Michael Ignatieff has paid such a terrible price for the weeks of relentless Conservative attack ads that preceded this election campaign that it may be very difficult for him to improve his brand.
Eleven days into the campaign - despite delivering an impressively professional and positive performance, and despite the general favour with which the party's election platform has been received - the Liberal Leader has failed to create any positive impression with voters, according the Nanos Research daily survey of voter attitudes for the Globe and Mail and CTV.
The Nanos Leadership Index, which measures voter attitudes toward the party leaders' trust, competence and vision, continues to show Mr. Ignatieff as the least popular leader of the three major parties, behind NDP Leader Jack Layton and vanishingly far from Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
The latest daily survey has Mr. Ignatieff's leadership-index score at 38, Mr. Layton's at 54 and Mr. Harper's at 110. But in daily polling, individual scores are far less significant than trend lines. And the trend line for Mr. Ignatieff is prairie flat.
"We can't underestimate the impact of those negative attack ads," Mr. Nanos said. Claiming the once-expatriate Liberal leader "didn't come back for you," the Conservative ads ran for weeks before the campaign began, including in prime time and even during the Super Bowl. Voters appear to have been convinced.
"The Liberals must have been hoping that, even with the negative attack ads, once the campaign started and people saw Michael Ignatieff, it would help his brand," Mr. Nanos said. "But we haven't seen that yet."
And he suspects that after 11 days of trying without success, it will be a challenge for Mr. Ignatieff to significantly improve his image among voters.
"The only way for Michael Ignatieff's brand to move up is for Stephen Harper's to be torn down," he said. Voters who currently trust the Conservative leader to manage Canada's economy through difficult times will need to swiftly and fundamentally change their opinion for the worse, Mr. Nanos said.
If so, the Liberals can no longer hope that their leader will rise in public opinion to compete with Mr. Harper. Their only hope now is for Mr. Harper's popularity to sink so far that Mr. Ignatieff starts to look good by comparison.