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CLOSE RACE WITH EVIDENCE OF A MODEST LIBERAL ADVANTAGE EMERGING – June 11, 2009

[OTTAWA – June 11, 2009] – The medium-term trend continues to show a modest lead for the Liberals under the leadership of Michael Ignatieff. Since last week’s results, the Liberals have widened the narrow advantage they have over Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. That said, neither party seems assured of victory in any election in the near future. Moreover, the prospects of a majority parliament remain remote even after three consecutive minorities. The current numbers and evolving trends, however, increasingly favour the Liberals.

For greater perspective, we note that a 12-point Conservative advantage in the October 2008 election has turned to a nearly 5-point Liberal advantage. This is a significant turnaround in a fairly short period of time. Moreover, the modest LPC advantage masks a more significant regional advantage. The Liberals now have a 10-point advantage in the crucial Ontario battleground and they have moved back to the height of voter support they enjoyed in Quebec when Mr. Chretien was reeling off successive majority governments. The near death experience produced by the corrosive impacts of the sponsorship scandal has now receded and it is the Conservatives who are being reduced to political irrelevance in Quebec. It is also the case that the current LPC advantage does not appear to be an overnight sensation, but a relatively steady reversal of fortunes. Despite some significant day to day fluctuations, since we began this exercise four weeks ago, apart from a trough in mid-May (where the LPC advantage was very small), it has been returning to and perhaps even exceeding the 6-point advantage we saw in the early part of the month of May. In fact, the last three days have seen an advantage of about 8-points for the LPC.

While this is good news for the Liberals, their advantage should not be overstated. The Conservatives are very strong in the west and Mr. Harper continues to enjoy a slight but significant advantage as best Prime Minister. It should be noted, however, that the “neither” option for “Best PM” continues to eclipse both Mr. Harper and Mr. Ignatieff as favoured choice (especially among non-CPC and non-LPC voters). It is also notable that both leaders find greatest favour in very similar demographic segments of the Canadian population (i.e., older, economically secure males). The most important discriminatory factor for the two real aspirants to the Sussex address is a profound west-east divide (with the west favouring Mr. Harper, and the east Mr. Ignatieff).

This week’s poll explored which issues were seen as the most important in shaping voting intention in a hypothetical immediate election. Somewhat surprisingly, social issues like health care and education lead (chosen by 35 per cent nationally). These issues are more salient to economically vulnerable voters, women, and residents of the Prairies and Atlantic Canada. The Liberals hold an advantage on these issues (even though they are of greatest importance to NDP supporters).

Jobs and unemployment are the second most important issue (chosen by 27 per cent nationally), and is of elevated importance to Ontarians. The Liberals hold a perceived advantage on this issue as well.

Debt and deficit is the third most important issue (chosen by 18 per cent nationally), and is more important to CPC supporters, Albertans, males and boomers. The CPC and the LPC are virtually tied as credible stewards of public finances (although Conservatives do hold a modest advantage here).

Climate change trails all other issues with only 11 percent selecting it nationally. This issue often fares poorly in forced-choice situation such as this and has undoubtedly been eclipsed recently by economic concerns. It is, however, more important to younger voters and in British Columbia. Notably, the Green Party is seen as best poised to lead with this issue.

There is a somewhat circular relationship between issues priorities and party preference. Voters seem to select or perhaps arrange their vote choice against the parties they see as best equipped to deliver on that particular issue. It is mildly noteworthy that the Liberal’s cumulative issue advantage is somewhat larger than its vote intention advantage.

All in all we see a very tight race with some modest evidence of an emerging LPC advantage. Certainly nothing in these results points with any clarity to who will win the next election, whenever that may come. Moreover, nobody seems ticketed for the elusive majority government which dominated the Canadian political landscape for most of the second half of the last century.

Click here for complete survey results:full report – June 11

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