29.1 per cent
In an attention-grabbing poll from EKOS released this week, the federal NDP polled at 29.1 per cent, just behind the Conservatives at 30 and just ahead of the Liberals at 27. This puts the NDP within the margin of error (2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20) for the lead. It also represents the party's highest polling figure since an Ipsos Reid poll put it at 31 per cent in October, 2013. The NDP hasn't even polled at 29 per cent in two polls in a row since December, 2012, a time before Justin Trudeau took leadership of the Liberals.
The NDP position has improved largely in Ontario and Quebec compared with the EKOS poll taken the week prior. Through the rest of the country, it is difficult to be sure about much of a change anywhere else.
36 per cent
This good-news poll for the federal NDP followed another poll proclaiming even better fortunes for the Ontario NDP. A Forum Research survey released May 12 indicated that the New Democrats were now leading the province with 36 per cent of decided voters, with the Progressive Conservatives close behind at 33 per cent, and the governing Liberals far back at 24. This is a remarkable shift from a similar Forum survey released at the end of April. Since that poll, the NDP appears to have jumped a stunning 12 percentage points, with the PCs and Liberals down three and five points respectively. (The margin of error is three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
Some tried to cast this big shift in terms of the recent election of the Notley-led NDP in Alberta. While sometimes public opinion can be subject to a bit of a contagion effect in which political change in one area influences change in another, it's still too early to say.
Another interpretation of this shift blames Patrick Brown's ascension to the leadership of the Ontario PCs with the change. While politics is often an odd business, this interpretation is hard to justify. How would several days of Mr. Brown's leadership drive voters away from both the PCs and the Liberal government, and why would that support now coalesce around the third-place NDP? If there really is a movement in Ontario toward the provincial New Democrats, it's almost certainly for some other reason.
54 per cent
Beyond crediting Notley-mania with sweeping the country, another interpretation of this shift is the Liberal Party's recent support of the Conservatives' anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. Some account for the federal change by blaming it on a Liberal strategic error.
While federal polling doesn't include any questions that would let us definitively figure out the effect of C-51, we might get a glimpse of what's happening by looking at leadership approval ratings, if the public's opinion of the legislation gets transferred to their assessment of leaders. However, the actual evidence doesn't support this notion at all. In terms of EKOS polling over the past month, both Stephen Harper's and Thomas Mulcair's leadership approval numbers have fallen, while Justin Trudeau's increased to 54 per cent, after dropping below 50 earlier in the year. If a shift in vote intention is actually happening because of C-51, it's having a puzzlingly opposite effect on leadership approval figures.
The data leave us with a few competing interpretations of what's going on in public opinion: Canadians are currently having a moment of increased NDP support federally and provincially in both Ontario and Alberta, federal Liberal support has shifted to the NDP because of the Liberals' support of Bill C-51 that nonetheless hasn't shown up in evaluations of party leadership, or – most frustratingly – the NDP has simply been on the lucky end of the margin of error in a couple of recent polls.
Paul Fairie is a political scientist at the University of Calgary, where he studies voter behaviour.