When Angus Reid's Mario Canseco decided to gauge the public's mood on some issues in advance of this spring's election, he figured it was a good time to also see how people were feeling about the province's two main political leaders – Liberal Premier Christy Clark and NDP Leader Adrian Dix.
The pollster gave the more than 800 people who participated in the firm's Internet survey in late January nine pairs of contradictory attributes from which they could choose. (It is a sample size that produces a margin of error of 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.) Respondents were asked to select the six that best described their current view of the two leaders.
The options were: out of touch/in touch; arrogant/down to earth; secretive/open; inefficient/efficient; strong/weak; compassionate/uncaring; foolish/intelligent; honest/dishonest and boring/exciting. They were also given the choice of ticking none of the above.
Even for a province as politically cantankerous as British Columbia, the results – provided exclusively to The Globe and Mail – were surprising. Specifically, the level of antipathy people appear to have towards Ms. Clark, even among party supporters, has to be a concern for the Liberals – especially with the beginning of an election campaign just over two months away.
The top four attributes people ascribed to the Premier were all negative: out of touch led the pack at 41 per cent, while 39 per cent of respondents said they found her arrogant, 33 per cent secretive and 33 per cent inefficient. The fifth most popular adjective to describe the Liberal Leader was intelligent at 31 per cent.
After that, it was more negatives: dishonest, 27 per cent; weak and foolish both received 22. The rest of the survey for the Premier looked like this – strong, 19 per cent; uncaring, 18, down to earth, 16; compassionate, 15; open, 12; honest, 11; in touch, 10; boring, 9; efficient, 9; exciting, 4 and none of the above, 11.
Naturally, people who identified themselves as voting for the NDP in 2009 were more likely to associate a negative word or phrase with Ms. Clark. But even people who said they voted Liberal in the last election were not kind to the Premier. For instance, 33 per cent of them said out of touch was among the words or phrases that best described her. Only intelligent, at 44 per cent, got a higher score among those who said they voted Liberal last time.
The third-highest choice among those who voted for the party the last time around was arrogant at 31 per cent, while inefficient received the next greatest number of ticks at 29 per cent.
So how did the Premier fare compared to her bitter rival Mr. Dix? Not well.
The top four choices to describe the NDP Leader were all positive. Intelligent led the list at 36 per cent, with down to earth in second spot at 25 per cent, in touch at 22 and open at 21. After that it was a bit of a hodgepodge: secretive, 20 per cent; boring, 20; arrogant, 20; dishonest, 19; honest, 18; compassionate, 17; strong, 16; efficient, 14; out of touch, 14; inefficient, 13; weak, 12; foolish, 11; uncaring, 7 per cent and exciting, 3. A surprising high number of people – 20 per cent – said none of the above. (Which would indicate Mr. Dix is still an unknown commodity to many.)
It should be noted that Mr. Dix found much more support among his base – people who voted NDP in the last election – than the Premier found among hers.
So what explains the reaction to the Premier?
"I would say that the negative feelings towards [Ms.] Clark are a combination of two factors," said Mr. Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion. "They are the result of the changing nature of the [government's policy] agenda and also the fact the Liberals have been in power for such a long time and some voters may already be tired and looking for change."
It is Mr. Canseco's belief that, for all her touted communication skills, Ms. Clark has failed to make any kind of emotional connection with voters. On top of that, she is lugging around quite a bit of negative luggage from the Gordon Campbell era. The key challenge for Ms. Clark over the short-term is trying to convince the public she is someone who cares.
Mr. Canseco said the attitudes in this survey reflect the results of more recent voter preference polls that put the Liberals anywhere from 10 to 15 points behind the NDP. Some of that gap is the result of supporters abandoning the governing party for the New Democrats.
"Even if the B.C. Conservatives were to disappear, the Liberals are still losing one-fifth of their 2009 voters to the NDP," he said. "The Liberals may be doing well in winning the battle for the B.C. Conservative window shopper, but they have another battle to bring back those who don't particularly like [Ms.] Clark and don't regard [Mr.] Dix as a threat."