THE race for mayor of Winnipeg is now a statistical dead heat. Incumbent Sam Katz has lost the polling lead he held all year and is now even with challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis.
According to a Probe Research poll conducted in late September exclusively for the Free Press, Wasylycia-Leis is the preferred choice of 50 per cent of Winnipeg voters. Katz sits three points behind with 47 per cent support and Brad Gross and Rav Gill garnered the remaining three per cent. The margin of error for these results is 4.7 per cent.
The poll was conducted between Sept. 16 and 30, when most voters were finished their summer vacations and had a chance to become more engaged in the civic election, Probe president Scott MacKay said.
Polls conducted earlier this year by Probe, Viewpoints and Ipsos all showed Katz ahead of Wasylycia-Leis by 10 to 15 points, but the apparent evaporation of the incumbent's lead may not have much to do with Wasylycia-Leis's performance on the campaign trail, MacKay said. In what's essentially a two-candidate race, she may simply be the beneficiary of a zero-sum game where she garners every vote that drifts away from Katz, he said.
"It's more a case of the incumbent losing support," he said. "I don't sense a groundswell or a mania for either of these candidates, but people have started to look more carefully and the momentum is shifting away from the incumbent."
The timing of the telephone poll gave voters a chance to learn that Wasylycia- Leis has promised to raise property taxes by two per cent a year for the next four years.
"She made her position clear: Vote for me and I'll raise taxes," MacKay said of her Sept. 17 pledge. "As counterintuitive as that sounds, it's very possible that has resonated with the electorate." MacKay said it's more likely no single event led to the poll results, taken from a sub-sample of 439 likely voters among a larger sample of 600 Winnipeg adults. When people who don't intend to vote are included, the result remains a statistical dead heat, only with Katz ahead of Wasylycia-Leis by three points instead of the other way around. The margin of error for the larger sample, which MacKay considers less reliable, is four per cent.
Among likely voters, there are gender and education differences. Katz is more popular with men, while Wasylycia-Leis is more popular among women. The former NDP MP is more popular among voters with a university or college degree, while the conservative incumbent is more popular with voters with a Grade 12 education or less.
The overall results point to Winnipeg's closest mayoral race since 1998, when Glen Murray squeaked by Peter Kauffman by 10,569 votes.
Wasylycia-Leis said Friday she was encouraged to hear she has drawn even with Katz.
"I would suggest people are starting to get a sense there is a clear alternative," she said, adding the result reflects what she hears on the doorstep. "It also tells me there still is a long the way to go to win this thing."
Katz said he does not pay attention to polls. "I go by the fact you work hard and you work as if you're 100 votes behind and need 101," he said Friday.
If voter support between the frontrunners remains close until Oct. 27, whichever candidate does a better job in getting out the friendly vote will prevail.