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Federal election polls, analysts galloping off in all directions

Analysts and election-watchers are entering the long weekend not sure which polls to believe, or what they portend for post-election Canada.

In a news release dated April 18, Harris Decima put the NDP in Quebec at 15 percent with the Bloc Quebecois at 33, the Liberals at 24, the Conservatives at 21 and the Greens at 5 percent. Nationally, Harris-Decima put the Conservatives at 36, 8 points ahead of the Liberals' 28. The NDP was at 19.

Three days later, an Ekos/iPolitics poll put the NDP in first place in Quebec with 31.4, ahead of the Bloc's 27.2, the Liberals' 15.5 and the Conservatives' 18.4. Nationally, Ekos found the Conservatives slipping from 37.4 to 34.4 while the Liberals stagnated at 24.7. Ekos said "the real story of campaign 41" is the NDP's sudden surge:

On March 24th, the NDP stood at 14.2 points. Since then, they moved up steadily to around 17 points, then they started closing in on 20 and, in this poll, they find themselves at 24.7, tying themselves with the Liberals and only 9 points shy of the once-distant Conservative Party. This steady progression from "also ran" to contender has been smooth and steady. It is very uncertain whether it will be sustained or whether it could even advance further.

How to interpret these results has preoccupied analysts and blog pundits alike. The Globe and Mail, using Ipsos Reid and Nanos data, says "[A] majority government seems to be within Stephen Harper's reach."

But the Laurier Institute, under the headline "Tsunami in Quebec," projects just 149 seats for the Conservatives(-6 from 2008), with 68 for the Liberals(-9), 52 for the NDP(+15) , and 39 for the Bloc(-10). Its projection is based on a blend of polls conducted between April 18 and 20.

Pundits' Guide argues that the NDP surge means the Conservatives must now gain two dozen extra seats, not a dozen, for a majority. PG also speculates on the post-election impact on the Liberals if potential leaders like Martin Cauchon and Justin Trudeau are defeated in their Quebec seats. Echo effects in Ontario, PG says, could result in the NDP gaining a total of 80 seats.

At, analyst Eric Grenier offers a more cautious projection:

The Conservatives remain stuck at 38.6%, but they have gained three seats and are now projected to win 150. The Liberals are down 0.5 points to 27.4% and four seats to 76, back under their standing at the fall of the government. The New Democrats are up 0.8 points to 19% and one seat to 36, while the Bloc Québécois is down 0.2 points nationally to 8.2%. They remain at 45 seats, with the Greens unchanged at 5.7%.

And at Voices for Democracy, blogger Emily Dee suspects it's all a Conservative plot. She cites a book by longtime Harper supporter Gerry Nicholls in which he describes a right-wing campaign to attack Ed Broadbent's NDP and thereby provoke his supporters to rally round him instead of voting strategically for the Liberals (who were then promising to cancel free trade). The same technique, she says, is now in use:

The day you hear a Conservative suggesting that people vote NDP, "their ideological opposites", is when you know there's something else going on. They are trying to throw us off course. And it would appear that Jack Layton has taken the bait. He will now pound away at Michael Ignatieff, in the same way that he pounded at the carbon tax, giving Harper a stronger minority.

Given the confused and contradictory data and interpretation this week, Canadians will have just a week to sort things out and decide which way to vote, and why.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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