This is the second analysis in a series that will run until the end of the campaign, taking an in-depth look at where the polls stand in every region of the country and which seats are up for grabs. Check out the last instalment, where the spotlight was on Atlantic Canada.
It is a testament to how incredibly close this election race is that parties need to fight tooth and nail over a handful of seats in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
And it is a sign of how the landscape has shifted that Saskatchewan, which has been a Conservative stronghold for years, may be host to some of the tightest electoral battles.
The Conservatives won the Prairies handily in 2011, taking 54.8 per cent of the vote in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 24 of the two provinces' 28 seats. The New Democrats finished second with 28.9 per cent of the vote and the Liberals third with 12.7 per cent, with both parties taking two seats. The Greens garnered the support of 3.2 per cent of voters in the region and are currently polling at 5.6 per cent.
The Prairies are still leaning Conservative, but the party has dropped almost 16 points in support in four years. The Tories stand at 38.9 per cent in the CBC Poll Tracker, followed by the New Democrats at 27.9 per cent and the Liberals at 26.5 per cent. This suggests that the NDP's vote has held steady since 2011, while the Liberals have more than doubled theirs at the expense of the Conservatives.
And the polls have been pretty consistent in this regard. Despite a few ups and downs, the Conservatives have seen their support in the region wobble between an average of 37 and 43 per cent. The Liberals and NDP, on the other hand, have been trading the position of runner-up from one poll to the next. But this does mark a change for the Liberals, who were solidly in second place in the region throughout 2013 and 2014.
But the Prairies are not homogeneous in how support breaks down. Polls that do include separate results for Saskatchewan and Manitoba show stark differences. The race in Saskatchewan is between the Conservatives and the New Democrats, with a significant urban/rural divide, while in Manitoba it is neck-and-neck between the Conservatives and the Liberals.
This is reflected in the projected seat count. If an election were held today, the Conservatives might win 14 or 15 seats in the two provinces, while the New Democrats would win eight or nine and the Liberals would win five. Virtually all of the NDP's gains come in Saskatchewan, while every Liberal addition takes place in Manitoba.
There is still a lot of time for voting intentions to shift dramatically between now and Oct' 19. And the Prairies have a relatively large number of seats potentially at play. The Conservatives are almost assured of winning 10 of them, and are in play in 21 overall. The New Democrats have two seats they can consider safe, and 12 in which they have at least a chance of winning. Prospects are fewer for the Liberals, with a floor of three seats and a ceiling of seven.
It is a game of defence for the Conservatives. After almost running the table in 2011, they have no prospects for gains.
But the New Democrats are poised to make a major comeback in their ancestral home of Saskatchewan.
The following is a list of ridings that the NDP could pick up on election night. Favourable gains are those in which there is a good chance of the party winning them, potential gains are those in which the results may be close, and marginal gains are seats in which the party has an outside chance of winning.
Favourable NDP gains:
- Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River.
Potential NDP gains:
Marginal NDP gains:
- Kildonan-St. Paul.
- Moose Jaw-Lake Centre-Lanigan.
- Prince Albert.
Most of the gains the New Democrats are likely to make will come in Saskatoon and Regina, with potential gains in northern Saskatchewan and around Winnipeg. If the night goes particularly well for the New Democrats, they could surge out of the two urban centres of Saskatchewan and into the larger towns.
For the Liberals, their hopes ride entirely in Manitoba, and particularly Winnipeg.
Favourable Liberal gains:
- Winnipeg South Centre.
- Saint Boniface–Saint Vital.
- Winnipeg South.
Marginal Liberal gains
- Charleswood-St. James–Assiniboia-Headingley.
- Churchill–Keewatinook Aski.
Gains in ridings that have voted Liberal in the past are to be expected in Winnipeg, but if the Liberals make a breakthrough in Manitoba they could take some of the ridings surrounding the city as well.
The Prairies are not vital to any one party's chances, but the region could still play an important role. The Conservatives need to mitigate their losses here if they are to hold on to power, something that might be more easily done in a traditional heartland than in Atlantic Canada or Toronto. The Liberals can use every seat they can get while their numbers remain stagnant in Quebec. And an NDP government is hard to imagine without significant support from the home of Tommy Douglas.
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.