Assessing the impact of the Globe and Mail debate

Average of opinion polls released up to Saturday morning

Canadians have had a chance to digest last week’s Globe and Mail debate on the economy, and the verdict is in. According to an Ipsos Reid poll (the only poll I could find that asked the question), 40% of Canadians believed that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau won the debate, compared to 32% for the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair and 28% for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Trendline of seat projections since the start of the election campaign

However, as more polls were released over the course of the last week, we saw the Conservatives staying approximately flat from last week, with the NDP dropping and the Liberals approaching the point of becoming the second largest party. While the Liberals are now neck and neck with the Conservatives in terms of the popular vote figures, for many of the reasons I gave last week, it will be difficult for them to translate this into seats.

Now, common sense might suggest that, if the verdict of this debate is that Harper performed worst, the Conservatives should be the ones dropping, not the NDP. But what we need to look at is how rigid these voters are. Ipsos Reid (the only pollster I can find who’s asking this question as well) asked before the debate how certain people were to vote for their chosen party, Conservative voters were more certain in their votes, while Liberal and NDP voters had more voters who were less certain, suggesting that both of these parties have more to lose than the Conservatives.

However, if we look at second choices, both Ipsos and Nanos show that these same two parties have the most to gain than the Conservatives. An overwhelming plurality of Liberal and NDP voters say that the other party is their second choice, and the Conservatives are far behind in both of these counts. What this means is the Conservatives will likely stay the most stable in their polling figures between now and election day, regardless of whether Harper soars or stumbles. On the other hand, a surprise on the part of the Liberals or the NDP, be it positive or negative, is more likely to result in voters swinging between the two.

Ultimately, if the Liberals and the NDP want to finish on top, they cannot depend on Conservative gaffes. They will need to take a risk and try to get proper momentum behind them, otherwise they will allow the Conservatives to finish with a plurality of seats and a claim to continue in government.

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