Christy Clark went all tough on crime this week, proudly enrolling in Stephen Harper’s “lock-em-up” camp. Strange for a federal Liberal, who mostly think the crime measures — mandatory minimum sentences and the like — are expensive, ineffective political pandering.
A day later, a poll showed why.
The New Democrats have the kind of support that would see them elected an 2013, the Angus Reid poll found.
And a big factor is John Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives, a rather serious problem for the Liberals.
The poll is bad news for Clark. It found 40 per cent of voters say they would vote for the NDP in the next election. The Liberals are at 31 per cent, a serious gap.
The Greens are at eight per cent support, in their typical range.
But the Conservatives are at 18 per cent, unprecedented heights for a party that has been firmly, even proudly, on the political fringes for more than three decades.
If the Conservatives hold that support, or anything close to it, the centre-right vote will be split and the Liberals will lose a lot of seats.
Of course, people often say they support parties with limited chances of success between elections, before returning to the fold when it matters.
But several things might make this different, with Cummins the main one. He’s an experienced, skilled campaigner, as shown by his six successful campaigns to be an MP under Reform, Alliance and Conservative banners. He has attracted others with experience to the party and knows how to do the basic stuff that other fledgling political efforts, like the Greens, tend to mess up. Cummins has been quick off the mark and effective in issuing news releases critiquing the Clark government, for example.
And Cummins has a chance, with some credible candidates, to make a pitch to voters who aren’t happy with either of thetwo main parties, a significant group these days.
The poll looked at how votes were shifting and found some interesting changes.
The Liberals have lost the support of about one-third of the people who voted for them in 2009, according the other poll results. About two-thirds of the defectors have shifted their support to the Conservatives, but more than one in four former Liberal voters now support the NDP.
But the New Democrats have also lost the support of 16 per cent of their former supporters — and half of those people have jumped to the Conservatives.
The poll isn’t all bad news for the Liberals. The poll found 25 per cent of those surveyed think Clark would make the best premier, compared to 19 per cent who pick Adrian Dix. She was judged significantly better-suited to deal with the economy, which was the top issue identified.
However she and Dix were tied in their approval ratings in their current jobs.
And, significantly, 12 per cent of respondents said their opinion of Clark had improved in the past three months, while 39 per cent said it had worsened. Dix fared better, with 18 per cent saying they were more impressed with him based on the last three months, while 17 per cent said their opinion had worsened.
Clark faced a formidable challenge in convincing voters that her Liberal government would be different than the Gordon Campbell version. The worsening poll results suggest she’s not succeeding.
And now she has to try to turn back the Conservative surge, which will also be difficult. Clark could push the Liberals to the right, as she did with her tough on crime talk, but that risks alienating more moderate voters.
The Liberals can argue, as they did this week, that voting Conservative would result in an NDP government. That, however, sounds both arrogant and uninspiring. “Vote for us, in spite of what we’ve done” is a weak slogan.
The election is stlill 18 months away. But Clark and the Liberals have a lot of work ahead of them.
Footnote: The poll was conducted Oct. 31 and Nov. 31 and based on an online sample of 803 people. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.