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But Liberal momentum may be stalling

[Ottawa – June 18, 2009] – With talk of an election in the air, Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals have retained a razor-thin lead over the Conservatives over the last week’s polling by EKOS, released exclusively to cbc.ca. While the Liberals have opened up a substantial lead in the crucial battleground of Ontario, with the NDP flagging, the national race has tightened.

“The recent trends certainly favour the Liberals over the Conservatives, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, where most of the seats are,” said EKOS President Frank Graves. “However, a Liberal victory starting from these numbers would be far from a certainty, and a majority victory looks like a distant hope for both major parties. Moreover, Canadians are getting more optimistic about the economy, a factor that may be favouring the Conservatives.”

For the Conservatives, one serious problem is Stephen Harper’s negative approval rating. Substantially more Canadians disapprove of the job he is doing than approve; Michael Ignatieff, in contrast has an essentially neutral rating.

However, Harper’s negatives are not as dramatic as they were a few months ago, and Ignatieff, who was winning Canadians over earlier in the year as they got to know him, is no longer doing so.

Interestingly, the two men appeal to similar constituencies. Both are most compelling to relatively prosperous male baby-boomers….And both leave many other segments of the population cold.

“Of course, there are regional differences, most notably between the West and Central Canada,” said Graves. “It also appears that Ignatieff and the Liberals are more attractive to people with university education who view themselves as cosmopolitan sophisticates, with the Harper Tories doing better among people who are prosperous, but more likely were college-educated and self-made entrepreneurs.”

In assessing the significance of the economy to party fortunes, it is important to recognize that Canadians differ over how to determine what constitutes a recovery. A plurality says an improvement in the unemployment rate would be the most important sign, but there are significant numbers, especially among current Conservative supporters, who look to broader growth figures, or even the stock or real estate markets.

“Of course these different indicators don’t move together,” said Graves. “We have already seen a run-up in the stock market. Growth may come back later next year, while unemployment is likely to continue getting worse for some time after that.”

An increasing number of Canadians say they are already feeling more optimistic about the economy than they were three months ago, and they are naturally concentrated among the most prosperous. This could generate a drift of voters back to the Conservatives from the Liberals in this demographic even as working-class voters become more distressed and perhaps antagonistic to the Conservatives.

“Assuming there is no summer election, the Liberals need to re-double their efforts to capture those who are more sensitive to labour markets than they are to stock or property markets or abstract measures of economic growth,” said Graves. “The Liberals have a better chance of capturing these economically insecure Canadians than the Conservatives do, but so far Ignatieff is not yet finding a receptive audience among these people. This might create an opening for the NDP.”

“Similarly, the Liberals might have a better chance than the Conservatives of appealing to young voters who, if they came off the bench as they did in the 2008 U.S. election, could be a powerful force. So far those under 45 years of age have largely been looking on while the baby boomers wrestle for control of the political system. At the moment, unlike Barack Obama, neither Harper nor Ignatieff inspires much enthusiasm among these younger voters.”

The daily tracking within this larger poll continues to show a high degree of volatility. The Liberals experienced a very substantial drop, for example, from Monday to Tuesday, while the NDP and Conservatives edged up.

“Was this a reaction to the threat of a summer election, which we know from our previous polling, people don’t want?” asked Graves. “We have seen sudden spikes and troughs in the daily numbers before, sometime apparently unrelated to the flow of events. However, it is possible that the Liberals paid at least a momentary price for appearing ready to inflict an unwanted election.”

Click here for complete survey results: 0779-full-report-_june-18

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