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The Globe and Mail

Rob Ford bounce and 'elite-phobic' voters drive Harper surge

Stephen Harper can thank Rob Ford for a big surge in support in Ontario over the past week, according to a new EKOS poll.

"It does show that the remaining Liberal fortress of Ontario can be breeched," pollster Frank Graves said. "Move over, when a conservative mayor wins big with the visible minority segment in fortress Toronto there should be alarm bells going off somewhere in the [Opposition Leader's Office]"

But latest survey, released Thursday morning, detects much volatility among voters. And Mr. Graves is asking himself whether the surge and lead for the Tories is real or simply a "dead cat bounce." The electorate, he told The Globe, is "newly elite-phobic" and it's not clear whether the "ornery-voter landscape" will be sustained.

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The results put Mr. Harper's team six points ahead of Michael Ignatieff's on the national stage - 33.9 per cent for the Conservatives compared to 27.8 per cent for the Liberals. The NDP is at 15.1 per cent; Elizabeth May and her Green Party are at 11.6 per cent and the Bloc Québécois is at 9.3 per cent.

The big movement is in Ontario. In the first week of the survey, Oct. 13 to 19, the Tories have 36.9 per cent support compared to 34.8 per cent for the Liberals. But that changed significantly in the second week of polling, Oct. 20 to 26, as Toronto and municipalities were preparing to vote. By then, the Conservatives has surged four points to 40.9 per cent support and the Grits were at 35.5 per cent.

But the Ford effect may not be such a good thing. "If Mr. Ford comes close to matching expectations it sets the table for significant Tory advances in what was considered to be virtually impregnable Toronto," Mr. Graves said. "On the other hand if he flames out this could snuff out any incipient hopes for CPC gains there."

EKOS sampled 1,828 Canadians in the first week of polling, with a margin of error of 2.29 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. In the second week, Mr. Graves sampled 1,312 Canadians, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

In addition to interesting twists in Ontario, the other story from this poll is a "restive zeitgeist," Mr. Graves said. "Yes, in the final week the CPC have carved out a small but significant advantage. But one only has to turn to the week before to find a dead stalemate. Nothing is very settled right now."

That twitchiness was shown when Mr. Graves asked voters whether they believed the country and the Harper government is moving in the right direction. He described the result as a "whiplas-like decline in confidence."

According to the poll, 44.5 per cent of respondents believe the country is moving in the right direction compared to 41.6 per cent who say it is moving in the wrong direction. Asked about the federal government, 36.1 per cent say Mr. Harper's team is headed the right way compared to 53.1 per cent who say it is not.

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"Both of these key leading indicators are now mired at historical nadirs for the CPC," Mr. Graves said. "Yet, this occurs in tandem with a rise in voter appeal. This is counterintuitive and therefore we don't put the same stock we normally put in these important leading indicators."

Mr. Graves noted this is a key number to watch. "When clear majorities don't like where either the country or government are going this isn't a good harbinger of political longevity."

The EKOS poll also indicates older voters are firmly behind the Harper Conservatives: 40.5 per cent support from respondents 65 years or older compared to 32 per cent for the Liberals. Among voters under 25, meanwhile, the Tories have 19.4 per cent compared to 26.2 per cent for the Liberals.

"[The Tories]fare literally twice as well with seniors as they do with young voters," Mr. Graves said. "In the current environment it appears that older voters are more commonly on the winning side."

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