The past two weeks of the election campaign have been marked by competing headlines from the trial of Mike Duffy, forcing Conservative Leader Stephen Harper to answer questions on a nearly daily basis about what his office knew of a deal to repay the senator's expenses.
Two new polls suggest that the Conservatives could be hurt by the fallout from the Duffy trial among the electorate they need most: swing voters.
- Poll Tracker: Follow the latest numbers and seat projections
- Analysis: Parties woo parents in search of 'persuadable' voters
Polling by Abacus Data and Angus Reid Institute, the latter released on Friday, show that about one in four Canadians are following the trial closely. Though that leaves a lot of people who are paying little or no attention to the trial, it is a safe bet that the vast majority of these interested people also happen to be voters.
The numbers are not positive for Stephen Harper: 15 per cent think he acted properly according to Abacus Data, and just 20 per cent believe Harper's version of events according to Angus Reid. In that poll, 56 per cent said the trial had worsened their opinion of the Conservative leader.
But many of these voters have already decided they will be casting a ballot for the Liberals or the New Democrats. And few decided Conservative supporters have been negatively influenced by the trial. What is more ominous for the Tories is that a significant proportion of soft Conservative supporters — people who are currently considering voting for the party but have not yet committed — are looking at Harper's involvement in this affair with doubt.
According to Abacus Data, a quarter of soft Conservative supporters think Harper acted improperly, and one-fifth say the trial has made them less inclined to vote for the party. About one-quarter of these swing voters told Angus Reid they did not believe Harper's story (another 42 per cent said they did not know if they believed Harper or not), and just under one-third said it had worsened their opinion of him. In a tight three-way race, that represents a lot of votes the Conservatives can ill afford to lose.
The Conservatives' line on the scandal, that it is limited to Nigel Wright and Mike Duffy, does not carry water with most Canadians. Sixty-one per cent believe it points to a deeper scandal within the Prime Minister's Office, according to Angus Reid. Significantly for the Tories, 23 per cent of soft Conservative supporters believe the same thing.
But will this have an actual impact on the election campaign?
While 25 per cent of Canadians in the Abacus poll said the trial makes a difference in how they will vote, fully 72 per cent of Canadians who do not believe Harper's version of events told Angus Reid that other election issues are more important.
The Conservatives have almost two months to get Canadians thinking about those issues, and not Mike Duffy.
NDP widens seat advantage in Poll Tracker update
The CBC Poll Tracker is showing little change in the overall poll averages after the inclusion of the latest poll from Forum Research. The survey, published by the Toronto Star, put the New Democrats ahead with 34 per cent, the Conservatives at 29 per cent, and the Liberals at 28 per cent.
But the regional numbers have improved the NDP's seat projection. The New Democrats are now projected to win between 120 and 146 seats, with their average projection of 132 seats being their best score so far in 2015. The Conservatives range between 99 and 136 seats, with their average projection of 116 seats being their lowest since the end of June. The Liberals, at between 70 and 103 seats, have not moved much.
The NDP's improving position is partly driven by strong numbers in Quebec, after a CROP poll for La Presse pegged the party's support to be at 47 per cent. The smaller-sample Forum poll was not so bullish on the NDP's chances, but nevertheless the New Democrats lead in the Poll Tracker average by almost 20 points in the province.
The poll by Angus Reid Institute was conducted between Aug. 19 and 20, interviewing via the Internet 1,006 Canadians eligible to vote. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Questionnaire and tabulations can be found here.
The poll by Abacus Data was conducted between Aug. 14 and 17, interviewing via the Internet 1,439 Canadians eligible to vote. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Questionnaire and tabulations can be found here.
CBC's Poll Tracker aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date and the polling firm's accuracy record. Upper and lower ranges are based on how polls have performed in other recent elections. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and taking into account other factors such as incumbency. The projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. The polls included in the model vary in size, date and method, and have not been individually verified by the CBC. You can read the full methodology here.
The questions asked in the voting intentions polls mentioned in this article were as follows:
Forum: "If a federal election were held today, which party are you most likely to vote for?"
CROP: "Si des élections fédérales avaient lieu maintenant au Canada, pour lequel des partis suivants voteriez-vous?"