With the stock markets tanking, the loonie dropping and job numbers looking poor in parts of the country, the economy has forced itself back into the forefront of the federal election campaign.
In the two most recent elections, in 2008 and 2011, economic uncertainty played well for Stephen Harper's Conservatives. But while the issue is still a strong one for Harper, it may not be the powerful advantage it once was.
That the economy remains the top issue for Canadians is clear. A recent poll by Ipsos Reid for Global News showed that 76 per cent of Canadians consider it "absolutely crucial" in determining how they will vote that parties "have a clear plan and be committed" to managing the economy in tough economic times.
Three-quarters of Canadians said the same thing about creating jobs. Both Ipsos and Léger, in a poll for Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal, found the economy and jobs rank as two of the top three issues on Canadians' minds today.
According to Abacus Data, Canadians' views on the state of the economy have darkened. Only 43 per cent say they evaluate the economy as either very good or good, a steady decline from the 67 per cent who said the same thing just under two years ago.
The Conservatives want to talk about the economy, demonstrated last week when Stephen Harper took the opportunity to both ask himself and answer a question on the issue when the media did not. It used to be the party's trump card, using it to good effect in both the 2008 and 2011 federal election campaigns.
But the latest polls no longer show the Conservatives to have a big advantage on this issue.
On questions related to which party or leader is best able to handle the economy, respondents in three of four recent polls gave the Conservatives and Harper an edge of just one or two points over Tom Mulcair and the New Democrats. In only one poll, by Ipsos, did the Conservatives manage a wide lead on this issue (38 to 28 per cent for the NDP).
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But in the same poll, Ipsos found that the Conservatives were tied with the NDP on who Canadians trusted to create jobs. Léger gave a two-point edge on this question to the New Democrats.
The Liberals trailed in third on both issues, but only by a narrow margin. This mirrors the national voting intentions polls, as do the regional breakdowns. The Conservatives win on the economy and jobs in Alberta, the Prairies, and narrowly in Ontario. The NDP prevails in British Columbia and Quebec, while the Liberals do best in Atlantic Canada. This is no different than the parties' regional standings in the polls.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives do poll relatively better on the economy and jobs than they do in voting intentions. In the four polls by EKOS Research, Forum Research, Ipsos, and Léger that posed a question related to the economy or jobs, the Conservatives trailed the NDP by about three to four points when it came to how Canadians would vote. On the economy, the Tories averaged four points better than the NDP and were neck-and-neck, on average, on jobs.
This means that the issue does remain an advantageous one for the Conservatives, but the advantage is no longer decisive. If voters cast their ballots only on the question of the economy and jobs, the Tories would maybe squeak out a minority victory, if that. This is a far cry from the majority win the Conservatives managed, largely on the question of the economy, four years ago.
The poll by Ipsos Reid for Global News was conducted between Aug. 7 and 10, interviewing 2,022 Canadians eligible to vote by telephone and the internet. As a portion of the sample was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Full questionnaire and tabulations can be found here.
The poll by Léger for Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal was conducted between Aug. 10 and 12, interviewing 2,095 Canadians eligible to vote via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Full questionnaire and tabulations can be found here.
The poll by Abacus Data was conducted between Aug. 14 and 17, interviewing 1,439 Canadians eligible to vote via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.
The poll by EKOS Research for iPolitics was conducted between Aug. 5 and 11, interviewing 3,055 Canadians eligible to vote via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll was +/- 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Full questionnaire and tabulations can be found here.
The poll by Forum Research for the Toronto Star was conducted between Aug. 10 and 11, interviewing 1,392 Canadians eligible to vote via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll was +/- 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Full questionnaire and tabulations can be found here.