The results of provincial government polls quizzing Nova Scotians on key NDP policies suggest the party isn't connecting with the electorate as it enters the dying months of its mandate, a political scientist says.
Two polls conducted earlier this year asked respondents how familiar they were with the NDP's efforts to balance the budget as well as its policies on health care and job creation.
The polls were commissioned by the government's communications agency, Communications Nova Scotia, and conducted by Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates during the first and second quarters of this year. They were obtained by The Canadian Press under access-to-information laws.
In both polls, less than half of the respondents were aware of the government's policies on health care and job creation without first being told the names of the programs.
Jeff MacLeod, a political scientist at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said the results speak to the NDP's branding woes and, on a deeper level, the trouble it's having resonating with Nova Scotians as it mulls when to call an election.
The party is in the fifth year of its mandate, but doesn't have to call an election until next year.
"This government struggles a bit because it has a huge disconnect," MacLeod said in an interview. "They've lost touch with their base and confused the electorate generally."
Corporate Research Associates polled 401 adults in the first quarter of 2013 and 400 in the second quarter. The margins of error were plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, 19 times in 20 and plus or minus 4.9 percentage points in 95 out of 100 samples, respectively.
In the first-quarter poll, 47 per cent of respondents knew the government had a plan to grow the economy. The figure dropped further – to 41 per cent – in the second-quarter poll.
Only one per cent of those respondents correctly identified the policy as "jobsHere." Nine per cent guessed either "Action Plan" or "Canada's Economic Action Plan" – the name of the federal Conservatives' economic policy.
Participants were not asked to describe the policies or what they entail.
Forty-six per cent of respondents in the first-quarter poll knew of the government's health policy. That number dropped to 31 per cent in the second-quarter. Of that 31 per cent, seven per cent identified the "Better Care Sooner" policy by name.
The polls, which each cost $8,600, also asked Nova Scotians for their thoughts on the aquaculture industry, collaborative health centres and their knowledge of the government's buy local campaign and support for businesses through tax cuts, programs and services.
Premier Darrell Dexter said in an interview he wasn't "necessarily familiar" with the polls. But he said the government tries to get its message out to Nova Scotians through advertising and the media.
"If there is a disconnect between the government and the programming that we have, if we're communicating it, why it's not getting transmitted – that's something that I can't deal with," he said.
Only the second poll also asked respondents to weigh in on one of the NDP's key campaign promises: balancing the budget.
The government achieved that goal in April, tabling a $9.5-billion budget with a slim $16.4-million surplus for 2013-14. Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald said the province had been brought "back to balance" – another NDP slogan.
The majority of respondents said they considered a balanced budget "critically important" (32 per cent) or "important, but not critical" (54 per cent). A month after the fiscal plan was delivered, 47 per cent of those polled were aware the budget had been balanced – a figure MacLeod said reflects the electorate's waning appetite for "confusing" financial discourse.
"There's a lot of misinformation, double meanings, debate around very obscure accounting practices and I think the public gets pretty tired of it pretty quickly," he said.
If the balanced budget went largely unnoticed, MacLeod said that could be concerning for a party that made history in 2009 as the first NDP government in Atlantic Canada.
Dexter doesn't dispute that.
"Sure it's worrisome," he said. "You hear all this stuff about the cost of advertising, government programming and that kind of stuff. But I think that just underlines the necessity for people to understand the programming is available to them.
"It's important for citizens to understand the kind of work their government is doing."