May 20, 2010 / 12:20 PM / in 8 years

Conservatives open gap on rivals: poll

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Conservatives have opened up a significant gap over the main opposition Liberals, who are struggling to attract voters, according to a poll released on Thursday.

<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during the G8/G20 National Youth Caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 17, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>

The weekly Ekos survey for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp put public support for the Conservatives at 34.4 percent, up from 33.6 percent last week. Support for the Liberals fell to 25.1 percent from 27.1 percent.

The figures show the Conservatives, largely unaffected by a series of domestic controversies, would end up as the largest single party in Parliament if an election were held now.

But they might not win enough seats to form a stable and sustainable minority government.

The poll makes grim reading for the Liberals and leader Michael Ignatieff, who appears to have trouble engaging with the electorate. Ignatieff took over as Liberal leader after the October 2008 election, when the Liberals won just 26.3 percent of the vote, almost a record low.

“The opening of the gap between the two parties, who were essentially tied in January, has been due more to Liberal loss in support than to Tory gains,” Ekos pollster Frank Graves said in a statement.

“The Liberals are now at their lowest sustained level for many years, perhaps ever.”

Ignatieff, a former academic and broadcaster, admits he has been hurt by Conservative attack portraying him as a snob who has little in common with ordinary Canadians.

Under Canada’s electoral system a party needs at least 40 percent public support to capture a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, and around 36 percent to win a workable minority.

The Conservatives now have a minority of seats and need the support of opposition parties to stay in power.

The Ekos automated telephone survey of 2,794 people was conducted between May 12 and May 18 and is considered accurate to within 1.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Scott Anderson; editing by Janet Guttsman

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