A new poll shows that Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives are still leading in the first week of the Manitoba provincial election campaign, though a large number of undecided voters in the poll might give hope to Greg Selinger's beleaguered New Democrats
But without gains outside of their traditional stronghold of the provincial capital the NDP will have only a very tenuous shot at re-election.
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The latest poll from Mainstreet Research for Postmedia puts the PCs at 44 per cent among decided and leaning voters, followed by the NDP and Liberals at 24 per cent apiece.
The Greens stood at 7 per cent in the poll, while 24 per cent of Manitobans said they were undecided.
That represents very little change from Mainstreet's previous survey from March 12, with the NDP down three points, the PCs up one, and the Greens and Liberals holding steady.
While the slide for the New Democrats is just outside of the margin of error, the party is still in a better position than it was earlier in the year. In three polls conducted by Mainstreet between the end of January and the end of February, the NDP scored only between 20 and 21 per cent support.
The large number of undecided voters has the potential to up-end the Tories' lead, and there is some reason for Selinger and Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari to hold out hope. The poll showed that respondents who were undecided but leaning towards one party or another were narrowly more likely to be inching towards the NDP or Liberals than the Tories.
But both trailing parties would need to lure significantly higher rates of undecided voters over to their sides in order to put Pallister's lead in any grave danger.
The CBC Manitoba Poll Tracker estimates the Progressive Conservatives would likely win between 35 and 39 seats if an election were held today, with the New Democrats winning between 11 and 16 seats and the Liberals between five and eight.
Twenty-nine seats are needed to form a majority government.
NDP needs gains outside of Winnipeg too
Manitoba's elections are often decided in the provincial capital, where most of Manitoba's seats are located. It is the region of the province where the New Democrats have the greatest chance of winning more seats with only marginal gains in support. But Winnipeg alone can't secure Selinger's re-election.
The poll from Mainstreet puts the NDP's support outside of Winnipeg at just 14 per cent — ranking the party third in the region and behind the PCs by 46 points.
By contrast, the New Democrats took 39 per cent of the vote outside of Winnipeg in the last provincial election in 2011, putting them 16 points behind the PCs.
That disadvantage in the rural parts of Manitoba cannot be compensated for by Winnipeg alone. The gap between the NDP and PCs stands at about four points in Winnipeg, according to the Poll Tracker, with the Tories ahead. But for the New Democrats to drag Pallister down into minority government territory, the NDP would likely need to be beating the PCs by 14 points in the city without further gains outside of the capital.
That's a tall order for a party that has been trailing in the polls for more than three years.
Winnipeg will still cast the decisive vote in this election campaign. But what happens in Brandon, Portage la Prairie, Selkirk, Gimli, and Flin Flon will have an impact too.
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The poll by Mainstreet Research for Postmedia was conducted on March 19, 2016, interviewing 1,772 eligible voters in Manitoba via interactive voice response. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.