A new poll suggests no candidates for the Conservative Party leadership have been able to lift themselves out of the pack in the eyes of Canadians and Conservative supporters — a stark contrast to the last two races for the leadership of the New Democrats and Liberals, when clear front-runners had already emerged at this stage of the campaign.
The poll, conducted by Forum Research and published in Postmedia's Sun chain of newspapers, found that none of the contestants tested in the poll scored more than 9 per cent support among Conservative voters, while 49 per cent said they preferred "someone else."
- Conservatives spend more time agreeing than debating
- Maxime Bernier's donor base is broader than Kellie Leitch's
Polls of Conservative supporters do not tell us much about which contestant is best placed to win the leadership campaign, as Conservative Party members will cast the deciding votes. But they do suggest which candidates are being noticed by the wider electorate.
Few are. Taking into account the margin of error for the smaller subset of Conservative supporters, six contestants were bunched up close enough to be as good as tied for the top spot: Steven Blaney at 9 per cent, Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt and Chris Alexander at 8 per cent apiece, Kellie Leitch at 6 per cent and Andrew Scheer at 5 per cent.
Rounding out the list were Maxime Bernier and Brad Trost at 4 and 2 per cent, respectively.
Among all Canadians, Chong registered the most support at 10 per cent, followed by Raitt at 8 per cent, Leitch at 7 per cent and Alexander at 6 per cent.
Forum did not include the names of the six other contestants officially in the running (for brevity, says the polling firm): Pierre Lemieux, Daniel Lindsay, Deepak Obhrai, Erin O'Toole, Rick Peterson and Andrew Saxton. Forum's previous poll of the Conservative leadership race (conducted in October) put O'Toole at 2 per cent among Conservative supporters.
Polling conducted by Mainstreet Research in early November, however, put O'Toole at 11 per cent and Obhrai at 3 per cent, with Lindsay and Saxton not registering any support.
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The poll strongly suggests that many Canadians and Conservative supporters have yet to identify one or two contestants as the front-runners — also indicating that the next leader of the Conservative Party, if he or she is drawn from the current list of 14, will have some work to do to increase name recognition and form Canadians' opinions.
But this was not the case the last time Canada's major parties held leadership races.
In polling conducted in December 2011, Forum found Tom Mulcair was leading the race for the NDP leadership with 24 per cent among NDP supporters, well ahead of his nearest rival.
In December 2012, two polls by Forum and Léger pegged Justin Trudeau's support among Liberal voters at 60 or 63 per cent. Even among all Canadians, Trudeau was registering 38 or 39 per cent — at least four times what the leading Conservative contestants are managing.
The pile-up in the Conservative leadership race may begin to clear up as contestants drop out of the running. The next important deadline is Dec. 31, when contestants need to make a $50,000 compliance deposit with the party. This could thin the ranks, particularly of some of the lesser-known candidates.
A more streamlined leadership race may help Canadians, and especially Conservative voters, form their views of the contestants more clearly. But if the lack of consensus among the Conservative electorate is any indication of where things stand among Conservative party members, a lot of minds have yet to be made up.
The poll by Forum Research was conducted between Dec. 6 and 7, 2016, interviewing 1,304 Canadians, including 415 Conservative voters. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For the smaller sample of Conservative voters, the margin of error would be +/- 5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.