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Will this election alter Canada's political landscape?

Pollster Nik Nanos

Couvrette Photography

With under a week to go until voting day, the election Stephen Harper derides as an "unnecessary" appears set to produce a seismic shift.

Mr. Harper is on track to return to the Commons as prime minister of a minority Conservative government - but instead of squaring off against Michael Ignatieff's Liberals, he could be facing Jack Layton's New Democrats on the Official Opposition bench.

The latest Nanos Research polling numbers show the NDP firmly in second place with the Conservatives 10 points ahead - 37.8 per cent support for the Tories compared to 27.8 per cent for the NDP. The Liberals, meanwhile, are in uncharted waters, sliding downward night after night to 22.9 per cent support nationally.

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Pollster Nik Nanos points to the record turnout at the advance polls as an indication voters are now lusting for change.

"Canadians are getting off the political couch and going down the street to their local polling stations to try to shape the future in a little different way," he says, noting this suggests a good turnout at the polls on May 2.

With that in mind, Mr. Nanos joined us to take reader questions on the election so far and what lies ahead for Mr. Harper, Mr. Layton and Mr. Ignatieff.

Below is a transcript of that conversation:

Ann Hui: Hi everyone. I'm an editor with and I'll be moderating today's discussion. Joining us soon will be pollster Nik Nanos, who will take reader questions on the latest Nanos Research polling numbers.

In the meantime, feel free to leave your questions for Nik.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Just checking in.

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Ann Hui: Let's jump right into a question. Probably the most surprising aspect of this election so far has been the success of the NDP, at least according to polling numbers. The latest Nanos Research show the NDP firmly in second place with 27.8 support. The Liberals, meanwhile, are lagging behind with only 22.9 per cent support nationally.

I think what everybody is trying to figure out is, what does the 'NDP surge' mean for the Tories? Is this good or bad news for the Tories?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): First, the main NDP surge has been in the province of Quebec and it significantly puffs up the national NDP numbers. In QC the NDP pickup and BQ drop could help the Tories hold onto seats. In BC the NDP pickup (which is not as dramatic as this point) could help the NDP pick up seats in the Interior for example. We will need to monitor the scope of the increase regionally over the next few days.

Ann Hui: Here's a reader question to follow up on that:

[Comment From Joe PalookaJoe Palooka: ]/b> Mr Nanos, can the Tories still eke out a majority government at around 39% support and a surging NDP? As far as I understand it, the increased NDP support may not translate into many more seats (eg, it is said that the party's support in Quebec is a mile wide and an inch deep). Thank you.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): That's the $300M question (FYI - cost of election). I believe the Tories are looking for a smash and grab majority of seats where they target seats to get numerically above 50 + 1% of the seats in the house with a similar national vote level. This is achievable the but vote splits in this election could put a monkey wrench in that.

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[Comment From Fraser M.Fraser M.: ]Some commentators have characterized the recent NDP surge as a "flirtation" with the NDP rather than strong support. Could you tell us how support levels look for people who are "absolutely" or "very likely" to vote?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): First, believe it or not there is usually a relationship between answering a survey and voting - it is a measure of a certain level of democratic engagement. The surge is mostly in the province of QC and in my opinion is similar to the Mario Dumont ADQ phenonomenon where he surged and did very well in one election. Factoring the scope of the increase in support for the NDP and the drop of the BQ I would say that this is a very real phenomenon in QC.

Ann Hui: You told The Globe's Jane Taber this morning that a big reason for the NDP surge is that 'the Layton charisma caught on in the province of Quebec and it is starting to slowly spill over outside of Quebec." I guess the obvious question, then, is why the NDP has been so successful in Quebec this time around?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): An alignment of a number of factors have propelled the NDP numbers in QC. First, the NDP platform in terms of social policy aligns with the views of many Quebecers. Second, our polling for quite a while showed the NDP as the second choice of many committed BQ voters. I also think that Duceppe lacked a Quebec ballot question like in the past (culture, youth crime etc.). His messaging of "Quebecers need the BQ to advocate for Quebec" and the "Tories haven't delivered anything is inherently contradictory in my opinion.

Ann Hui: A few reader questions on those NDP numbers:

[Comment From LauraLaura: ]Is there a specific demographic from where this NDP surge comes from ? Is it the youth ? Female ? Urban votes ? What is the typical profile of this new NDP supporter, if such profile can be identified ?

