With less than a month to voting day, the three major political parties remain tied in the popular vote. Each has about 30 per cent of the electorate, certainly not enough to form a majority government, no matter how they bunch their votes in parts of Canada.
No momentum has developed for any party, despite frantic campaigning, showering of promises on voters, endless photo-ops, sit-down television interviews with party leaders, bundles of media coverage, advertising barrages and three televised debates.
Is the public not paying attention, aside from political groupies? Are large swaths of the electorate watching and waiting to decide at some later date? Will this static situation prevail until voting day, or will an event, or events, shake things up?
Leave this election campaign aside for a moment. Ask how the parties have done over the past four years since the last election, after all the ups and downs that inevitably occur between elections.
Such a look back might indicate which party, if any, has long-term momentum. By this measurement, the Conservatives have fallen sharply, the Liberals have arisen from near-morbidity, and the New Democrats have gone nowhere.
On election day, 2011, the Conservatives won 39.6 per cent of the popular vote for a majority government. Today, they have around 30-31 per cent. They have lost, therefore, about a quarter of the support they enjoyed four years ago.
The Liberals, by contrast, took 18.9 per cent of the vote last time. Today, they have about 30 per cent in the public opinion polls, or better than half again as four years ago.
The NDP received 30.6 per cent of the vote in 2011, which is approximately what it has today. To interpret the NDP vote another way, the party remains poised again to sweep by far the largest number of seats in Quebec with over 40 per cent of the popular vote. Outside Quebec, overall NDP support has remained about the same: up in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, not much altered in the Prairies and down perhaps in Ontario.
What about the Greens? They got 3.9 per cent last time, and are tracking at about 5.5 per cent today, not remotely enough for any kind of breakthrough. A seat more here or there, maybe. But the Greens have a real chance to be a spoiler by taking votes (in B.C., for example) from the NDP and Liberals. In that sense, the Greens can be the Conservatives' political friend.
How about the Bloc Québécois? Its share of the national vote total doesn't count for obvious reasons. In Quebec, the party's support is way down, hovering at or below 15 per cent, which is roughly half the number of Quebeckers who say they might favour Quebec secession. The BQ, in other words, can't even muster fervour among many secessionists.
A new 628-page door-stopper of a book has just been published about the party's first 11 years, a rise-and-fall testament to the literary narcissism of nationalists. When, zombie-like, the former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe announced he was taking over again as leader, some pundits thought his return might hurt the NDP.
He's been condemning the NDP for not having defended "Quebec's interests." Quebeckers aren't buying the tedium of the argument or its exponent.
The BQ is irrelevant and the Greens are marginal, so the struggle remains among the big three parties.
A few factors define the struggle. The Liberal brand is stronger than the leader's reputation. The NDP brand has improved in the past four years but it remains too untested and scary for too many Canadians. The party is where it was in polls four years ago.
The Conservatives have two challenges. First, some of their own supporters are fed up with Stephen Harper and won't vote because they have no second preference. The party has to limit these abstainers.
Second, Conservatives have to scare undecided voters, fear being a more potent weapon for what they need to accomplish than hope. So they played up the niqab issue and initially went slowly on refugees because they knew Canadians were not as keen on welcoming large numbers of refugees as advocates and the opposition parties believed.
The Conservatives are the best party at identifying and motivating its supporters. They need to work them up and watch with satisfaction as the NDP and Liberals compete with each other.