A flurry of polls has shown the race in British Columbia to have suddenly become much more competitive, as the B.C. Liberals close the gap between themselves and the B.C. New Democrats to single digits. But does Christy Clark have enough time to narrow the gap even further and put herself in a position where she could be re-elected?
The latest forecast for ThreeHundredEight.com (full methodology) and The Globe and Mail projects the New Democrats to have the support of 44 per cent of British Columbians, a drop of three points from the 47 per cent the NDP had in polls just prior to last week's debate. The B.C. Liberals have picked up three points to reach 36 per cent, putting them eight points behind the NDP after having trailed by as much as 18 points at the start of the campaign.
The Greens have picked up one point and are projected to have 10 per cent support, while the B.C. Conservatives have dropped one point to only 7 per cent. The party has slid five points since the start of the campaign, a drop that has primarily benefited the Liberals.
With these levels of support, the New Democrats should be able to win between 43 and 56 seats, putting them above the threshold for a majority government. The B.C. Liberals should win between 26 and 42 seats, ensuring a strong opposition. The precise projection is for the NDP to win 48 seats and the Liberals 36, a swing of eight seats towards Ms. Clark's party since the last seat estimate.
Despite the polls having given NDP Leader Adrian Dix the edge in the debate, it seems to have been a catalyst for a surge in Liberal support. The party has managed between 33 and 35 per cent in the four surveys taken since the debate, equal to or better than the previous 15 polls taken in the province since November (the forecasting model assumes the Greens and Conservatives are being over-estimated in the polls, due to the large number of ridings in which they have presented no candidate. This has the effect of bumping up the support levels of the NDP and Liberals in the projection).
The New Democrats have also slipped, falling to between 39 and 45 per cent support in the four post-debate polls after having registered 45 per cent or higher in 26 of 31 polls stretching back to April 2012. Most significantly, the swing between polls taken before and after the debate by Angus-Reid and Ipsos-Reid was between seven and nine points.
However, the odds that Ms. Clark will be able to manage another swing of that magnitude between now and May 14 are not high. In only about 6 per cent of recent cases has a party overcome such a margin in the amount of time that remains before the election. But governments are decided by seat wins, not necessarily votes – the B.C. NDP was re-elected in 1996 despite losing the popular vote. And Ms. Clark has improved her chances of winning the most seats from a 20-to-1 shot to roughly 4-to-1, if an election were held today.
The B.C. Liberals have been making gains throughout British Columbia, but have yet to significantly close the gap in metropolitan Vancouver where the bulk of the seats are located. The NDP has dropped only one point to 46 per cent in the region, while the Liberals have picked up two points to hit 38 per cent – not enough to swing any seats from the pre-debate projection.
In the Interior and North, however, a net nine-point swing toward the B.C. Liberals has given them the lead with 39 to 38 per cent, enough to give them six more seats in the area in the projection. The B.C. Conservatives are strongest here, but are still only at 10 per cent. Their chances of being able to wrestle a seat away in a now-competitive campaign are low.
The biggest swing has taken place on Vancouver Island, where the NDP slipped six points to 47 per cent and the Liberals increased by eight points to 31 per cent. Though the New Democrats are still well ahead, they are no longer expected to sweep the island. The B.C. Greens appear to have hit a wall here, slipping one point to 16 per cent.
Ms. Clark has made her party competitive again as she has improved her personal numbers. Whereas she averaged 21.5 per cent on the question of who would make the best premier before the debate in polls by Angus-Reid and Ipsos-Reid, she averaged 27.5 per cent after the debate. Mr. Dix's numbers have not fallen to the same degree that Ms. Clark's have grown, however, dropping about four points. He remains the favourite choice, and his approval ratings are still better. While Ms. Clark's have improved (from about 30 per cent or less to 34 per cent), a large majority of British Columbians disapprove of her performance. That makes it difficult to move her party into the 40 per cent range it needs to be to have a hope of re-election.
Holding an eight-point lead with little more than a week to go before the vote is hardly bad news for Mr. Dix and the New Democrats – Gordon Campbell's Liberals won the last two elections by a margin half that size. But the perception that Ms. Clark has the momentum could help her garner new support in the final days of the campaign. This last week will decide the election's outcome, but it remains Mr. Dix's to lose.
All publicly available polls are weighted by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 85 ridings in the province, based on the provincial shifts in support since the 2009 election and subsequent by-elections. The probability forecast is based on historical changes in support between polls and election results. The projection is subject to the margins of error of the polls included as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com .