[Comment From Sean S.Sean S.: ]How could the "bandwagon" effect turn the NDP surge into actual seats, especially from late moves in Ontario.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): I would expect that the NDP surge in Quebec will definitely convert into more seats in that province. In Ontario, the dynamic to watch will be the relationship between Liberal and NDP support. At this point the NDP are statistically in the same zone in Ontario as they were in 2008 (18.2% in 2008, 21.0% now) according to our tracking.

Ann Hui: Any comments for Laura's question on the demographics of the NDP surge?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): The NDP surge has been more geographic although they actually lead all parties (according to our tracking) among Canadians who rent.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Also younger

Ann Hui: An interesting reader question here:

[Comment From John SorensenJohn Sorensen: ]Is it possible now with the Ndp a strong second that the liberals and tories will actually work together to get more things done, as both seem to be more centralist with the ndp more left.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): That's in the realm of politics not polling. Usually all elections have fallout for the federal party leaders (negative and positive). Would make it more difficult to do this - not impossible - but more difficult.

Ann Hui: Lots of readers are asking about polling methadology. Feel free to respond to any/all of these questions, Nik:

[Comment From GuestGuest: ]Hello Nik. Thanks for taking our questions & comments. How do you conduct the polling? If it is conducted by phone, do you include cell phones?

[Comment From JohnJohn: ]/b> If all polling companies are basically asking the same questions (who will you vote for) why are we getting such wide margins between different polls? from the mid 30s for the Cons to the low 40s in some cases

[Comment From LauraLaura: ]And another question - more methodology related. How many calls, on average, do you make every evening ? ... I assume that you make much more calls than you actually include in the random sample. If there are 400 ppl included in the sample, is this coming from ... 2000 calls, let's say ? (Because I assume it's very likely to call too many people from the same demographics, and this needs to be adjusted for the sample)

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Hiya - Yes re: cell phones in sample

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Re: variation much of it has to do with question wording and also field dates.... for example we did not call on Easter Monday so our three day roll is Sat Sun Tues....another company released a poll with field Mon and check out the dates.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): yes generally re: your analogy. In terms of the demographic it actually works out well in terms of distribution but sometimes we apply a weight to tweak things to be perfect.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): So we check the profile of respondents against the census to make sure everything is solid.

Ann Hui: Here's another question about polling:

[Comment From RonRon: ]Is there any link between people changing their mind in voting intention based on what the polls are saying? Or in other words ... do polls influence voters? If so to what extent?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): When Nanos does a national poll it is not applicable to an individual riding in terms of the result. I think strategic voting when it does occur is more intuitive where people assess the local campaigns and make a decision.

Ann Hui: An interesting reader question:

[Comment From BJBBJB: ]Has your sampling shifted from traditional land lines into the social media world? If not, aren't you missing a significant demographic (even if the young are the least inclined to vote).

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): We capture that demographic I believe through both our land line and cell line sample. Also, the Internet penetration among young people is so high that it is covered whenever we interview young people. Polling through Facebook I think is part of the mix in the future. One of my colleagues Brian Singh is a guru in that area and we have interesting chats about Social Media Facebook surveys.

[Comment From BarryBarry: ]/b> Based on previous elections - what can we expect over the next few day? Has there ever been a 10 - 20% change in party preference? Or is voter intention more or less locked in at this point?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Not locked. We usually see either a "recoil effect" - like - stop that trend!!! a bandwagon which is "why not"! or it stays the same....sorry but every election is different. The other thing is that a number of Canadians are last minute shoppers and will wait to the end before they finalize their vote.

[Comment From GregGreg: ]/b> Do you account for the difference in voter turnout among demographic groups? (for example, seniors traditionally vote at double the rate of youth, 75-80% vs 35-40%) Given the Tories are strong among seniors, does this not suggest they will get more than what your poll might indicate?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Great question and the only thing I fret about is voter turnout. If it is traditionally in the normal zone, it helps researchers like me. If voter turnout is high - polling as close as feasible to election day is critical.

