A new poll suggests that the upcoming provincial election in Manitoba may not be in for a big shake up after all.
Polls conducted around the holidays had indicated that the Manitoba Liberals were on pace to throw a wrench in the electoral plans of both Greg Selinger's governing New Democrats and Brian Pallister's opposition Progressive Conservatives, surging to heights in public support not seen in decades.
- Analysis: What polls can tell us 3 months before Sask. & Man. votes
- Podcast: Manitoba's unpredictable election
But the latest survey from Mainstreet Research for Postmedia shows the Liberals taking a step backwards, down seven points from the firm's last poll of Jan. 7, putting them in a tie with the New Democrats at 20 per cent apiece. Pallister's Tories have taken advantage of the Liberal slip, picking up eight points to hit 52 per cent support.
The Greens came in fourth with nine per cent among decided voters, while 26 per cent of all respondents were undecided.
This is the first poll to show the Liberals losing steam since before their federal cousins under Justin Trudeau won the national vote last fall. It also puts the party back to where it stood in the polls prior to the federal election campaign, a position it had held in public opinion for about two years.
One problem for the Manitoba Liberals may be the low profile of their leader, Rana Bokhari.
While Mainstreet did find positive approval ratings for the rookie leader — with 36 per cent approving of her performance and 23 per cent disapproving — fully 41 per cent of respondents said they were not sure of what they thought of Bokhari.
By comparison, just 11 and 16 per cent were not sure of their opinions of Selinger and Pallister, respectively. But the PC leader had vastly superior numbers to that of the premier, with 52 per cent approval to 31 per cent disapproval for Pallister, compared to 29 per cent approval to 60 per cent disapproval for Selinger.
PCs lead in Winnipeg
A strong sign for the Tories in the Mainstreet poll was their robust lead in Winnipeg, where more than half of the province's 57 seats are located. The Jan. 7 poll from Mainstreet put the gap between the PCs and the NDP at nine points in the provincial capital. The latest numbers have extended that margin to 23 points.
The PCs led in Winnipeg with 46 per cent support, an increase of nine points. The NDP was down to 23 per cent, while the Liberals slipped six points to 21 per cent.
In the rest of Manitoba, the PCs were up six points to 61 per cent, followed by the Liberals at 17 per cent (down 12 points) and the NDP at 14 per cent.
NDP with little room for growth
The poll suggests that the New Democrats may struggle to regain support after more than 16 years in power.
The PCs have more committed supporters than the NDP, with 76 per cent of PC voters saying they were strong supporters of the party compared to 64 per cent of New Democrats saying the same about the NDP.
But the path forward for the New Democrats requires regaining much of the support they have lost to the Liberals since the 2011 provincial election, when that party had captured just 7.5 per cent of the vote.
However, the NDP was the second choice of 43 per cent of Liberal voters, while 33 per cent said the PCs were their second choice. While that does mean that for every point lost by the Liberals the NDP will gain more than the Tories, the NDP's edge is not nearly large enough to make up the 32-point margin that exists between the New Democrats and PCs province wide.
Even the Greens, who at nine per cent are riding rather high in the polls, named the PCs and Liberals as their second choice preferences, rather than the NDP.
Instead, the Liberals potentially have the greater room for growth.
The party is marginally the preferred second choice of Progressive Conservatives, but is the second choice of NDP voters by a very wide margin.
That means that if the NDP falters, the Liberals have a chance to close the gap on the PCs, whereas if the Liberals falter the margin between the NDP and PCs is unlikely to close significantly.
But this is just one poll, and the first to show a cooling-off for the Manitoba Liberals. The PCs have seen their vote hold steady over the last few years, with movement occurring almost entirely between the NDP and Liberals. So this poll showing a gain by the Tories at the expense of the Liberals will need to be corroborated by other surveys before a trend can be confirmed.
Nevertheless, with less than three months to go before the provincial vote this poll suggests that the election remains Brian Pallister's to lose.
The poll by Mainstreet Research was conducted for Postmedia on January 25, 2016, interviewing 1,628 Manitobans via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey is +/- 2.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.