Thomas Mulcair's NDP leads in national polls as climactic summer begins

The NDP would likely win if an election were held today. But will the numbers hold? CBC poll analyst Éric Grenier breaks down the state of the race.

With Conservatives and Liberals focused on each other, NDP moves into first place

Based on the polls, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, pictured before the start of Toronto Pride 2015 parade, has much to smile about. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

After focusing their attacks on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau since he took over the party in 2013, the Conservatives may need to start worrying about the NDP's Thomas Mulcair.

Because according to the latest polls, if an election were held today, the New Democrats would probably win.

ThreeHundredEight.com's latest weighted averages show the NDP in the lead in national voting intentions with 32 per cent support, up nine points in only two months since the party's stunning provincial victory in Alberta. The Conservatives have dropped three points since then, falling to second place with 29 per cent support. The Liberals have shed four points over that time, sliding to 27 per cent.

The Bloc Québécois and Greens trail with five per cent support apiece.

After a period in which there was little consensus on whether it was the Liberals or Conservatives who were leading in national voting intentions, the polls are suddenly unanimous. The New Democrats have led in seven consecutive polls, something they have not done since June 2012.

While their polls have ranged anywhere between 30 and 36 per cent, five of those seven polls have put them in a band of between 34 and 36 per cent support.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have registered under 30 per cent support in six consecutive polls. The last time that happened was over a year ago, and in the four most recent surveys, the party has been tied with or behind the Liberals.

The Liberals have also been polling under 30 per cent consistently, which they last did in January 2013 — months before Trudeau took over the party. But they have managed 28 or 29 per cent in the last four surveys, after putting up 23 or 25 per cent in the previous three.

This suggests that the Liberals may have reversed what was looking like a dramatic collapse, placing the negative momentum squarely with Stephen Harper's Conservatives.

An NDP or Conservative minority?

With these levels of support, it would be a toss-up as to whether the NDP or Conservatives would claim the most seats. The seat projection model awards the New Democrats between 113 and 140 seats, with the Tories taking between 99 and 141. While both parties overlap to a significant degree, the average projection gives the edge to the NDP by about a dozen seats.

Recent numbers suggest the Liberals under Justin Trudeau may have reversed what was looking like a dramatic collapse in polls. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

The Liberals would likely take between 71 and 106 seats. That gives them the opportunity to surpass the Conservatives, but more likely puts them back in third place.

This is a dramatic shift in fortunes, as only two months ago the NDP were firmly in third place, with the Liberals overlapping the Conservatives in the likely seat count.

The Bloc Québécois, under Gilles Duceppe once again, would likely win between one and five seats, while the Greens would likely win one.

Battleground provinces

Duceppe's return to the political stage has had an immediate impact on the polls in Quebec, but the New Democrats are still comfortably in first place. The NDP leads with 35 per cent, enough to give it well over 50 seats in Quebec. That is much better than the 27 to 28 per cent the party was stuck at from February through to May, and gives the NDP the largest lead any party has had in Quebec since 2013. 

The Liberals trail in second with 24 per cent, while the Bloc has jumped four points to 21 per cent support in the province. Duceppe has given the Bloc a new lease on life, with some polls putting the party's support as high as 26 per cent, and his return does seem to have blunted what was an NDP surge in the province. But the Bloc is not in a position to challenge for more than a dozen seats.

The Conservatives may pull more seats out of the province with less support, thanks to its concentration in the Quebec City area. But at 16 per cent province-wide, the Tories are back down to 2011 levels of support after reaching 21 per cent only a few weeks ago.

The NDP has also experienced a significant increase in support in Ontario, where it has jumped nine points over the last two months to 30 per cent, putting it just one point behind the Liberals and three behind the Conservatives. Both of those parties have dropped in the face of the NDP's increase, with the Liberals down three points and the Conservatives down four. The race has become close enough here that different polls have put each of the three parties in the lead in Ontario.

British Columbia is a far clearer contest, with the NDP leading with 38 per cent against 27 per cent for the Conservatives, 24 per cent for the Liberals and nine per cent for the Greens. This represents a gain of 13 points for the NDP in two months, drawn equally from the other three parties.

Conservative, Liberal fortresses under threat

The Conservatives still hold a wide lead in Alberta and the Prairies, with 46 and 37 per cent support, respectively. But the NDP has surged here, jumping to 30 per cent in both regions. 
The latest polls suggest that the negative momentum sits squarely with Stephen Harper's Conservatives. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

That puts them in a position to challenge for a half-dozen seats or more in both Alberta and the Prairies, particularly in Saskatchewan. The Liberals trail in third, at 19 per cent and 27 per cent in Alberta and the Prairies, respectively.

The only region in which the Liberals lead is Atlantic Canada, where they have 42 per cent support to 27 per cent for the NDP and 24 per cent for the Conservatives. Though that margin over the NDP is wide, it has been gradually shrinking for months. It is a trend that could become worrisome for the Liberals if it isn't reversed. 

That goes for both the Conservatives and the Liberals at the national level as well. The election is still some months away and much can happen between now and voting day. But the trends in every part of the country are heading in Thomas Mulcair's direction.

Unless these change, Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper will find that all of their efforts in battling each other may only go to determine who finishes as the runner-up.

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.