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Conservatives take a hit in the polls as Senate scandal rages

Sen. Pamela Wallin arrives to the Senate Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, October 31, 2013.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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Just as the Liberals were starting to come down from their Justin Trudeau honeymoon surge, they have been buoyed again as the Conservatives take a hit in the latest polls.

A weighted average of all polls in the field to Oct. 29 gives the Liberals the lead with 36 per cent, up two points from where they stood at the end of September. The Conservatives have slipped two points to 29 per cent, while the New Democrats have held steady at 24 per cent support.

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The Bloc Québécois, at 6 per cent, and the Green Party, at 5 per cent, round out the list.

Is Duffy to blame?

Can any of this decrease in Conservative support be chalked up to the problems related to Mike Duffy and other senators? Polls that have asked specifically about the Senate suggest that there is little sympathy for the three senators at the centre of the scandal, and also that a majority of Canadians do not believe the Prime Minister's version of events.

For instance, just 35 per cent of Canadians polled by Ipsos-Reid on Oct. 25-28 said they believed Mr. Harper when he said he did not know about Nigel Wright's personal cheque to cover Mr. Duffy's expenses, while respondents to an EKOS Research poll in the field Oct. 26-29 were twice as likely to believe Mr. Duffy's story than the Prime Minister's. A majority agreed that the Senate should be abolished, while when given the option in the survey by Ipsos-Reid fully 92 per cent supported reform or abolition of the Red Chamber.

In terms of national support, the amount of data that has been out since Mr. Duffy began to make new allegations is rather thin, but what has emerged suggests a small knock against the Tories worth a point or two in national support.

These may be statistical wobbles, but it does mean a shift from the generally improving numbers the Conservatives were looking at in September and in the immediate aftermath of the Throne Speech.

Liberal minority

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With these levels of support, the Liberals would likely be able to win 119 seats in the House of Commons, up nine seats from where they stood at the end of September and up dramatically from the 34 seats they currently occupy. The Conservatives would likely win 110 seats, a drop of 13 from September, while the New Democrats would take 65 seats. The Bloc Québécois would likely win 12 and the Greens would take two.

In the expanded 338-seat House, the Liberals would likely take about 131 seats to 121 for the Conservatives and 71 for the New Democrats with these levels of support. That plurality for the Liberals represents a change from September, when the Conservatives were in a better position to win more seats despite trailing in the polls by three points.

A polling muddle

But the October polls have been far from providing a consensus as to the current state of the race. Of the eight polls released during the month, two put the Liberals in a tie with either Stephen Harper's Conservatives or Thomas Mulcair's New Democrats, one gave them a two-point edge over the Tories, and the other five gave them the lead by a margin of between eight and 12 points.

Conservative support has been consistent, however, at between 26 and 32 per cent in these polls. The Liberals, however, have ranged from between 31 and 40 per cent while the NDP has fluctuated even more widely, with between 19 and 31 per cent support. This suggests that, while Conservative support is relatively solid, voters may be flitting back and forth between the NDP and Liberals in greater numbers.

Nevertheless, it is clear that the Liberals have put themselves in a better position than they were only a month ago. In the four polls released in September, the Liberals and Conservatives held the lead in two apiece. In the eight polls from October, the Liberals have led or have been tied for the lead in all eight of them.

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Liberals up in the West

The Conservatives have taken their biggest hit in British Columbia and the Prairie provinces, where they have lost four points in each since the end of September. The race is nevertheless close in B.C., with the Liberals up three points to 32 per cent and the Conservatives and NDP trailing with 30 and 28 per cent support, respectively. The polling consensus here is a three-way contest, as each party has led in two of the last six polls in the province.

Mr. Harper's Conservatives continue to lead in Alberta with 52 per cent, while the Liberals were up three points to 26 per cent and the NDP was down three points to 15 per cent.

In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Conservatives still lead with an average of 38 per cent support. But they are followed closely by the Liberals, who are up five points to 35 per cent. The Liberals' polling numbers have been strong of late in the region, as they have registered 31 per cent or more in six of the last seven polls. They had only been above that level of support in six of the previous 16 surveys going back to Mr. Trudeau's leadership victory in April. And they had never been over 40 per cent in that period, a feat they have managed twice in recent polls.

Mixed results in eastern Canada

The party is not doing as well in Quebec, however, as they continue to slip in the province. The Liberals had as much as 40 per cent support in Quebec at the end of June, but have dropped steadily to 32 per cent. The NDP has not taken advantage, however, up just one point since September to 27 per cent. Instead, the Bloc Québécois and Conservatives have mostly split those Liberal losses. The Bloc is third with 23 per cent, while the Conservatives are up to 14 per cent.

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Mr. Mulcair does seem to have moved ahead among francophones in Quebec, however, with roughly 30 per cent support in polls in October among this demographic, compared to 27 per cent for the Liberals. But the NDP is well behind among non-francophones with just 15 per cent support. The Liberals dominate among this group with around 55 per cent support, and the party is narrowly ahead in both the Montreal and Quebec City regions. The NDP is more competitive outside of the two major cities.

The Liberals enjoy majority support in Atlantic Canada, with 55 per cent to 21 per cent for the Conservatives and 20 per cent for the NDP. Mr. Trudeau's party has topped 50 per cent in the last eight polls in the region, after being in the 40s in the previous nine surveys running back to June.

And in Ontario, voting intentions have been generally holding steady: the Liberals lead with 38 per cent to 33 per cent for the Tories and 23 per cent for the NDP. But the New Democrats could be making a move in the province, as the party has bettered their 2011 electoral result of 26 per cent in three of the last eight polls in Ontario. The Liberals also appear to be on the upswing in the all-important 905 area code, with one poll giving them their best numbers in the region in recent memory (putting them in a tie with the Tories).

As the drama in the Senate continues to unfold, the polls are likely to get increasingly noisy. But the fact remains that the Prime Minister has significant ground to make up, whether it be against the Liberals, the NDP, or even the measure of his own performance from 2011.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2011 election. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

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

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