The Canadian Press
January 9, 2009 at 4:08 PM EST
OTTAWA — The Liberal Party has bounced back into contention with Michael Ignatieff at the helm, a new poll suggests.
The Liberals have moved into a statistical tie with the governing Tories, according to the Nanos Research survey provided exclusively to The Canadian Press.
Liberal support stood at 34 per cent, one point ahead of the Conservatives and up eight points from the Liberals’ dismal showing in the Oct. 14 election under the leadership of Stéphane Dion.
The Tories slipped almost five points from the election to 33 per cent while NDP and Green support was virtually unchanged at 19 per cent and seven per cent respectively.
The Liberal resurgence was particularly pronounced in Quebec, where the poll indicates the party vaulted into the lead with 39 per cent support to 29 per cent for the Bloc Québécois, 17 per cent for the Tories and 14 per cent for the New Democrats.
Voter enchantment with Mr. Ignatieff, who was hastily installed as leader last month, appeared to be the driving force behind the Liberal bounce.
Thirty-four per cent of respondents said they have a more favourable impression of the party since the change in leadership. Only eight per cent had a less favourable impression of the Liberals while 55 per cent reported no change.
Moreover, 23 per cent of those polled said Mr. Ignatieff would make the best prime minister — double Mr. Dion’s support, although still 12 points behind Prime Minister Stephen Harper. NDP Leader Jack Layton, who used to routinely best Mr. Dion, was chosen by 15 per cent.
In Quebec, 30 per cent picked Mr. Ignatieff as best prime minister, five points more than Mr. Harper.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the survey suggests Mr. Ignatieff’s ascendance to the helm has given the Liberal party a real opportunity for growth, particularly in Quebec. But he warned that honeymoons for new leaders can often be short.
“What I’ve found is whenever there’s a new leader, before people get to know who that leader is they project positive things onto that leader,” Mr. Nanos said in an interview.
“So I think for Michael Ignatieff it is positive news but he has to be very careful because he’s still a bit of a blank slate, so to speak.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Nanos said the poll indicates Mr. Harper, “who’s had a bit of a free ride” thus far, is now facing a serious contender for power.
As a result, he said Conservatives might be tempted to launch a campaign aimed at painting a negative picture of Mr. Ignatieff before he has a chance to define himself — a ploy they used successfully against Mr. Dion.
But Mr. Nanos predicted such a blatantly partisan tactic in the midst of a global economic crisis would likely backfire.
“Canadian are fixated on the economy. They’re worried about their jobs, they’re worried about their savings,” he said.
“I think if the Conservatives embarked on what I’ll say is a significant initiative to attack Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals, it will probably backfire because what it shows is Stephen Harper is focusing more on politics as opposed to jobs and the economy.”
Mr. Nanos said the survey also suggests Mr. Layton and the NDP should worry that support they picked up due to voter aversion to Mr. Dion may drift back to the Liberals under Mr. Ignatieff.
Indeed, he said the poll could foreshadow a return to a more traditional two-party, east-west dynamic in federal politics, wherein the Tories dominate the West and are competitive with the Liberals in Ontario while the Grits are strong in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
“If the Liberals do manage to pick up support in Quebec, we’re actually going back the way Canadian politics was a decade ago,” he said.
According to the survey, Liberals expanded their lead in Atlantic Canada (44 per cent to the Tories’ 28) and regained a narrow lead in Ontario (39 per cent to the Tories’ 35 and the NDP’s 16).
The Conservatives continued to dominate western Canada, with 44 per cent to the Liberals’ 24 per cent and the NDP’s 23 per cent.
The telephone poll of 1,003 Canadians was conducted Jan. 3-7 and is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points 19 times in 20.
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