Ann Hui: You talked about the record turnout at advanced polls in Jane Taber's blog post this morning. Do you think these higher-than-average numbers will be reflected on election day as well?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): They usually are - except if something occurrs to repell or turn off voters. If the campaign is considered exciting or the results unsure, it usually increases voter turnout.

[Comment From scottscott: ]/b> hello Nik, do you think that vote splitting will impact any party more then the other?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Think pin-ball political fallout (for those of you who recall pin-ball machines). Vote splitting is a mixed bag depending on the region. Right now I don't think there is a hard and fast rule we can apply across the board.

[Comment From GuestGuest: ]With this election changing so quickly from sleepy to dynamic, what challenges does this create for pollsters?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): It means that it will be critical - absolutely critical - to poll as close to election day. In the old days pollsters would complete their last "election call" poll on the Thursday before the vote to hit the papers for the weekend. Now we need to ensure we are polling right up to the day before election day to be accurate and capture any last minute changes.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): And also to release prior to election day to be compliant with the Election Act :)

[Comment From MBMB: ]Nik, is there follow up in your polling? i.e. after you have polled these individuals, do you inquire after the election whether or not they even voted and then use that info to project the percentage of actual turn out from the given demographics or party supporters?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): We have done a post election poll - back in 2006 and asked people a couple days after the election when they made their final vote decision. A noticeable number lock their vote in the last weekend or on e-day.

Ann Hui: If the earlier reader question about the possibility of a Tory majority was THE $300-million question, then this one probably comes in as a close second:

[Comment From rickrick: ]Is is possible for the NDP to win a minority government?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Ok. Most likely scenarios prior to the election, CON majority, CON minority, LIB minority.'s this for some speculation - say the Tories win the election but not a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. Say the NDP come 2nd and the Liberals third and they do not have a majority but have more seats than the Tories - say the BQ drop to 10 to 14 seats. In that scenario the Tories could try to form a government, and if they failed then I believe the NDP would have the next shot. In both scenarios if there was no co-operation between the main federal parties, the defeated rump of the BQ could hold the balance of power. We have to wait to see what happens but we are in new territory because of the changes in Quebec.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): That is alot of specultation....more pin-ball politics for sure

[Comment From GuestGuest: ]/b> If the NDP continue to be strong in PQ how much would they need to come up in Ontario Polls to surpass the Liberal seats?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): What's interesting is, based on the current numbers, that the NDP could win a few seats in Atlantic, a significant number in Quebec, a few in BC. It is feasible subject to the vote split in Quebec.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): FYI - I don't do seat projections.

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): But we do know from the polling where the gains will likely be - just not the exact seat impact

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Actually not. I checked our numbers compared to the last election and at a comparable time it was at 15% which is where we are now.

[Comment From SamSam: ]what happened to the Greens?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): In the last election, one of the federal party leaders - Dion - championed the environment and the NDP had a heavy emphasis on the environment - add May to the debate and the last election was good for the Greens. This election is not about the environment and it diminishes the relevance of the Greens. I would be surprized if they did better than last time. Currently I expect them to do as well as last time (in the best case scenario for them) or have a lower national vote percentage.

[Comment From Anthony HillAnthony Hill: ]In your polls, can you tell where the increased NDP votes are coming from?. Do you ask which way someone voted last time compared to this time?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Most of the increased NDP support in Quebec comes from former BQ supporters....younger voters and renters.

[Comment From BJBBJB: ]The 2008 Liberal defeat is often attributed to party faithful staying home on election day. Which party's supporters are the most likely to cast a ballot, and does this factor into your calculations?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Because completing a survey could be a proxy for demographic engagement, those disillusioned voters just unplug, they don't vote and are not engaged and hence the polling numbers work out.

Ann Hui: We're running out of time, so I'm going to go ahead with the final question: From what your numbers are telling you, will this election alter Canada's political landscape? Is talk of a 'seismic shift' accurate, or hyperbolic?

Nik Nanos (The Pollster): Well, if the trend continues and the NDP manage to land ahead of the Liberals - for the both the Liberals and the NDP it will be seismic. The fact that the BQ are poised to dealt what they would consider a resounding rebuke in Quebec is signficant....I'd call it a game changer....I'll leave it to others to pump this up....I'm just a researcher.

Ann Hui: Thanks very much to all the readers who submitted questions, and thanks to Nik for participating.

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