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Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe campaigns Friday, April 29, 2011 in Magog, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe campaigns Friday, April 29, 2011 in Magog, Que. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press/Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Election 2011

Federal election a tight race between boredom and hope Add to ...

Hope beats fear - it's a truism of modern election campaigns, and the 2011 Canadian federal election is no exception.

But hope should hold off on any victory party; it is in a tight race with boredom as the dominant mood of the Canadian electorate on the cusp of the May 2 election, according to data from Nanos Research.

Those numbers go deeper than the typical horse-race gauge of party support, to explore the prevailing undercurrents of public opinion - and to make sense of the twists and turns of what has become one of the most unpredictable campaigns in Canada's electoral history, as the Bloc Québécois and Liberals have sunk, the New Democrats have soared and the Conservatives have stalled. The Nanos numbers also reveal stark regional differences in the mood of the electorate.

Nationwide, 31.7 per cent of Canadians surveyed said hope best describes their feelings about the federal election campaign; 32.6 per cent said they were bored; anger was a distant third at 12.8 per cent, while fear came in at 10.3 per cent. Excitement placed dead last, with 5.9 per cent.

Nik Nanos, president and CEO of the polling firm, said the findings indicate why the Liberal and Conservative campaigns failed to find traction. Liberal expectations that Canada would, in Leader Michael Ignatieff's words, rise up to eject the Harper government hinged on anger that simply didn't materialize. "It's definitely the wrong message," said Mr. Nanos.

Similarly, dire Conservative warnings of the consequences of failing to elect a Tory majority would not have resonated much beyond one in 10 voters.

As for the NDP, it had the good fortune to have a strategy tailored, however unintentionally, to the electoral zeitgeist. Its feel-good approach - even its most negative advertising was carried off with a wink - clearly found purchase among the third of voters feeling hopeful.

Like many of the trends in this campaign, those national averages mask deep regional differences. In Quebec, for instance, boredom is by far the prevailing mood, with 42.5 per cent of respondents using that word to describe their attitude toward the election. For Bloc Québécois supporters, that proportion is far larger, at 57.1 per cent.

Along Rue Principale in Magog in Quebec's Eastern Townships, near where Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe was touring on Friday, Solange Roy seemed part of that turned-off group. "We never make progress on anything. Instead of trying to find solutions, the parties are always fighting," said Ms. Roy, who has voted for the Bloc previously, but this time out is still undecided.

Bored voters could be turned off by a campaign filled with microscopic and distant issues, Mr. Nanos said. "Boredom can be a proxy for disappointment."

On Vancouver's funky Commercial Drive strip, disappointment is the last thing on Dave Postnikoff's mind. The 56-year-old has been voting NDP his entire adult life, but he said he senses a different mood - an upbeat mood - among his fellow citizens. "I feel hopeful. It just seems that people are waking up." This time, he said, people seem to be getting behind a leader who's less concerned about bickering with other parties. "I'm a little bit surprised. Pleasantly surprised."

The Nanos data back up his feeling; 41.9 per cent of B.C. respondents said they feel hopeful about the election, the highest feel-good proportion in the country.

There are other deep regional divisions in the Nanos numbers, particularly on whether the Conservatives, Liberals or NDP should be at the helm of a minority government. Quebeckers overwhelmingly opt for an NDP minority government, with 43.6 per cent of respondents supporting that option, and just 21 per cent in favour of a Conservative minority.

Nationally, 35 per cent of Canadians most like the idea of Tory minority, with support in English Canada ranging from 29 per cent in Atlantic Canada to 52 per cent on the Prairies. Conversely, enthusiasm for an NDP minority is lowest on the Prairies, at just 22.9 per cent. Outside of Quebec, the idea of an NDP minority government found its highest level of support in Atlantic Canada, where all three major national parties are in contention, according to the latest battery of polls.

Canada-wide, the Conservatives hold a narrow single-digit lead over the New Democrats, whose momentum has not yet run out; the third-place Liberals are still falling and trail both the Tories and NDP by double digits.

Whether those numbers produce a House of Commons that meshes with the mood of the public is impossible to say in an election that started out as mundane and ended up anything but. "I think it's going to be an extremely exciting conclusion," said EKOS pollster Frank Graves.

Nanos surveyed 1,200 adult Canadians between April 26 and 28 for the poll. The national results are considered accurate to within 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out 20. Regional breakdowns have a higher margin of error.

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