Excerpts from a new report released by Angus Reid Institute today (March 24, 2017) on the B.C. election:
INVESTIGATIONS INTO campaign financing have commenced, tax cuts have been tabled, hacking allegations have flown (and apologies have been given), all this against a backdrop of party leaders trash talking each other.
It must be election season in British Columbia.
Link to the poll here: www.angusreid.org/bc-election-2017
A new analysis of public opinion polling data by the Angus Reid Institute finds plenty of room for optimism among those who would support the B.C. New Democratic Party – the opposition holds an early advantage in leader approval and on key social issues. But, recent history will remind many observers that elections are often not decided until the final days.
Meantime, two competing narratives are unfolding for the B.C. Liberals. While the incumbents hold the high ground on fiscal management, their leader has lower approval ratings and is dogged by rising concerns over affordability and ongoing questions about her governments fundraising practices.
• Three-quarters of B.C. residents (76%) agree that the current Liberal government is “only interested in helping its political donors and big business”
• Three-in-five (62%) say the opposition parties don’t have a real plan to help British Columbians
• Housing (21%), health care (19%), and the economy (14%) are seen as the top issues facing British Columbia today
Can Clark overcome personal unpopularity a second time?
Premier Christy Clark has had a less than warm relationship with British Columbians in recent years.
Currently, 31 per cent of respondents say they approve of Clark, while both NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver garner higher levels of good opinion (though in the case of Weaver, not significantly more).
A considerable number of British Columbians also voice uncertainty over both Horgan’s and Weaver’s leadership (23% and 42% respectively).
While this may appear to be troublesome for the incumbent Premier, consider that the lowest approval rating the Angus Reid Institute has recorded for her in six years of tracking was 25 per cent in March 2013. Clark went on to win the election in May of that year and garnered a 20-point jump in approval the following quarter (June 2013):
Political Fundraising top of mind
Earlier this month, the provincial government, responding to mounting criticism of British Columbia’s loose political fundraising rules, announced that it would be forming a panel to investigate political fundraising. The province garnered worldwide attention when the New York Times ran an article labeling it the “Wild West” of Canadian political cash.
B.C. currently has no limits on political donations and allows corporations and unions to donate large sums, leading many to accuse the government of participating in pay-to-play access.
British Columbians are concerned the government is inordinately focused with the interests of those who donate to the party. Fully three-quarters (76%) say they agree with the statement that the B.C. Liberal government “is only interested in helping its political donors and big business.”
Liberal economic message resonates
There are three key issues that will likely define the B.C. election. Asked to choose the most important issue facing their province today, British Columbians choose housing, health care and the economy above all others:
For many British Columbians, priority has shifted from concerns over the deficit to a desire for more public spending. Asked to choose their three economic priorities for B.C., half of respondents (51%) say investing in public services such as education and health care is at the top. By contrast, three-in-ten (30%) choose “promoting jobs and growth where I live,” and one-in-four say “maintaining a balanced budget”. Both garner lower support than investment in affordable housing (34%).
A focus on those feeling the squeeze
While the economic case is a strong one for the government to make, there appears to be room for the opposition to make headway on the issue, too. Recent reports from the University of British Columbia and Generation Squeeze noted that while B.C.’s economy has grown it has been among if not the worst-performing for younger Canadians in recent years. This is a potential vulnerability for the B.C. Liberals.
And while those ages 25-34 were least likely to vote in 2013 (39.8% of those registered cast a ballot), both Horgan and Weaver will be looking to replicate the surge of young voters that led to increased turnout in the 2015 federal election. For both parties a bigger turnout from the youth could translate into a greater share of the vote.
Also working against the government on the economic file is the widespread sense that inequality in the province is growing. Three-quarters of B.C. residents (75%) say this is a “huge problem” for the province today, and nearly half (47%) also say they disagree with the idea that a person need only work hard in B.C. to find success.
The NDP has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of its first term if elected.
One issue dominating the political agenda in British Columbia over the past few years is housing and real estate. One in five (21%) residents say this is the top issue of concern in the province.
Initially criticized for its perceived unwillingness to tackle this issue, the provincial government eventually responded last summer, when it introduced a 15 per cent tax on foreign home buyers in Metro Vancouver. At the time, the Angus Reid Institute found massive support for the tax among residents of the region. Eight-in-10 (82%), however, echoed criticisms leveled by opponents, saying the government waited too long and should have stepped in sooner with regulations to curb the rising costs of housing in B.C.
Another issue where B.C. residents lean toward trusting the NDP is on key social services – particularly health care and education.
Asked which party leader is most suited to deal with these two issues, three-in-10 British Columbians choose John Horgan. He holds an 11-point advantage on Christy Clark in both cases, though it must be noted three-in-10 also say that they aren’t sure to whom they should give the reins.
Andrew Weaver and the Green Party appear could be poised to play a substantial role in this election. As evidenced by the 1991 election, when the “long-dormant” B.C. Liberals vaulted into the provincial consciousness to gain one-third (33%) of the vote, the impact of a competitive third party is not something to be taken lightly by either main party.
Early polling suggests that Green candidates may alter a number of races that would have been head-to-head affairs in 2013. While former leader Jane Sterk led the party to 8 per cent overall in the last election, early averages from ThreeHundredEight have the Greens closer to 14 per cent, and projected to pick up an extra three seats.
The main issue that drives support of Weaver and his party is unsurprising – the environment. This is the sole issue on which Weaver is most likely to be seen as the best leader.
Six-in-ten say opposition parties don’t have a real plan
While this poll finds clear opportunities for the opposition, an outright level of skepticism permeates the views of British Columbians when it comes to vision and planning.
Asked to consider the statement “the opposition parties in this province don’t have a real plan to help British Columbians”, six-in-ten residents (62%) agree:
Knowing their weaknesses with the electorate, this view may prove to be the trump card the B.C. Liberals hold in their hand as this high stakes contest begins.
The Angus Reid Institute is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization. It analyzed results of an online survey from a randomized sample of 604 British Columbian adults March 6 to 13. The sample size has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, AIR says.