Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals face a daunting task as voters prepare for this year's provincial election. While her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, enjoyed a lead among voters and was regarded as a superior economic manager at this time four years ago, Ms. Clark is about to start her first campaign 20 points behind the main opposition party, trailing the NDP in all important indicators.
Two months before the 2009 election, an Angus Reid Public Opinion survey gave the Campbell-led Liberals a six-point lead over the New Democrats under Carole James (43 per cent to 37 per cent), aided by a phenomenal showing among male voters (49 per cent to 33 per cent). The NDP kept a small edge among women (41 per cent to 37 per cent), helped by Ms. James being seen as the best person to handle health care and education. Mr. Campbell was decisively ahead of Ms. James as an economic manager (a 24-point lead) and for being tough on crime (10-point lead).
The Liberal advantage among voters was accompanied by a positive showing in other indicators. A third of British Columbians (34 per cent) approved of the way Mr. Campbell was handling his duties, five points higher than Ms. James. On the question of who would make the best premier, the incumbent held an 11 percentage point advantage over the opposition leader (36 per cent to 25 per cent). While almost half of British Columbians (48 per cent) felt it was time for change, two in five (39 per cent) argued that the Liberals should be re-elected.
Now, in March 2013, the situation for the Clark-led Liberals is unquestionably more complex, judging by our latest numbers. The incumbent party trails the opposition New Democrats by 20 points (28 per cent to 48 per cent) and is behind among female voters by a 2-to-1 margin (24 per cent, compared to 50 per cent for the NDP). The 16-point lead Mr. Campbell enjoyed among male voters four years ago has turned into a 14-point deficit for today's Liberals.
Ms. Clark's approval rating this month is 27 per cent – seven points below Mr. Campbell's total four years ago. NDP Leader Adrian Dix gets a positive assessment from 47 per cent of British Columbians, 18 points above what Ms. James had in March of 2009. In addition, Mr. Dix holds a 2-to-1 advantage on the preferred-premier question (31 per cent, with Ms. Clark at 16 per cent) and is ahead of the Premier on all issues, amassing leads higher than 20 points on the NDP's core themes of education and health care, and surpassing Ms. Clark on the economy and crime.
The most striking gauge is the time-for-change question. Only 23 per cent of British Columbians believe that the Liberals should be re-elected. Three in five (62 per cent) want a different party in Victoria.
The 2009 campaign solidified the numbers for the two main parties, with a drop in Green Party support among likely voters and the difficulty of some B.C. Conservative Party leaners to find a candidate in their riding. In that election, the Liberals finished three points ahead of their March showing and again formed the government. Then, the harmonized sales tax came into effect, ultimately dropping Mr. Campbell's approval rating to single digits, and setting up a chain of events that culminated with his resignation and the advent of a new Liberal leader.
The road will be significantly tougher for the Liberals in the post-Campbell era. While the Clark-led party posted a five-point lead over the leaderless New Democrats in March, 2011, it has failed to garner the endorsement of at least a third of decided voters for 18 consecutive months.
As was the case four years ago, the views expressed by the electorate today constitute a pre-campaign snapshot that will certainly go through fluctuations. Still, the task ahead for the Liberals is monumental. The party is losing two in five of their voters from the past election, with 21 per cent switching their allegiance from the Campbell Liberals in 2009 to the Dix New Democrats in 2013. More worrying still is the fact that one third of those who voted for the Liberals four years ago have no trouble acknowledging that it is time for a different provincial party to be elected.
Mario Canseco is vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, based in Vancouver. Mario has tracked several recent elections for Angus Reid using the firm's unique online methodology, including the 2008 and 2011 Canadian federal elections, the 2009 B.C. provincial election, and the 2012 U.S. presidential election. He will be providing regular analysis of the firm's numbers throughout the 2013 B.C. election and writing a weekly column for Globe BC.