Toronto — A poll taken four days after Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced his resignation shows the opposition Conservatives sharply increasing their popularity. And the socialist New Democratic Party has almost dropped out of sight.
The latest Gallup poll, which was conducted on March 3 and released late last week, indicates that an election held then would leave the Tories with a big majority government in Parliament, the Liberals in weak opposition, and the New Democrats with fewer than 10 seats.
The poll shows that the Conservatives under their new leader, Brian Mulroney, have the support of 54 percent of the country, up from 48 percent the previous month. The Liberals dropped 4 points to 32 percent, and the New Democratic Party (NDP) fell to 11 percent, its lowest showing in the public opinion polls in 24 years.
The surprise is the Liberals' drop in popularity. Many Liberals hoped that when Mr. Trudeau left, the party would move up in the opinion polls just enough to catch the Tories before the next election. Voting must be held by next spring , but will likely be in the fall.
Now the hope is that support will build after a new leader is picked at the Liberal leadership convention to be held in Ottawa in June.
John Turner, who came out of a seven-year political retirement to run for the top job, is still the favorite, but Energy Minister Jean Chretien is showing strength.
There was some good news for the Liberals. The party has been weak in western Canada, with only two members in Manitoba, and none in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. But organizers say that since Trudeau's decision to leave, party membership has been swelling in western Canada. In British Columbia, for example, it has risen by 40 percent in the last three weeks.
But the Conservatives increased their support in Quebec, where the Liberals have 74 out of 75 seats. That has the Liberals worried. The Tories are confident they can hold the west, and their support in the poll increased there last month , too.
Commenting on the increased support in Quebec, Mr. Mulroney said, ''The support that has kept the Liberal Party in office for 35 years is now melting like a snow bank in May.''
The poll is very bad news for the socialist New Democratic Party, which now has 31 seats in Parliament. If the party dropped to fewer than 10 seats, it would lose its official status and its leader would be just an ordinary MP.
Political observers inside and outside the NDP say its problems are that the party has been too closely identified with Liberal policies. One inside critic wrote that the NDP is mired in old-fashioned policies and is a slave to the interests of the labor unions that support it.