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Conservative Support Dips In New Poll As Three-Horse Race Takes Shape

Is Support For Harper Melting Away?

A new poll shows Canadians are split three-ways on who they would vote for if an election were held today, with no more than five points separating the leading party from third place.

The survey conducted by Forum Research for The National Post, interviewed 1,735 respondents via interactive voice response. A completely random sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20. It's somewhat unusual, however, that the poll was conducted on a Saturday (Oct. 27).

Nevertheless, the poll shows 32 per cent of Canadians support the New Democrats, compared to 31 per cent who opt for the Conservatives and 27 per cent for the Liberals. That is the closest that any national poll has put the three parties since before the May 2011 federal election.

Forum last surveyed the voting intentions of Canadians on Sept. 26. The shifts in support for the New Democrats and Liberals (each gained two points) were within the margin of error, but the four point slip for the Conservatives was not.

Whether or not this is a statistical blip will have to be borne out by other polls in the coming weeks. But the Tories suffer a significant drop in support in British Columbia in this poll, falling 16 points to only 27 per cent — putting them 11 points behind the New Democrats in the province. They are also down 12 points in Atlantic Canada to only 22 per cent. While the decrease in British Columbia appears somewhat out-of-step with what other surveys have shown, the Conservatives have been struggling on the East Coast ever since their changes to E.I. were announced.

Stephen Harper also takes a hit in this particular poll, his net approval/disapproval rating is worse by five points (56 per cent disapprove of him as Prime Minister, while only 36 per cent approve). The net ratings for Thomas Mulcair and Bob Rae both improve, however, by six and seven points respectively. But Mulcair remains the only leader with a net positive rating: 38 per cent approve of his performance as leader, compared to 30 per cent who do not.

The New Democrats do not get good news across the board in this poll, however. While they are ahead in British Columbia and the Prairies by wide margins, their lead in Quebec stands at only two points (31 per cent to 29 per cent for the Liberals) and they trail the Tories in Alberta and Ontario and the Liberals in Atlantic Canada.

Things get worse for the NDP once Justin Trudeau is mentioned in the poll — with him as leader of the Liberals, the New Democrats would fall to third with only 24 per cent support nationwide, compared to 29 per cent for the Tories and 39 per cent for the Trudeau Liberals. Three-quarters of the 12 points picked up by the Liberals with Trudeau on the ballot come from the New Democrats, and this pattern is repeated throughout the country.

It would appear the Liberals are already benefiting from their (yet to officially begin) leadership race, and it is likely that if Trudeau does indeed become leader of the party his numbers will fall back to earth. But if each party will then be able to make claim to one-third of the electorate, with only a few pockets of concentrated support and close races in every part of the country except Alberta, things on Parliament Hill will get increasingly tense as the next vote approaches.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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