B.C. New Democrats make polling gains on eve of crucial debate

According to the latest polls, the B.C. NDP is widening its lead over the B.C. Liberals.

Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals losing ground to NDP, Greens

NDP Leader John Horgan greets supporters before speaking during a campaign rally in Vancouver, B.C., on April 23, 2017. (The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck)

At the mid-point of the British Columbia election campaign, the B.C. New Democrats under John Horgan continue to hold a lead over Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals — and that lead is widening.

The NDP holds 42.5 per cent support according to the CBC's B.C. Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all available polling data, up 1.2 points over where the party stood on Apr. 11. The Liberals follow at 34.7 per cent, down just over three points.

The Greens have gained a little more than a point and sit at 20.1 per cent, while another 2.7 per cent of British Columbians are projected to be supporting other parties and independent candidates.

With these levels of support, the NDP would likely win 49 seats, just over the mark for a majority government. The Liberals would win 34 seats and the Greens would take four. 

Taking into account past polling errors, however, the Liberals are still capable of winning a slim majority government of their own — their projected high range tops out at 45 seats. But the New Democrats could also win an even larger majority, while the Greens could win as few as two seats and as many as 12. 

But the polling in this campaign remains relatively thin. Since it officially began, only Mainstreet Research and Justason Market Intelligence have published new surveys. The Mainstreet poll points to positive trend lines for the NDP and Greens, with the Liberals either stagnating or dropping in support.

This is in some contrast to 2013, when the B.C. Liberals showed growth throughout the campaign. But the lack of polling from other companies makes it more difficult to confirm these trends.

Undecideds may not break for Liberals

A large proportion of the electorate remains undecided: 21 per cent according to the Mainstreet/Postmedia poll published Tuesday. But the poll suggests that this group of voters may be unlikely to break in favour of the B.C. Liberals, stopping the party from closing the gap.

The poll found just 15 per cent of undecided voters have a favourable view of Clark, compared to 49 per cent who hold an unfavourable view. That makes for a -34 rating, far worse than Horgan's -7 rating (16 per cent favourable to 23 per cent unfavourable). 

Liberal Leader Christy Clark, right, stops to pose for a photo during a campaign stop at StructureCraft Builders in Delta, B.C., on April 24, 2017. (The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck)

Andrew Weaver of the Greens has a narrowly positive rating among undecideds, at 20 per cent favourable to 18 per cent unfavourable.

Mainstreet also found the Liberals hold no advantage over the New Democrats on desired electoral outcomes. Just 15 per cent of undecided British Columbians said they would be happy with a Liberal majority government, identical to the proportion who said they would be happy with an NDP majority government. A third of undecided respondents said they would be sad, angry or disappointed with either option.

NDP less likely to be hurt by turnout

The Mainstreet survey also suggests the Liberals may not benefit from the same kind of turnout advantage they had in 2013, when they had greater support among older British Columbians, who voted in larger numbers.

In polls done at the end of 2013, the New Democrats held leads of 18 to 32 points among voters under the age of 34, but their advantage among eligible voters between the ages of 35 and 54 was only four to nine points. Among those over the age of 55, the New Democrats were tied with the Liberals (and down by double-digits among those over the age of 65, according to one poll).

But Mainstreet shows that the NDP holds a lead of 21 points among 35 to 49 year olds and a lead of 11 points among 50 to 64 year olds.

They trail by 10 points among those aged 65 or older, but that the New Democrats are doing markedly better among middle-aged voters — and have their support less concentrated among seldom-voting younger British Columbians — suggests the New Democrats are less likely to take a hit due to turnout.

Problems for NDP still exist

The polls still show worrying signs for the NDP. Though Clark has a favourability problem, with 56 per cent of British Columbians saying they hold an unfavourable view of the Liberal leader, Horgan's negatives are increasing.

As more British Columbians come to know him, those forming an unfavourable view are growing more quickly (six points since March) than those forming a favourable impression (four points).

Weaver's positive ratings, on the other hand, are growing twice as quickly as his negative ones and the poll suggests voters would be just as happy with a B.C. NDP majority government as they would with a minority government giving the Greens the balance of power. 

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver holds a copy of his party's platform following a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., April 24, 2017. (The Canadian Press / Jonathan Hayward)

This may limit the NDP's potential to get a boost from strategically-voting Greens.

The last two weeks of the campaign also have the potential to throw up some curve balls for the NDP. Wednesday's televised debate could be a turning point, particularly if Horgan does anything to accelerate his growing negative ratings.

The dispute with the United States over softwood lumber might also inject some unexpected disruption into the campaigns of both the New Democrats and the Liberals.

Undoubtedly, the B.C. New Democrats will not be taking for granted a lead in the polls, particularly after the shock of the 2013 result. But unlike the polls four years ago, the trends appear to be heading in the NDP's direction — for now.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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