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Harper's leadership rating jumps after debate - but will he hit 'glass ceiling'?

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper came out of the English-language leaders debate this week with the confidence of large numbers of Canadians - but that may not translate into votes.

A Nanos Research poll of 400 people selected at random from across Canada conducted on Wednesday, the day after the four party leaders faced off for an English television audience, registered a significant jump in Mr. Harper's leadership scores, to 122.8 from 94.9.

"He definitely left the best impression," pollster Nik Nanos said.

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NDP Leader Jack Layton and Liberal chief Michael Ignatieff also had slight upticks in the survey, which asked respondents to measure the leaders' level of trustworthiness, competence, and vision for Canada.

But Mr. Layton, who was at 57.3, and Mr. Ignatieff, who was at 52.7, were well behind the Conservative Leader. And the increases they registered were so small that they fell within the poll's margin of error. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, meanwhile, trailed far behind the other three, falling to 13.8 from 14.4.

When a political party leader jumps from 35 to 48 on the competency rating and from 30 or 40 the assessment of his vision for Canada, which is what happened to Mr. Harper, it is "pretty significant," Mr. Nanos said.

And Mr. Ignateiff, he said, might have some cause for concern because even 31.5 per cent of committed Liberal supporters said they thought Mr. Harper was the most competent leader and 20.5 per cent said he is the leader with the best vision for Canada's future.

But, even as Mr. Harper's own leadership numbers rose, Mr. Nanos said, support for the Conservative Party remained stable.

"This means that a significant number of committed supporters from other parties recognize that Stephen Harper did well in the debate but it did not change their vote," he said.

If the strong leadership numbers had been accompanied by a bump in support, that would have been very good news for Mr. Harper, Mr. Nanos said. But now the election could go one of two ways, he said.

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"It may be possible for Stephen Harper to have a very strong campaign and still not win a majority. I call it hitting a glass ceiling. Canadians recognize that he is still stronger than the other federal party leaders but they are not sure about giving him a majority mandate," he said.

On the other hand, "this is a stepping stone for the numbers to start to move in favour of the Conservatives."

The horse-race numbers over the next couple of day - those that indicate the fortunes of the four parties - will tell the tale.

And the ballot box question may end up being the one that Mr. Harper wants: Do Canadians want a majority government or are they happy with another minority, Mr. Nanos said.

For Mr. Ignatieff, he said, these numbers say he must mobilize and motivate the Liberal core in the short time he has left

"In the last election fewer Liberals voted. that was an example of how, if the Liberal core is not motivated, it's hard for the Liberals to be competitive or even to have a shot at challenging the Conservatives," Mr. Nanos said. "Michael Ignatieff has to bring back some old-time Liberal inspiration to rally his troops in time."

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A poll of this size is expected to reflect the broad opinions of Canadians within plus or minus five percentage points 19 times in 20

Taking a look at the national issues that the respondents said were of prime importance to them, health care topped the list.

"If Stephen Harper's numbers jump like this but the ballot box numbers don't, what does that mean?" Maybe it means that the election isn't all about leadership, Mr. Nanos said.

"Maybe it's about the issues that people want to hear about. Because if this election was about leadership, it would be a sweeping Conservative majority today but it's not."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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