Though the polls are all over the map, the odds appear to favour Greg Selinger's bid to lead the NDP to a fourth straight victory in Manitoba, simply because the province is feeling so good about itself.
A poll released Monday, the first of this election campaign, has the NDP at 41-per-cent support, compared with 32 per cent for Hugh McFadyen's Conservatives.
Officials at Viewpoints Research, which conducted the poll, did not respond to a request for an interview. But another firm, Probe Research, plans to publish a poll Friday, and its principal, Scott MacKay, believes things may be going Mr. Selinger's way.
"You would think that the normal passage of time would have people thinking: time for a change," he said in an interview Monday. Under Mr. Selinger and his predecessor Gary Doer, the NDP has governed for 12 years.
"But the times are so good in Manitoba," he said. "I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen the city of Winnipeg as pumped up on itself as it is today." And in good times, "people might not be willing to rock the boat."
Another poll released Monday from Environics Research Group has very different numbers: 45 per cent for the Tories and 42 per cent for the NDP. But even that poll provides encouragement for the NDP, because much of the Conservative vote is concentrated in the relatively few rural ridings. That means a close race favours the NDP, who usually do better than the Tories in Winnipeg, which has 31 of the legislature's 57 seats.
Even more ominous for the Conservatives, the two polls show the Liberals under Jon Gerrard at between 5 and 10 per cent of the vote, down from their usual mid-teens count. Historically, Conservative governments in Manitoba have been elected when a strong Liberal showing drains votes from the NDP.
For Mr. McFadyen, though, the only poll that matters is the one he conducts every day when he campaigns door to door.
The people are telling him "Manitobans want change, they want to turn the page," he said in an interview. Voters are alarmed by Winnipeg's high crime rate, by high taxes and by long waits for health care, he believes.
He is also strongly critical of the NDP's decision not to join the New West Partnership, in which British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan agreed to eliminate interprovincial barriers to trade and employment.
But Mr. Selinger insists the NDP intends to sign the accord, too. "We've had very good discussions on the partnership" with the other provinces, he said in an interview, "and we look forward to continuing them when we return to office."
In truth, neither party is offering much that is different from the other. Both promise new investments in health care, education and the environment; both promise modest business tax cuts.
Manitoba is a mostly consensual society, maintains Lloyd Axworthy, the former Liberal MP and cabinet minister who is now president of the University of Winnipeg.
"This is not a province of grand gestures," he observed. The NDP has tried to provide pragmatic, ever-so-slightly-left-of-centre government, and Mr. Axworthy doesn't believe that the Conservatives, if elected, would be very different.
Mr. Selinger agrees that there are no great ideological differences between his party and the Tories in this campaign – though he claims that Mr. McFadyen would be more conservative in government than he appears today, a charge the Conservative leader has repeatedly and hotly denied.
What matters most, Mr. Selinger believes, is performance. "Even though you're not perfect, you have to work hard every day and show tangible results, and that's what we're committed to doing," he said.
But Mr. McFadyen believes that people have had enough of the NDP after a dozen years. "There's a sense people don't want to give them 16 straight years in power," he said.