Policy is what Canadians want to hear from their leaders Tuesday night in the crucial English-language debate, according to a new Nanos poll that shows Stephen Harper still holding a considerable lead over his opponents.
On the eve of the first of two televised debates, the latest poll for CTV and The Globe and Mail shows the Conservatives at 39.7 per cent compared to 31.2 per cent for the Ignatieff Liberals and 16.8 per cent for Jack Layton and his NDP; the Bloc is at 7.8 per cent and the Greens - Leader Elizabeth May will not be part of the debate - are at 4 per cent.
While little appears to have changed in the so-called horse-race numbers since the election began, the Tory lead is deceptive. The Nanos numbers show that although Mr. Harper has a "comfortable" lead in the Prairie provinces, his support there has declined: On April 10, he polled 61.6 per cent; the next day, 51.2 per cent.
The race is tightening up in other regions as well. The Conservatives and Liberals are statistically tied in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario.
» In battleground Ontario, the Tories are polling at 40.9 per cent compared to 38.9 per cent for the Liberals; the margin of error is 5.7 percentage points.
» In Quebec, the Tories have 23.2-per-cent support compared to 20.8 per cent for the Liberals, with a margin of error of 6.5 percentage points. The NDP is not far behind either, with 18.1 per cent. The Bloc, however, is well ahead at 33.1 per cent.
» In the Atlantic region, the Tories are at 42.6 per cent and the Liberals are polling at 40.3 per cent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 10.2 percentage points.
Support for the NDP, meanwhile, is back to its traditional levels after hitting a campaign low last Friday - 14.9 per cent. Jack Layton and his team released their platform Sunday - perhaps this contributed to the NDP bump.
The Nanos poll looked, too, at what is driving the numbers. It found that party policy is the most important factor in determining how respondents cast their ballots, something leaders should keep in mind as they prepare for the two-hour debate. Canadians, according to the poll, will be looking at how the leader performs as well as how they describe, characterize and explain their party platform.
More than half of respondents, 52.6 per cent, said that "party policies" were the "most important" in terms of influencing their vote. This compares to 22.5 per cent for the party leader, 13.4 per cent for the local candidate and 8 per cent of those who traditionally vote for one party.
The Nanos poll of 990 Canadians was conducted between April 9 and April 11; it has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.