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Harper soars comfortably above rivals on leadership going in to debates

Editorial cartoon by Brian Gable

Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail

On the eve of the leaders' debates, Stephen Harper continues to cruise comfortably ahead of his political opponents on the issue of leadership. The question is whether and how those debates will change things.

The Nanos Leadership Index is a daily tally for The Globe and Mail and CTV of voter responses to questions about which leader they believe scores better in three categories: trust, competence and vision.

Since the writ was dropped March 26, Mr. Harper's leadership score has hovered near or above 100. On April 10 the Conservative Leader posted a score of 110, though individual results matter far less than trends over time.

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Throughout that period, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff and NDP Leader Jack Layton have battled for a distant second place. On April 10, Mr. Ignatieff was at 48 and Mr. Layton at 45. Again, what matters is that their scores have remained relatively flat throughout the campaign, and far behind Mr. Harper.

"For the Liberals to be competitive, the first step is for Ignatieff to do better than Jack Layton - which has not occurred in the campaign," pollster Nik Nanos observed.

But debates can change games, and leadership scores tend to move ahead of shifts in overall support for political parties. By Thursday, following Tuesday's English-language debate and Wednesday's French-language debate, the Leadership Index should tell us how voters assessed the leaders' performance during the debates, and what impact, if any, this could have on the vote May 2.

As for the issues that matter most to Canadians, health care has once again emerged as the most important concern, with 29 per cent of respondents saying this is the question that matters to them most. After being tied for a while with health-care, the issue of jobs and the economy has returned to second place, being cited by 21 per cent of those asked.

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