Premier Christy Clark’s mantra-like pleas for support from so-called free-enterprise voters to avoid a split that would elect the NDP are beginning to have a hollow ring, according to the latest public-opinion poll in the province.
The survey by Angus Reid found the governing BC Liberals and the BC Conservatives neck and neck in popular support, each with 23 per cent, while the NDP remains far in front at 43 per cent. If the seepage of former Liberal voters to the Conservatives continues, the upstart, right-wing party headed by John Cummins could soon be the best statistical option for British Columbians who want to prevent the NDP from forming government.
“If they get ahead of the Liberals by a couple of points, then they could conceivably have the moral high ground to say: ‘We are the ones trending upwards. We are the best choice to keep the NDP out,” Angus Reid pollster Mario Canseco said Monday. “The Liberals are now down to half the voters they had in the last election, when they won with 46-per-cent popular support. It’s a monumental collapse.”
Royce Koop, an assistant professor with Simon Fraser University’s school of public policy, agreed that the Liberals may now have a tough time positioning themselves as the only choice for British Columbians concerned about an NDP victory.
“The Conservatives can make the argument that it’s the Liberals, not the Conservatives, who are splitting the anti-NDP vote,” Prof. Koop said. “Christy Clark’s big thing has been heading off the Conservatives, and it’s just been a big failure.”
The Angus Reid online survey of 800 adult British Columbians was conducted last week, after the high-profile defection of long-time Liberal backbencher John van Dongen to the Conservatives.
The Liberals have plummeted five percentage points in support since the last Angus Reid poll in January, putting them at the same low level the party registered under former premier Gordon Campbell, just after the much-derided HST came into effect.
NDP Leader Adrian Dix remained ahead in all leadership categories, according to the poll, with an approval rating of 45 per cent, and 25 per cent choosing him as the best choice for premier.
Ms. Clark’s approval rating was 32 per cent, Mr. Cummins’ performance was approved by 28 per cent of those surveyed, while Jane Sterk, the low-key leader of the Green Party, had 26-per-cent approval.
Ms. Clark was considered the best option for premier by 17 per cent and Mr. Cummins by 12 per cent.
Mr. Dix also fared better than Ms. Clark as the leader best equipped to deal with such issues as crime, health care, education and the economy.
The freefall in Liberal support since Ms. Clark won the Party leadership 13 months ago was particularly acute among women.
The poll found that a mere 15 per cent of female respondents said they would vote Liberal in an election, while 52 per cent opted for the NDP. Among male voters, the NDP lead was far more narrow, 35 to 31 per cent.
Mr. Canseco said Ms. Clark’s families-first agenda has failed to resonate with women, who are more concerned with health care and education, areas where the Liberals score poorly.
“It’s been difficult to connect with the Premier’s policies. There seems to be a new thing every couple of weeks, with no real coherence,” he said. “People don’t react well to that.”
The Angus Reid poll found that 33 per cent of people who voted Liberal in 2009 are now backing the Conservatives. “It’s not that the NDP is a juggernaut,” Mr. Canseco said. “The low Liberal numbers are because they are bleeding support, and most of that is going to the Conservatives.”
Applying the current popular opinion numbers to an election would result in a sweeping majority for the NDP, Mr. Canseco said.
Ms. Clark, chased down a hotel corridor by reporters seeking her reaction to the poll numbers, finally stopped and said she had no quick reaction. “I haven’t seen them yet, so when I see them, I will have a comment.”
The margin of error in the Angus Reid survey is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
With a report from Robert Matas in Vancouver