British Columbia·Analysis

NDP kicks off B.C. campaign with a lead and an uncertain future

Just like four years ago, the B.C. New Democrats started the provincial election campaign with a lead in the polls. Unlike four years ago, that lead is narrow and uncertain.

NDP favoured to win slim majority if the election were held today but 4 weeks of campaigning remain

John Horgan's B.C. NDP holds an edge in the polls over Christy Clark's B.C. Liberals. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

British Columbia's provincial election campaign kicks off today with the B.C. New Democrats holding the lead in the polls, familiar territory for a party that squandered an even wider lead four years ago. 

That means the 28-day campaign will matter. But NDP Leader John Horgan's margin for error is even slimmer than it was for Adrian Dix in 2013. The gap between his party and the B.C. Liberals is thin and Andrew Weaver's B.C. Greens are making a run for NDP seats on Vancouver Island — and perhaps beyond.

According to the CBC's B.C. Poll Tracker, a vote and seat projection based on all publicly available polls, the New Democrats have 41.3 per cent support among decided voters in British Columbia, followed closely by Christy Clark's Liberals at 38 per cent.

The Greens trail in third with 19 per cent support.

The other parties currently on the ballot are not estimated to take more than two per cent of the vote. The B.C. Conservatives, though their support in some polls has been as high as 11 per cent, had just seven candidates in place as of noon Monday. With no Conservative candidate yet on the ballot in 80 of B.C.'s 87 ridings, the Poll Tracker adjusts the party's support accordingly.

The B.C. Poll Tracker will be updated throughout the election campaign as new polls are published.

Slim majority for the NDP?

With their current levels of support, the New Democrats are on track for 46 seats, a very slim majority. The Liberals are projected to win 39 seats and the Greens two, which would double their representation in the Legislature at dissolution.

Most of the NDP's gains are coming in Metro Vancouver, where the Liberals' drop in support has been steepest.

But the NDP's edge is far from conclusive. Taking into account 80 per cent of polling errors in recent Canadian provincial and federal elections, the NDP could win as few as 32 seats or as many as 58. The Liberals could take between 26 and 51 seats — leaving plenty of overlap between the two parties.

If an election were held today, the Liberals would have an 18.5 per cent chance of winning it. That's better odds than tossing a die and rolling a "1."

The potential for the Greens to win more seats — the model tops out at seven seats for the party at the 80 per cent confidence interval — raises the possibility of a minority government. The model gives the odds of that happening at just over 30 per cent.

Little movement, big uncertainty in the polls

If the B.C. electorate is poised to change its mind, it has given no signs of it yet. The polls have been remarkably stable over the last six weeks. Mainstreet Research, which has been in the field weekly for Postmedia, has recorded a margin of four points or less between the Liberals and the NDP in five consecutive polls.

Insights West polled at the end of February put the gap at one point. A poll published on Monday put it at two.

The high number of undecideds — 23 per cent in Mainstreet's last poll, 19 per cent in Insights West's — also injects a high degree of uncertainty at this stage of the campaign. Many of these people might not vote or will split between the Liberals and the New Democrats in a manner similar to decided voters.

But if these voters fall disproportionately on the side of incumbency, that could easily overturn the NDP's lead. If they instead move for change, that could transform the NDP's narrow advantage into a wide one — if voters decide that the NDP represents that change.

Weaver the wildcard

Challenging that notion will be Weaver and the Greens. The party has seen its support grow by six points over the last few weeks in polls by both Mainstreet and Insights West.

Much of that growth has been on Vancouver Island. The Poll Tracker estimates the Greens' support on the Island at 30 per cent, putting the party just behind the NDP (36 per cent) and the Liberals (32 per cent). That puts them in range of six seats — all of which would come at the expense of the NDP.

Any further gains for the Greens look likely to hurt the NDP as well. According to Mainstreet, 47 per cent of NDP voters put the Greens as their second choice. Just 17 per cent of Liberals list that party as their next preference.

But Weaver remains more of an unknown than either of his rivals, particularly away from Vancouver Island where his seat of Oak Bay-Gordon Head is located. According to Insights West, 42 per cent of British Columbians do not have an opinion of the Green leader. Among those that do, that opinion is broadly favourable. But there is no guarantee that the opinions yet to be formed about Weaver will be favourable as well.

B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver addresses supporters after stepping off his campaign bus on April 6, 2017. (The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck)

So the race is on. The New Democrats are looking to avoid letting victory fall through their fingers again while the Greens are set on a breakthrough. The Liberals will try to repeat their comeback from four years ago — as well as stave off the complacency the 2013 polling miss might foment within their ranks. 

The last election campaign looked over before it had even begun. Not this time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

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