National polls five months from election day are not predictors. They merely provide a view of a thin slice in time.
They do, however, offer one constant that cannot be ignored.
Regardless of your pollster or method of choice, or whether you pay them no heed, they will all tell you that as many as seven in 10 Canadians are — right now — not going to vote for the incumbent Stephen Harper government.
Harper won a Conservative majority in 2011 with six in 10 Canadians voting for other parties, aided and abetted by the Liberal collapse under Michael Ignatieff.
He has never topped that 39.6 per cent vote share and there appears little prospect he will hit the 40 per cent mark in the autumn.
Conventional wisdom will tell you that Harper can still win with two-thirds of Canadians splitting their vote between New Democrats, Liberals and Greens.
True to a point, but there is another possibility. What happens if either Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau break from the pack?
If we are heading to a change election in October, the battle to establish oneself as the real agent of change is key.
For the first time since Trudeau was chosen Liberal Party leader two years ago, the change candidate now appears to be the NDP’s Mulcair. At very least, the NDP is building momentum at the right time.
Mulcair and his caucus endured, through mostly gritted teeth, as the Trudeau star soared through the political skies, and the predictions that the political alignment appeared headed back to its traditional two-party battle between Conservatives and Liberals.
They endured as they were ignored by a Conservative government with a near-obsessive fixation with Trudeau.
Now, as Canadians begin focusing on the next vote, it is the NDP that offers the clean break from a tired government in its 10th year.
Trudeau and his Liberals are offering tentative change, a lurch to the middle with little daylight between them and the Conservatives.
Much has been made of the Rachel Notley sweep in Alberta, but that is not enough to realign the country.
It does show there is nothing frightening about voting NDP. It gives those seeking that change tacit permission to do it decisively.
But a drill down on the national numbers is needed because Canadians will really be casting their ballots in a series of regional showdowns in the fall.
The Liberals will be strong in Atlantic Canada, the NDP poised to hold most of its Quebec strength, with the Toronto region no longer merely a battle between the Liberals and Conservatives.
The NDP trails the other two parties in Manitoba, but, helped by redistribution, are playing again in Saskatchewan.
The Harper Conservatives will be, for the first time, playing defence in their Alberta home.
And the Greens will at least play spoiler in British Columbia, where the three larger parties are deadlocked.
Harper is a polarizer and Trudeau is also headed in that direction. It is anecdotal only, but one hears more and more extreme views on the Liberal leader, with those who see him as a poseur not ready for power competing with those who believe he is offering a fresh way of doing politics.
On Tuesday evening in Toronto, Mulcair used a McGill alumni event to showcase four of his youngest MPs, touting them as young men and women who have grown into solid MPs, an important generational message.
Mulcair has also benefited from the ongoing Mike Duffy trial and his consistent opposition to the government’s anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. On both fronts, he has eclipsed Trudeau.
Harper has regressed after a strong start to the year that included his dumping of Julian Fantino from defence, making nice with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, expertly playing to terrorism anxiety and sprinkling money to key constituencies in the April budget.
Now we see the old habits. His government is using our Parliament and our institutions and our traditions as its sandbox to be exploited for partisan purposes.
He and his ministers are spending tax money on partisan videos and advertising, he is increasingly ignoring Parliament and he has now retroactively changed a law to shield the RCMP against wrongdoing in destroying records related to the long-gun registry.
He is cynically using the discredited Senate to block Michael Chong’s Reform Act and promote the government’s anti-union legislation, Bill C-377.
Faced with similar contemptible behaviour in 2011, voters shrugged and gave Harper a majority. In 2015, they may opt for change. Six months ago, New Democrats were weeping in their beer, now they look like the vessel for change.
Tim Harper is a syndicated Toronto Star national affairs writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.