Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disaffected voters deserting NDP

Poll finds Grits and Tories gaining support equally

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Disaffected New Democrats are drifting in roughly equal numbers to the Tories and the Liberals, according to a new poll.

But, 10 per cent of voters who cast a ballot for the NDP in 2011 are now undecided, which suggests the NDP could still woo them back in time for the next provincial election.

"They are up for grabs in many ways," said Probe Research's Curtis Brown. "A lot of these people are really on the fence still."

Manitoba is in the midst of a political shift after nearly 15 years of stasis. Exacerbated by a surprise decision to hike the provincial sales tax, support for the NDP has plummeted to near-historic lows, levels that almost match the results of the brutal 1988 election.

To track the shift in Manitoba politics, Probe Research asked a new question in its quarterly poll for the Winnipeg Free Press, a question designed to gauge which way dissatisfied NDP voters might be leaning. About one-third of voters who cast a ballot for the NDP in 2011 said they would not do so again.

The Conservatives and Liberals each picked up about 10 per cent of those discontented New Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Tories have managed to hang on to nearly all their 2011 support. More than 80 per cent of people who voted PC in 2011 say they would still vote that way today.

Again, the Liberals benefited from those few Tories who said they would vote differently next time. About seven per cent of former Conservative voters said they would now cast a vote for the Grits.

In Manitoba, common wisdom holds the Liberals stand to benefit when the NDP's fortunes fade. That's what happened in the 1988 election when the Liberals picked up a whopping 19 seats following the fall of premier Howard Pawley's NDP government. And, it appears to be happening again. The Grits now have the support of one-fifth of decided voters in Manitoba, the highest level since the mid-1990s. Many local Liberals, energized by a three-way race to replace leader Jon Gerrard, hope they'll see a repeat of the 1988 effect in the next provincial election.

"If you're a Liberal in Manitoba, this is a pretty good time," said Brown.

Besides an unpopular NDP government, the federal Liberal brand is not as damaged as it has been, noted Brown, which means the provincial party might be enjoying some backdraft from improved federal fortunes under rookie leader Justin Trudeau.

The federal party even has some momentum in the die-hard Tory riding of Brandon-Souris, now gearing up for a byelection following the resignation of Tory MP Merv Tweed. Thanks to a messy, murky nomination process, many local Conservatives are angry with their party, and one Tory -- outspoken Killarney-Turtle Mountain Mayor Rick Pauls -- is planning to contest the Liberal nomination. Trudeau makes his second stop in recent weeks in Brandon on Thursday.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 8, 2013 A5

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