Tuesday, September 25, 2012

B.C. Conservatives drop amid leadership woes

Late last week, Ipsos-Reid released a new poll on the provincial voting intentions of British Columbians. The poll was taken earlier this month at a time when questions were being raised about John Cummins' leadership. He survived the call for a leadership vote over the weekend, but already the uncertainty seems to have hurt his party.
The B.C. New Democrats led by a wide margin in this poll with 49% support, an increase of one point since Ipsos-Reid was last in the field June 5-11. The B.C. Liberals picked up three points to hit 32%, while the B.C. Conservatives were down four points to 12%. The Greens remained stable at 6% support.

The changes in support for the NDP and Liberals were statistically insignificant - not so for the drop of the Conservatives. With a very difficult weekend for the party (low turnout in the vote on leadership, a less-than-impressive win for Cummins, and the loss of their only MLA, John van Dongen) it will be interesting to see if the Conservatives will lose further support.

As I discussed yesterday, the 32% support for the B.C. Liberals is deceptively high. Compared to Angus-Reid and Forum Research, the two other firms most active in the province, Ipsos-Reid has awarded the Liberals higher scores to the tune of about six points per poll. That is not to say that the B.C. Liberals are not at 32% - Ipsos could be gauging the B.C. electorate more accurately than their rivals - simply that things have remained relatively stable for the Liberals over the summer.

In any case, no matter who is doing the polling the end result is a massive NDP landslide. Voter turnout is unlikely to swing things dramatically either, as the New Democrats have majority support among those aged 35 or older in this poll. Those are the people who are most likely to vote on Election Day.

Interestingly, though, the New Democrats are not doing so well among men. While they held a 33-point lead among women (57% to 24%), they were only up by a single point among men (41% to 40%). This could be a mere statistical fluke, but it does have the potential to be problematic for Adrian Dix.

The New Democrats held leads in Metropolitan Vancouver (52% to 32%) and on Vancouver Island (57% to 24%), having gained three and four points, respectively, since June. The Liberals were steady in these two regions.

In the North and the Interior, however, the New Democrats were down five points to 40% while the Liberals were up eight to 36%. This is the only region of the province where the NDP lead is not statistically significant. We saw similar numbers in the recent Angus-Reid poll, suggesting that this part of British Columbia will be the most competitive. It is also the region where the B.C. Conservatives have the most support. A few three-way races can be expected in the Interior.

With these numbers, the B.C. New Democrats would win a majority government of 64 seats. The B.C. Liberals would form the Official Opposition with 20, and one independent would be elected. The B.C. Conservatives would be shut-out, just short of where they need to be to win a couple of seats.

The problem could indeed be John Cummins. His personal numbers are far below those of Adrian Dix and even Christy Clark. Whereas Clark has an approval rating of 33%, Cummins' is only 23%. He has a much lower disapproval rating at 40% to Clark's 60%, but that is due primarily to the 37% of British Columbians who are unsure of their opinion of him. Remove them from the equation (and the 7% who are unsure of Clark), and you get very similar numbers.

Dix has better numbers than his party, with an approval rating of 51% and a disapproval rating of only 34%. He is also the favourite person to be Premier at 35% to Clark's 22% and Cummins' 9%. But these numbers may not be as telling as they appear - if we remove the "don't knows" we get numbers that are almost identical to the voting intention results.

Less than eight months remain before British Columbians go to the polls and the B.C. Liberals have been unable to move the dial by more than a tick or two (in either direction) for quite some time. Eight months ago, the B.C. New Democrats were enjoying a 14-point lead over the Liberals. That lead is now between 17 and 21 points. Can the Liberals really manage to turn things around and gain two or three points per month on the NDP by May 2013? Unless some sort of game-changing event takes place, it seems very unlikely.