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[Ottawa – July 2, 2009] – After having taken a hit with the public over their election threats at the end of the parliamentary session, the Liberals have rebounded into the narrowest of leads over the ruling Conservative Party. This reversal in fortunes has more to do with the disappearance of a short-term bump in Conservative support that occurred at the end of the session than any change in Liberal fortunes.

“This is a pattern we have seen several times since last October’s election,” said EKOS President Frank Graves. “Purely political events such as the coalition, the budget, the deficit announcement, and now the Liberal-initiated game of chicken over a summer election, may have a temporary, if sometimes dramatic, effect on support for the parties. However, the longer term trends seem to be related more to economic issues.”

“The $64,000 question for the parties is which of these patterns would hold if an election were called. Perhaps it is the Liberal edge that shows up most weeks. However, it is possible that this pattern reflects a passive uninterested electorate, and that the better predictor of an election result is actually those weeks when the public becomes more interested and engaged, as they apparently did when the Liberals seemed to be ready to force an election.”

So far this year, the Liberals have generally held a lead over the Conservatives, sometimes as high as five to seven percentage points, but usually much narrower. This has been driven mainly by increased strength in Quebec and Ontario since the October 2008 election. However, there have been moments during this period when the Conservatives have threatened to burst the Liberal bubble, usually occasioned by a political or parliamentary crisis of some kind.

Overall, however, the most striking pattern may be one of gridlock, in which neither major party can break through to become an obvious election favourite, much less a contender for a majority government.

“One peculiar feature of the gridlock is that the Liberals and Conservatives seem to be competing for the same voters: upper middle class white men, for the most part,” Graves said. “If you leave aside regional patterns, which of course remain dramatic, the demographic profiles of a Liberal and Conservative voter are remarkably similar.”

“Women and younger voters are much less enchanted with the two main parties,” he said. “They are more likely to support the smaller parties, or simply remain on the sidelines.”

“It is quite striking that among voters under 25 years of age, the Green Party consistently shows up as a leading contender, even as it continues to be no more than a marginal option for baby-boomers.”

One indication of the current economic distress is what Canadians had to say about their vacation plans as they approached the July 1 holiday. Across the country, the plurality of Canadians is pulling back on vacation spending. This trend is particularly conspicuous in British Columbia, and, not surprisingly, in Ontario, where there has already been major job loss.

Lower income Canadians are pulling back more than those who are better off, but the pattern is a general one, applying to all social classes.

“Like so many patterns in a recession, this has a paradoxical quality,” said Graves. “It is obviously sensible from an individual perspective to cut back in hard times. However, this will also make it harder for the economy to emerge from the recession.”

“One interesting issue as Canada emerges from the recession will be whether consumers resume their old free-spending ways, or whether there is a longer-term chastening effect, in which Canadians remain cautious for a long time, further dampening recovery.”

Click here for complete survey results: 0779-full-report-_july-2_2

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