OTTAWA — Two televised leaders' debates gave a boost to the NDP and Bloc Quebecois but did nothing to break the deadlock between the front-running Liberals and Conservatives, a new poll suggests.
The Leger poll, conducted for The Canadian Press after last week's French debate on Quebec's TVA network and this week's official English debate, put support for the Liberals and Conservatives at 31 per cent each, both down three points.
The NDP moved up to a solid third place with 18 per cent, up four points but still almost two points behind the party's share of the vote in the 2015 election.
Support for the Green party was unchanged at 11 per cent while Maxime Bernier's fledgling People's Party of Canada was up one point to three per cent.
In Quebec, the Bloc was up nine points to 29 per cent, mostly at the expense of the Conservatives who fell nine points to 16 per cent. The Liberals were still leading in the province but down three points to 31 per cent, while the NDP was at 13 per cent, the Greens at seven per cent and the People's party at three.
The smaller parties' improved fortunes reflected the perception of their leaders' performances in the debates.
Based on what they saw or heard about the TVA debate, the Bloc's Yves-Francois Blanchet and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were each deemed the winner by 11 per cent of respondents, followed by the NDP's Jagmeet Singh at seven per cent and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at six. Bernier and the Greens' Elizabeth May were not invited to participate in the TVA debate.
Among the 20 per cent of respondents (including 40 per cent in Quebec) who said they actually watched at least a portion of the debate, 34 per cent gave the win to Blanchet, 25 per cent to Trudeau, 14 per cent to Singh and 12 per cent to Scheer.
Impressions of the leaders' performances in the English debate, which has been widely panned for a chaotic format that gave little opportunity for substantive discussion, were more mixed.
Singh was considered the winner by 16 per cent of respondents, followed closely by Scheer at 14 per cent and Trudeau at 11 per cent. Just four per cent picked May while just one per cent thought Blanchet won and another one per cent thought Bernier won. Fully 52 per cent said they didn't know or refused to say.
Among the 40 per cent of respondents who said they actually watched at least part of the English debate, 29 per cent said Singh was the winner, compared to 22 per cent for Scheer and 20 per cent for Trudeau. Just seven per cent picked May, three per cent picked Bernier and one per cent chose Blanchet.
Twenty-five per cent of respondents said Singh exceeded their expectations in the debates, compared to 11 per cent who said the same for May, nine per cent for Blanchet and Scheer, six per cent for Trudeau and four per cent for Bernier.
The poll, conducted Oct. 7-9, surveyed 2,150 eligible voters selected from Leger's online panel; internet-based surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.
The leaders will get one more chance to make an impression to a large television audience on Thursday in the official French-language debate, which will include all six leaders.
On the question of who would make the best prime minister, Singh was the choice of 16 per cent, up five points. Trudeau was the choice of 25 per cent and Scheer of 21 per cent, essentially unchanged. Eight per cent picked May and three per cent chose Bernier.
Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said the poll suggests both Trudeau and Scheer "have been uninspiring" and are "more a liability than an asset" to their parties, prompting some voters to look at alternatives to the two main parties. However, he said the question remains whether the smaller parties can translate the bump in popular support into actual votes on Oct. 21.
The re-emergence of the Bloc as a force in Quebec appears to have hurt the Conservatives most so far but Bourque said it could spell trouble for the Liberals as well, dashing their hopes of making gains in the province to make up for losses elsewhere. A slight improvement in the NDP's fortunes in the province could also hurt the Liberals, although Bourque said it's probably not enough to save the NDP's 14 seats.
The Liberals' best hope lies in persuading progressive voters they need to back Trudeau in order to stop Scheer, Bourque said.
According to the poll, 65 per cent of NDP supporters and 50 per cent of Green supporters said they're more afraid of the Conservatives returning to power than they are of the prospect of four more years of Liberal government.
Moreover, support for the NDP and Greens was less locked in than for the two major parties. Just over half of NDP and Green supporters said their choice is final, compared to 68 per cent of Bloc supporters, 69 per cent of Liberals and 76 per cent of Conservatives.
In regional results, which are somewhat less reliable because of the smaller sample size, the Liberals were ahead in Ontario, with 37 per cent support versus 31 for the Conservatives, 18 for the NDP, 11 for the Greens and two for the People's Party.
The Liberals were also ahead in British Columbia's four-way race, with 30 per cent support to the Tories' 25, the NDP's 21 and the Greens' 21. And the Liberals enjoyed a 10-point lead over the Conservatives in Atlantic Canada.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, continued to enjoy a massive lead over the Liberals in Alberta and in Manitoba/Saskatchewan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2019.