While Harper has a higher approval rating, normally you combine this with disapproval, and when you do, Ignatieff still retains a hardly noteworthy edge:
Harper received a 36 per cent approval rating, followed by Layton (34 per cent) and Ignatieff (29 per cent). Conversely, 47 per cent said they disapprove of Harper’s job performance, with Ignatieff getting a 38 per cent disapproval rating and Layton 33 per cent.
That means the net positive scores are worse for Harper (-11) than for Ignatieff (-9).
What do these numbers mean? First off, it's a given that a new leader's numbers will wane over time. This is particularly true on the negative front, because it takes time for a new leader to generate their own "baggage", as well as opportunity for their opponents to smear. The historical context considered, you can still see a decided change in June, further evidence that the Liberals badly handled their strategy prior to the summer break. That isn't news to anyone.
If you look at Harper's numbers, the trend is actually positive, his negatives slowly dropping over time. Combine that with the reverse trend for Ignatieff, and concern is warranted. There's no much available to move the numbers this summer, but the key will be a revamped Liberal approach come the fall, that clearly addresses a growing problem.
If it were up to me, I'd be using some of that new found fundraising wealth to get out some positive leadership ads. People don't know Ignatieff, which means we need to be proactive, rather than leaving this vacuum available. Combined with that, and I really do suspect it's coming, issue specific frames that give voters a sense of the party and what it wants to do. It is so blatantly obvious that Liberals and Ignatieff aren't "drawing" voters, most of the improvement is a default consideration, that by it's nature is very weak and feeble support. If we want to move the numbers upward, we need more "pull" rather than relying on the "push" to date. In fairness, when you're in the midst of a economic meltdown, it's pretty shrewd to adopt a conservative approach. But it's an outdated consideration at this point, a nimble strategy requires a wholesale rethink.
The good news, the problem is easily identified, there is no mystery here, so the response seems straightforward. We don't need a platform, but we need borders, we need a definition, that's the thrust and nothing will change until it's addressed. If a snap election is in the offing, then we can probably wait until the campaign (my suggestion on ads now aside), because you can't do much in the short intermediary anyways. However, that logic still brings a danger- can you define yourself in 6 weeks, particularly when campaigns are fluid and you don't control the ebb and flow?
These numbers don't constitute panic time, but they do demand an urgency. Period.