Support for the provincial NDP is slipping, and a batch of new attack ads targeting the Tories didn't help.
A new Probe Research poll conducted for the Winnipeg Free Press shows the Tories holding steady with the support of 42 per cent of decided voters. The NDP has dropped to 38 per cent, down from 40 per cent in September and 47 per cent a year ago.
But the NDP still holds a healthy, 10-point lead among urban voters with 44 per cent of voter support in Winnipeg, the only battleground that matters in next fall's provincial election.
When it comes to momentum, though, it appears the Tories have it. More than a quarter of those polled have a worse opinion of the NDP now than they did two months ago. Only 16 per cent of voters have a more negative view of the Tories, and almost as many feel better about them.
"Are they on the move? They seem to be," said Probe president Scott MacKay.
Last month, the NDP launched a series of attack ads against Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen criticizing the Conservative record on water protection, health care, and the minimum wage. Called "Know Hugh," the advertising and Internet campaign was widely seen as an attempt to define the Tory leader well in advance of the provincial election.
The Probe poll says a surprisingly large number of Manitobans -- 57 per cent -- saw the ads. But those who did were more likely to have a higher opinion of the Tories than they did two months ago.
"It almost looks like the ads backfired on the NDP," said MacKay.
Since the poll was completed, the Tories have launched their own round of commercials, punching back at the NDP for failing to make progress on crime and infrastructure, and for launching the "Know Hugh" attack ads in the first place.
As for the Liberals, the new poll also points to them as a possible wildcard. Conventional political wisdom in Manitoba says, in times of political volatility, the Liberals tend to pick up support from disaffected New Democrats who aren't yet ready to vote Tory. MacKay calls that the "parking lot phenomenon" and it appears to be underway, especially in Winnipeg.
The Grits have been stalled at 11 or 12 per cent for months, but the new poll puts them at 15 per cent province-wide and 17 per cent in the city.
MacKay also pointed to two other potentially troubling trends for the NDP. Traditionally, female voters have gravitated to the party in overwhelming numbers, but now women are starting to drift toward the Tories. It's the same story among voters who think health care is the province's most pressing issue. Those voters have traditionally voted New Democrat, but MacKay said that's starting to shift.
The poll was conducted over the phone between Nov. 25 and Dec. 12. Just over 1,000 Manitobans were polled. One can say with 95 per cent certainty the results are within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points of what they would have been if the entire adult population of Manitoba had been surveyed.