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Tories trail Liberals by eight points as Senate scandal rages: polls

Prime Minister Stephen Harper performs a song at the 2013 Negev Dinner in Toronto on Dec. 1, 2013. Mr. Harper announced that he will make his first visit to the Middle East, including Israel, in January.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The Senate scandal appears to be preventing the Conservatives from regaining support lost to the Liberals in the immediate aftermath of Justin Trudeau's leadership victory in April. The Tories trail in the polls by a significant margin and their support is dropping in some of the most important electoral battlegrounds in the country.

A weighted average of the latest polls shows the Liberals in the lead with 36 per cent support, unchanged from where they stood in the last estimate at the end of October and generally where the party has been since the spring. The Conservatives have dropped to 28 per cent, down a single point from October but three from the end of September, before the Senate scandal exploded. The New Democrats were unchanged at 24 per cent, where they have polled for several months. The Greens and Bloc Québécois each averaged 6 per cent support.

(For more analysis and numbers, check out our political polls page.)

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After it had appeared that the Liberal edge was faltering as the summer was coming to a close, the party has now led or has been tied for the lead in the last 12 polls. Meanwhile, the Conservatives have registered below 30 per cent in the last five national surveys from different firms, and in seven of the last eight.

Support for federal political parties

But the lead is not a large enough one for the Liberals, as if these levels of support were repeated at the ballot box the party would likely take just 120 seats, well short of the 155 needed for a majority government in the current 308-seat House of Commons. The Conservatives would likely win around 106 seats, with 57 going to the New Democrats, 23 to the Bloc Québécois, and two to the Greens.

In the expanded 338-seat House, the Liberals would likely take 135 seats to 117 for the Tories and 58 for the New Democrats. Mr. Trudeau's party would have a good shot at winning fully half of the new ridings being added to the electoral map with these levels of support.

Ontario and Quebec remain the biggest obstacles to a larger minority or even majority government for the Liberals, as they have not pulled ahead of their rivals by a sizeable enough margin in these two provinces. Both the Conservatives in Ontario and the NDP in Quebec bettered their opponents by almost 20 points, respectively, in the last election. This resulted in lopsided seat tallies that are not yet in the cards for Mr. Trudeau.

At 38 per cent support in Ontario, the Liberals are certainly well above where they have been in the last few elections. But they appear stuck at this level of support, having not budged for several months. The Conservatives have dropped four points over the last two months to 31 per cent, but that is likely still enough to win them some 40 seats in the province. The polls are relatively consistent in giving the Liberals the lead, however, with the Conservatives having polled under and the Liberals over 35 per cent in Ontario in each of the last nine polls. The New Democrats, at 23 per cent, are well behind.

In Quebec, the Liberals are showing some life again with a gain of three points since the end of October. They have scored 33 per cent or higher in the last four polls in Quebec, after having been marked at 30 per cent or less in the previous three surveys. The New Democrats slipped two points to 25 per cent support, putting them in a tie with the Bloc Québécois. With these two parties still claiming a large portion of the vote, the Liberals are unlikely to win more than 30 seats in the province. The Bloc, by contrast, can win 20 to 30 seats with little real gain at the ballot box if enough of Thomas Mulcair's vote goes Mr. Trudeau's way. The Conservatives are averaged 11 per cent in the province, down three points.

Stephen Harper's party has also dropped in British Columbia, and is now in third with 27 per cent. That is a drop of seven points in two months, as they have polled at 30 per cent or less in B.C. in each of the last six polls. The Liberals have moved ahead with 34 per cent, while the NDP is close behind at 30 per cent. That is their strongest result anywhere in Canada. The Greens, too, put up their best numbers in B.C. with 9 per cent support.

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The Conservatives continue to enjoy a wide lead in Alberta, with 55 per cent to 21 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the New Democrats. The Liberal lead in Atlantic Canada is similarly wide, with 48 per cent support to 24 per cent apiece for the NDP and Conservatives. That represents a four-point gain for the New Democrats on the East Coast, as the Liberals have slipped seven points in the region.

In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Conservatives and Liberals have moved into a tie with 36 per cent support apiece. Over the last two months, the Tories have lost six points in the region to the Liberals. The strong results the Liberals managed in the two by-elections held in Manitoba last week are thus no coincidence. The NDP was third in the region with 22 per cent.

Will the New Democrats finally begin to benefit from Mr. Mulcair's grilling of the Prime Minister in Question Period? The party has yet to see real, sustained gains in any part of the province despite the NDP leader's improving personal numbers (his approval rating has shot up to over 40 per cent, and he is making gains on Mr. Harper and Mr. Trudeau on who would make the best prime minister). Instead, the Liberal honeymoon has been prolonged into an extended engagement, and the Conservatives have been taking hits in some key electoral battlegrounds. While a Tory rebound seems unlikely in the short term, can this imbalance between the two opposition parties really be sustained?

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. He is working on a book about Canadian political polling in 2013.

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