Nova Scotia Liberals still lead in final week

But a new poll shows their advantage over the PCs and NDP is shrinking

With less than a week to go in the Nova Scotia provincial election, the Liberals are still in a good position to secure a re-elected majority government. But the results could be a bit closer than we might have expected before the campaign began.

It has been a poll-light campaign, with just three surveys published since the writ dropped. The latest was published today by Narrative Research, a Halifax-based polling firm. Here are the results:

Considering that Stephen McNeil’s Liberals won a majority government with a lead of less than four percentage points over Jamie Baillie’s Progressive Conservatives in 2017, this nine-point lead is not bad at all for the Liberals.

But this is a big drop from where Narrative had the Liberals in their last poll in May. The Liberals have dropped 12 points since then to 40%, with the PCs gaining seven points to reach 31% and the New Democrats picking up eight. They now stand at 27%.

The Greens have just 2% support in this poll, down three points.

Liberal leader Iain Rankin has taken a hit, down seven points to 34% since May on the preferred premier question, followed by PC leader Tim Houston at 24%, NDP leader Gary Burrill at 17%, interim Green leader Jessica Alexander at 3% and Atlantica Party leader Jonathan Dean at 1%.

Both Houston and Burrill are up, but Houston has made the better impression: he’s gained nine points since May, compared to four points for Burrill. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering Houston is in his first campaign and Burrill is in his second.


I received the regional breakdown of the numbers from Narrative. The sample sizes are small, so treat these with caution. But they show that the Liberals and New Democrats are effectively tied in Halifax, with the NDP at 40%, the Liberals at 38% and the PCs at 22%.

In the rest of the mainland, the Liberals lead with 44% to 39% for the PCs and just 14% for the New Democrats.

The sample sizes for both of these regions gives a margin of error of about nine points, so the only thing we can say with some confidence is that the PCs are probably in third in Halifax and the NDP is not very competitive outside of Halifax and Cape Breton.

The sample size in Cape Breton is so small (with a margin of error of about +/- 17 points!) that it isn’t worth going into the details. The PCs are only ahead by three points, a meaningless lead considering the margin of error. And the NDP isn’t even that far back in third place, so Cape Breton is really the big question mark.

That’s not a particularly promising regional distribution for the Liberals. The results in Cape Breton suggest that voting intentions have moved on the island, as earlier polls had awarded the Liberals a big lead there. That reduces their chances of picking up seats in Cape Breton, meaning they largely now have to hold what they won in the rest of Nova Scotia in 2017 and keep the NDP from making gains in Halifax in order to secure a majority.

The Writ
"We have too much politics in Nova Scotia"
This is the first article of the #EveryElectionProject, my Sisyphean attempt to write about every election that has ever taken place in Canada. With this series I hope to share with you my passion for history and explore the elections that have brought us to where we are today…
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Some caveats, though. Narrative says 35% of the electorate is still undecided, a very big number. And the small sample size (540) means the sample of decided voters is just 277, which increases the margin of error for that group to nearly six percentage points. So, it is possible that the Liberals are doing quite a bit better than this poll suggests (and the regional numbers would have even bigger margins of error).

It also means that the Liberals and PCs could be neck-and-neck, too.

Aligns with recent Léger poll

That is the less likely scenario, however. A healthy majority of Nova Scotians in the Narrative poll are satisfied with Rankin’s government and the Liberals have been consistently leading in Narrative’s surveys for over a year.

The Liberals were also leading in a poll published by Léger last week. The survey was conducted between July 30 and August 2, so it does overlap with this Narrative survey.

Léger had awarded 42% support to the Liberals, with the PCs at 32%, the NDP at 20% and the Greens at 5%. Considering the margins of error, those are nearly identical results to what Narrative has found, with the possible exception of the lower NDP number.

There were no regional breakouts in the Léger poll, but the crosstabs did break things down into urban, suburban and rural areas. And those results also sound a lot like this Narrative poll.

Léger had the Liberals ahead in urban areas by 43% to 36% for the NDP, suggesting that Narrative’s close race in Halifax has also been picked up by Léger. The poll gave the PCs a 10-point lead in rural Nova Scotia, which seems to be in the same ballpark as Narrative’s finding that the Liberals and PCs are close on the mainland while the PCs are ahead in Cape Breton.

According to Léger, Rankin had the same sort of personal lead over Houston on who Nova Scotians prefer to be premier at 30% to 21%, with Burrill behind at 14%. So, these polls are pretty closely aligned, which makes it more likely that the Liberals are safely ahead.

The polls are also not too different from where Mainstreet Research placed things in its July 21-22 poll. It had the Liberals at 42%, the PCs at 30% and the NDP at 22%. So, some sort of 40-30 split for the PCs seems the consensus. The question is where the NDP really sits.

So, it could still turn out to be a surprising one on election night. I’ll update the Nova Scotia Seat Ratings before the polls close on Tuesday. I’m also planning something special for election night, and I’ll have more to say about that soon.