New Democrats would win if Manitoba election were called today, poll suggests

The New Democrats' upward trend in the polls continues as the latest results suggests Manitobans would vote the party into power if they went to the polls today — a showing that may have to do with the Pallister government's handling of the pandemic.

NDP now 6 points ahead of Tories in new Probe Research poll, continuing trend from last poll in December

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew and the New Democrats are six percentage points ahead of the Progressive Conservatives in the latest Probe Research poll, out Tuesday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

An upward trend in the polls for the Opposition New Democrats continues, with a new poll suggesting Manitobans would vote the party into power if they went to the polls today — and that may be related to the Pallister government's handling of the pandemic.

In a Probe Research poll commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press, 42 per cent of those surveyed said they'd vote for the NDP if an election were called now, compared to 36 per cent who favour the governing Progressive Conservatives.

"When you see a survey that shows a dramatic change in … the voting intention scene, you have to ask yourself if this is real or not," said Scott MacKay, president of Probe Research. "This is real movement, so we know something is going on here."

The undecideds made up 17 per cent, followed by 11 per cent for the Liberals and seven per cent for the Green Party.

A Probe poll released near the end of last year suggested the NDP had overtaken the Tories as the most popular political party in the province at that time, and the latest poll hints they have gained more traction.

The results in this week's poll show a slight dip in the polls for the PCs, and a slight gain for the NDP.

The December Probe poll suggested the PCs had 37 per cent support provincially, while the NDP had 41 per cent support.

During an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister told reporters he's relatively unfazed by the poll.

"There's no election. There's only a pandemic," said Pallister. "So I'm focused on dealing with the pandemic, not the election."

The premier said he believes his administration can regain public confidence by battling COVID-19 effectively and working with Manitobans — the small business community in particular — to restore economic growth.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew sees the poll numbers as a reflection of how the public grades the PC government's response to COVID-19, he said during a scrum Wednesday.

The NDP plans on focusing on issues around health care, education and Manitoba Hydro moving forward, Kinew said, adding, "Certainly there's a ton more work for us to do to earn that support."

Gulf widens in Winnipeg

The latest poll also suggests the gulf has especially widened within Winnipeg, where the NDP are 22 percentage points ahead of the PCs among those polled. In December, that difference was 16 points.

The poll, which was conducted between March 10 and 26, involved 1,000 respondents and used a mixed methodology (phone and online respondents). A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. 

MacKay said the six percentage point provincial gap between NDP and PC support is a statistically sound finding, and he said "there is a real link" tying those results to the PC's handling of the pandemic.

"We had a false start in reopening [in the summer] which I think shook some people's confidence, and now that we're facing down another potential wave and some variants, I think people are starting to wonder, 'Is this the party really to do this?'" he said.

"It's kind of a party that, they're not purpose-built for these pandemic times."

In a Probe poll in June of last year, the PCs saw a drop of five points from an earlier poll in March, when the pandemic arrived in Manitoba.

More women lean NDP

Probe attributes the NDP gains to changes in at least three bases, including women. In the poll, 48 per cent of female respondents said they support the Opposition party.

MacKay said that could be because many women have experienced the pandemic differently than men. Women have been disproportionately impacted by job losses and their care-giving responsibilities have increased. As well, many work in front-line health-care, retail and other essential services that had a front-row seat to how COVID-19 affected Manitoba.

Forty-six per cent of those surveyed under the age of 35 also favour the NDP, and a significant proportion of Manitobans who are highly educated and less affluent (48 per cent) also skew New Democrat.

MacKay said with few exceptions — such as flagging support for the governing United Conservative Party in Alberta — Canadians are generally rallying behind their federal and provincial governments right now. That makes Manitoba something of an outlier, he said.

"Sometimes in these stressful times people really do want to get behind the government, and this just is not happening," he said of Manitobans.

'I would not write them off'

Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives could still rebound ahead of the 2023 provincial election, said Probe Research's Scott MacKay. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

MacKay said in spite of the latest results, there is still a chance for a comeback.

The Progressive Conservatives remain dominant outside of Winnipeg; in the latest poll, half of voters outside the city said they support the Tories, versus 32 per cent for the NDP.

The next election isn't scheduled until 2023, and the expectation is the pandemic will be in the rearview by then.

"It's very possible that the Conservatives could rebound," MacKay said. "I would not write them off."

With files from Bryce Hoye and Sam Samson


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