Opinion

New Poll Shows Perils For BC Liberals and NDP

Clark plagued by low approval, NDP policies unknown, and Kinder Morgan a risk for both parties.

By Bill Tieleman 27 Sep 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist whose clients include unions and businesses in the resource and public sector. Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog.

“The larger economy may have improved, but people are worried about the rug being pulled out from under them.” — American pollster Patrick Murray

If you wonder why Premier Christy Clark is on your television set every 20 minutes in an ad, playing tagalong on Prince William and Duchess Kate’s visit and making a policy announcement a day, a new poll shows why.

Her BC Liberals are in trouble — five per cent behind the NDP according to a poll last week that found New Democrat support at 38 per cent compared to 33 per cent for Clark’s party.

But an in-depth look at the Mainstreet Research poll and an interview with pollster Quito Maggi shows that both the BC Liberals and NDP are in some peril with an election campaign starting in six months.

And B.C. shows some clear echoes of the mood in America, with many voters in both places being told the economy is doing very well but not feeling the love.

That means Clark’s reliance on B.C. having Canada’s best economy is not the advantage she expected — and may be a big problem in the May 2017 election.

The Mainstreet Research poll found that 40 per cent of respondents were pessimistic about B.C.’s economy in the 12 months ahead, with 42 per cent optimistic and 18 per cent unsure.

British Columbians were also split on whether the province is on the right or wrong track, with 31 per cent saying it’s headed in the wrong direction, 39 per cent the right one and a stunning 30 per cent not sure.

Those results may signal why the NDP holds a five-per-cent lead in the poll — because many voters are simply not convinced Clark is doing a good job.

And another poll last week from the Angus Reid Institute showed Clark’s disapproval rating at a whopping 60 per cent — and that’s a seven-per-cent improvement since the spring.

That poll said 34 per cent approved of Clark’s performance while six per cent were not sure.

But the NDP’s position is far from secure.

“What should concern them is many more British Columbians don’t know where they stand compared to the Liberals,” Mainstreet’s poll analysis says.

And both parties have reason to worry, says Mainstreet president Maggi, because the Green Party is at 16 per cent and the Conservative Party at 14 per cent – unusually high levels of support that may indicate dissatisfaction with the two main contenders.

“There are risks for both the BC Liberals and NDP with these two [other] parties' support at these levels if a ‘not NDP or Liberal’ movement emerges and either of these parties is able to capture a lion’s share of that vote, it could become truly competitive across B.C.,” Maggi told me in an email interview Sunday.

“The Green Party vote is particularly high in one area and may yield fewer seats than if that support was spread across all regions. Conservative support is likely a parked vote that may not survive the rigours of a campaign once platforms and priorities are announced,” the pollster says.

And Maggi said that regardless of strong economic statistics, if people feel things are on the wrong track despite positive indicators it doesn’t matter because “perceptions are as valid as facts,” he said. 

Interestingly, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, a pollster by training, feels the same way about the U.S. race.

Kellyanne Conway told the Washington Post that people’s opinion of the country’s direction isn’t based in economic statistics.

“We noticed a number of years ago that the responses to the wrong track question are not purely economic,” she said. “In fact, for many Americans, they are not connected to politics or policy at all.”

“We who work in the polling/media/politics axis mistakenly assume they are. While one’s attitudes toward the state of the nation are related to one’s economic condition, other cultural, attitudinal and situational factors are also in play. Frustration and pessimism seem to have reached a fever pitch for many folks, too,” Conway said this month.

The “wrong track” results also explain why Clark and the BC Liberal Party are advertising on TV like crazy, making loads of announcements, from spending money on housing to implementing a foreign buyers’ property tax, and showing up as a Duke and Duchess of Cambridge “cling-on” despite some boos from royal watchers.

Maggi says getting voters off their view that the province is on the wrong track requires a lot of effort.

“Awareness, education and effective communication of policy is the only way for governments to bridge the gap between reality and perception,” he said.

Maggi also says both parties face challenges in taking any position on the proposal to twin the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.

“While the BC Liberals’ voters seem more approving of the Kinder Morgan pipeline than NDP supporters, both parties have significant segments of opposition — can either of them find advantage in full support or full opposition to the proposal after the federal Liberal government presumably gives approval with conditions in December?” Maggi asks.

Cross tabulations of Mainstreet Research’s poll question on the Kinder Morgan pipeline provided exclusively to me show both parties’ supporters are split on the issue.

That’s of particular importance because all indications are that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is likely to approve the project with conditions in December.

And of course, the BC NDP reversed its position and opposed the Kinder Morgan project in the 2013 provincial election campaign, one major reason for its loss, according to many observers.

Kinder Morgan is strongly approved of by 48 per cent of BC Liberal voters and another 18 per cent somewhat approve, for a total of 66 per cent. Nine per cent of BC Liberal voters strongly disapprove and another 14 per cent somewhat disapprove, for a total of 23 per cent.

But just 13 per cent of NDP voters strongly approve of the pipeline expansion plan, while another 16 per cent somewhat approve, for a 29-per-cent total.

Almost half — 47 per cent — of NDP supporters strongly disapprove of the project, while another 13 per cent somewhat disapprove, in total a big 60 per cent.

And 10 per cent of BC Liberal supporters and 12 per cent of NDP backers are not sure.

What that means is that both parties will be wary of the Kinder Morgan issue, because a potentially significant segment of their supporters could be alienated by whatever position they take — and in a close election, that could be fatal.

(Unsurprisingly, 91 per cent of Green voters strongly or somewhat disapprove of the pipeline project while 58 per cent of BC Conservative supporters are strongly or somewhat in favour of Kinder Morgan and another 24 per cent are not sure.)

The cross tabs also show that regardless of their position on Kinder Morgan, 51 per cent of BC Liberal voters expect the pipeline will be built, as do 39 per cent of NDP backers, 28 per cent of Green voters and 43 per cent of Conservative supporters.

Whether B.C. is on the right track or wrong or gets a pipeline or not, it’s clear the next election will be closely fought — and is a minefield for both major parties.  [Tyee]

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