The Liberals continue to hold a wide lead in public opinion, according to the latest political poll released by Corporate Research Associates on Tuesday.
The Liberals were selected by 48 per cent of decided voters as their preferred party, followed by the Progressive Conservatives at 29 per cent, the NDP at 17 per cent, the Green Party at four per cent and the People's Alliance at two per cent.
The poll indicated that 14 per cent of voters were undecided and seven per cent picked none or said they did not plan to vote.
Don Mills, the chairman and chief executive officer of Corporate Research Associates, said the electoral hopes for Alward’s Tories are looking dim.
“It is a very tough uphill climb for them in this election. We will have to wait and see, it is all about turnout,” Mills said.
“I have actually never seen anyone come back from that kind of a gap, we will have to wait and see if this is the first time it happens. But the odds are against it at the moment.”
The relatively low number of undecided voters could also be a problem for the Tories as election day draws closer.
"It just really means there is not a lot of people left to persuade in this point in the election, unless something significant happens, to change their vote," Mills said.
CRA surveyed 800 people between Aug. 19 and 31 on the telephone. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin of error on the decided vote is four percentage points, based on a sample of 588.
The poll comes less than three weeks before New Brunswickers head to the polls on Sept. 22.
J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, said Gallant and the Liberals should be prepared for "some more negative campaigning" from his chief rivals.
While the Liberals hold a 19-percentage-point lead, Lewis said a lot can happen with 20 days left before the election.
"We still have the debate, there hasn’t been a big gaffe by any of the parties. The parties have stuck to the script, there haven’t been any bombshell revelations," Lewis said.
"I assume the Tories still think they can make up this gap."
In CRA's June poll, Gallant’s Liberals were picked by 53 per cent of decided voters as the party they would cast a ballot for if the election were held that day. The Tories were supported by 28 per cent of decided voters, the NDP at 16 per cent and the Greens at three per cent. The People’s Alliance remained with zero per cent support.
The number of undecided voters was 18 per cent, according to the CRA poll in June.
Gallant remains most popular leader
Gallant continues to be the most popular of the five political leaders, according to the new poll.
When asked who they thought was their preferred choice for premier, 35 per cent picked Gallant, 22 per cent picked Alward, 11 per cent picked NDP Leader Dominic Cardy, five per cent picked Green Party Leader David Coon and two per cent picked People's Alliance Kris Austin.
The majority of people polled also said they were mostly or completely dissatisfied with the Alward government's performance.
The poll showed 56 per cent of respondents were mostly or completely dissatisfied with the provincial government compared to 35 per cent who ere mostly or completely satisfied.
Mills said the overall government satisfaction levels are important to gauge the outcome of an election for an incumbent government.
In his years of polling in Atlantic Canada, Mills said an incumbent government has never won re-election with less than 50 per cent satisfaction.
“It is very difficult to see any circumstance where the Conservatives could make up the kind of ground that they have lost in terms of performance numbers over the last year or two,” Mills said.
UNB's Lewis said he expects there is a significant amount of frustration inside the Progressive Conservative camp after reading the latest CRA poll.
He said the polls suggest voters are using the election as a referendum on the overall state of the economy and not the Alward government.
"There are identifiable scandals or failed policies that people are attached to," he said.
"When you are in a stubborn, struggling economy, the government in power will always have to answer the question of why didn't they get it going faster."