Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

NDP support dwindling: poll

Governing party 'near historic lows'

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Premier Greg Selinger celebrates his election win Oct. 4, 2011. The NDP's support has dropped significantly since then thanks to a disastrous job selling the PST increase.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Premier Greg Selinger celebrates his election win Oct. 4, 2011. The NDP's support has dropped significantly since then thanks to a disastrous job selling the PST increase. Photo Store

Despite a flurry of feel-good announcements on how it will spend revenue from its increase in the provincial sales tax, popular support for Manitoba's NDP government continues to nosedive.

Not since 1988, after the NDP government of Howard Pawley fell, has the NDP been at such a low point, a new poll by Probe Research for the Winnipeg Free Press shows.

Even more worrisome for the New Democrats is disappearing support in key Winnipeg ridings it currently holds and among women, a pillar of the party's support since 1999.

Opposition Leader Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservatives have the backing of four out of 10 decided voters, up four points from the last poll in September, to 41 per cent support.

That increase has come at the expense of Greg Selinger's New Democrats, who have slipped to 29 per cent -- down from 36 per cent in September.

To understand how deep the NDP has sunk, the same party enjoyed 52 per cent popular support in the city in the 2011 election.

Probe president Scott MacKay said the NDP has done a poor sales job of its one-point PST increase to eight per cent, which took effect July 1.

"When negative momentum starts to happen, it really just sort of carries on," MacKay said. "It becomes a really powerful thing. People start looking at this party differently."

The NDP is approaching territory it hasn't seen since the late 1980s when a $334-million deficit, fallout from the French-language dispute and rising vehicle insurance costs saw voters punt the party from office. In the 1988 election, the NDP's popular support dropped to 24 per cent from 41 per cent in 1986.

"This is near historic lows," MacKay said of the NDP's current numbers. "Not since the 1980s have things been this bad. The 22-point spread between the Tories and NDP is just huge."

Pallister said in an interview before Christmas the increase in support for the Tories is due to the misjudgments of the NDP and the work of his MLAs.

He said that's translated into increased donations and potential candidates stepping forward to run in the next election set for April 19, 2016. More than 50 potential candidates have been interviewed. The Tories have also hired 19 new staff for research, policy and communications.

"Progress has been made," he said. "But more progress has to be made. We want to demonstrate that we are a government-in-waiting."

What might -- might being the key word -- work to reverse the NDP's tailspin is that it has more than two years until the election to convince Manitobans the party remains a better choice than the Tories.

MacKay said it's common for the popularity of an incumbent government to dip between elections, only to rise as voting day approaches.

"Two years is a long time, that's very true, but you have to ask what's going to happen to reverse this momentum because the wind is really blowing the wrong way for the NDP."

MacKay said the NDP has failed to convince Manitobans the PST increase was necessary.

Even though Selinger has shuffled his cabinet and has made a robust effort to tell voters PST revenue will be used to fix roads and highways, the message has not resonated.

"I think people are willing to accept the need for tax increases, but it was just not presented to them in a way that was acceptable, "MacKay said. "I think people won't forget that."

MacKay also said the NDP is dealing with its own morbidity. "These governments appear to be tired after a while and sometimes people want change just for change's sake," he said.

He pointed out support for the Tories was close in the 2011 election.

Even though the NDP won 37 out 57 seats in the legislature, the popular vote was much closer. The NDP received 46 per cent of the popular vote compared with the PC's 43.9 per cent.

"Now they (NDP) are 22 points behind including in the city where we used to always say they had enough support. We used to dismiss the Tory momentum because we said it was a rural thing. But in the city now, these guys are convincingly ahead."

The samples are small, but MacKay said more women support the PCs.

"Women are there now. It's slightly less than men, but what used to be a huge advantage for the NDP just isn't there anymore. One in four women is going to vote for the NDP, but it used to be 60 per cent."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Can Greg Selinger reverse the NDP's fortunes by the next election? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2013 A3

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Updated on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 6:29 AM CST: Replaces photo

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