Liberal lead in Atlantic Canada still wide, but shrinking

Though the Liberals still lead in Atlantic Canada, the trend has turned negative for them. An election in P.E.I. next week will be the latest test. Polls analyst Eric Grenier explains.

Trudeau's party on track to win the most seats, but polls suggest the region can't be taken for granted

Election look at Alberta and PEI

7 years ago
CBC poll analyst Eric Grenier breaks down the numbers a week before Alberta and PEI go to the polls. 5:27

A recent poll shows the incumbent Liberals in Prince Edward Island, while still favoured to win, have seen their lead over the provincial Tories reduced significantly.

The province may be a microcosm of a wider federal trend taking place in Atlantic Canada.

The Corporate Research Associates poll, commissioned and published by The Guardian, showed a drop of 14 points for Wade MacLauchlan's Liberals compared to CRA's previous poll from February. The Progressive Conservative opposition saw its support rise significantly.

The gap between the parties shrank from 32 points to just nine. It makes for a tense final week, with the voting takes place on May 4.

The federal Liberals under leader Justin Trudeau are experiencing a similar softening in support in Atlantic Canada.

As recently as early March, the federal Liberal party held a very comfortable advantage over its rivals in the region. The party was polling at 52 per cent in ThreeHundredEight.com's March 2 projection, with the Conservatives at 23 per cent, the New Democrats at 17 per cent, and the Greens at 5.5 per cent.

That 29-point edge for the Liberals signaled a landslide victory. The party could have captured between 22 and 24 of the region's 32 seats with those levels of support. The Conservatives would have been reduced dramatically, with Peter MacKay potentially being the only Conservative outside of New Brunswick to survive the cull. For the New Democrats, only Jack Harris and Peter Stoffer looked like a lock for re-election.

But fortunes have changed in Atlantic Canada.

The Liberals are now averaging just 44.5 per cent support, their worst performance in the region in almost two years. The Conservatives, at 26 per cent, are putting up their best numbers since then. And the NDP, at 20 per cent, is at its highest level of support since last fall.

These estimates are based on an aggregate of polls stretching back several weeks, with newer surveys weighted more heavily. And those surveys are taking a negative turn for the Liberals.

Of the last five, the Liberals have registered just 42 to 44 per cent support. The last time the party put together numbers like that in five consecutive polls was before Trudeau became leader in 2013.

Instead of winning three-quarters of Atlantic Canada's seats, the Liberals might instead win just over half. While that is a big improvement over the 12 seats the party won in 2011, it is nevertheless far below some of the high expectations the party might have had last year. With the potential to win between 17 and 22 seats at these levels, the Liberals will have to make good those prospective losses in provinces like Ontario and Quebec, where their poll numbers are slumping.

The Conservatives could win between seven and 11 seats with these levels of support, still below the 14 seats they took in 2011, while the New Democrats could win between three and five. The NDP won six in the last election.

Harper's Atlantic upside limited

But despite the relative improvement of the Conservatives' position, the prospects for further Tory growth may be slim. Stephen Harper's approval rating in Atlantic Canada is his worst in the country. In the last three polls, he has averaged just 22 per cent approval. His 72 per cent average disapproval rating suggests he has little room for growth in the region. Instead, the recent bump limits his losses.

Thomas Mulcair of the NDP, however, does have the potential for some serious inroads. His average approval rating is 54 per cent in recent polls in Atlantic Canada, with his disapproval rating at just 24 per cent. So Mulcair is polling significantly higher than his own party.

That may be the reason why the NDP has not yet made important gains in the region. With the Liberals still leading, they may appear to many Atlantic Canadians as the better alternative to the governing party. Trudeau himself is not the problem, as his approval rating of 55 per cent in recent polls, compared to a 31 per cent disapproval rating, has been holding steady since the beginning of the year. This suggests his party's numbers are unlikely to dip much more.

But the Liberal landslide in Atlantic Canada that looked inevitable just a few months ago is gone, for now at least. While the Liberals should still do well in the region, the Conservatives and New Democrats are no longer fighting for their lives.

As bad news goes, it could be much worse for the Liberals.

A victory by Wade MacLauchlan's Liberals in P.E.I. next week would continue the party's impressive run of provincial victories in the region. But if the margin of victory turns out to be closer than even the CRA poll suggested, it would send a strong sign to the Liberals that Atlantic Canada cannot be taken for granted.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projection model 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 poll by the Corporate Research Associates was conducted for The Guardian between April 19 and 23, interviewing 579 Prince Edward Islanders over the telephone. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 4.1%, 19 times out of 20.


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.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?