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Liberal Party Back In Second Place In Poll

With an election almost four years away, the stakes are low. But are the Liberals really back in second place?

A poll released this week by Nanos Research to The Globe and Mail and CTV indicated that the Liberals had pulled ahead of the New Democrats. Though a 28.1 per cent to 27.3 per cent lead is nothing extraordinary, and considering the margin of error it isn’t much of a lead at all, it did grab some attention. Has the moribund third party already recovered?

This is not the first time after the May election that the Liberals have placed second in the national horserace. A poll by Nanos in the middle of the summer gave the party a 0.2-point lead over the NDP.

The two most recent polls by Ipsos-Reid and Harris-Decima pegged Liberal support at between 21 and 22 per cent, or virtually unchanged since the election, but that was in early November. The Nanos poll, taken November 16-21, coincided with a lot of press coverage on the Liberals and their plans for renewal. The survey may be a reflection of this extra attention.

But one of the most striking results in this poll is the Liberal lead in Ontario: 38.8 per cent to 37.2 per cent for the Conservatives. Though this is the highest result for the Liberals since mid-April, it is not an outlandish number. Other polls have shown Liberal gains in the province over the last few months.

The Ontario election won by Dalton McGuinty in early October may have helped, but cannot explain away the lead. Nanos last surveyed Ontarians weeks after the provincial vote had been held. The Liberals were only at 30.5 per cent support at that time in late October, and the 8.3-point gain since then is far removed from the provincial campaign.

But the biggest point of contention is in Quebec. Nanos is comfortably situated with every other poll in pegging NDP support. This is the fifth consecutive survey to show the NDP dropping below 40 per cent. But when it comes to other parties there is far less consensus.

In this week’s poll the Liberals were second behind the NDP in the province with 23.6 per cent support, a gain of 5.4 points since October. But polls from Quebec-based firms CROP and Léger taken around the same time showed Liberal support holding flat, and no one else has had the Liberals over 20 per cent in Quebec since the election campaign.

Where the Bloc stands in Quebec’s horserace is also up for debate. Nanos has consistently put the Bloc Québécois in the mid-teens. They stood at 15.9 per cent in this poll, virtually unchanged over the last three surveys from the firm. But other pollsters have consistently put the Bloc at over 20 per cent support, and the most recent numbers from CROP and Léger show the party making relatively significant gains over the last month.

Nanos Research has a good track record, and it could very well be that the firm is closer to the mark than its rivals. Determining the voting intentions of Canadians years before they will actually be asked to vote is always a difficult proposition – people are simply not paying much attention. But are the Liberals the alternative to the Tories once again? One poll is not enough, so the jury is still out for want of corroborating evidence.

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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