Poll Tracker: 2 narratives emerge in national polls

Are the Conservatives being chased by the Liberals, or are they running clear of their opponents? The polls can't decide.

Tories in front, but how close are the Liberals? The polls don't agree

The Conservatives and NDP seem to have their positions in the polls set. But where are the Liberals? (Fred Thornhill/Reuters)

The polls are telling two stories with less than three weeks to go before voting day. Either the race remains close between the Liberals and Conservatives, or the Conservatives are pulling away from the pack, leaving the real jostling for the fight over second place.

As the CBC Poll Tracker averages the polls, it splits the difference: it currently pegs Conservative support to be at 32.3 per cent, with the Liberals not far behind at 30.4 per cent and the New Democrats pulling up the rear with 26.8 per cent support. 

The divergence in the polling narrative has become most clear over the last few days, and it largely has to do with the position of the Liberal Party.

The Conservatives have scored between 30 and 34 per cent in six recent polls conducted by six different pollsters: Nanos Research; Léger; Forum Research; Ipsos Reid; Abacus Data; and the Angus Reid Institute. Only one of them had the Conservatives at the 30 per cent mark. All the others put the Tories at between 32 and 34 per cent.

The New Democrats have registered at between 26 and 28 per cent across all six polls. 

But where are the Liberals? Three pollsters — Angus Reid, Forum and Abacus — have put the party at under 30 per cent, with either 27 or 29 per cent support. The other three pollsters have put the party between 32 and 33.5 per cent support.

Though that isn't a huge disagreement (a gap of three to four points could be explained away by the margin of error), it transforms the overall picture dramatically. The first set of polls suggest that the Conservatives are in a strong position, enjoying a lead of between three and seven points.

That lead is amplified by the Conservatives' superior vote efficiency, which delivers more seats per vote to them than the other parties. The Liberals and NDP are merely vying for the runner-up spot.

The other set of polls suggest that the race is tight between the Liberals and Conservatives, with the Liberals potentially holding a narrow lead over the Tories. With this snapshot, the election is a two-way race, with the New Democrats in a definitive third.

Which is the correct portrayal of the campaign? Unless the polls move into greater agreement, we may not know until election night.

On the latest episode of the Election Pollcast, Léger's Christian Bourque joins host Éric Grenier to break down the numbers in his latest poll.

Bloc wild card

A new development in recent days has been an increase in support for the Bloc Québécois. A poll by Léger for Le Devoir, Le Journal de Montréal, and TVA put the party at 24 per cent support in Quebec, only four points behind the New Democrats. More importantly, it put the Bloc at 30 per cent among francophones. That narrowly puts the BQ ahead of the NDP by two points, marking the first time in over three years that any survey has put the Bloc on top among this electorate.

It is a decisive electorate in Quebec, considering that the vast majority of the province's seats have a majority of French-speakers.

Other recent polls have not been as bullish for the Bloc, putting the party at between 18 and 22 per cent in Quebec.

The Poll Tracker now pegs the BQ at 20 per cent support (an increase of eight points over the last two weeks), and on track to win one to three seats. But combined with a decrease in support for the New Democrats, the party is approaching the point where a lot of seats could suddenly come into play.

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:

Léger: "If federal elections were held today, for which political party would you be most likely to vote?"


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.