Poll Tracker: Are the Conservatives headed for 3rd?

Recent polls suggest that Stephen Harper's Conservatives may be in the midst of a slide that could see them surpassed by Justin Trudeau's Liberals for second place behind the surging NDP.

Recent polls suggest that the Tories may be in danger of being leap-frogged by the Liberals

The latest polls are not looking positive for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, but the campaign still has a long way to go. (The Canadian Press)

Are the Conservatives in danger of dropping into third place?

Recent polls suggest that the Conservatives may be in the midst of a slide in public support. The party is averaging 28.3 per cent in the CBC Poll Tracker, marking one of their lowest ebbs in the polls since last year. They now stand just 1.4 points above the Liberals, who are pegged at 26.9 per cent support. The New Democrats lead with 35.5 per cent support, a surge largely driven by strong poll numbers in Quebec.

This has pushed them largely out of the range of the Conservatives in the projected seat count. With these numbers, the NDP would likely win between 124 and 153 seats, with the Conservatives winning between 92 and 132. There is more Conservative overlap with the Liberals at this stage, with the latter party in a position to win between 70 and 106 seats.

The diverging fortunes of the NDP and Conservatives emerged in a series of polls released this week. The first, by the Angus Reid Institute, gave the New Democrats a seven-point edge over the Tories, at 37 to 30 per cent support among eligible voters. The Liberals trailed in the poll with 24 per cent.

A poll by Forum Research for the Toronto Star then raised a few eyebrows, and with good reason. Published Thursday, it placed the New Democrats in the lead with 40 per cent support, a score the NDP has never managed in any poll under either Jack Layton or Thomas Mulcair. In second place was the Liberal Party with 30 per cent. The Conservatives were pegged at just 23 per cent support, a number that the party has not matched in any poll in more than 10 years.

Though the margins were extreme and likely exaggerated, subsequent polling by Ipsos Reid and EKOS Research has corroborated the underlying trends.

The latest survey by Ipsos Reid for Global News, also published Thursday, showed weakening support for the Conservatives. Like Forum, it placed the Tories in third place, though with 29 per cent. That put them one point behind the Liberals, while the NDP led with 33 per cent. The poll represented a swing of two points from the Conservatives to the Liberals compared to Ipsos Reid's poll from two weeks previously. But compared to the firm's last pre-campaign survey at the end of July, the Conservatives have lost four points, with the Liberals picking up five.

A poll by EKOS Research for iPolitics published Friday showed the Conservatives in second, but with the gap between them and the third-place Liberals narrowing quickly. The New Democrats led in the poll with 33.6 per cent, followed by the Conservatives at 28.1 per cent and the Liberals at 26.7 per cent. Compared to EKOS's poll conducted two weeks earlier, the gap between the Conservatives and Liberals shrank by almost five points. 

Trend against the Tories

The consensus among the polls is moving increasingly away from a relatively close three-way race into a respectable lead by the New Democrats, with the Conservatives and Liberals vying for the runner-up position. In fact, all but one poll conducted entirely within the campaign period has put the NDP in the lead. The point of contention at this stage, then, is primarily between the positions of the Tories and Liberals. The margins between the two have been small in most recent polls, but a negative trend against the Conservatives is clear: The EKOS poll marked the eighth consecutive survey conducted entirely after the Aug. 2 campaign start date to put the Tories at 30 per cent or less.

Unless the Conservatives can turn their momentum around, they might find themselves overtaken by the Liberals in the next series of polls. The Conservatives dropped support in the Forum, Ipsos, and EKOS polls relative to where they stood in these pollsters' prior set of numbers, while the Liberals were up. Good news on the economic front in new numbers released by the Finance Department on Friday showing the government in the black for the first quarter of the fiscal year may go some way towards reversing the trend, but polls continue to show that the appetite for change is ravenous. It might not be so easily suppressed.

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 polls mentioned in this article were as follows:

Ipsos Reid: "Thinking of how you feel right now, if a FEDERAL election were held tomorrow, which of the following parties' candidates would you, yourself, be most likely to support?"

Forum: "If a federal election were held today, which party are you most likely to vote for?"

EKOS: "If the federal election were tomorrow, which party would you vote for?"

Angus Reid Institute: "If a federal election were held tomorrow, which one of the following parties would you be most likely to support in your constituency?"


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.