The Poll Tracker's estimations of each party's probability of victory — which takes into account these kinds of potential swings — give the Liberals an 84 per cent chance of winning the most seats, but just a 61 per cent chance of winning a majority of them.
In fact, the Poll Tracker indicates that a minority government is a distinct possibility at a 35 per cent chance, if the election were held today.
Another minority government would not be unusual for Nova Scotia. But if McNeil holds on to his current lead in the polls and wins his second consecutive majority, he would be the first Nova Scotia premier to do so since John Buchanan in 1988.