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New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair and his wife Catherine arrive at Stornoway, their official residence in Ottawa, on April 18, 2012. (PATRICK DOYLE/Patrick Doyle/Reuters)
New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair and his wife Catherine arrive at Stornoway, their official residence in Ottawa, on April 18, 2012. (PATRICK DOYLE/Patrick Doyle/Reuters)

Crunching Numbers

Mulcair gives NDP significant bump in polls - but will it last? Add to ...

After selecting Thomas Mulcair as their party’s new leader, New Democrats have experienced a significant bump in voting intentions in every part of the country. Support for both the Conservatives and the Liberals has decreased as a result, but Mr. Mulcair’s hope to become Canada’s next prime minister hinges on whether he can keep the honeymoon from being short-lived.

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Polls by Harris-Decima, Ipsos-Reid, Léger Marketing and Forum Research were conducted in the weeks before and after the Mar. 24 NDP leadership convention, providing a robust set of numbers for comparison. Almost 9,400 Canadians were surveyed in four polls taken between Feb. 28 and Mar. 19 by these firms, while 8,500 were surveyed in five polls by the same firms in the two weeks after Mr. Mulcair’s win. Different methodologies were also employed by these pollsters (live-callers by Harris-Decima and Ipsos-Reid, an online panel by Léger, and interactive voice response by Forum).

An average of these polls shows the New Democrats were the choice of 27.8 per cent of Canadians prior to the convention, a level of support the party had generally maintained throughout the leadership race. But in the weeks after the convention, the NDP under Thomas Mulcair has experienced a bump of about 5.3 points to 33.1 per cent, a significant increase that was repeated in every single poll.

The Liberals suffered the most at the hands of Mr. Mulcair, having dropped to 19.5 from 24 per cent support, a slip of 4.5 points. They now stand only a few tenths of a percentage point above their score in the May 2011 election.

The Conservatives, too, have taken a step backwards though at 0.9 points it is far more modest.

Nevertheless, at the regional level it appears that some of the Mulcair bump has come at the expense of the Tories, particularly in Western Canada. The New Democrats have experienced an increase in support of about 2.8 points in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 3.8 points in Alberta, and 4.4 points in British Columbia. While the Liberals have slipped 1.9 points in B.C. and 2.5 points in the Prairies, the Conservatives have dropped even more: 3.1 points in B.C., 3.3 points in the Prairies, and 6.8 points in Alberta. It would appear that Mr. Mulcair has increased the NDP’s appeal in the West.

He has also improved the NDP’s numbers in the East, again at the expense of the Conservatives. The New Democrats have jumped 8.8 points in Atlantic Canada in the weeks since the convention, with the Tories down 4.9 points in the region. But the Liberals have taken a big hit here as well, down 6.5 points.

That drop is second only to their freefall in Quebec. Thomas Mulcair has had the anticipated effect in the province, increasing the party’s support by a remarkable 13.5 points in a matter of days. The NDP leads with an average of 42 per cent after trailing the Bloc Québécois prior to the convention. Though the Bloc is down three points, the Liberals have lost 9.9 points, dropping them from a strong third place to a weak fourth behind the Tories. Mr. Mulcair’s background as a provincial Liberal has undoubtedly made him an attractive option to Quebeckers who had parked their support with the federal Liberals during the long NDP leadership race.

The one province that seems to have bucked the nationwide trend is Ontario. Though the New Democrats have experienced a small bump in support in the province (0.5 points) and have moved ahead of the Liberals, the Conservatives are up 3.1 points. This jump has come from the Liberals, who have shed 4.1 points in Ontario since the convention.

Perhaps the end of Bob Rae’s period as de facto opposition leader in the House of Commons has worked against the Liberal Party. It would not be the first time that Liberal support has dropped after the spotlight has moved away from the party’s leader.

When Stéphane Dion became Liberal chief in December 2006, he pushed his party ahead of the Conservatives. Though the Tories hardly budged, the Liberals saw their support increase to 34.2 per cent from 30.5 per cent in polls taken before and after the Liberal leadership convention by the same firms. The bump of 3.7 points came primarily at the expense of the NDP, who dropped 4.8 points overnight.

Michael Ignatieff became interim leader in December 2008 and also increased his party’s support, to 30.5 per cent from 23.8 per cent, a jump of 6.7 points. This was in the highly charged days of the coalition and prorogation, however, so the impact of Mr. Ignatieff’s arrival is somewhat blurred. But in this case, it was the Conservatives who took the hit.

The honeymoons for both Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff did not last, and both men were defeated in subsequent general elections. This does not bode well for Thomas Mulcair. However, there are important differences between the circumstances under which the Liberals and NDP selected their new leaders. Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff were attempting to defeat a government that had not been in power for very long. By 2015, Mr. Mulcair will be facing off against a nine-year old government. And Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff took over parties in a state of decline.

The question, then, is whether Thomas Mulcair is taking over a party on the rise or a party at its peak. But if he can hold on to his newfound support, he can keep the good times rolling.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.

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