NDP voters are most likely to support Mayor Shari Decter Hirst in this fall’s municipal election, while Progressive Conservative and Liberal voters would cast a ballot for Rick Chrest, according to a new Probe Research poll.
Results of a random telephone survey of 404 adults living in Brandon show a partisan divide — Decter Hirst with 41 per cent NDP support, and Chrest with 37 per cent Conservative support and 39 per cent Liberal support.
"I think that elections are always about choice and I think that strong, contrasting candidates makes that choice more clear," Decter Hirst said. "As we go through the next few months, people have an opportunity to think about the Brandon that they want to have in the future."
The Probe Research survey conducted exclusively for the Brandon Sun had seven potential mayoral candidates on a hypothetical ballot.
Chrest, local businessman and former University ward councillor, is the only declared candidate for mayor so far. Decter Hirst has not announced whether she plans to put her name forward for re-election.
"I think that my job is to keep politics out of the chamber as long as possible, so that we can focus on the job we need to do," she said. "Nominations open in early May and … I think that’s when most candidates — both for council and for mayor — will be coming forward."
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell was also on the hypothetical mayoral ballot, although he is not a declared candidate.
The poll results show Caldwell has the support of 17 per cent support of NDP voters, tied with Coun. Len Isleifson (Riverview).
In 2010, when Decter Hirst was elected mayor, she captured 55 per cent of the vote, compared to 42 per cent for incumbent Dave Burgess. Decter Hirst has retained the support of one-third (34 per cent) of those who voted for her four years ago.
Thirty per cent of Decter Hirst’s 2010 supporters now indicate they would vote for Chrest, while 15 per cent say they would cast a ballot for Caldwell.
Decter Hirst said she’s not surprised that there’s "certain enthusiasm in some quarters to go back to the way things were before."
"I would think the Brandon isn’t the same city that it was 10 to 15 years ago, and certainly city hall has new priorities as well," she said.
Overall, Chrest has the support of 29 per cent of voters. Decter Hirst is close behind with 24 per cent. Caldwell is in third place at 15 per cent.
"It was a well done poll," Caldwell said. "I think it indicates that we’re going to have a very lively, municipal election campaign this fall."
Caldwell said he is focused and engaged in his job as provincial MLA.
"The people of Brandon expect me to fulfil the responsibilities that I’ve taken on," he said. "I’m always very … disappointed when people take on elected responsibilities and then bail out on the constituency ... to seek higher office or to seek other office."
Caldwell said he remains committed to his current role, but is "flattered" by all of the attention he has received regarding a mayoral run.
"I never close doors, but I think you get a good indication of what my view is in regard to politicians that abandon their electorate midway through term. I don’t think that’s an honourable thing to do."
Meanwhile, Chrest said he was also "flattered" and "a little surprised" by the poll results.
"You can’t be unhappy about leading in a poll, but there’s lots of time ahead of us," he said. "I do respect voters’ intelligence who will ultimately cast their ballots based on actual platforms and actual performance by the actual candidates when the time comes."
As for the support he seems to have from Conservative and Liberal voters, Chrest says he can empathize with people of all political stripes.
"I’m not really a party politics person, especially when it comes to municipal politics," he said. "It’ll be a Rick Chrest campaign, it won’t be a party campaign."
Probe Research also looked at support of Brandonites west of 18th Street versus east of 18th Street.
A significant amount of Chrest’s support is west of 18th Street (36 per cent vs. 23 per cent on the east). Decter Hirst’s support is slightly higher on the east side of Brandon (27 per cent, compared to 21 per cent among those living west of 18th Street).
"I think looking at the people who saw the importance of making changes at city hall in 2010, I’m not surprised to see those same people wanting to ensure that that change continues through 2014," she said. "Some of those demographics overlap with NDP support, and certainly looking at income, and age and some of the other specific breakdowns within the poll, I can understand why they want to see that change continue."
Caldwell had an equal amount of support on each side of the city — 15 per cent.
"My priority has always been the City of Brandon," Caldwell said. "I’ve never differentiated between Brandon East and Brandon West. If people come into my office from any part of the city, we work to help them. So I think that reflects my philosophy of working for Brandon."
Chrest tends to have more support among middle-aged and older voters, (38 per cent among those aged 35-54 and 33 per cent among those 55 and over, compared to 17 per cent among those aged 18-34). Chrest also has support among those from higher-income households (34 per cent of those earning more than $100,000 a year and 32 per cent among those earning $60,000-$99,999 a year, compared to just 15 per cent among those earning less than $30,000 a year).
Decter Hirst appeals more to those with lower household incomes (33 per cent each among those earning less than $30,000 a year and $30,000-$59,999 a year, versus just 11 per cent among those earning more than $100,000 a year).
She also appeals to a significant proportion of voters over 55 (30 per cent).
"If you were to sort of describe the typical Rick Chrest supporter, it would be someone … who’s older, wealthier and lives in the west end," said Curtis Brown, senior research associate with Probe Research.
"Whereas Shari Decter Hirst … does have a fair bit of support among older voters, but it tends to be voters who are lower income, less wealthy, seniors, and also people living east of 18th Street."
At this stage, Brown says it looks like Chrest would have an "excellent shot of winning" if both Decter Hirst and Caldwell decide to run.
"Even if only one of them ran, it would seem that he probably would actually be in pretty good shape in kind of a head-to-head fight," he said.
Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) and Kerry Auriat were both on the hypothetical ballot, but have announced that they will not run.
Brown says it’s likely the people who showed support for those two candidates would shift their vote to Chrest.
"The people who tended to be supporters of (Montague and Auriat) tended to be typically sort of fiscal conservatives," Brown said. "I would think that potentially … people who would be inclined to support either of those guys would be also inclined more likely to support Rick Chrest."
The Omnibus survey was conducted via telephone interviews Jan. 20-25 among a random and representative sampling of 404 adults living in Brandon. With a sample of 404, according to Probe, one can say with 95 per cent certainty that the results are within plus or minus 4.7 percentage points of what they would have been if the entire population of Brandon adults had been interviewed.