The challenges parties face as Saskatchewan campaign begins

And they're off! Brad Wall kicks off his campaign with a wide lead in an election that is his to lose. How difficult will it be for the NDP's Cam Broten to make that happen?

Brad Wall's lead in the polls makes this campaign his to lose

Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall and NDP Leader Cam Broten kick off their campaigns today. (CBC)

Saskatchewan's election campaign officially begins today. But the election date, April 4, has been known long in advance. Has the outcome been as well?

Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party has been leading in the polls for years, and the latest numbers put him comfortably on track for a second consecutive re-election. 

But politics can make fools out of those who take things for granted.

The biggest challenge facing the Saskatchewan Party in this campaign may be that their victory is considered virtually inevitable. This can lull a party into a false sense of security — just ask Jim Prentice.

But the Saskatchewan Party holds all of the advantages as the campaign buses start rolling. The latest polls give the party a lead hovering around 20 points. Because of that lead the CBC Saskatchewan Poll Tracker awards it a large majority of the seats up for grabs if the election were held today.

How Wall's support breaks down regionally also gives his party an intrinsic advantage. Even if the electoral battles in Regina and Saskatoon get competitive, the lead the Saskatchewan Party holds in the rural parts of the province is so wide that the party can very nearly win a majority government without more than a handful of seats in Saskatchewan's two largest cities.

The fundamentals also favour Wall, who was preferred to NDP Leader Cam Broten in a recent Insightrix Research poll for the job of premier by 52 per cent of Saskatchewanians, compared to just 20 per cent for Broten.

Polling by Mainstreet Research for Postmedia has also given the Saskatchewan Party a very wide lead over the New Democrats on managing the province's finances, on the economy, on tax policy, and on creating jobs. And the economy just happens to be the top issue for voters: the Insightrix poll found that 54 per cent of respondents said economy-related issues were their top concern, compared to 34 per cent who chose social issues.

Certainly, the economy is in uncertain shape. Mainstreet recently found that 45 per cent of Saskatchewanians were pessimistic about the provincial economy, compared to 41 per cent who were optimistic. But those concerns play to the Saskatchewan Party's advantage as voters trust it over the NDP on the issue.

The swirling debate over pipelines is also unlikely to do anything but help Brad Wall. Mainstreet found that, by a margin of three-to-one, voters think Wall's government is doing enough to get new pipelines approved.

New Democrats need to change the channel

For the New Democrats, the challenge of the campaign is in gaining some traction on the issues that play into the party's hands. But the problem is that there aren't many of those.

The NDP still has robust support in Saskatchewan's cities. Recent polls have put the NDP at 37 per cent or more in Regina and Saskatoon, though still trailing the Saskatchewan Party. But there is a base there that can grow during a successful campaign.

The Insightrix poll highlighted a few voter concerns that the New Democrats could tap into. In addition to the 34 per cent who named social issues as top of mind, 14 per cent mentioned issues related to disappointment with the Saskatchewan Party's government.

Turning the conversation away from the economy and towards these other issues of concern would boost the New Democrats. Mainstreet's polling finds more Saskatchewanians trusting the New Democrats on education, the environment, and health care than the number of people who say they would vote for the NDP. The more the conversation turns to these issues, the better the New Democrats are likely to do.

The numbers, though, suggest that this alone might not be enough to push the New Democrats past the Saskatchewan Party. But Broten needs to start building momentum early on to have any hope of winning later.

Liberals and Greens need to be noticed

In addition to the two parties that held seats in the legislature when it was dissolved, the Greens and Liberals are also intending to run full slates of candidates. But will voters give them much notice?

That will be the biggest challenge facing Darrin Lamoureux, leader of the Liberals, and Victor Lau, Green Party leader. Both will be bidding for a seat in Regina.

The Greens, who finished third in 2011, have been polling around 3 or 4 per cent.

The Liberals ran only nine candidates in 2011 and accordingly took less than 1 per cent of the vote. Perhaps buoyed by the recent victory of the Liberals' federal cousins, polls have lately been awarding them 8 to 10 per cent support. But it is unlikely to be concentrated enough in any part of the province to win the Liberals a seat.

And getting these supporters to stick with the party may be difficult. Polling by Mainstreet found that 44 per cent of Liberal supporters said they "might change" their minds about voting for that party —  nearly twice the number who say the same about the Saskatchewan or New Democratic parties.

Will voters turn out?

Voters, too, will have a challenge to tackle in this election — their own indifference. Turnout in 2011 stood at just 66 per cent, down 10 points from 2007 when 76 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot.

Competitive elections can have a positive effect on turnout levels, but the polls are not now suggesting that the outcome is in great doubt. Can Cam Broten's campaign have an impact on that current state of affairs, or will Brad Wall coast to another win on April 4?

The poll by Insightrix Research was conducted between Feb. 9 and 11, 2016, interviewing 800 Saskatchewanians via the Internet. As the sample was drawn from an online panel, a margin of error does not apply.

The poll by Mainstreet Research on voter commitment was conducted for Postmedia on Feb. 11, 2016, interviewing 1,477 Saskatchewanians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey was +/- 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The poll on pipelines was conducted on March 1, 2016, interviewing 1,498 Saskatchewanians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey was +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The poll on feelings concerning the economy was conducted on Feb. 23, 2016, interviewing 1,579 Saskatchewanians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey was +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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 and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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