We seem to be stuck in a very tight three-way race with daily fluctuations that see one party on top, followed by a drop to a close third place within 24 hours and back again (if you follow the daily stream of rolling Nanos polls, which I do.) Other legit pollsters like Abacus and Ipsos Reid confirm that trend.
Since the early August election call, we can now deduce some clear trends:
- The narrow NDP lead over the Conservatives has dissipated.
- The Conservatives, after a rough first month, are back to where they were at the election call, but show little ability to grow further.
- The Liberals have rebounded somewhat and are back in this game.
Why has the NDP lost its edge in the polls?
I think it's because of Tom Mulcair's overly cautious campaign. The problem is varied: Mulcair's platform - with its promise of $15/day child care, balanced budgets, a corporate tax hike, a small business tax cut and incremental change here and there - seems designed to calm fears about an NDP government.
Perhaps some of those fears have been calmed. But the modest platform thus far isn't catching fire or exciting even the base. It's certainly not exciting me much.
On top of this is Mulcair's dry personality. He does come across as very competent and prime ministerial. But he's not warm and it seems that Canadians are not connecting with him much. He comes across as an adequate replacement for Stephen Harper, not an inspiring one. He wouldn't be a loved prime minister, certainly no more than Stephen Harper.
On the most important issue facing the country - the economy - Mulcair's platform seems a bit hodgepodge and uninspiring. This may be a communications problem. Mulcair has often expressed his economic vision for Canada: a more diverse economy, less dependent on fossil fuels, more opportunity for people, etc. The separate planks are there and they are smart. But the entire package has yet to congeal into a coherent and easily explained and inspiring whole. That might change should the NDP put out their full platform backed up by some inspiring talking points that simply explain how an NDP government will make our lives better.
An average poll rating of 32% to 34% at the start of the campaign has eroded for the NDP down to just below 30%.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have halted their spring and early summer decline with a vigorous campaign that has been very clear in terms of its main message of growing the economy and helping the middle class.
As a communicator, Justin Trudeau is proving himself to be superior to Mulcair. We saw this during last week's Globe & Mail debate on the economy in which Trudeau repeated often why the economy is in a ditch right now and how he intends to kickstart it by lowering taxes on the middle class, raising them for the wealthy and running deficits to invest in infrastructure now while interest rates remain low.
Like it or not, the Liberal message on the economy is coherent. Frankly, I can't find anything to quibble over among Liberal promises and much to admire. As a promiscuous progressive, I can see myself possibly voting Liberal in this election after weeks of leaning to the NDP.
On leadership, I have to admit that Justin's voice and style still grates on my nerves. The old attack line that he's "Just not ready," seems to still have some resonance. But slowly, due to Trudeau's sunny, inspiring and effective campaign, that attack seems to have less and less potency every day.
If you believe the polls, the Liberals have emerged as the main challengers to the Conservatives in vote-rich Ontario. Nanos puts the two parties neck and neck (after recently giving the Liberals a clear edge) in the province. Ipsos still puts the Liberals well ahead of the Conservatives in Ontario, with the NDP a distant third.
A clear lead for the NDP in British Columbia in August now seems threatened by Conservative and Liberal support. Only Quebec remains staunchly in the NDP's corner in all polls.
With four weeks to go, voters desperate for progressive change have no clue which of these two parties is going to emerge as the main challenger of the Conservatives. If this three-way split continues, such clarity may never come.
Under that scenario, it makes a re-elected Conservative minority quite likely, which would be terrible for the country. It's likely that the NDP and Liberals would gang up to defeat the minority Harperites at their first opportunity in the House (the Throne Speech). Trudeau's statement in the recent CBC interview that Stephen Harper, "will have a very difficult time commanding the confidence of the House after this election, after these 10 years of failings that he's had," makes that clear.
But it could take months before Harper brings the House back, perhaps not until 2016 long after the upcoming Paris climate change conference. If six months pass before the opposition parties have a chance to defeat the government in the House, it would weaken the argument for the second place party to try to form a new government instead of the Governor General calling another election.
I would prefer this constitutional uncertainty be avoided completely with an outright defeat for the Conservatives to one of the opposition parties on Oct 19th. At this point, which ever one can muster the strength to win over and inspire enough progressive Canadians to do it will suffice for me.
Between the two main opposition leaders, I had thought that Mulcair was the most ready to govern. In most ways, I still do. But if he can't inspire Canadians to elect him, then he's lost the edge the NDP has enjoyed since the Alberta election in May: the claim that they alone can defeat Harper.
Now Trudeau has re-emerged as a contender whose campaign and inspiring personality does embody the change many are seeking. If the Liberals emerge as the main challengers in the coming few weeks and the NDP continues to recede, I will switch back and support the Liberals.
A Trudeau victory would irk the hell out of most average Conservatives in this country, most especially Stephen Harper. That is reason enough to savour the possibility of a Liberal victory. After 10 years of torture, it would be delightful to see Conservatives do a little squirming.
I'm still hoping that Mulcair and the NDP find a way to right their ship and inspire progressive voters to put them over the top. They may still.
Both opposition parties have the potential to seize the moment and win this. I'm hoping that one of them pulls it off.