Canadians' anger over the Liberal government's role in the sponsorship program appears to have burned itself out over the weekend, allowing the party to snap back as the voters' first choice just as it did last spring at the height of the scandal.
A new opinion poll produced for The Globe and Mail-CTV News by The Strategic Counsel was released yesterday as the four political parties were pitched onto an election footing by NDP Leader Jack Layton, who said his party will no longer prop up the Liberals because they won't support a crackdown on private health care.
The poll, in stark contrast to a survey published Saturday, finds the Liberal resurgence has come at the expense of the NDP and the Tories.
In the new sampling, the Liberals enjoy the support of 35 per cent of voters, up seven points. The Tories garnered 28 per cent compared to 31 per cent, while the NDP dropped to 16 per cent, from 20 per cent, on the weekend. The poll of 1,000 Canadians was conducted Saturday and Sunday and is considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 95 per cent of the time.
Strategic Counsel chairman Allan Gregg said the changes can be explained by two things -- a reduction of media coverage of the Gomery report on the sponsorship program and the wariness of NDP voters of a Tory government.
"When scandal, corruption and Gomery is in the forefront of voters' minds, the Liberals take a whacking and the Conservatives come up," he said. "[But] with the passage of time, two things seem to occur. The anger dissipates and secondly, people start looking at Conservatives-in-waiting and find them wanting."
Indeed, the poll finds that if an election were held today, the three main parties would enjoy almost exactly the same levels of support as the last election. In June of 2004, the Liberals received 37 per cent of the vote, the Tories 30 per cent, the New Democrats 16 per cent and the Bloc Québécois 12 per cent.
Even in Quebec, the new survey finds the Liberals have whittled five points off the Bloc lead, polling 30 per cent of decided voters, compared with 50 per cent for the Bloc. In the 2004 election, the Bloc received 49 per cent of the vote in the province, compared with 34 per cent for the Liberals.
In Ontario, the Conservatives have dropped to 31 per cent of decided voters from 35 per cent on Nov. 4, while the Liberal vote has bumped up seven points to 44 per cent. The NDP dipped to 18 per cent from 20 per cent.
Mr. Gregg said the lack of movement demonstrates that the Tories continue to have problems growing in popularity and that all parties appear to have a ceiling on their support.
He also said the poll appears to prove that when the sponsorship scandal is in the news, the Liberals suffer.
He noted that the government lost popularity when Auditor-General Sheila Fraser released her report into the scandal in early 2004 and its support eroded further in the spring of this year after the explosive testimony of advertising executive Jean Brault at the Gomery inquiry.
The Liberals dropped behind the Tories at that point, but made up the ground as sponsorship receded from the headlines.
Although he doesn't believe the sponsorship scandal will be enough to defeat the Liberals, Mr. Gregg said the opposition can use it as one example among a litany of ethical lapses that will make the argument for change.
An effective advertising campaign could be a significant contributor to such an argument, he said.
"I think this issue can become a frame of reference for a larger assault on the Liberals."
Mr. Gregg said the drop in the NDP numbers is likely the product of strategic voting by NDP supporters who also have sympathy for the Liberals. Mr. Layton must draw them back in by finding issues that he can use to separate himself from the Liberals.
"What he's trying to do is to show that he's not a lapdog of the Liberal government," Mr. Gregg said.
How would Canadians vote if an election were held today?
|Nov. 7 results||2004 results|
|Voting plans by region today||Bloc Québécois||Conservative||Liberal||NDP||Green Party|
|Rest of Canada*||36%||37%||18%||8%|
|Voting plans by region in 2004 election|
|Rest of Canada*||37%||38%||19%||5%|
SOURCE: THE STRATEGIC COUNSEL
* Everywhere except Quebec NOTE: Numbers may not add up to 100 due to rounding.