BC Liberals have narrowed the polling gap with the province's New Democrats to seven points – a major reversal for a party routinely as much as 20 points behind the opposition in the months leading to the election campaign.
The exclusive new poll for CTV and The Globe and Mail, conducted this week by Angus Reid Public Opinion after the only televised leaders debate, had other good news for the Liberals: It suggests Leader Christy Clark is now graded as best able to handle the economy – a key theme in the party's campaign – over NDP Leader Adrian Dix.
While a seven-point gap would still easily allow the NDP to form the next B.C. government, Angus Reid vice-president Mario Canseco said it's clear that the Liberals could pull off a major upset, allowing for a fourth consecutive term.
The online poll coincides with a Forum Research poll that found a four-point gap between the parties, with the NDP at 39 per cent and the Liberals at 35 per cent.
"[Ms. Clark] is clearly starting to hit her stride and that is something that needs to be acknowledged – connecting in the topics where [the Liberals] used to dominate," Mr. Canseco said in an interview on Thursday.
Among those is the economy. "It used to be an issue that Gordon Campbell would win without saying anything," Mr. Canseco said.
But he said it's clear that the Liberal allegations about NDP management of the economy in the years when that party governed may be resonating – especially with people over 55, who are more inclined than younger people to get out and vote. The survey suggests the race is now essentially tied – 40 per cent for New Democrats and 39 per cent for Liberals – for the support of voters over 55.
On overall voting intention, the NDP has 41 per cent; the Liberals 34 per cent, the BC Greens 12 per cent, and the BC Conservatives 10 per cent. The survey was conducted May 1 and 2 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent 19 times out of 20.
Although the poll was done after this week's TV debate, Mr. Canseco said he did not think the debate prompted the shift; rather, it was the result of trends that have been at play in the campaign.
To win, Mr. Canseco said the Liberals would have to get more of the voters who supported the party in 2009 to do so again.
The survey suggests the NDP is holding on to 76 per cent of the voters who supported them in 2009, compared to 66 per cent for the Liberals.
"If they can bring back all of the voters or most of the voters who supported them in the 2009 election, they can certainly [win]," he said. "It's not something that happens overnight."
Mr. Canseco said he was not entirely surprised by the findings. "Nobody would call an election two months in advance or two weeks in advance or two years in advance," he said. "Ultimately this is why you have campaigns, and the campaign, in that sense, has been successful for the Liberals because they are doing a lot better than when they started, and it hasn't been as kind for the NDP because they have their lowest number in a year and a half."
Other findings in the poll suggest:
-Although the NDP continues to lead in the support of female voters, 43 per cent to the Liberals 35 per cent, female support for the party led by the province's second female premier is up 11 points since the provincial election campaign began.
The Liberals are leading the New Democrats in the Southern Interior by 42 per cent to 29 per cent – the first time in a year and a half that the Liberals have been ahead in a region, according to Mr. Canseco.
On the hustings Thursday, Ms. Clark said she thinks people are starting to wake up to the Liberal message. "I think that people really are coming to conclude that this election is about the economy," she said in Kamloops.
Mr. Dix, speaking to reporters in Vancouver, in part about the Forum poll, said he was happy with the positive tone of his campaign and that the only poll that matters is on Election Day.
At dissolution, the Liberals had 45 seats, the NDP 36 seats, and there were four independents.