Nik Nanos is The Globe and Mail's pollster and chairman of Nanos Research.
Since their defeat in the last federal election at the hands of the Trudeau Liberals, the Conservatives have been consoled by the view that their "basement" in popular support was a robust 32 per cent. New research conducted by Nanos suggests that the basement is noticeably lower now.
The basement phenomenon is about how bad things can get – the proverbial dark ages for a party. Among the more dramatic dark times for parties was the 1993 federal campaign when the then Progressive Conservatives were dealt a resounding message from voters who dropped the PCs from a majority government to two seats in the House of Commons and 16-per-cent support. The New Democrats dropped to 7 per cent (yes, single digits) nationally in 1993. Digging a new basement of political support can be quite sobering for a party.
There is an interesting dynamic coming out of the recent federal election – particularly interesting in terms of the Conservatives and the New Democrats. Although it is definitely not a 1993 moment for either party, it does shed light on the true state of play for both of them.
Faced with a change movement led by Mr. Trudeau and fighting an election as a perceived "tired government" the Harper-led Conservatives still managed to garner the support of about one in three voters and trailed the winning Liberals by eight percentage points. Being turfed from government is always difficult for the losing party – however, the 2015 election was no rout. In the Prairies the Conservatives received more than 50 per cent of the votes, and came second in vote-rich Ontario.
Fast forward to the latest ballot tracking by Nanos, and one sees an emerging and perhaps troubling trend for the Conservatives. Current support for the Trudeau Liberals stands at 43.2 per cent, followed by the Conservatives at 25.8 per cent, the NDP at 19.3 per cent and the Greens at 5.5 per cent nationally.
Liberal support is up 10 points in the province of Quebec, with the Conservatives down about 10 points. Liberal support is up six points in Ontario with the Conservatives down eight points. Liberal support is up 10 points in British Columbia while Conservative support is down 10 points. Only in the Prairies is Liberal support down 10 points while the opposition parties have gained.
Over all, the numbers narrative is that Conservative fortunes are generally down, NDP fortunes are flat, while support for the Liberals is buoyant in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, while down in the Prairies.
The unchanging trend line for the New Democrats suggests that in the last election they delivered their core vote and the core vote has stuck with them in the post-election period and through the launch of the leadership review. Although the last election was disappointing for the party, the stability in the NDP numbers suggests that there is a foundation to rebuild and re-engage voters.
The downward movement of the Conservatives bares open a new reality for them. The narrative of the Conservative basement of 32 per cent lays bare a false sense of political security. Take Mr. Harper out of the equation and with no permanent party leader, support for the Conservatives drops seven points to the mid-20s.
On that front, now one can report a new Conservative basement. It is 26 per cent, not the 32 per cent from the last federal election. It should bring into focus for the Conservatives the importance of a leadership renewal process that, at the very least, first starts by recapturing Conservative supporters who stuck with them on election day and then trying to move forward in the face of a Liberal government which remains, as of the latest ballot tracking, popular.