NDP jumps into 3-way race with Conservatives, Liberals

With five months to go before the federal election, has the NDP's victory in Alberta altered the political landscape in dramatic fashion? CBC poll analyst Eric Grenier breaks down the numbers.

Two recent polls suggest the political landscape is shifting dramatically

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, centre, has had two good weeks. Can he have five more good months? (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Everyone likes a winner, or so it seems for the federal NDP as recent polls show the party pulling statistically even with the Liberals and Conservatives in the wake of the provincial New Democrats' victory in Alberta on May 5.

But is this to be a lasting shift in the race, or a blip that will soon be forgotten?

Two national polls taken after the Alberta provincial vote have shown significant growth for the NDP.

A poll by EKOS Research for iPolitics put the Conservatives in a narrow lead with 30 per cent support, followed by the New Democrats at 29 per cent and the Liberals at 27 per cent. That represented a five-point gain for the NDP compared to the EKOS poll conducted in the week prior to the Alberta election.

It was also notable that it came from EKOS, a firm which had the NDP below 20 per cent in six consecutive polls between January and early March, a time when most other surveys pegged the NDP in the low-20s.

The New Democrats jumped even more dramatically in the most recent survey by Forum Research for the Toronto Star, which put the party at 30 per cent, up seven points from a mid-April poll and just one point behind the Conservatives and Liberals. Again, it was noteworthy to see this sort of result from Forum, as the pollster's previous recent high for the NDP was just 23 per cent.

Three-way race

8 years ago
Duration 4:07
New polls suggest a three-way tie in the federal horse race. But is this just a blip for the NDP, or can they ride a post-Alberta surge into the election?

In fact, Forum has not had the NDP so high in national voting intentions since October, 2012. For EKOS, that stretches back further, to July, 2012.

A Nanos Research poll released by CTV over the weekend put a bit of a damper on the NDP's excitement, suggesting the Conservatives held 33 per cent support to 31 per cent for the Liberals and just 25 per cent for the NDP.

But the Nanos survey was conducted in the four weeks ending May 14, meaning most of the poll was conducted before election day in Alberta. It may not be indicative of current trends, particularly if the NDP has experienced the significant surge that EKOS and Forum recorded in the past two weeks.

Interestingly, however, the polls have not registered a similar improvement in Mulcair's personal approval ratings. In fact, both EKOS and Forum have the NDP leader down very slightly.

If the NDP's up, who is down?

While both EKOS and Forum agree something is happening with the NDP, if not the NDP's leader, they were in less agreement on which party has suffered as a result.

EKOS had the Liberals down sharply from the previous week, while the Forum survey suggested it was the Conservative Party that was losing support. 

The source of the most recent NDP uptick may be coming from both the Liberals and the Conservatives (as well as the Greens, who have dropped in British Columbia). But taking a longer view, it seems the New Democrats have been taking primarily from the Liberals' pool of voters.

Since its early February polls, EKOS has the Liberals down seven points and Forum has them down eight. By comparison, the Conservatives have dropped only one or two points since then and the Greens about one.

Demographic and regional shifts

Most remarkable about the NDP's gains is that they appear to have occurred across the board. The New Democrats have picked up about seven points, on average, among men in EKOS and Forum's polling, and six among women. They are also up among all age groups.

The party has made significant inroads in Canada's three largest provinces. It has picked up about nine points in British Columbia. In Ontario, the New Democrats have gained six points and have registered their highest support levels in more than a year.

Most important may be the NDP's apparent rebound in Quebec. After stagnating in the province for months at well under 30 per cent support, the party is up 10 points, on average, in the EKOS and Forum polls. It has been two years since the New Democrats have scored so highly in two polls in Quebec in such short order.

Whereas the Liberals have suffered primarily in the West at the hands of the NDP, in Quebec it is the Conservatives that have dropped. The Conservatives were pegged at 16 per cent in both polls, down an average of seven points since mid-April. The Bloc Québécois has also dipped in Quebec.

But will this sudden three-way race hold? It has been nothing but good news for the NDP over the last two weeks, and that has undoubtedly boosted the party's fortunes, perhaps superficially. It is too early to say whether or not this will have a lasting effect on national voting intentions.

But the election is now just five months away. An Alberta-induced surge does not have to endure very long to have an impact.

The poll by EKOS Research was conducted for iPolitics between May 6 and 12, interviewing 2,177 Canadians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 2.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll by Forum Research was conducted for the Toronto Star between May 12 and 13, interviewing 1,286 Canadians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll by Nanos Research was conducted for CTV in the four weeks ending May 14, interviewing 1,000 Canadians via telephone. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 3.1 per cent, 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.