Politics·Analysis

After the Bloc's gains in Quebec, Liberals now have another worry: a climbing NDP

Jagmeet Singh's NDP is gaining in the polls after last week's English-language debate.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has boosted his party's fortunes following last week's English-language debate

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has boosted his party's support, according to multiple polls. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

New Democrats looking at the polls are probably feeling pretty thankful today.

That's because the NDP is having a bit of a moment. Both the Liberals and Conservatives appear to be losing steam, while the New Democrats have momentum heading into the election campaign's crucial final week.

The debates have shaken up what was a very placid campaign in the polls. After good performances in the two French-language contests, Yves-François Blanchet is on a roll of his own in Quebec, where the Bloc Québécois has eaten into the Liberals' lead in the polls and their advantage in the seat count.

But now it seems that Singh's performance is starting to pay off. The leader who has probably done the most to improve his own personal image in the eyes of voters is now seeing it translate into new support for his party.

The CBC's Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, puts both the Conservatives and the Liberals under 33 per cent support countrywide and locked in the same close race that has prevailed throughout the campaign.

It is looking increasingly unlikely that either party will be able to win enough seats to form a majority government.

The New Democrats have jumped to 16.5 per cent support as of the Oct. 13 update of the Poll Tracker, representing a gain of two percentage points since Oct. 7 and the English-language debate (which, according to several polls, Singh won).

Over the same time span, the Liberals have slipped nearly three points and the Conservatives more than one. Neither the Greens nor the People's Party have seen the same kind of post-debate bump that the NDP has.

That surge has been particularly obvious in the last few days. Since Oct. 9, the NDP has averaged a gain of 0.7 percentage points per day in the Poll Tracker — a significant increase in an aggregation of multiple polls that is designed to smooth out the swings from individual surveys.

Those polls are unanimous that the NDP has made gains. Ten different pollsters in the field both before and after the English-language debate have recorded a gain of at least one point for the New Democrats, though where the NDP sits in the polls does vary widely. Two pollsters pegged the NDP's support to still be as low as 13 per cent while two others have put it as high as 20 per cent.

NDP putting pressure on Liberal seats

The NDP has seen gains in the Poll Tracker in every region of the country, but it has seen its biggest bumps in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and the Prairies. Notably, the increase of five points in Atlantic Canada has pushed the NDP back into third place and ahead of the Greens.

It now means the NDP — while still on track to lose nearly all of its seats in Quebec — could actually gain seats in the rest of the country, largely at the expense of the Liberals.

The Ontario numbers should be of particular concern for that party. 

The New Democrats are polling at 17 per cent in the province, slightly better than the party's results in the 2015 federal election. That could win the NDP more seats in Ontario, because the Liberals are polling at 37 per cent in the province, down eight points from the last vote.

That kind of swing puts a number of Liberal seats at risk in Ontario. The Poll Tracker estimates there are 10 close Liberal-NDP contests in the province, including three in central Toronto and five in northern Ontario. The Liberals can't afford to lose those seats to the New Democrats when they are also trying to fight off the Conservatives in suburban Greater Toronto Area seats that the Liberals picked up four years ago.

Singh's campaign boosting the NDP

The credit for this shift has to lie with Singh. Polls are recording significant improvement in how Canadians view the NDP leader.

According to Abacus Data, 41 per cent of Canadians now have a positive impression of Singh. That's up nine points since before the English-language debate and 15 points since the beginning of the campaign.

Just 22 per cent of respondents say they hold a negative impression of Singh, giving him a net rating of +19. That compares quite well to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's net -17 score and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's -16.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, centre, listens to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, right, and People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier speak during the English-language leaders debate. Polls suggest Singh was the winner. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

Other polls have registered similar jolts in Singh's personal approval ratings. Nanos Research has found that Singh has more than doubled the proportion of Canadians who choose him as the best person to be prime minister. That number is now similar to the share of Canadians who intend to vote for the NDP. At the outset of the campaign, Singh trailed his party by a wide margin — he's now an asset rather than a liability.

So the pressure will be on Singh to keep the good times going for one more week — fending off the attacks from his rivals and surviving the extra scrutiny that comes with suddenly becoming an influential player in an election campaign.

For the Liberals, a perfect storm is in the making. Their re-election strategy rested on Quebecers and urban progressives. Gains by the Bloc and now the New Democrats are starting to chip away at the two pillars of that strategy.  

About the Author

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.

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