NDP surges in Winnipeg, but PCs still in lead in Manitoba, poll finds

The Manitoba election could shape up to be a tight race in Winnipeg, with the PCs and NDP virtually tied in the city according to a new poll. On a provincial scale, however, the PCs still hold a commanding lead.

Race tightens in Winnipeg, but provincial numbers still put PCs in 1st place weeks ahead of election

Brian Pallister and the Tories still have a commanding lead over Greg Selinger and the New Democrats heading into the spring provincial election. (CBC)

The Manitoba election could shape up to be a tight race in Winnipeg, with the PCs and NDP virtually tied in the city according to a new poll. On a provincial scale, however, the PCs still hold a commanding lead.

A poll released by Main Street Research on Monday shows the NDP have experienced a modest surge in approval ratings in Winnipeg, while the Progressive Conservatives have dipped in popularity in the city. 

"They have a chance now to coalesce that anti-PC vote and try to make the credible case: 'If you're not comfortable with the PC Party, you need to come vote for us,'" said David Valentin, executive vice-president of Main Street Research.

"[Premier Greg Selinger] regained some footing and he's now able to message from a different position of strength, at least in the city of Winnipeg."

Among 742 decided and leaning voters polled in Winnipeg, the NDP currently hold 34 per cent of the pie (up eight points); PCs are sitting at 32 per cent (down 11 points); the Manitoba Liberal Party registered a 26 per cent approval rating (relatively unchanged); and the Green Party scooped up the final eight per cent.

Party approval ratings for decided and leaning voters in Winnipeg ahead of the Manitoba provincial election, according to Main Street Research. (CBC)

Political scientist Chris Adams says the numbers show many seats in vote-rich Winnipeg could be up for grabs, and the PCs could end up stealing a few important ridings.

You can split it as many times as you want, with these numbers you're still going to get a PC government.- David Valentin

"The PCs are really in contention in what they used to call '[NDP] fortress Winnipeg,'" Adams said.

Political scientist and professor emeritus at L'Université de Saint-Boniface, Raymond Hébert, said the results also reveal the PCs need to do more if they hope to close strong in Winnipeg this spring.

"We've always known that Winnipeg is our main battleground. The Tories have to make major inroads from the south," Hébert said. "These polling results indicate it's tough for Tories to break into Winnipeg and consolidate their hold there." 

At 26 per cent, the Liberals can't be counted out of contention in the city yet either, Adams added.

"That's not a great number, but at the same time if they are able to focus much of their support in particular parts of Winnipeg, maybe one or two outside of Winnipeg, they should have some sort of electoral break through."

Hébert, on the other hand, thinks Liberal approval rating increases over the past few months won't translate on election day.

"The polls that have given us, say, Liberals in second place, I doubt very much we'll see that on election day," he said.

NDP still behind outside Winnipeg

While the distance between the PCs and NDP in particular has narrowed in Winnipeg, the real fight for Selinger lies outside city limits, Valentine said. The challenge for the NDP will be to convince the anti-Pallister crowd to go with them and not the Liberals in rural Manitoba, Valentine added.

"If Liberal votes are becoming the 'dissatisfaction with the government' vote, and they're coming from the PCs in Winnipeg, that's actually quite helpful for the NDP," Valentine said.

"The only way to survive in some of those ridings outside of Winnipeg is going to be by lowering the Liberal vote as much as possible and trying to get an 'Anyone but PC' vote coalesced around the NDP."

It remains to be seen if the NDP will be able to mount a surge outside Winnipeg. Valentine says provincial results are "still dismal for the NDP."

In terms of decided and leaning voters at the provincial level, the poll shows the NDP are out ahead of the Liberals by a hair (NDP 27 per cent; Liberal 24 per cent). But the party would still have to close some serious distance to come close to beating the PCs, Valentin said. Of the 1,549 leaning and decided voters polled across the province, 43 per cent remain faithful to the PCs. Instead of leading by 30 points, the PCs now lead by just 16, according to the poll.

Party approval ratings across Manitoba ahead of the 2016 provincial election, according to Main Street Research. (CBC)

"You can split it as many times as you want, with these numbers you're still going to get a PC government. Maybe it will be a minority government, maybe it will be a soft majority, but you're still going to have a PC government [based on these numbers]," Valentin said.

The amount of undecided voters has gone up from 22 to 26 per cent since Main Street Research's last poll in February, Valentine said. Hébert says that bump could be an indication that voters are getting more engaged as the election looms.

"I don't think they have been so far, not seriously,"  Hébert said.

Shades of McGuinty 2011 campaign

Valentin says the New Democrats have been stylizing their campaign after the Dalton McGuinty-led Ontaro Liberal Party campaign of 2011. McGuinty was trailing in polls heading into that election.

"Their adds look very much like the ones Mr. McGuinty released — they almost look like a carbon copy," Valentin said.

"The main difference between Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Selinger so far has been Mr. McGuinty wasn't in third when he had to campaign, he was in second. So when he had to go make those arguments to voters that 'You need to vote Liberal,' he was saying, 'Vote for us because you can't afford the PC party.'"

Selinger has his work cut out for him in rural communities, Valentin says.

"We're not expecting them, with these sort of numbers, to be able to form a government because of how bad things are going to be outside of Winnipeg," he said.

Another force working against the premier is a perception that he isn't trustworthy, Valentine added.

"If you look at the scores for 'What's the most important characteristic for a premier to have?' almost half of the province is saying they want their premier to have honesty and ethics," he said. 

"But those are not terms I think most people would associate with Mr. Selinger. And among those voters who care about honesty and ethics, the NDP is doing abysmally. The long-term math … would sort of signal to us that there's going to be a ceiling of votes Mr. Selinger can have, but the math can change as we go week to week."

Probability samples of the size in this poll carry a margin of error of +/- 2.33 per cent, 19 times out of 20. 

Manitobans head to the polls April 19.


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