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.


  1. The BC Conservatives are planning on running a full slate in the next election and they have about 40-50 organized riding associations at the moment.

    Trying to project the results for the Conservatives in the next election based on the last one is not realistic for a host of reasons. The Boundary Similkameen result was an aberration because the candidate for the Conservatives had been the Liberal candidate but dumped by the party.

    With 18% and the nature of the way BC votes, a rural populist Conservative party will win a significant number of seats.

    1) The party did not really run any sort of campaign
    2) The party had very few members in 2009, now they have between 3000 and 5000
    3) They have the active support of a number of former Conservative/CA/Reform MPs. They also have former Newfoundland Premier Brian Peckford stumping for them.
    4) They have money in the bank for a campaign

    At this point the Conservatives are in range to to have a chance to win in:

    Peace River North and Peace River South, though south is a long shot.
    Nechako Lakes
    Cariboo North
    Cariboo Chilcotin
    All 7 ridings in the Okanagan
    Fraser Nicola
    Abbotsford South
    North Island

    That is 16 ridings

    One more that could be in play is the one John Cummins runs in, which is likely to be Richmond East or Delta South

    I base my estimates on where they can win on the 1991 Social Credit wins, 1996 BC Reform wins, and ridings the federal Reform/CA/Conservatives have consistently won with a majority in the last seven elections.

    The Conservatives may cause about 10 Liberal ridings to change to NDP through a shift in support. 2 Kamloops ridings, 2 PG ridings, Comox, Parksville and four in the Lower Mainland

  2. Once we get closer to an actual election, I will develop a more sophisticated model. I am using a sort of uniform swing model for the time being that has little other input.

  3. From what I know of BC, Bernard just has it about right; the old bases for the conservative SoCred factions will be the Conservative's greatest areas for growth, though whether or not they can break into the Lower Mainland is questionable. Unless they get a huge bump in the polls, they'll be restricted most likely to rural BC, in southwest corner, with dots here and there in the north and central BC, and possibly a seat or two in Langley, Abbotsford, and Surrey.

  4. You can look at the 1996 results.
    The Liberals had a higher popular vote yet the NDP eked out a majority as the Reform BC party split crucial ridings as per Bernard's comment.

  5. is there a seat projection for the latest Harris-Decima?

  6. I expect that new parties coming out of nowhere would be difficult to project. Imagine projecting the 1993 federal election. You might have had some idea where the Reform support was, because they ran in 1988, but the Bloc support likely would have been a complete mystery.

    I look forward to your BC model (though I recognise that other provinces are more pressing concerns), but I don't envy your task.

    I do wonder if BC will see an early election depending how the HST referendum goes. I also wonder how the HST referendum will go if there's a postal strike.

  7. AverageCanuck03 June, 2011 17:11

    I don't see how very much of this could be confusion over the federal Conservative party.

    If this poll was conducted in the same manner as the last poll in which the BC CP got 2% then one would suspect that the 'confused' were included in that total. Perhaps a confusion level of 1.5% considering they only got .5% in the previous election.

    But then again they are now led by a former CPC MP. Sure Strahl, Hill, and Day are going with Clark.

    But a lot of other old reform/alliance types like Randy White are going with Cummins.

    18% seems realistic to me. People keep saying his pro-life, pro-marriage message will hurt him.

    But in the bible belt around Chilliwack and areas in the interior and north that kind of talk is actually pretty popular.

    You realy do hit a ceiling of around 20% though, concentrated in those areas because at the same time that kind of talk is toxic on the island and in Vancouver.

    Still high concentrated support = seats.

  8. Courtenay Bound03 June, 2011 17:50

    Sorry but as right wing as I am and I swing pretty far to the right I would not be considering the BC Conservatives to be legitimate players. Sure lots can happen between now and the eventual election call. Problem for the BC Conservatives is that we know who these people are. They were the unrepentant rump of the now dead Social Credit Party. When that party went bust they became BC Reform Party. They've been intermingled with the BC First Party.

    What they don't realize is that the right in BC has changed a lot. It's more cosmopolitan, more sophisticated, and more educated today and far less of the Bible thumping variety. I mean come on but Cummins said being gay was a choice. That won't even fly in northern BC.

    The best thing the BC Conservatives could do is close up shop before they really embarrass themselves anymore.

  9. I would just add one observation to Bernard's solid analysis. Because BC's politics tends to split between two parties, left and right, the emergence of a reinvigorated Conservative party poses a life-and-death threat to the Liberals. Generally the right is represented by a party made up of an amalgamation of conservative-type parties. The Socreds were the right power brokers for about 40 years before they collapsed in the early 90s and the Liberals took over. But BC right-wingers apparently aren't afraid to jump ships at the blink of an eye. If Eric is right and Clark appears to be swinging the Liberals toward the center, the Conservatives could gain a great deal of support by the next election, which is not likely for almost two more years. That would leave the Liberals squished between the Conservatives on the right and the NDP on the left, in other words, the BC political wasteland. This may be pushing thigs a little, but we could even have defections from the Liberals to the Conservatives in the Legislature before the election. That could happen if it's apparent to right-leaning Liberal MLAs their party is doomed and they'd want to save their own skins.
    Dix of the NDP must love this.

  10. AverageCanuck04 June, 2011 02:22

    Pinkobme don't be too sure about vote splitting just yet.

    Dix and the NDP are very left wing. Cummins is very right wing.

    Usually parties try to hug the centre like in the last federal election which squeezed out the Liberals.

    In this case Clark might just hold enough sway with moderate, middle of the road types to win a plurality of seats.

    Prediction: Minority Liberal gov't.

  11. Danger for the Conservatives is that this is about where the Greens usually poll, maybe a tad over but the left-wing piggy backer on the NDP who never quite pan out could be the Conservative's model as a right-wing piggy backer for the BC Liberals.

  12. Hey AverageCanuck, you could well be right and I could be out to lunch. After all, I was the guy who predicted the Libs would gain 15 or 20 seats in the last federal election. Need I say more.
    However, I would just argue that this time the BC Conservatives are lead by a former federal tory who's well versed in incrementalism. If Clark goes too far toward the center, he'll take the right from her and it'll make it difficult, if not impossibe, for her to win. The NDP would form the government and Cummins and his crew would pick away at what was once the party of the right (Liberals). One or two terms of that and it'll be Premier Cummins. It's a game the BC Liberals played against the Socreds and the federal Reform Party used on the PCs.
    Again though, it's two years to the next election, so who knows?

  13. I'm not surprised by this poll, my parents in BC just bought Conservative memberships.


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