Liberals, Conservatives still neck and neck in the polls

The Liberals and Conservatives remain effectively tied in national voting intentions as they jostle for regional advantage, according to recent national surveys. Polls analyst Eric Grenier looks at the numbers.

With expected election date 8 months away, neither party able to pull ahead in recent national surveys

Recent polls suggest neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has the advantage in national voting intentions. (Canadian Press)

The wintry chill over Ottawa has been accompanied by a freeze in national voting intentions, as the Liberals and Conservatives remain stuck in a close race, according to recent polls.

Justin Trudeau's Liberals continue to hold a narrow lead over the Conservatives, with the support of about 34 per cent of Canadians against 33 per cent for the Tories, according to ThreeHundredEight.com's latest poll averages. The New Democrats stand in third place with 19 per cent support.

The Greens and Bloc Québécois follow with seven and five per cent support, respectively.

The Liberals and Conservatives have been steady in the polls, with the Liberals averaging between 33 and 34 per cent since the beginning of January and the Conservatives between 32 and 34 per cent since the beginning of December. In the last 15 polls conducted in the country, the Liberals and Conservatives have each led in seven, with one putting the two parties in a tie.

Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats have been slipping, as the party had been polling at 21 to 23 per cent between November and January. In particular, the NDP has lost support among male voters in recent weeks to the benefit of the Liberals.

With these levels of support, the Conservatives could win between 126 and 164 seats, putting them still below the majority target of 170 seats, if an election were held today. The Liberals could win between 107 and 145 seats. Because there is a fair degree of overlap between the two parties, both could reasonably expect to win in a snap vote, but Stephen Harper's Conservatives would be narrowly favoured to come out ahead in the seat count.

The New Democrats could win between 47 and 77 seats, with the Greens on pace to capture two and the Bloc winning between one and eight seats.

Regional battlegrounds

The Conservatives continue to hold substantial leads in their traditional strongholds, with 53 per cent support in Alberta and 43 per cent in the Prairie provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Liberals are in second place in both regions with 23 and 31 per cent, respectively. The New Democrats are polling in third with 14 per cent in Alberta and 17 per cent in the Prairies.

The Liberals have a comfortable lead of their own in Atlantic Canada, where they are polling at around 51 per cent support. The Conservatives trail with 22 per cent, with the NDP not far behind at 18 per cent.

The contests in the battleground provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia appear much more heated.

The Liberals are ahead in British Columbia with about 33 per cent support, with the Conservatives behind at 29 per cent and the NDP at 22 per cent.

The polls have been notably consistent in the province, with the Liberals leading in the last six. This is unusual considering the three-way race and the relatively smaller sample sizes in B.C., but the drop in the NDP's support may be easing the way for the Liberals. In the last seven polls, the party has registered between 17 and 22 per cent support, compared with a range between 21 and 30 per cent in the previous seven surveys. Support for the Greens, at 13 per cent, also put a dent in the NDP.

In Ontario, the Liberals and Conservatives are mired in the tightest race in the country. The Liberals currently have about 38 per cent support, with the Conservatives at 37 per cent. Since mid-December, the gap between the two in the poll average has never exceeded 1.5 points, and in the last 10 polls, the Liberals have led in six and the Conservatives in four.

The New Democrats are struggling with an average of 17 per cent support in Ontario. They have been stagnating in the province for some time, registering under 20 per cent support in 28 of the last 36 polls stretching back to July 2014.

The Liberals narrowly lead in Quebec, with an average of 29 per cent to 26 per cent for the New Democrats (though with a lead among francophones, the NDP has a comfortable edge on the number of seats it could win). Despite the close margin, the Liberals have led in eight of the last 10 polls.

But the race in Quebec has been four-headed, with only two of the 12 most recent polls giving any party more than 33 per cent support. Behind the Liberals and NDP, the Conservatives stand at 21 per cent and the Bloc Québécois at 19 per cent. The Bloc is floundering, registering between 17 and 19 per cent in nine of the last 10 polls — and under 18 per cent in six.

There is some debate over whether the Conservatives are truly making serious inroads in Quebec, with some polls showing much more modest increases than others. But five of the six polling companies that have polled since the beginning of 2015 have recorded growth for the Tories in the province since the end of last year. Nevertheless, there are some signs the Conservative surge may have levelled off or even receded.

At the heart of the disagreement over the Conservatives' standing in Quebec is methodology. The party has averaged 23 per cent in interactive voice response polls (which are conducted over the phone) so far in 2015, compared to 17 per cent in online polls.

There is no question, however, that the national race remains effectively tied between the Liberals and Conservatives. Arguably, this would give the two parties an incentive to play it safe. Instead, the jockeying of recent weeks — anti-terrorism legislation, identity politics and Eve Adams's floor-crossing — suggest they are doing anything but.

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.


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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