Tom Mulcair's NDP may be turning a corner, polls suggest

Recent polls suggest the NDP could be on the upswing, but the Liberals and Conservatives might not need to look over their shoulders just yet, Eric Grenier explains.

With recent uptick, the New Democrats seem to be back in the game

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is seeing his poll numbers rise. Is it a sign of things to come? Or simply a return to form? (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Is the tide turning for Tom Mulcair's New Democrats? Recent polls suggest it is.

Though the party remains in third place in national voting intentions, its support has increased to 22 per cent in ThreeHundredEight.com's polling averages. That represents the party's best score since mid-January, and the NDP has not regularly polled at this level since early December.

The Liberals and Conservatives are tied at 32 per cent apiece.

The two most recent polls, one by Abacus Data and the other by EKOS Research for iPolitics, have both put the New Democrats at 23 per cent support, and the last five polls have all put the NDP at 20 per cent or higher. That hasn't happened in almost three months.

Both firms have shown an uptick from the NDP's low ebb of early February, when EKOS put the party at just 19 per cent support and Abacus had the New Democrats at 21 per cent. Another recent poll, by Forum Research for the Toronto Star, also put the NDP on the upswing, from 17 per cent in mid-February to 21 per cent in mid-March.

But while the numbers are looking better for the New Democrats, these polls may suggest the NDP is returning to form, rather than making new inroads.

The New Democrats had been polling in the 21 to 23 per cent range in the summer and fall of 2014. That was down from the 23 to 25 per cent the NDP was routinely putting up in the 12 months after Justin Trudeau took over the Liberal Party.

And though the NDP may be on the upswing, there is no coinciding increase in Mulcair's personal approval ratings or in how he stacks up to Trudeau and Stephen Harper on who Canadians prefer as prime minister.

Yet it is still good news for the NDP if these numbers hold.

When the party was flirting with 20 per cent support or less, it was on track to do little better than what Jack Layton had managed in his last two elections. At 23 per cent, the party is within spitting distance of the Conservatives and Liberals and starting the last sprint before the campaign at a level of support that has only been bettered by the 2011 election result.

Gains in West, stagnation in East

The increase in support recorded in the national polls has been especially felt in British Columbia and Alberta.

The most dramatic increase has been in Alberta, where the NDP is expected to make gains in the upcoming provincial election. From a low of 12 per cent support in early February, the NDP has made steady gains in the province and is currently polling at around 17 per cent support. This jump has come primarily at the expense of the Conservatives.

This does not mean that Alberta will be the NDP's next Quebec. But it does put a couple of more seats in play for the party. The New Democrats won a single seat in the province in 2011.

In British Columbia, the NDP has seen its support increase from 22 per cent to 25 per cent, primarily at the expense of the Liberals. But as with the national numbers, this appears to be a rebound from a low point rather than a breakthrough.

The NDP's support has also inched upward in Ontario, from 16 per cent to 19 per cent.

But the party is not making gains everywhere in Canada. Support is stagnant in the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, where the party is mired in third place.

Most worrying for the New Democrats is Quebec. The party had been polling between 31 and 32 per cent in the province just five months ago, but has been stuck at 27 per cent over the last seven weeks. That has put it in a tie with the Liberals (who are also taking a hit in Quebec as the Conservatives make gains).

That puts a lot of NDP seats in danger. The Conservatives are looking to make gains at the NDP's expense in and around Quebec City, while the Bloc Québécois could potentially take advantage of vote splits in other parts of the province to wrestle away seats from the NDP, despite the sovereigntist party also being down in the polls. 

Mulcair will need to use the next seven months shoring up his home base if his party's gains in the rest of the country are to mean anything.

The poll by EKOS Research was conducted for iPolitics between March 18 and 24, interviewing 4,311 Canadians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 1.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The poll by Abacus Data was conducted between March 20 and 22, interviewing 1,000 Canadians via the Internet. As the poll was done online, a margin of error does not apply.

The poll by Forum Research was conducted for the Toronto Star between March 13 and 14, interviewing 1,370 Canadians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. 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.

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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