N.B. Liberals hold lead, but Tories narrowing the gap, poll suggests
46 per cent of people polled say they'd vote for Liberals, 33 per cent for Progressive Conservatives
After a bruising three months marked by the property assessment scandal, Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government holds a seemingly comfortable lead over the opposition Progressive Conservatives, according to a new poll.
Corporate Research Associates' quarterly survey found 46 per cent of decided respondents would vote for the Liberals, while 33 per cent said they would vote PC.
But CRA pollster Don Mills said that lead masks some troubling trends for the Liberal Party.
Liberal support has been gradually shrinking over the last year and PC support has been inching up.
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The gap between the two parties has narrowed from 27 points in the May 2016 poll to 13 points in May 2017.
"That is getting tighter, there's no doubt about it," Mills said.
"The trend line is not that good for the Liberals if it were to continue, and pretty good for the Tories if it were to continue."
Property tax scandal to blame
Liberal support is down from 51 per cent in the last CRA poll three months ago, a five-point drop that is outside the sample's margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
PC support didn't shift outside that margin — from 30 to 33 per cent — but it's been growing steadily for a year.
The NDP was chosen by 11 per cent of those surveyed, the Green Party by six, and the People's Alliance by three. Those numbers were among decided voters only. Thirty-six per cent of respondents were undecided.
Liberal Party president Joel Reed said the poll is just a snapshot of opinion from last month, but "that being said, we're relatively pleased with these numbers."
He attributed the Liberal apparent dip in support to the scandal over botched property tax assessments.
- Auditor general takes over review of tax mess after former judge backs out
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"There's no question that with the volume of coverage of the property assessment issue, it's had an impact on the polling numbers," Reed said.
There's no question that with the volume of coverage of the property assessment issue, it's had an impact on the polling numbers.- Joel Reed, Liberal party president
But he said the level of Liberal support is still higher than what it was in the 2014 election, when the party won a majority of seats.
He also pointed to the satisfaction level with the government — 53 per cent, which is statistically unchanged from the 55 per cent in the last poll, taken before the property assessment scandal began dominating political debate.
Dissatisfaction was at 41 per cent. The margin of error for those numbers is 3.5 points.
English voters less satisfied
However, Mills said the overall provincial number has regional breakdowns that should worry the Liberals.
The satisfaction rate was 67 per cent among francophones and only 44 per cent among anglophones.
In the 2014 election, the Liberals won huge majorities in most francophone ridings.
That's why despite an eight-point margin in the popular vote over the PCs — 42.7 per cent to 34.7 per cent — they won only a narrow majority of seats, some of them by fewer than 100 votes.
Another trouble sign for the Liberals is that only 31 per cent of respondents preferred Gallant as premier, down from 35 per cent in the last poll, another shift that is outside that sample's margin of error of 3.5 points.
PC leader Blaine Higgs was the preferred premier for 23 per cent of respondents, 11 per cent chose Green Party Leader David Coon, five per cent chose interim NDP Leader Rosaire L'Italien, and five per cent chose People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin.
CRA sampled 804 New Brunswickers between May 3 and 31.