Popular support for the provincial Progressive Conservatives in Winnipeg has risen to heights not seen since the NDP swept to power in 1999.
A new Probe Research Inc. survey for the Free Press shows the Tories in a tie for support with the governing NDP -- each with 37 per cent support -- within the city, where a majority of seats reside.
Popular support for the NDP in Winnipeg has dropped 13 percentage points since December, when Probe conducted its last political survey.
Interestingly, the precipitous drop occurred before Finance Minister Stan Struthers handed down his budget, which proposed a one-point increase in the provincial sales tax effective July 1.
"It's a huge deal (for the Conservatives). That's the breakthrough that we've been talking about for years that they're going to need (to win government)," said Probe president Scott MacKay.
A Probe poll in December saw the PCs leapfrog ahead of the New Democrats as the first choice among Manitoba voters, but the Tories continued to be hampered by lukewarm support in Winnipeg.
At that time, the NDP were still much more popular than the PCs in the city (50 per cent vs. 31 per cent), meaning the New Democrats could have still clung to power if an election had been held then.
But all that has changed in this most recent poll, conducted between April 2 and April 14, just prior to the release of the April 16 provincial budget.
Also significant are the inroads the Conservatives have made among female voters, a traditional NDP stronghold. In this month's poll, the PCs captured 41 per cent of these voters compared with 37 per cent for the NDP.
Across Manitoba, the Tories held their lead with 42 per cent support among voters, compared with 35 per cent for the NDP. Provincewide, Conservative support was virtually identical to that in December (the April survey showed them down 10 points outside the city, with a still-commanding 51 per cent support). Overall NDP support fell by four points, while support for the Liberals climbed four points (to 15 per cent). The Green party and other parties not represented in the legislature also saw a combined four-point bump up in the past quarter. Some 12 per cent of Manitobans surveyed either couldn't or wouldn't designate a party they would endorse in the event of an election.
Probe measures party support in Manitoba four times a year. MacKay said Tuesday he could not recall a survey he's done since the New Democrats came to power in 1999 in which the Conservatives have been competitive with them in the city.
With the poll occurring in advance of the budget, he said he could not identify a single issue that would have propelled the Tories to run neck and neck with the NDP. "It's probably a cocktail of variables," including the fact the PCs have a new leader, voters may be in a foul mood after a long winter and the government has grown long in the tooth, MacKay speculated.
He said he could also not explain why the Tories had dropped 10 percentage points (to 51 per cent) in support outside Winnipeg, although he noted that the sample is small (400 participants) and last quarter's Tory number (61 per cent support) was unusually high.
MacKay said he was "very comfortable" with the Winnipeg results because they involve a larger sample size (about 600 participants). "That number I can stand behind," he said.
The survey also showed the Conservatives are more popular than the NDP (48 per cent vs. 35 per cent) among voters aged 35 to 54 years as well as among high-income earners. The NDP was the party of choice among those earning less than $30,000 a year (45 per cent vs. 34 per cent for the PCs) and those earning $30,000 to $59,999 (46 per cent vs. 33 per cent).