Friday, June 3, 2011

BC Conservatives in the race?

A mysterious poll from the Mustel Group, mentioned in several different news articles but the only proof of its existence is here in this political tracking chart produced by the polling firm, shows that the BC Liberals and BC New Democrats continue to run neck-and-neck in the province. But it also shows that the BC Conservatives under newly minted leader John Cummins, a former MP for the federal Tories, are riding high at 18% support - up from their 2% in the 2009 provincial election.

UPDATE: Mustel has informed me the poll was taken between May 4-15 and included 500 respondents, meaning a margin of error of 4.4%, 19 times out of 20.
What can we make of this rise of the BC Conservatives? Certainly Cummins gives the party a good degree of legitimacy, and the more centrist Christy Clark might be pushing some voters further to the right. That there might be some confusion between the provincial and federal parties, or an undeserved transfer of support from one to the other in the wake of Stephen Harper's victory, could also be a major factor.

Compared to Mustel's last poll, this is an 11-point jump for the BC Conservatives, so nothing to sneeze at. This has hurt the BC Liberals, who are down four points from that December poll to 37%. The BC New Democrats are only down one point to 35%, indicating that they may be skating above the fray between the two provincial parties on the right. The Greens muddy the water, though, as they are down six points. A lot of support swapping seems to be going on.

Do the BC Conservatives need to be taken seriously? We cannot know if they will even run a full slate in the next provincial election. They were far from doing so in 2009. This also makes it a bit trickier to make seat projections. Until we know differently, I can only assume that the BC Conservatives will run candidates in the same ridings they did in 2009, which makes their prospects for seat gains much lower (that 18% is spread across the province, including the 2/3rds of ridings in which they did not run a candidate last time).

Accordingly, with this poll ThreeHundredEight projects the BC Conservatives win only one seat, Boundary - Similkameen. Of course, we don't know if they will even have a candidate there in the next election, as that could be as far away as 2013. And if they run a full slate, it is very difficult to predict which ridings might turn blue, and which ridings might go with the NDP because of a split between the Conservatives and the Liberals.

In any case, with this poll the BC Liberals win 46 seats, the BC New Democrats 37, and one independent is elected. A majority for Ms. Clark.

Still, it is a majority won within the margin of error. A two-point lead in a poll with a 4.4 margin of error is no lead at all, and certainly not something Ms. Clark could risk her majority government on. With the BC Conservatives coming from the right and the BC New Democrats not going anywhere, the prospects for an election in British Columbia this year would appear slim. But people have a way of doing funny things.