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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff speaks during a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Jan. 12, 2011.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Michael Ignatieff wants to frame the next election around Stephen Harper's record in office. The Liberal Leader asks: "Are you and your family better off now than five years ago?"

But is it an effective ballot question? We asked three pollsters to weigh in - two say it lacks imagination and the other says, guardedly, that it has some potential.

Ipsos Reid's Darrell Bricker and Dimitri Pantazopoulos of Praxicus both note the question has been asked before and are critical of the Liberals' for rehashing it.

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"It shows that there's nothing new in politics," Mr. Bricker told The Globe on Thursday. "This is what Ronald Reagan said to defeat Jimmy Carter. With this in mind, it's ironic that it's coming from the Liberals."

He added: "Every election is about either change or continuity. If the opposition parties can't find a way to convince Canadians that the Conservative government shouldn't be re-elected, then they'll win again. It's as simple as that."

Mr. Pantazopoulos, who has worked with the Tories under Mr. Harper, characterized the Ignatieff query as a "feeble attempt at a ballot question," noting, too, that "this line was most famously used by Reagan against Carter in 1980 when the economy was going into a deep recession.

"However, in 1984, as the economy was recovering, Reagan used the 'Morning in America' slogan," Mr. Patazopoulos added. "Unfortunately for Ignatieff, 2011 is more 'Morning in Canada' than ever."

And while EKOS president Frank Graves agrees the question isn't "high on originality," he argued that since it's worked before, it's worth trying again.

"I actually think it does a good job of providing a good narrative of why voters could be unhappy with Stephen Harper," Mr. Graves said in an email. "It doesn't do as good a job of putting a clear alternative of how things would be different and better under Michael Ignatieff (but it is making progress on that)."

The pollsters agree, however, that the economy remains the key issue for Canadians as election speculation ramps up.

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"Finding an issue that matters to voters and making it your own is always good political strategy," Mr. Bricker said. "The problem for the Liberals is that while the economy matters, they don't own it. The Conservatives lead by a wide margin on most economic issues (overall management, wise spending, job creation, deficit reduction, etc). In fact, this is the one of the most solid issues in the Tory arsenal."

Mr. Pantazopoulos noted that polls show Canadians have more confidence in Mr. Harper to manage the economy than they do in Mr. Ignatieff. "What we are likely to see in the next couple of months is a continued improvement in Canada's fiscal and economic situation," the pollster said. "The budget deficit will likely come in lower than forecast, and economic growth will continue to trickle along. This will make Ignatieff's ballot question even more dissonant with voters."

For the Liberals to gain ground, Mr. Graves said, they need to make progress with under-45 voters and women - a target constituency for Mr. Ignatieff. "This is where all the opportunities are," Mr. Graves said. "The CPC have stuck with older voters and males."

The EKOS pollster added that the Liberal Leader needs to find a "unifying theme and some concrete illustrations to move it from rhetoric to reality. If Mr. Ignatieff can do this he can very quickly get back in the game."

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