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Crime emerging as BC election issue: poll

A new poll from Angus Reid Strategies suggests that crime is emerging as a major issue for B.C. voters.

The poll, which gives the Liberals a six percentage point lead over the New Democratic Party, found that the number of respondents who cited crime as the most important issue has almost tripled since last summer.

“Whoever can connect on this issue is going to see their numbers rise,” Reid vice-president Mario Canseco told The Tyee.

The poll suggests the Liberals have the support of 43 per cent of decided voters, up four percentage points since the last Reid poll in November. The NDP trails with 37 per cent, down seven points since November. The Greens have 13 per cent, down two points. The B.C. Conservatives, who were included for the first time in the multiple-choice options given respondents, have four per cent.

But the race becomes much closer when the pollsters focus on those who say they are “absolutely certain to vote.”

The Liberals have the support of only 41 per cent of “absolutely certain” voters, with the NDP at 39 per cent – in effect, a dead heat. This suggests that “the B.C. election may well be determined by the turnout levels of supporters for each party,” the pollsters said in a statement accompanying the results.

And although the Liberals lead in the horserace numbers, when asked if it is “time for a change of government in British Columbia,” a majority – 51 per cent – said yes. Only 34 per cent of respondents said the Liberals should be returned to office, despite the fact that 43 per cent said they would vote Liberal.

The question about voting intention came before the question on whether it is time for a change.

Worse for Campbell, only 30 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that “Gordon Campbell should be re-elected.” A majority – 54 per cent – said it was time for a new premier.

But James is not impressing voters either, Canseco said.

“We still have some people who are not sold on Carole James as a leader, even among the NDP,” he said.

While James is strong on the issues of health care and education, the voters care the most about the economy – 36 per cent said it was the most important issue, up from 14 per cent in August.

They also care about crime. With the recent wave of gang violence in the Lower Mainland, crime has jumped into second place as the most important issue. Nineteen per cent cited it as their top issue, up from seven per cent in August.

Canseco said his boss, Angus Reid, has never seen crime ranked so high.

“This is something that could actually emerge as something either of the two parties could capitalize on,” he said.

While James has the opportunity to blame Campbell for gang violence, it’s a difficult issue for her because voters are less inclined to trust the NDP on crime, he said.

To win the May election, James has to advance policies that connect with voters, he said.

“It’s not going to be about hospital closures, it’s not going to be about school closures, and if they try to run that campaign it’s going to backfire,” he said.

“Running a campaign based on criticizing Gordon Campbell is not going to get her where she wants to go.”

The poll was conducted March 20 to 22 among an online panel comprising 800 participants. Reid quotes a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. However, some experts contend that it is improper to quote a margin of error for online polls because they are drawn from panels, rather than the population at large.

Reid counters that his polls have a better track record than traditional telephone polls, which might miss people who do not have landlines.

Tom Barrett is a contributing editor at The Tyee.

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