If these numbers are anything to go by--and this being SES, they're money in the bank--Stephen Harper is demonstrating the overwhelming power of incumbency in the face of a weak opposition:
Although the Conservatives are short of the committed support necessary to form a majority government, Stephen Harper has a clear advantage over Liberal Leader Stephan Dion. Forty-two percent of Canadians choose Harper as the best PM followed by Dion at 17%, Layton at 16%, Duceppe at 7% and Elizabeth May at 4% (the rest chose none of the above or were unsure). At this point in time Stephen Harper personally may be in majority territory but his party is not.
What is emerging is a situation where one leader is ahead of his party (Harper) and another leader trails his party (Dion). Of note, Harper is the second choice as the best PM among committed Liberals, New Democrats and BQ voters and the first choice as Best PM in the province of Quebec.
The office puts a stamp on the man more than the man puts a stamp on the office. Stephen Harper never enjoyed this much of a lead over Paul Martin even as Martin's campaign was sinking; simply holding the prime ministerial office is good for a few percentage points in these polls.
Yet now he leads significantly everywhere: in all regions, in all age groups, among men and women.
The real problem in this poll, however, is that Stephane Dion is trailing Jack Layton in several key demographics: everyone under 40, men, and Quebec (Quebec!) .
Keeping in mind the significant advantages of incumbency, there's still no silver lining for Dion. A majority of his own party's supporters doesn't think he'd make the best PM--40% just doesn't cut it. He should be at two-thirds, minimum, no matter how feckless a leader he is.
Dion needs an election campaign, whether he wants one or not, because only then will he have the opportunity to overcome his current image problems.
When people aren't paying attention, it's always the guy who's got the job who looks best.