Battleground Watch: Debates

When a debate is focused solely on the economy, the major campaign issue on the minds of most Canadians, there's potential for some serious poll fluctuation, says the CBC's polls analyst Éric Grenier.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, right, take part in the Globe and Mail hosted leaders' debate. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Political debates have the power to make — or break — a party's trajectory in the polls. 

And when the debate is focused solely on the economy, the major campaign issue on the minds of most Canadians, there's potential for some serious poll fluctuation, says the CBC's polls analyst Éric Grenier. 

"Some [debates] do have a big impact, and we've seen that in some of the French language debates over the years and, more recently, in the provincial election in Alberta. The impact of that debate, when Jim Prentice came off as arrogant, it really helped boost the NDP," he says. 

The federal election's first debate of the campaign, back in August, also had an impact on the fortunes of the Liberal party, Grenier adds.

"I think it's safe to say that that debate might have at least saved the early part of the campaign for the Liberals," he says, pointing to an up-tick in Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's numbers following the face-off. 

When it comes to the economy, Grenier says the parties' promises are resonating with Canadians in the polls. 

What's interesting, though, is that support for these promises seem to cross party lines. 

Pointing to an Angus Reid Institute poll out earlier this week, Grenier says only 19 per cent of Canadians agreed with the Conservatives' plan to change the age of eligibility for Old Age Security benefits from 65 to 67.

"There's huge majorities against that, and that included Conservative supporters," he says. 

"And for the tax-free savings accounts, the majority of NDP and Liberal voters support increasing the contribution limit, a Conservative promise."

So what might those polls reveal?

"While the parties try to portray themselves as having very different views on these things, a lot of Canadians look at their party promises and they're willing to cross the floor, as it were, on these promises," Grenier says, adding that he thinks this trend is unique to economic issues.

"The differentiation the parties put among themselves on these topics might not line up on the political spectrum as much as they think."

Listen to Éric Grenier's full interview with Chris Hall in the player above. 

Haven't got enough numbers? Éric Grenier joins The House over the campaign for a deep dive into the polls and the data surrounding various battleground ridings across Canada.

Follow parties' gains and losses here with the CBC's Poll Tracker.


Joining Éric on this week's episode of the CBC Election Pollcast podcast is Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President of the Angus Reid Institute. In her latest poll, she tests the various policy platforms against public opinion. You can download the podcasts here.


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