Stephen Harper and Stephane Dion are limping to the finish line after a short, five-week campaign. Both leaders have failed to attract new supporters and Canadians face another minority government, a new Strategic Counsel poll suggests.

Analysts say Harper has failed to stop a Bloc Quebecois resurgence in Quebec, while Dion has been unable to attract anti-Tory voters from the NDP and Green Party.

"The winner of this election is stumbling over the finish line after a pretty uninspiring race," the Strategic Counsel's Peter Donolo told Sunday. "The two main parties are really underperforming."

The latest poll, conducted on Oct. 11 for CTV and the Globe and Mail, shows that the two leaders have seen their party's support drop slightly from the 2006 election results (difference in brackets):

  • Conservative: 33 per cent (-2)

  • Liberal: 28 per cent (-2)

  • NDP: 18 per cent (none)

  • Bloc Quebecois: 10 per cent (-1)

  • Green Party: 11 per cent (+6)

Donolo noted that the Liberals have traditionally entered elections with at least 30 per cent support, but have fallen slightly below that number under Dion's leadership.

"The Liberals are hovering around a historic low," he said. "It's been very difficult to bring back the voting coalition that worked for them in the past election."

Meanwhile, Conservatives needed to make strong gains in Quebec for a chance at a majority government, but have dropped seven percentage points from the 2006 popular vote. The weakening Tory support seems to have been precipitated by Harper's decision to cut arts funding and sell his tough-on-youth-crime approach in the province.

"The Conservatives were airborne when the election was called (on Sept. 7), but they got hit by two scud missiles -- the whole culture and young offender backlash in Quebec . . . and the economic meltdown," said Donolo.

The Bloc Quebecois, meanwhile, have seen their support surge in Quebec after a recent low of 34 per cent in late August, just before Parliament was dissolved. It now sits at exactly the same level the party enjoyed in the 2006 election (difference in brackets):

  • Bloc Quebecois: 42 per cent (same)

  • Liberal: 24 per cent (+3)

  • Conservative: 18 per cent (-7)

  • NDP: 7 per cent (-1)

  • Green Party: 9 per cent (+5)

The Conservatives also needed to grab new voters in Ontario, with polls suggesting their best chance was finding support in Toronto's suburbs -- the 905, 519 and 613 area-code regions.

According to the poll, the Tories could find themselves in extremely tight races in those suburban ridings, running neck-and-neck with the Liberals. In the 905 region, the Liberals are at 41 per cent while the Conservatives are at 38; in the 519 region, the Liberals are at 32 and the Tories are at 29.

In the traditional Liberal stronghold of Toronto, party support remains relatively solid at 42 per cent, while the Tories are at 28 per cent. The NDP trails at 17 per cent, while the Green Part is at 13 per cent.

When looking at province-wide results in Ontario, both the Liberals and Conservatives have seen their support weaken since the 2006 results (difference in brackets):

  • Liberal: 35 per cent (-5)

  • Conservative: 31 per cent (-4)

  • NDP: 22 per cent (+2)

  • Green Party: 13 per cent (+8)

Coalition government?

Speaking on CTV's Question Period on Sunday, Harper suggested the other parties might ask the governor general for permission to form a coalition government if they win enough seats -- a move he said would be "disastrous" for Canada.

The Strategic Counsel asked respondents whether they would be open to the idea of a coalition government, and the responses varied between party supporters -- and which parties would be involved in that coalition.

Across Canada and party lines, 46 per cent said they would back a Liberal-NDP coalition to replace the Conservatives, while 41 per cent opposed the idea. Support was highest among Quebec voters at 54 per cent, and lowest in Western Canada at 35 per cent support.

Among Liberal voters, 76 per cent liked the idea of uniting with the New Democrats to form a government. NDP voters found it slightly less appealing at 68 per cent support.

Unsurprisingly, 81 per cent of Conservative voters said they opposed the idea.

When respondents were asked if they supported the Bloc being part of that coalition, 57 per cent of Canadians said they would oppose it, while only 30 per cent were in support. Outside of Quebec, roughly two thirds of voters said they didn't want such a coalition.

Liberal voters were largely split on the idea, with 41 per cent saying they would back a coalition involving the Bloc if it meant replacing the Conservatives. Another 47 per cent opposed the idea.

Among NDP voters, 57 per cent said they opposed the idea of a coalition government if the Bloc were involved -- higher than Liberal voters. Another 32 per cent said they backed the idea.

Who should the parties be targeting?

The poll also says that 46 per cent of Canadians are still thinking who to vote for during the Thanksgiving weekend, while 12 per cent say they won't make up their minds until they're actually at the ballot box.

"We know that increasingly people make up their minds at the last minute," Donolo said.

When family and friends get together for Thanksgiving, "you can bet the election will be the talk of the menu," he added.

As the parties make their final pitches to voters, the poll revealed which demographic groups may be listening.

The age demographics of voters are definitely to the Tories' advantage. The 18-34 age bracket, the least likely to vote, shows a tight three-way race between with the Liberals out front with 27 per cent support, the Tories with 26 per cent and the NDP with 24.

But in the older age groups, who are more likely to vote, the numbers skew Conservative, as 39 per cent of those over 50 say they will vote Tory, 30 per cent Liberal and 16 per cent NDP. The Green Party only receives seven per cent of the vote from those over 50.

In terms of education, the Conservatives receive a huge boost from Canadians with a high school diploma or less, taking 39 per cent of that vote. The Liberals and the NDP each receive 21 per cent.

For those with college or university degrees, 32 per cent say they will vote Liberal, 31 per cent say Conservative, 18 per cent say NDP and 11 say Green.

Harper still is having trouble with women, as they support his party by a full five per cent less than men.

How would Canadians vote by gender:


  • Conservatives: 31 per cent
  • Liberals: 28 per cent
  • NDP: 23 cent
  • Bloc Quebecois: 9 per cent
  • Green Party: 9 per cent


  • Conservatives: 36 per cent
  • Liberals: 28 per cent
  • NDP: 15 per cent
  • Bloc Quebecois: 10 per cent
  • Green Party : 11 per cent 

Second party choice

When decided and leaning voters were asked about which party was their second choice, there was a few revealing numbers. On Sunday, Green Leader Elizabeth May seemingly asked her supporters to vote strategically for the NDP or the Liberals to avoid a Conservative win in close-fought races.

Of decided and leaning Green voters, 41 per cent say that the NDP is their second choice and 28 per cent say the Liberals.

This could be a key issue on Tuesday because Green voters are most likely to switch their votes. A full 37 per cent of Green voter said they were likely to switch their vote. Compare that with only 17 per cent of Conservative supporters or 15 per cent of Bloc voters.

Technical notes:

The Strategic Counsel is pleased to present findings of a survey of 2,000 Canadians.

Results are based on a proportionate national sample of Canadians 18 years of age or older.

Interviews were conducted on October 10 and October 11 2008.

Note: Proportions may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Regional and Demographic Breakdowns

Sample Size and Margin of error:

  • Canada: 2,000 - 2.2%
  • Quebec: 486 - 4.5%
  • Rest of Canada: 1514 - 2.5%
  • Ontario: 766 -3.5%
  • West: 600 - 4.0%