Newfoundland and Labrador's governing Tories are almost tied with the New Democrats for the affection of decided voters, according to a poll released Monday.
Support for Premier Kathy Dunderdale's Progressive Conservatives stands at 38 per cent, just a point behind the NDP, which had the support of 39 per cent of voters questioned by Halifax-based Corporate Research Associates (CRA).
Support for the Liberals changed marginally, dropping to 22 per cent from 23 per cent in December.
The poll marked the first time that CRA had the NDP first for voter support. An Environics poll last July also put the NDP in the lead, although until now CRA had not found similar results.
"It's nice to see the hard work paying off," NDP Leader Lorraine Michael told CBC News soon after the poll was released.
"I don't think this government is winning friends and influencing people with these policies," she said, adding that Bill 29, which re-wrote provincial access to information legislation, and Muskrat Falls, have proven to be unpopular with many voters.
Sharp drop from the fall
CRA found that support for the Tories slumped considerably from a survey last fall, which found the party was the choice of 46 per cent of decided voters. At that time, the pollster found that support for the Tories had stabilized after months of steady decline during much of 2012.
The poll, which questioned 400 adults, has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The sample is only half the number used in the fall poll, which had a considerably smaller margin of error.
It was conducted between Feb. 11 and March 8, a period during which dozens of layoff notices and announcements about spending cuts were being made in advance of the upcoming budget.
The poll suggests that dissatisfaction with the Tories appears to be on the rise. CRA found that 45 per cent of respondents were either completely or mostly satisfied with the government, down from 58 per cent just three months ago. Some 52 per cent said they were not satisfied with the government, up from 38 per cent.
The poll also suggests Dunderdale's personal popularity continues to erode, and has slipped behind Michael.
Asked to identify which leader is best suited to serve as premier, 33 per cent picked Michael, while 32 per cent selected Dunderdale. Interim Liberal Leader Dwight Ball polled 17 per cent.
'Can't make decisions to be popular'
Dunderdale said she wasn't surprised by the results.
"We understand the impact of having to make difficult decisions and what that's going to do. We have confidence in what we're doing, and we think, at the end of the day, that that will become clear to the people of the province," she said.
"I made a commitment to do what I believe was in the best interest of the people of the province, and to run a principled government. And I can't make decisions to be popular."
Meanwhile, Ball said the latest poll will draw attention to what an NDP government would look like.
"I encourage people to take a look at where an NDP government would actually take this province, in terms of the finances and the services it would provide," he said.