The popularity of Premier Christy Clark's Liberals is eroding, according to a new poll that shows the British Columbia New Democrats in first place across B.C. – including the Interior, where B.C. Conservatives have sapped Liberal support in a region the governing party once dominated.
The Angus Reid public opinion poll released on Thursday finds the provincial New Democrats have a nine-point lead – 40 per cent – over the governing Liberals, at 31 per cent. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 per cent.
The survey of 803 randomly selected adults in British Columbia conducted between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 found that while a majority of voters still think Ms. Clark is the best person to be premier, her approval rating is statistically tied with that of NDP Leader Adrian Dix.
Ms. Clark was picked as best premier by 25 per cent of voters, a 6-per-cent lead over the B.C. NDP Leader. B.C. Conservative Leader John Cummins is preferred by nine per cent of voters.
The NDP is ahead of the B.C. Liberals in Metro Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, but support levels for the two parties are close in the Interior and the North.
However, a concern for the Liberals is the surge of the B.C. Conservatives from 5 per cent in March to 18 per cent across B.C. in this poll – and 20 per cent in the Interior, raising the spectre of the kind of vote splits on the centre-right that the Liberals say could elect an NDP government.
"A lot of people are coming to the Conservatives even though they don't know who John Cummins is," noted Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid.
The Liberals have made an effort in recent months to rally such prominent federal Conservatives as former MPs Stockwell Day and Jay Hill, as well as former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, to warn that support for the provincial Conservatives would help the NDP.
Political scientist Norman Ruff said Thursday's poll results suggest the Liberals may have to go further and adopt emphatic neo-Conservative policies that emphasize that they are attuned to the priorities of voters backing the provincial Conservatives. He suggested Ms. Clark's support this week for the federal Tory crime bill may be a step in that direction.
Mr. Canseco said some of the Conservative support may be political "window shopping" – a theory Liberal MLA John Les cited on Thursday when responding on behalf of the government.
"The poll is 20 months away from the next vote. I think there is some vote parking going on," he said.
Mr. Les said the Liberals will continue to emphasize that the party is the political free-enterprise option best suited to form government.
The poll suggests Ms. Clark is seen by 28 per cent of voters as best able to handle the economy, while 18 per cent see Mr. Dix as best. Mr. Les said that will be a key part of the Liberal argument for a fourth consecutive term.
The economy was pegged as the most important issue by 29 per cent of respondents, with health care following at 17 per cent. "The choice will be clear in terms of which party is best able to handle British Columbia's economy in difficult times," Mr. Les said.
He also took solace in the recent re-election of the governments of Ontario's Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and Manitoba's NDP Premier Greg Selinger, leaders who, according to the polls, were facing defeat before their campaigns began.
"What I recall Greg Selinger doing in Manitoba and McGuinty in Ontario [was being]very much focused on their government's agenda," he said. "They established their framework of what their government stood for and defined that clearly in the public mind and just campaigned really hard. They worked their backsides off, and it paid off."