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[Ottawa – August 19, 2010] – Our most recent poll – particularly the last week of polling – has changed little from our last reporting period. The Conservatives have widened their lead from one to five points and now lead 32.5 to 27.9. While this change is only marginally significant, it pulls the Conservatives out of a statistical tie into a small but significant lead. The real value of the poll is in examining the patterns of the last two months in order to assess whether the media brouhaha over the Census is actually having an effect.

For those wondering if the Census dispute is having any real effect on the Canadian electorate, the evidence is now in. When we look at what happened to the voting intentions of the highly educated, it appears almost certain that the narrowing race can be traced to the controversy over the government’s decision to end the compulsory long form. Changes in the demographic anatomy of support lead to the conclusion that this controversy has triggered a fairly significant shift in the electorate during a fairly quiet summer period when little else is at play.

First of all, the shifts in the overall vote intention are modest, but both substantively and statistically significant. The Conservative Party’s 11-point lead in the early summer has become a much narrower (but significant) lead of around five points. There have been some fluctuations in recent weeks but the settling pattern seems to be a much narrower race today than it was at the outset of the summer. So yes, the race is clearly tighter but why the rather bold assertion that this narrowing is linked to the Census controversy? The fact that there is concomitant co-variation isn’t any indication of a causal relationship; suggestive in the absence of other plausible explanations but hardly definitive. A closer look at the shifting demographic bases of voter support provides much stronger evidence; not definitive, but pretty close.

First of all, let us assume that the relatively arcane issue of the representativeness of a voluntary and mandatory sample is much more likely to have been an issue of the university educated. If it was having an effect, we would almost certainly expect to see the effects registered in this group (a little more than one third of all voters). Let us compare the post-Canada Day poll which saw an 11-point Conservative advantage with today’s poll by breaking down support by educational attainment (see charts on page 3).

In early summer, there were no dramatic differences in terms of Conservative support across various levels of educational attainment. They led the Liberals across all levels of education; slightly lower with university educated at 33 points but still well ahead of the 26 points the Liberals achieved there. Now let us look at today. The Conservatives are slightly down with the university educated (though insignificantly ahead with college graduates) and down with high school or less.

The really interesting story is clear when we compare the changes in Liberal support across the same time period. The Liberals were performing anaemically across all educational categories in early July. Fast forward to today and the picture is dramatically different. The Liberals have remained flat with the lower and college educated and still trail the Conservatives by a large margin in both of these categories. But among the most highly educated, there has been a dramatic change. The Liberals have opened up a significant lead amongst the university educated where they now fare much better. Indeed, Liberal growth has been almost exclusively focussed among the most educated and this shift alone has produced a much more competitive political landscape.

One would be hard pressed to find any other explanation to account for an over 33% growth rate in this category than the Census controversy. This suggests that we may be seeing a new fault line pitting the expert and professional classes against the rest of the political spectrum. One month doesn’t suggest a permanent shift and we have seen the educated move back and forth before. The dramatic and focussed shift during this particular controversy, however, suggests something new.

It is important to note, however, that Liberal gains among the university educated do not come entirely at the expense of the Conservatives. The numbers show that the Liberals are picking up university graduates from all ends of the political spectrum, suggesting that the Liberal Party is becoming a “common ground” for the highly educated. We intend to dig deeper into this issue in the coming weeks by breaking out the university educated into two categories (undergraduate versus graduate).

The other notable feature of the poll is the starkness of the East-West divide we see now. While hardly a new feature of Canadian politics, we now see the Conservatives with a huge lead in Western Canada (and the Liberals are hard-pressed to match the NDP or the Greens). Meanwhile, the Liberals have carved out a lead over the Conservatives (although less impressive) in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic.

All of these indicators suggest some interesting new dynamics to the regional and social class fault lines beneath a newly competitive voter landscape as we prepare to return to school and Parliament. Stay tuned to what will undoubtedly be a very interesting fall period.

Click here for the full report: full_report_august_19

4 comments to TORIES CLAW BACK SMALL LEAD – August 19, 2010

  • Syd B

    As one of those well-educated foes of the Conservatives, the disappointing, at first blush, bounce in their numbers is mitigated for me by the fact that the poll was conducted from Aug 11-17. It wasn’t until the last day of the poll that new fuel to fire discontent with the Conservatives was added when the long gun registry and veterans affairs stories broke. I hope the next poll will reflect this.

  • Let’s hope that it’s only a question of time before a good portion of the less formally educated Canadians realize that they deserve much better. That is a federal government that doesn’t use them for cheap political gains, but actually cares about them.

  • Gord

    Aug 22, 2010
    What crap syd B. is spewing (he the well-educated foe of the Conservatives). The (self proclaimed natural governing party of Canada) liberal party can not stand to be in opposition, they have stolen and lied to the people (they are so untrustworthy)they think that only their policy (they think only they know what is good for Canadians – what crap) and all other political thinking party(s) have a secret agenda and bad policy (only theirs are andy good – crap)for all Canadians. I hope the next election this party is reduced to non party status (they have stolen money from Canadians during the abscam and I want it given back to all Canadians .

  • Don L.

    Give me a triple “E” senate, kill the Long Gun Registry , each province be given “Equal Representation” in Parliament and the Senate and I’ll vote Conservative forever.