Monday, March 21, 2005

Poll shows Liberals won battle for the middle

VICTORIA - Things are looking brighter for the Liberals.
The latest Ipsos poll found the BC Liberals have opened up a significant lead on the New Democrats. The Liberals have the support of 46 per cent of decided voters, compared with 39 per cent for the NDP.
With the election less than two months away, that's a significant breakthrough. Those kind of poll results suggest a substantial Liberal majority in the May election, with about 50 Liberal MLAs facing some 29 New Democrats.
The results aren't shocking. Voters dumped all over the New Democrats in 2001, and a quick rehabilitation looked unlikely.
But only a year ago the NDP was at 42 per cent support, slightly ahead of the Liberals at 39 per cent. Since then, the polls have found the two parties in a virtual dead heat, until the Liberals pulled ahead.
What's changed? One factor is simply the nearness of the election date. Voters angry at the Liberals who said they would vote New Democrat are now taking a harder look at both parties, and coming down on the side of Campbell and company.
The Liberals themselves have also changed. A steady stream of press releases have announced and reannounced money for health care, education and social services, as the Liberals try to look more like Santa and less like the Grinch. They want voters to see them as a party that's moved to the middle of the political spectrum.
Meanwhile, the New Democrats, perhaps heartened by their poll results over the last year, haven't made the same move. The party's election platform remains under wraps until the campaign starts. The ties to unions, which concern many potential moderate supporters, haven't been loosened. And the party has nominated candidates - like Harry Lali, Erda Walsh and Adrian Dix - who are symbols of the last bad government.
That's looking like a mistake. A year ago, about 20 per cent of voters were undecided or didn't offer an opinion when Ipsos called. That's fallen to 13 per cent in the current poll, and it appears most of the people who formed an opinion have opted to support the Liberals.
New Democrats ae still taking satisfaction in their progress since the last election. In 2001, the party took 22 per cent of the popular vote, as even traditional NDP supporters stayed home or voted for another party.
Getting back up to about 40 per cent is a significant achievement. That level means the party has won back the faithful, and convinced some swing voters that it could form a credible government.
But the New Democrats - despite a lot of public concern about the Campbell Liberals - haven’t come close to the level of support that would allow them to form government.
Maybe climbing out of the political graveyard is enough for many New Democrats this time around. Even that didn’t look like a sure thing barely four years ago.
Still, the poll may be marked as an early indicator of a new era of political stability in B.C. The Liberals, despite alienating a huge chunk of the public, have established a broad enough base to ensure re-election.
And the New Democrats, despite the kind of crisis that encourages cruel self-evaluation, have not done much to win the critical support of swing voters, perhaps counting too much on people angry at the Liberals, and not enough on people inspired by the NDP.
The poll found voters were evenly divided on whether the Liberals have done a good job. But only 13 per cent of the public strongly approve of the Campbell government’s record. More than one-third offer “moderate approval.” Those are potential swing voters. (The resuts are still good news for the Liberals. Their approval rating has jumped in the last six months.)
There are still almost two months until election day, and potential pitfalls for both parties.
But the latest Ipsos poll suggests the Liberals - if they stay in the middle - are on track for a second majority.
Footnote: The poll showed a divided province. In the Lower Mainland - representing more than half the seats - the Liberals are at 51 per cent and the NDP at 37. Across the rest of the province the parties are tied. The NDP has meaningful leads on the Island and Coast and in the southern Interior.


Anonymous said...

Paul, I think this says far more about the power of advertising and the media than anything else.

A year ago, when the public was hearing about the impact of cuts, mismanagement at MCFD and the failure of tax cuts to pay for themselves, the polls clearly showed that people had a very different picture of the Liberals.

Very little has changed on the ground, but relentless government (and now political) ads hammering the message that "BC is back on track" have convinced many that the BC economy is indeed "going great guns", AND that this is thanks to Liberal economic policy. The rosy 2005 budget (based largely on predictions they refuse to debate, equalization payments that actually reflect failure and other factors outside BC's control) has cemented that perception. What's more, PROJECTED spending based on this rosy outlook has convinced many that cuts have ALREADY been restored.

I know people who were deeply disaffected just a year ago and who have now completely revised their view of the Liberals, based on what they're hearing in the media. I'm astonished at how effective the Liberal's messaging strategy is for those who use the media superficially. The near total media/ advertising void on Carole James and the NDP just reinforces this.

As to the urban/rural split, the Lower Mainland, flush with cash from building and consumer spending driven by low interest rates and immigration, is naturally more receptive to the Golden Decade message. But people aren't swallowing it as easily in "the heartlands", where they can see firsthand that schools and other services are still closed and that local economies are still stagnant.

If the NDP are to have any hope of balancing the Legislature in the next term, they need to move soon and spend big on media messaging about the reality vs. the rosy predictions--i.e. reckless Liberal tax cuts that didn't do anything for the economy, that created record deficits and that are still hurting the most vulnerable--kids, schools, homeless, etc.

Anonymous said...

Why the big Liberal lead in Greater Vancouver, when they are tied with the NDP across the rest of BC? One can only speculate, since Ipsos and the rest of the pollsters are keeping this kind of data close to their vests.

The usual explanation I hear is that the economy -- meaning house construction -- is stronger in GVRD, and the whole Olympics package has greater political purchase there for obvious reasons. I don't discount those factors.

But I think there's a major underground factor at work. In BC the immigrant population is very much concentrated in the GVRD, and the loyalty of these voters to the Liberal Party, starting at the national level and now filtering down to the provincial level, is legendary.