Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC News Networks' Power & Politics to get at the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: Which federal leader do Canadians believe is the most competent?

The number: 

17

The percentage point gain by Stephen Harper since April, when it comes to who Canadians would describe as the most competent leader.

Source: Nanos Research, national random telephone survey between Nov. 9 and 15, accurate to +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In a new tracking poll, Nanos Research asked Canadians what federal leader they would describe as the most competent leader.

Here are the results:

  • Conservative Leader Stephen Harper 41%
  • Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae 13%
  • NDP Leader Tom Mulcair 12%
  • Greens Leader Elizabeth May 5%
  • Bloc Québécois Leader Daniel Paille 2%
  • None 7%
  • Undecided 19%

The most striking thing about the results is the trend since April, says Nik Nanos.

nov21-nanos-trend

Source: Nanos Research, national random telephone survey between Nov. 9 and 15, 2012 accurate 3.1 percentage points, plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. (CBC)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper picked up 17 points on this question since April, going from 24 per cent all the way to 41 per cent. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair actually lost five points since April, going to 12 per cent in November's survey from 17 per cent in April.

"It's the trend that counts," Nanos told Power & Politics host Evan Solomon. "The reality is when people vote, what they're thinking about is, who can govern, and in terms of alternatives, who is the governing alternative. Who is the government in waiting?"

April is low point

April was a low point for the Prime Minister over the past four years.

Nanos points to controversies involving Elections Canada, costing discrepancies around the F-35 fighter jets and the first omnibus budget bill as reasons why Harper's competency count hit an all-time low. But seven months later these stories have seemed to run out of steam, for now at least.

"There's not a lot of oxygen in these stories. They might be important for political operatives and pundits, but the thing is there's nothing new in these stories.... as a result we've seen Stephen Harper's numbers go up," Nanos told Solomon.

Foreign travel, including the prime minister's most recent trip to India, could also be behind his rise in the polls. When Harper travels and is seen to be promoting trade with China and the European Union and linking it to job creation, it makes him look more prime ministerial and helps with competency numbers, Nanos said.

Mulcair 'still a work in progress'

The NDP is not having as much success.

"I don't think we should confuse people's perceptions about the New Democrats being a good opposition, with being a government in waiting," Nanos says.

Competence numbers are a good indication of how confident Canadians are in a party's ability to govern. That is where the NDP is falling short right now.

"Mulcair is still a work in progress when it comes to his personal brand and in terms of building the NDP brand as a possible alternative to the Conservatives," Nanos said.

This could also all change once a new Liberal leader is chosen.

Nanos is expecting the Liberal numbers to go up as soon as they pick a new leader, at least in the short term.

"But the big question is, will the next leader of the Liberal Party be a prime minister in waiting," he said.

The Nanos Research national random telephone survey was conducted between Nov. 9 and 15, 2012, and is considered  accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.