Last night's results in the two Manitoba by-elections in the ridings of Morris and Arthur-Virden showed that Greg Selinger's NDP government has indeed taken a big hit from the increase in the PST that started their poll numbers spiraling downwards in 2013. Though the winners were never in doubt - both ridings are solidly Tory - the NDP dropped more than half of its vote share from the 2011 provincial election and, overall, finished third on the night.
We'll start in Arthur-Virden, where the results were particularly bad for the New Democrats.
Liberal candidate Floyd Buhler finished second, surging from 3.8% in 2011 to 16% last night, the best performance for the Liberals in Arthur-Virden since 1995. He was the only candidate last night (excluding the Greens and the independent Ray Shaw, who did not run in 2011) to get more raw votes despite the steep slide in turnout. Buhler received 738 votes, compared to 288 for the Liberal candidate in 2011.
The New Democrats' Bob Senff fell most sharply, to just 10.4% after the NDP took 30.2% in this riding in 2011. That was a drop of almost 20 points, and the NDP took just 21% of the vote haul they did in 2011. It was their worst performance since before 1990.
The Greens' Kate Storey captured 5.3% of the vote.
The NDP's Dean Harder narrowly placed second, with 12.9%. That was a drop of 6.5 points and the party's worst showing since 1995. The Liberals' Jeremy Barber took 11.2%, up from 6.6% in 2011, and their best performance since 2003.
Shaw took 3.7% of the vote while Alain Landry of the Greens captured 2.3%.
Overall, it was a rough night for the New Democrats. In these two ridings in 2011, they had captured just under 25% of votes cast. That fell to less than 12% last night. The Liberals increased their share from 5% to 14%, while the Tories held firm.
In 2011, the average vote share in Morris and Arthur-Virden was 70% for the PCs, 24.8% for the NDP, and just 5.2% for the Liberals.
That means the Liberals picked up 8.4 points last night, primarily from the NDP. They dropped 13.1 points, with the remainder going to the Greens and Shaw. The PCs dropped by just 0.9 points.
If we apply those proportional changes to the province-wide results in 2011, we get the Tories at 43%, the NDP at 22%, and the Liberals at 20%. That is remarkably close to the last Probe Research survey, that put the Tories ahead with 48% to 26% for the NDP and 20% for the Liberals. These ridings did just about as expected in that respect, and the results go a long way to confirming the NDP's slide. It also suggests that the Liberal support recorded in the polls can actually manifest itself at the ballot box - at least in a low-stakes by-election. But what about a general election?