I'd heard there were new numbers coming from Nanos that could prove interesting, and interesting they did indeed prove. The latest Nanos poll (PDF) puts the Liberals at 36%, a level they haven't reached and three points ahead of the Conservatives, at 33%. As interestingly, the NDP has dropped significantly since December, now trailing well back at 13%.
The regional numbers show Liberal leads in every area of the country except for Western Canada where Conservative strength, particularly I'd suspect in Alberta, is contributing to a Conservative number that may appear stronger that it would be seat-wise. Although, a decline in NDP support in much of the West would benefit the Conservatives seat-wise, as many of those races tend to be NDP/Conservative battles.
We see continued Liberal strength in Atlantic Canada though and a widened Liberal lead in Ontario. And in Quebec, while I find it difficult to believe the Liberals have closed to within 4 of the BQ (remember the high MOE), the numbers do show we continue to open daylight on the Conservative in the province.
Harper does still lead Ignatieff for Best PM 33% to 27%, but Ignatieff is getting closer and becoming a credible alternative. What's interesting to note though is the regional Best PM numbers. Both Ignatieff and Harper's numbers are fairly consistent accross the board here with one exception: Harper's numbers in Quebec. While Harper scores a high of 48% in the West, 35% in Atlantic Canada and 31% in Ontario, in Quebec he scores a very dismal 14%. Clearly, he's a significant drag on their numbers in the province.
Here's Nik Nanos' take on these numbers:
"The key is the steady decline in support for the NDP with those former NDP voters moving to the Liberals," Nik Nanos said yesterday.
"It's the consolidation scenario the Conservatives should be fearful of," Nanos said, noting the Harper government has benefited in recent years from centre-left voters parking their support with the NDP.
Nanos said the widening Liberal margin in Ontario is likely a result of the economic downturn.
"Ontario voters in my experience are more likely to vote economic issues and punish incumbent governments," he said.
Polling numbers should always be taken with a grain of salt. However, while Nanos does put the Liberals at a newly recent high, the trends do mirror what we've been seeing recently from Strategic Counsel, Angus Reid and Harris Decima. So therefore, it seems safe to extrapolate some observations based on the pretty consistent trends we've been seeing across multiple pollsters.
Clearly, under Ignatieff the Liberals are now once again seen as a credible alternative to the Conservatives. What's more, Ignatieff is succeeding in becoming the logical alternative to Harper and is succeeding in solidifying the anti-Harper vote under the Liberal banner.
As Nanos notes, and as other polls have also indicated, the Liberals appear to be pulling votes from the NDP rather than the Conservatives, whose numbers have remained fairly consistent, although buoyed by overwhelming numbers in the West. The exception is Quebec, where the Liberals are gaining from the Conservative free-fall.
But why the NDP to Liberal trend? Commenters in an earlier post speculated it was "lent votes" returning back to the Liberals. That could well be a part of it. Still, given that Ignatieff was supposedly going to take the party to the Right, those were probably Left-Liberal votes the NDP thought they'd build on, not lose. No, I think the deeper issue is the call both parties made on the budget. I think the Liberals read the mood of the country right by deciding to swallow it with the accountability amendment and probation, and the NDP decision to reject it sight unseen caused them a significant credibility issue. It's an economic crisis, people wanted cooperation. Clearly, the NDP need a new strategy. They're still running their Liberal/Tory same old story strategy from the last Parliament. It worked for them then, but with the proximity to the last election, the economic crisis and a stronger leader in Ignatieff it's not the right play now. At some point it would start to resonate again, but I think we'll be into an election well before then.
When looking at the Conservative national number, I think we should exercise caution because of their overwhelming support in the West. Whether you win a seat with 38& or 75%, you only win the seat once. So I think that 33% is probably a little weaker than it looks. They're looking at seat drops in Quebec and Ontario right now, particularly in Quebec it's save the furniture territory.
For the Liberals these are obviously quite good numbers, moving us past the 33-34% barrier that seemed to have been our recent ceiling. But we should be cautious. We've yet to see the Conservative negative ad barrage, and the media haven't gone too hard after Ignatieff yet either. The media love to build you up and then tear you down, it suits their definition of fairness.
But as Harper might say, the fundamentals are looking strong. We're set for gains in both Quebec and Ontario, the two "vote-rich" provinces key to getting us back to the promised land. The West remains a challenge. If we can get BC back that will be important. I suspect we're likely neck-in-neck with the NDP there, despite Decima and Strategic Counsel, but we're trending well and the convention may help. Alberta will be tough but we need to make the effort. And we need to push on the Prairies too. Speaking of which, Ignatieff was in Manitoba yesterday.
The key for the Liberals though is to solidify and then build on these numbers. We do that by keeping the focus on the economy. We can't let them distract us or Canadians with Russian invaders or other diversionary tactics. Keep it on the economy. I think Harper's competence to see us through this crisis could potentially become an issue, so Ignatieff needs to be positioned as the better alternative.
For more, see Far and Wide, CanPolitico and BigCityLib.
**Help send a BCer to BC for the Liberal convention. Any support is greatly appreciated. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers