Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Survey says a lot about voters

But will mayoral race prompt them to vote?

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Heading into the home stretch of the mayoral election, Winnipeggers are faced with a great dilemma.

Choose a mayor you know, a charismatic chap with a successful political brand. Or, a mayor with no experience who is promising to do more of the things you claim you really want.

This is what's facing Winnipeg voters, outlined eloquently by the Free Press/CBC Manitoba poll conducted by Leger Marketing that is published and broadcast today. On voting intentions for the mayoral election, the poll shows Winnipeggers are still quite split, with the incumbent, Sam Katz, and the challenger, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, running a tight race. (Katz has the lead with 38 per cent of the vote, compared to Wasylycia-Leis with 32 per cent. The pollsters see this, with the margin of error taken into consideration, as a very close race that will be decided in large part by which campaign can get out its vote. That will ensure that election night is very interesting indeed.

That makes this poll worthwhile. But there's more. This is a survey that also says a lot about voters.

First, let's consider some things we already know about the Winnipeg electorate. We are ambivalent to the point of disinterest. In local government elections, not even a third of registered voters turn out to vote. To make matters worse, we are also dirty rotten liars. A stunning 68 per cent of respondents said they voted in the last election.

A note on polling methodology. Pollsters use complicated formulas to create balance, so that the final group includes answers from the right mix of young and old, rich and poor, educated and not-so educated, men and women. If the pollster has done the job right, the final group will be representative of the larger community that is being studied. And that's why it's hard to avoid the conclusion that on this issue, our pants are most definitely on fire.

But it gets worse. A remarkable 85 per cent of respondents indicated they will be voting this time around. If that happens, it would be one of the most remarkable comebacks in voter turnout in the history of democracy.

With all that as background, consider the rest of the poll results and the dilemma facing Winnipeggers.

A healthy majority (58 per cent) of respondents believe modest property tax increases are needed to help pay for basic city services; only 38 per cent would freeze taxes regardless of impact on services. A third of respondents believe honesty and integrity are the most important issues when choosing a mayor; past experience (30 per cent) and business acumen (20 per cent) are considered least important.

Now, let's take a closer look at how our two main candidates plug into those responses. On the one hand we have Sam Katz, an incumbent who is running on his six years of experience as mayor and prior business exploits, and who is pledging a property tax freeze. On the other hand we have Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a newbie to local politics whose campaign has repeatedly pointed an accusing finger at Katz for a raft of ethical shortcomings while promising to modestly increase property taxes over next four years to support city services.

There is no way to get around the fact that on issues alone, Wasylycia-Leis comes closer to the kind of mayor that Winnipeggers claim they want. She has no business or local government experience, but she does not carry the baggage that Katz does on issues of transparency and accountability. Katz can, and does, boast about what he accomplished (first) as a businessman and (second) as a politician, but voters apparently attach little value to those qualities. And Wasylycia-Leis has come soundly down on the side of the majority on the property tax increase issue. If issues alone decided this race, it might not be a race.

However, we have to remember that, at heart, we're bloody liars. That we're afraid to actually admit we don't have the time or the inclination to vote in local government elections. That we actually would tell a complete stranger on the phone that we voted when we were at home watching television. Is it possible that we could tell a pollster that we are going to vote for one candidate, and then vote for another?

One of the cruel realities of politics is that issues are only one of the ingredients that go into the intellectual and emotional cocktail we consume before casting a vote. Voters are influenced by personal style and charisma, fashion, race, religion and gender. Haircuts, the colour of a tie and the timbre of a voice can make or break an election. Sometime, we don't know why we like or dislike a candidate, we just do.

Fortunately, none of this changes the main finding of the Leger poll, namely that this is going to be a very close race. Close enough perhaps to lure some of those tough-talking fibbers off the couch and into the polling stations.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 20, 2010 A4

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  • Sam Katz

    116,308 votes - 55%

  • Judy Wasylycia-Leis

    90,913 votes - 43%

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  • Rav Gill

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      448 votes - 5%

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    • Jenny Motkaluk

      2,734 votes - 28%

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    • David Polsky

      657 votes - 7%

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      297 votes - 3%

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      161 votes - 2%

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    • Fred Morris

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      8,677 votes - 45%

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      4,190 votes - 25%

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      965 votes - 6%

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      8,745 votes - 56%

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