Despite the heated rhetoric of Wednesday's Saskatchewan leaders' debate, a poll of debate-watchers taken immediately afterwards suggests that the event may not have moved many votes.
The poll, conducted by Mainstreet Research for Postmedia and surveying 1,006 Saskatchewan people who said they had watched the debate, showed that 56 per cent of debate-watchers thought that Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall had done a better job, while just 32 per cent gave the nod to NDP Leader Cam Broten. Another 12 per cent were unsure.
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The numbers indicate that the debate is unlikely to have had much of an impact on voting intentions, as the scores for the two leaders closely match where the polls have the two parties. In fact, 61 per cent of debate-watchers polled who are decided or leaning towards one party or another would cast a ballot for the Saskatchewan Party, while 35 per cent would vote for the NDP.
If people who watched the debate are at all representative of voters as a whole, Wall's party is still on track to win a comfortable majority government.
And respondents agreed: 70 per cent said they expect the Saskatchewan Party to win the election. Only 16 per cent said they thought the NDP would prevail.
NDP inroads among women?
The demographic breakdown of the audience revealed some interesting differences in opinion among the sexes, however.
While 69 per cent of men polled thought Wall had done a better job in the debate against 23 per cent for Broten, among women the split was 43 to 41 per cent in favour of the NDP leader. This is quite different from the latest voting intentions poll from Mainstreet published a week before the debate — that poll gave the Saskatchewan Party a 21-point lead among all eligible male voters and a 14-point edge among women.
In Wednesday's debate, the poll suggests Wall appealed to men in greater numbers than his party does, while Broten did relatively much better among women.
This could potentially provide an opportunity for the New Democrats to make some inroads with half of the electorate.
But Broten does have an image problem. The poll found that 58 per cent of debate-watchers held a favourable opinion of Brad Wall, with just 24 per cent holding an unfavourable view. Just 33 per cent had a favourable view of Cam Broten, while 50 per cent held an unfavourable opinion.
Again, Broten scored better among women (a 39 to 41 per cent split). But those are high unfavourability ratings for a leader already behind in the polls to overcome.
Regina vs. the rest
The poll also suggested that the disparity between the race in Regina and the campaign in the rest of the province could increase.
On who won the debate, Broten lost to Wall by just five points in the provincial capital. He had a net positive favourability rating in Regina (+4), while his favourability rating was -19 in Saskatoon and -24 in the rest of the province. On the vote intentions of debate-watchers, the NDP was up on the Saskatchewan Party by one point in Regina, but trailed by 26 in Saskatoon and 33 points in the rest of the province.
Those are worse numbers outside of Regina than the party is currently posting in the polls, suggesting that the debate may have helped Broten in the capital while hurting him in the rest of the province.
However, these were only the opinions of people who watched the debate immediately after it had been held. Opinion can shift over time, and many voters who did not watch may form their opinions based on media coverage and the few clips they might catch on the news.
So the real impact of the debate may not be known for some time. The early indications, however, are that we should not expect a major shift in the tenor of the campaign out of the leaders' debate.
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The poll by Mainstreet Research was conducted for Postmedia on March 23, 2016, after the leaders' debate, interviewing 1,006 adults in Saskatchewan who said they had watched the debate. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.