The latest polling data and what it may mean

Today, SES research in its daily rolling poll indicates that the Conservatives and the Liberals are statistically tied in the wake of the news of the RCMP criminal investigation into the apparent leak on income trusts.

The poll shows the Liberals at 35%, the Conservatives at 34% and the NDP at 14% with a 3.1% margin of error. Thus a virtual tie exists between the two front runners.

Is this good news or bad news for the Conservatives? It could be bad news if the Conservatives break through this early. During the 2004 campaign, soft NDP support became anxious when the news media (and Stephen Harper) predicted that a “Conservative Majority” was in sight.

But this time has been different for the Conservatives as they’ve been running a policy heavy campaign, floating real and positive ideas to the Canadian voting public. Most importantly, the campaign has been one for positive change in lieu of one that demanded that Canadians punish the Liberals. Over the first half of this campaign, the Conservatives were on a daily mission to remove every single rational reason that Canadians could think of to not cast a Tory ballot on January 23rd.

Meanwhile, the Liberals have been running a catchup campaign responding to Conservative announcements and losing media attention when they present their also-ran policy. Further, as many observers have noted, perhaps a significant element of the Grit campaign was to wait and let Stephen Harper shoot himself in the foot. You almost thought that they expected the Conservative leader to take the bait over the handgun ban. However, the Conservatives handled the announcement with agility as they pointed out that the ban had been effectively on the books since the 1930s. Police chiefs and victims of gun-related crime also lambasted the Liberals on the shallow policy.

Here we are in late December at the end of the first half of the campaign. Paul Martin must feel like a kid who thought he could study from old exams and pull it off at the last minute. However, the test is a lot different this time and Mr. Martin must feel like he’s got a lot of cramming to do.

Now, as the Liberals team are facing scandal after scandal (the most recent being the RCMP investigation of the income trusts), the Liberals will find it difficult to offer anything positive while they fend off what could turn out to be a mini-Adscam during the final half of the campaign.

In fact, the Liberals will also find it difficult to go negative against Stephen Harper while the Canadian electorate perceives a completely different situation unfold in front of them in the news media.

Paul Martin and his team are panicking at this stage of the campaign while the Conservatives must be breathing easier as they can take comfort in having run a clean and professional campaign thus far.

Will the polling number give voters a reason to pause? And if they do pause, will it be to see a scandal-plagued Liberal campaign that has run off the track? Will Canadians instead see a Conservative minority government as a real possibility and become accustomed to this idea over the next few weeks. If they do – and this is highly speculative – we might see a late-breaking trend: bleeding Liberal support going NDP to hold the Conservatives to account.

You don’t need to be a pollster to see that the Conservatives have gained momentum whereas the Liberals have clearly lost it.