The numerous clouds looming over the Conservative government have caused many Canadians who thought highly of Prime Minister Stephen Harper two months ago to question his competence, his trustworthiness and his vision for Canada, a new poll suggests.
Mr. Harper still edged out NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair – and easily outdistanced Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae - in the leadership index portion of a telephone survey conducted by Nanos Research between April 13 and April 18.
But Mr. Mulcair, who took the reins of his Official Opposition party on March 24, is nipping at the Prime Minister's heels when it comes voter perceptions of federal political leaders. And Mr. Harper has taken a dramatic fall since February.
When Canadians were asked two months ago to name the federal leader they believed to be the most competent, 38.1 per cent said Mr. Harper. In the latest poll, that score dropped to 24.2 per cent.
When asked which leader they trust, 31.7 per cent said Mr. Harper in February compared to just 20 per cent in April. And, in terms of who Canadians believe has the best vision for country, the Prime Minister's numbers fell by a similar amount.
The dramatic decline in Mr. Harper's personal cachet occurred as his Conservatives were being accused of suppressing the opposition vote during the last election and hiding billions of dollars in the planned purchase of a fleet of fighter jets. It was also a period when Industry Minister Christian Paradis was found to have broken parliamentary ethics rules.
"It's pretty clear that Stephen Harper's brand has taken a hit in the last month on all of these measures. This is a new low for him over the last four years," pollster Nik Nanos said in a telephone interview. "I think this has to be of big concern for the Conservatives because a big part of their brand has been built around Stephen Harper."
Despite having been leader of his party for less than a month when the poll was conducted, Mr. Mulcair was in a statistical tie with Mr. Harper in terms of his trustworthiness. And, although he lagged behind the Prime Minister when Canadians were asked about his competence and vision for Canada, the NDP Leader was well ahead of Mr. Rae.
Large numbers of respondents said they were undecided or would choose none of the current party leaders when asked to choose who was the most trustworthy, competent and had the best vision for Canada.
"It's pretty clear that a number of those individuals who have been disappointed over what they have seen in the last month are not necessarily moving to other alternatives," Mr. Nanos said. "Which means that probably over the next couple months we can see greater fluctuations in terms of the perceptions people have of the leaders."
The leadership index poll of 1,200 Canadian adults is expected to accurately reflect the opinions of the broader population within 2.8 percentage points 19 times in 20.
In terms of overall party popularity, the Conservatives – at 34.7 per cent – were in a statistical tie with the New Democrats who were favoured by 32.4 per cent of decided votes. It is a finding that mirrors other recent polls. The Liberals were trailing at 23.3 per cent.
"Coming off the NDP leadership there's definitely a honeymoon," Mr. Nanos said. The only time the New Democrats have surpassed the level of popularity indicated in this recent poll was on a couple of nights during last year's election campaign under former leader Jack Layton.
Meanwhile, Mr. Nanos said, after a surge during the fall and early winter, "the Liberals are scooting back down to their election low that they had under [former leader]Michael Ignatieff."
The opinions of the 975 committed voters, out of the 1,200 who were surveyed, are expected to accurately reflect the voting intentions of the larger Canadian public within 3.2 percentage points 19 times in 20.