For the first time in more than a year, the B.C. Liberals have the support of more than 30 per cent of the province's voters – a trend that mirrors the steady slide since last summer of their rival Conservatives.
But the new poll from Angus Reid Public Opinion shows the province's governing party remains 15 percentage points behind the B.C. New Democratic Party, just four months away from the start of the next provincial election campaign.
A persistent gender gap, skepticism about the Liberal economic record, and the Premier's low personal approval ratings remain challenges to the party winning a fourth term next May.
The poll found the NDP has the support of 46 per cent of decided and leaning voters, while the Liberals are at 31-per-cent support. The Greens and the Conservatives are tied at 10 per cent. It is the best result for the provincial Liberals in an Angus Reid poll since November, 2011.
The Liberals are moving in the right direction, said pollster Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid. "It's a small fluctuation, but important for the Liberals. Still, 15 points behind is not where you want to be four months out," he observed. Uniting the centre-right coalition has been a top priority of Premier Christy Clark and her party, but Mr. Canseco said that won't be enough to close the gap.
"They could start to climb the charts but there is one caveat: If all of these votes are coming from disgruntled former B.C. Conservative supporters, it's not going to be enough," he added. "They also have to stop their supporters in 2009 from voting for the NDP – which is what we've seen consistently in the voters' intentions." The Liberals currently retain just two-thirds of voters who supported them in the 2009 general election. The New Democrats still have 86 per cent of their previous supporters.
Since the fall, the Premier has toured the province, meeting privately with groups of women in a bid to close the gender gap, but her party still has just 28-per-cent support among women voters.
B.C. Liberal party campaign director Mike McDonald said that task of wooing women voters is starting to pay off. "Basically, women voters are getting to know the Premier and the Premier on the job and that relationship is still forming," he said. "A lot of women voters want to see exactly what our vision is and what is behind some of the decisions and actions we have made, and we have to do a better job of communicating that."
Overall, he said the trend is encouraging. "We have felt we have had momentum throughout the fall, heading into the new year. We've never lost faith in ourselves to make this a hotly contested election."
Carole James, the former B.C. NDP leader who now serves as the party's campaign co-chair, agrees the gap will continue to shrink in the coming months. But she said the party won't change its approach: NDP Leader Adrian Dix still out-polls the Premier as the best leader to handle a range of issues from crime to the economy.
"It's what the public is looking for, they want a government they can trust. It's not necessarily about the individual issues," Ms. James said.
The Liberals want to use the economy as a wedge issue in the coming campaign, and hope the budget that will be tabled next month will cement their claim to be the best managers of the public purse. Right now, Mr. Dix has a slight lead – of two percentage points – over Ms. Clark on the economy.
Ms. Clark has a personal approval rating of 31 per cent, and 19 per cent of those surveyed think she is the best party leader to be premier. Mr. Dix's approval rating is 46 per cent, and 29 per cent think he would be the better premier.
The online poll of 802 B.C. voters was conducted Jan. 17 and 18. The margin of error on a sample of that size is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.