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B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to media in Victoria, March 14, 2013. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. Premier Christy Clark speaks to media in Victoria, March 14, 2013. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Low approval ratings give B.C. and Nova Scotia premiers cause for concern Add to ...

This week’s quarterly poll by Angus-Reid on the approval ratings of Canada’s provincial premiers contained bad numbers for Christy Clark and Darrell Dexter, the two premiers next scheduled to face the electorate. Compared to the ratings their colleagues in other provinces had just prior to an election, and their subsequent fate, the news looks even worse for them.

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The survey put Ms. Clark’s approval rating at only 25 per cent, with 67 per cent of British Columbians disapproving of her performance as premier. Mr. Dexter’s approval rating in Nova Scotia was slightly better at 30 per cent, with a disapproval rating of 62 per cent. Those are tough numbers for a premier scheduled to go to the polls on May 14 (Ms. Clark) and another who is mulling a campaign this spring (Mr. Dexter).

The numbers were better for Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, the other premier who could face an election soon. She had an approval rating of 36 per cent, fourth among the nine premiers included in the poll (Prince Edward Island was excluded), and a disapproval rating of 37 per cent.

Considering where other premiers have stood in the last quarterly Angus-Reid poll before an election, Ms. Wynne is in a much better position than either Ms. Clark or Mr. Dexter.

The chart below tracks the approval ratings in Angus-Reid’s polls for each of the premiers who have stood for re-election since regular polling began in 2009. The ratings are tracked according to the number of quarters before an election was held. As the chart shows, both Mr. Dexter and Ms. Clark are below where any of their counterparts had been just prior to an election – and well below where they would need to be to have serious hope of victory.

Seven provinces have held elections since Angus-Reid’s quarterly polling began (eight if you include PEI), and all seven of the incumbent premiers had better approval ratings in the last quarterly poll prior to an election than either Mr. Dexter or Ms. Clark. One of those who had a better rating, Jean Charest in the third quarter of 2012, went on to defeat. Dalton McGuinty, who had an approval rating of 31 per cent in the last poll before the 2011 vote, won only a minority government but has since resigned.

Every other premier had a far superior approval rating and was re-elected with a majority government: Alberta’s Alison Redford at 49 per cent in 2012, Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall at 63 per cent, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Kathy Dunderdale at 58 per cent, and Manitoba’s Greg Selinger at 52 per cent in 2011.

(Angus-Reid missed the second and third quarters in 2010 before Shawn Graham’s electoral defeat in September of that year in New Brunswick, but he had only a 15 per cent approval rating in the first quarter of 2010. His numbers later in the year would have likely improved, as support for the Liberals rebounded before the election.)

If either Ms. Clark or Mr. Dexter is able to win re-election, they would be the first of these premiers to manage the feat with such low approval ratings. Ms. Wynne stands a better chance, as she ranks above where Mr. Charest stood before his defeat and where Mr. McGuinty was before he won a minority government. But she is far away from the kind of approval rating that delivers a premier a majority government.

Election night

The approval rating of a premier seems to be a good predictor of where the party will land on election night. Only the vote share for the incumbent premiers’ parties in Ontario and Manitoba were more than five points different than their approval rating in the last quarterly poll, and in Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador the difference was only two points. On average, a party’s vote share at the ballot box was about four points different from a premier’s approval rating.

That would appear to put Mr. Dexter and Ms. Wynne in the game, as it would give Mr. Dexter’s NDP between 26 and 34 per cent and Ms. Wynne’s Liberals between 32 and 40 per cent of the vote. If the NDP ends up near the high end of that range in Nova Scotia, that could give Mr. Dexter a minority government in a three-way race. For the Ontario Liberals, anything from a minority to a majority government fits within that range.

Ms. Clark’s B.C. Liberals have no such luck, however. With between 21 and 29 per cent of the vote, they would have no chance of forming government against an NDP that is currently enjoying 45 per cent or more support. And if we just consider the best case scenario (Mr. McGuinty’s Liberals did seven points better in Ontario than his approval rating), there is still no hope for Ms. Clark: even at 32 per cent, there would be no realistic chance of victory.

Who had a net positive rating?

Looking at net rating (approval minus disapproval), none of the seven premiers won a majority government without a net positive rating: Mr. Wall was +34, Ms. Dunderdale was +22, Mr. Selinger was +14, and Ms. Redford was +8 before their wins. Mr. McGuinty did have a –24 score before winning a minority government, but Mr. Charest was –32 and Mr. Graham was –47 before their defeats.

With Mr. Dexter at –32 and Ms. Clark at –42, that puts them squarely in league with the defeated premiers. With a net –1 rating, Ms. Wynne stands between Mr. McGuinty’s minority and Ms. Redford’s majority win.

But looking beyond Angus-Reid’s polling, it is possible to find a few premiers with negative ratings who won re-election. B.C.’s Gordon Campbell did it in 2005 (-13) and 2009 (-17), while satisfaction with Mr. Charest’s government was a net –17 in 2007, when he was re-elected with a minority. The worst rating that led to a majority victory on record in recent elections belongs to Alberta’s Ed Stelmach, who was a net –23 in a mid-campaign poll in 2008. But even that is much better than the ratings of Mr. Dexter and Ms. Clark.

What about the three opposition leaders in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario? Nova Scotia Liberal leader Stephen McNeil, who had a net +14 rating, and Adrian Dix, who was +9 in British Columbia, are in strong positions. But Tim Hudak’s –17 in Ontario is problematic, as it is hard for opposition leaders to win with a negative rating – none have been able to do it in recent years (with the possible exception of Pauline Marois, who won a razor-thin minority).

Does this mean that Christy Clark and Darrell Dexter, two unpopular premiers opposed by popular opposition leaders, are doomed to defeat? No – campaigns matter. But the odds are certainly not in their favour.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com .

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