According to the polls, Dwight Ball's Liberals will either win by a big landslide in Monday's provincial election in Newfoundland and Labrador or a modest one. And that is about as much uncertainty as remains in this lopsided campaign.
Three polls have been published this past week, all showing the Liberals holding a sizable lead over the incumbent Progressive Conservatives:
- Corporate Research Associates pegged the gap at 45 points, with the Liberals at 67 per cent, followed by the PCs at 22 per cent and the NDP at 10 per cent.
- Abacus Data also put the margin at more than 40 points, with the Liberals at 64 per cent, the PCs at 22 per cent and the NDP at 13 per cent.
- Forum Research estimated the Liberals' lead at 23 points, with the party at 52 per cent, the PCs at 29 per cent and the NDP at 19.
Despite the disagreement on the size of the Liberal lead, all three polls agree the Liberals are in a position to win a large majority government. These poll results point to the opposition members in the House of Assembly likely numbering in the single digits. In fact, the Liberals winning fewer than 30 out of the 40 seats on offer would be a surprise.
PC Leader Paul Davis has made it clear throughout this campaign he has no confidence in the polls, citing errors in the 2012 Alberta and 2013 British Columbia provincial elections as reasons to doubt the numbers.
In those cases, however, the incumbent governments trailed by about seven points in the last week of the campaign before surprising the pollsters on election night. But the margin between the Liberals and Tories in this campaign is three to six times that size. And the B.C. campaign took place more than two years ago — since then, the polls have called elections correctly in provincial votes in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Alberta, as well as in last month's federal campaign.
If there is a silver lining for Davis, it is that he is doing much better on other metrics.
Abacus suggests that more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have a positive view of Davis than a negative one, and Forum pegged the gap on who would make the best premier at just four points between Davis and Ball (CRA had it much wider, however). Abacus also found that 53 per cent of respondents said they thought the province was heading in the right direction.
Those are the kinds of numbers that would normally give an incumbent government hope.
But Abacus also found that four out of every five Newfoundlanders and Labradorians think it is time for a change of government. And 81 per cent believe the Liberals will prevail on election night — including two-thirds of PC voters. That kind of inevitability is hard to overcome.
Who will form the opposition?
If the real unknown of the campaign is the size and make-up of the opposition, which seats might the Progressive Conservatives and Earle McCurdy's New Democrats win?
The CBC's David Cochrane shares his thoughts on the districts most likely to avoid the Liberal wave:
- Cape St. Francis: This seat has never been anything but PC since it was formed, and Kevin Parsons is a popular local incumbent. Paul Davis attended a rally here the night he launched the election campaign because Parsons was certain to deliver a big crowd.
- Conception Bay East–Bell Island: PC incumbent David Brazil has a lock on the votes on Bell Island, which gives him a good base of support and allows him to survive a split in the rest of the district. Liberal Danny Dumaresque has run in a half-dozen seats all across Newfoundland and Labrador with minimal electoral success and has no roots in the district.
- Ferryland: Ferryland has been PC since 1971 and was one of the few seats to go blue when Joey Smallwood was dominating provincial politics. PC incumbent Keith Hutchings was viewed as a possible leadership candidate the last few times the job came open and would be a possible opposition leader should Davis go down with the ship.
- Fortune Bay–Cape La Hune: Tracey Perry's re-election chances are helped by this district's vast geography. She has a solid base of support in her hometown of St. Alban's, while her main opponent, Liberal Bill Carter, is strong in Harbour Breton. But NDP candidate Mildred Skinner is also from Harbour Breton and only moved to the NDP after losing the Liberal nomination to Carter. Skinner may create enough of a vote split to save Perry.
- Mount Pearl North: A recent Abacus Data poll has Steve Kent of the PCs trailing Liberal Randy Simms by 17 points. But people in every party agree that Kent can make up a lot of that margin through a superior get-out-the-vote team. Kent excels in this area while Liberals are complaining that Simms has been slow to adopt some of their modern campaign techniques. Kent may be in trouble, but he and his team won't be outworked between now and when the polls close.
- St. John's East–Quidi Vidi: Former NDP Leader Lorraine Michael is running against a sure-fire Liberal cabinet minister in Paul Antle. Antle has a boatload of money and came second to Dwight Ball in the Liberal leadership race a few years back. But Michael is running in a new district that is largely a blend of two NDP seats from the 2011 campaign.
- St. John's Centre: Gerry Rogers may represent the NDP's best chance of keeping a seat in the legislature. The one-term MHA has punched above her weight in terms of public profile over the past four years. The NDP campaign has been putting her front and centre at campaign events over the past week and McCurdy name-dropped her repeatedly in the CBC Leaders' Debate.
The poll by Forum Research was conducted on Nov. 24, interviewing 842 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The poll by Abacus Data was conducted between Nov. 22 and 24, interviewing 700 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians via the telephone. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 3.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The poll by the Corporate Research Associates was conducted between Nov. 5 and 22, interviewing 800 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians via the telephone. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.