NDP Leader Lorraine Michael blames the defections of Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore for the party's nosedive in the latest public opinion poll.
Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates found that the Liberals had taken a dominant role in its fall survey of public opinion, with the NDP dropping sharply to just 19 per cent of decided voters in their corner.
Although Michael's own popularity also dropped to third place, she said the party's problems boil down to the two MHAs who now sit as Independents in the house of assembly.
"Mr. Kirby and Mr. Mitchelmore have refused to stay and help build our party, and have instead done damage," she said.
Kirby and Mitchelmore quit the caucus in late October, shortly before CRA began its survey of 1,200 adults.
Pollsters found that the Liberals have the support of 52 per cent of decided voters, while the Tories have climbed to 29 per cent and second place. The NDP, which had placed first in the last survey, are now far back in third.
When asked if the poll results can only be attributed to Kirby and Mitchelmore, Michael replied, "I have no other reason to believe that there is another reason."
Kirby and Mitchelmore quit after a raucous round of infighting sparked by a caucus letter that demanded Michael agree to a leadership convention in 2014.
The party wound up agreeing to have a leadership review in May.
CRA president Don Mills said voters are clearly associating Michael with the NDP's problems, even though he personally had expected her own standing to be more stable. According to the CRA survey, Michael dropped to third place as voters' choice as leader, with just 18 per cent. She trailed Liberal Leader Dwight Ball, who had 39 per cent, and Premier Kathy Dunderdale, whose personal standing now rests at 25 per cent.
"Honestly, I can't recall in 25 years of doing this work ... such a big drop for a leader," Mills told CBC News.
"That will lead to a lot of speculation about her future, I suppose," he said. "They've gone from being a potential government to a third party. I've never seen such a case of a party shooting itself in the foot."
'I will take it': premier
Meanwhile, Dunderdale took some comfort in the latest poll result, which showed that while the majority of voters are still dissatisfied with the governing Tories, the percentage of satisfied voters had increased.
"You know, I will take it," Dunderdale told reporters Wednesday.
"It's good. You know, we don't govern by polls, and I've said that time and time again, and that's still true, but I don't like it when people aren't happy with me."
Dunderdale said the Tories have been trying to do a better job of explaining their policies to the public.
"We have to improve our communications. We have to move about the province. We have to explain more clearly what we are doing, and why we are doing it," she said.
Ball said the Liberal polling gains show that the party is on a roll, particularly after a leadership convention and a win in the Carbonear-Harbour Grace byelection.
"It's an indication, I think, of what we've been hearing across the province all summer as part of the leadership campaign," said Ball, who was chosen as the permanent leader at a convention in November.
"It's continuing the momentum that started for the Liberal party, both provincially and federally, I would say."