WINNIPEG — Despite a flurry of feel-good announcements on how it will spend revenue from its increase in the provincial sales tax, popular support for Manitoba’s NDP continues to nosedive.
Not since 1988, after former premier Howard Pawley’s government fell, has the NDP been at such a low point, according to a new poll by Probe Research for the Winnipeg Free Press.
What should be worrisome for the New Democrats is that support is disappearing in key ridings it currently holds in Winnipeg and among women, a pillar of the party’s support since 1999.
Opposition Leader Brian Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives now have the backing of four-in-10 decided voters, up four points from the last poll in September to 41 per cent support.
That increase has come at the expense of Premier Greg Selinger’s New Democrats, who have slipped to 29 per cent — down from 36 per cent in September.
To understand how deep the NDP has sunk, the same party enjoyed 52 per cent popular support in the city in the 2011 election.
Probe president Scott MacKay said the NDP continues to take a hit for its poor selling job of why it decided to increase the PST by one point to eight per cent last spring.
“When negative momentum starts to happen it really just sort of carries on,” MacKay said. “It becomes a really powerful thing. People start looking at this party differently.”
The NDP is now approaching territory it hasn’t seen since the late 1980s when a $334-million deficit, the after-effects of the French-language dispute and rising vehicle insurance costs saw voters punt the party from office. In the 1988 election, the NDP’s popular support dropped to 24 per cent from 41 per cent in 1986.
“This is near historic lows,” MacKay said of the NDP’s current numbers. “Not since the 1980s have things been this bad. The 22-point spread between the Tories and NDP is just huge.”
Pallister said in an interview before Christmas that the increase in support for the Tories is due to the misjudgments of the NDP and the work of his MLAs.
He said that’s translated into increased donations and potential candidates stepping forward to run in the next election set for April 19, 2016. More than 50 potential candidates have been interviewed. The Tories have also hired 19 new staff for research, policy and communications.
“Progress has been made,” he said. “But more progress has to be made. We want to demonstrate that we are a government-in-waiting.”
What might — might being the key word — work to reverse the NDP’s tailspin is that it has more than two years until the election to convince Manitobans the party is a better choice than the Tories.
MacKay said it’s common for the popularity of an incumbent government to dip between elections only to rise as voting day approaches.
“Two years is a long time, that’s very true, but you have to ask what’s going to happen to reverse this momentum because the wind is really blowing the wrong way for the NDP.”
MacKay said the NDP failed to convince Manitobans why it increased the PST. And even though Selinger shuffled his cabinet and has made a robust effort to tell the province PST revenue will be used to fix roads and highways, it has not resonated.
“I think people are willing to accept the need for tax increases, but it was just not presented to them in a way that was acceptable, “MacKay said. “I think people won’t forget that.”
MacKay also said besides the PST, the NDP is dealing with what can perhaps be best described as its own morbidity.
“These governments appear to be tired after a while and sometimes people want change just for change’s sake,” he said.
He said what also must be remembered is that support for the Tories was close in the last election. Even though the NDP won 37 out 57 seats in the legislature in 2011, the popular vote was much closer. The NDP received 46 per cent compared with the PC’s 43.9 per cent.
“Now they (NDP) are 22 points behind including in the city where we used to always say they had enough support. We used to dismiss the Tory momentum because we said it was rural thing. But in the city now, these guys are convincingly ahead.”
The samples are small, but MacKay said more women now support the PCs.
“Something has happened. Women are there now. It’s slightly less than men, but what used to be a huge advantage for the NDP just isn’t there anymore.
“One in four women are going to vote for the NDP, but it used to be 60 per cent.”
» Winnipeg Free Press
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 27, 2013