Poll results point to possible early election

There’s good and bad news for both B.C. parties in the first big poll after the leadership races.

For starters, they’re both probably relieved to be in a tie.

The Liberals have the support of 41 per cent of decided voters, the New Democrats 39 per cent, according to the Ipsos Reid poll released this week. That’s within the margin of error.

And both parties are even likely heartened that people think the Liberals are unethical and doing a lousy job of governing, for different reasons, of course.

It has to be reassuring for Christy Clark and company that the Liberals have 41-per-cent support when the government is widely seen as incompetent, according to the poll. That indicates a deep concern about the NDP would be even worse.

The survey found dissatisfaction with the Liberal government on every issue.

Respondents were asked if they approved or disapproved of the government’s performance since the 2009 election. The only positive was on its handling of the economy — 51 per cent approved, 43 per cent disapproved.

But on education, environment and crime and justice, a significant majority of those polled gave the government thumbs down.

The results were even more negative for the government’s handling of taxes and health care — and on spending taxpayers’ money wisely. Sixty-five per cent of those polled thought the government is doing a poor job in managing spending; only 29 per cent gave the Liberals positive grades.

And the results were worst for ethics and accountability. Only one in five respondents approved of the government’s performance in this area; 70 per cent found the Libeals wanting in terms of ethics and public accountability.

That’s why Clark has been working so hard to distance herself from Gordon Campbell — no easy task given the presence of all his key lieutenants at her side — and reduce obvious irritants, like parking fees in parks. If the party is doing well in the polls now, while people think it’s doing a poor job, there’s a chance of gains.

But Adrian Dix and the New Democrats can take encouragement from the Liberals’ poor marks as well.

They show Clark is vulnerable  if the NDP can convince voters that it’s ready to provide better government.

And the poll results suggest that’s possible.

Clark scored much better when the pollster asked about the leaders. Almost 50 per cent of voters said she would make the better premier; only 25 per cent picked Dix.

And 36 per cent of voters said they have a positive impression of Clark, while 22 per cent have a negative impression.

Dix scores the same for negative ratings, but only 20 per cent have an overall positive impression.

That means, of course, that almost 60 per cent of voters don’t have views one way or another on Dix. His challenge is to shift more of those people into the positive column, while hoping Clark faces enough tough choices that her numbers slide.

That’s certainly possible. Being premier, even a new, election-mode premier, means you have to do some things people don’t like.

But when former NDP leader Carole James started, polls found a large portion of the public had no opinion of her and she had difficulty in shifting them into the “positive” camp.

The poll included another finding, one that adds to the factors encouraging Clark to call an election in the coming months.

The relaunched provincial Conservative party — which hasn’t been a significant factor — had the support of 10 per cent of decided voters. That’s a serious base for party leader John Cummins to build on. And it’s already enough to raise the threat of vote-splitting in close ridings. If enough Liberal voters opt for the Conservatives, then New Democrat candidates havce a much better chance.

All in, the poll suggests Clark should be looking at an election as soon as possible. Her approval is high, Dix is unknown and the Conservatives aren’t yet organized.

All those could have change by the end of the year.

Footnote: NDP support is concentrated on Vancouver Island; the Liberals are strongest in the Interior and North, while the parties are even in the Lower Mainland. Conservative support in the Interior is above 15 per cent.

And, significantly, the Liberals have a lead among people over 34 — the ones most likely to vote.