By DREW FAGAN
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
Saturday, June 5, 2004
The federal election is an intense two-horse race with the Liberals and Conservatives in a dead heat as the Liberal Party continues to stumble in the pivotal battleground of Ontario, a new poll suggests.
The Ipsos-Reid poll, conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV, shows the Liberals now trail the Conservative Party by three percentage points in Ontario, a massive swing from the days preceding the campaign when they were leading in the province by 22 points. A solid victory for Liberal Leader Paul Martin likely depends on a fourth straight Liberal sweep of Ontario, but provincial dominance has slipped away.
Nationwide, the Liberals now stand just one point ahead of the Conservatives, 32 per cent to 31 per cent, with the NDP at 17 per cent. The Green Party has 6 per cent.
All figures reflect party support only among decided voters.
"This is bad, bad, bad for the Liberals," said Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos-Reid. "They've thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Conservatives, and none of it seems to be working."
A seat projection based on the poll suggests the Liberals would win 115 to 119 seats, the Conservatives 110 to 114, and the NDP 17 to 21.
The Bloc Québécois would win 56 to 60 of Quebec's 75 seats with its 45-per-cent support in the province. The Liberals, trailing the Bloc by 17 points in Quebec, would win the rest. The Conservatives now stand at 13 per cent in Quebec, almost twice as high as two weeks ago.
The seat projection also points to a possible breakthrough for the Green Party in British Columbia, where it has the potential to win two seats with its 13-per-cent support in the province.
Liberal support has not been as low as 32 per cent nationally since January, 1991. It is a full 19 years since polling found the federal Liberals not in the lead in Ontario, which has just over one-third of all ridings. The new Ipsos-Reid poll, conducted from Tuesday through Thursday of this week, shows the Conservatives with 35-per-cent support in the province, the Liberals at 32 per cent and the NDP at 23 per cent.
"The key to political change was for Ontario to start to move, and now it's marching," Mr. Bricker said.
Liberal officials hoped that events this week were turning the tide back in their favour. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, after an easy first week of campaigning, ran into heavy fire over the divisive issues of same-sex marriage and abortion. But there is little evidence, at least in this poll, that his political progress has been halted.
"With the greater chance of a Conservative government, one assumes that voters will look more closely at them and their vision," said Mr. Bricker. "But it doesn't yet seem to be a problem for Stephen Harper."
The Liberals have portrayed the Conservatives as offering a radically different blueprint for the country, hidden from view beneath the moderate exterior the new party presents. In tandem with this attack, the Liberals have presented a platform concentrated on stronger social programs. Mr. Bricker suggested that voters just don't seem to be listening to the Liberals' two-pronged message. They remain focused on the bombshells of the sponsorship scandal and the Ontario budget, and on what those say about Liberal credibility.
Mr. Martin will spend the next few days on the international stage, commemorating the 60th anniversary of D-Day tomorrow in Normandy, then travelling on Tuesday to the G8 summit of major industrialized countries in Georgia. He generally shines at such events, but little seems to be working for him at the moment.
"The problem for the Liberals right now is simple: People don't seem to trust them," Mr. Bricker said.
The Liberals are now nine points behind the 41-per-cent support they received in the 2000 election, when the party won its third successive majority. The Conservatives are within seven points of the 38-per-cent total that the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, the parties that merged to form the present Conservative Party, scored that year. The Alliance won 26 per cent; the Tories, 12 per cent.
The Liberals' election attacks on Mr. Harper's "hidden" social agenda may have paid off in one regard: The Conservative Party has a significant gender gap. Most of its increased support since the campaign began two weeks ago has come from men; 36 per cent of males back the party, but only 26 per cent of females do.
The Liberals have hardly capitalized on that. Their support comes from 31 per cent of the male vote and 33 per cent of females. It is the NDP that has the reverse gender gap, with 20 per cent of women voters and 14 per cent of men.
There is little evidence yet of brighter days ahead for the Liberals. One question that typically is a leading indicator of voter intent is whether a governing party deserves to be re-elected. Only 29 per cent of voters say the Liberals are worthy of another term, unchanged from the last Ipsos-Reid poll, published on Tuesday. This result suggests the Liberal slide may have a little further to go.
"Fewer people are holding their noses and saying, 'I'll vote Liberal despite everything,' " Mr. Bricker said.
The Liberals remain well ahead in Atlantic Canada. The Conservatives are now ahead in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; they continue to dominate in Alberta, and the Liberals and Conservatives are within one point of each other in B.C.
The Ipsos-Reid poll of 1,000 people has a 95-per-cent statistical likelihood of approximating accuracy on any given question within 3.1 percentage points upward or downward.
Federal party popularity
Question: If a federal election were held tomorrow, which of the following parties' candidates would you be most likely to support?
The last time that the Liberals and Conservatives were so close was in mid-September, 1993, when support for both parties stood at 35%.
Green Party: 13%
Green Party: 6%
Green Party: 8%
Bloc Québécois: 45%
Green Party: 4%
Green Party: 2%
Green Party: 0%