NDP connects with donors, gains confidence
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Public outrage over proposed education reforms and deep dissatisfaction with the Progressive Conservative government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have boosted the Opposition’s coffers.
Annual financial statements filed with Elections Manitoba show donors opened their wallets to support the NDP, with more than $1.13 million collected in 2021.
Outside of a general election year, contributions to the party were the highest reported in about a decade, rivalling the $1.15 million and $1.26 million collected in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
University of Manitoba political studies Prof. Royce Koop said the party’s improved fortunes could signal renewed confidence in the New Democrats and their chances of winning the next general election (which must be held on or before Oct. 3, 2023).
“The Tories continue to be low in the polls. They replaced their leader and it didn’t make a big difference.” – Political studies Prof. Royce Koop
“The Tories continue to be low in the polls. They replaced their leader and it didn’t make a big difference,” Koop said.
“So as time goes on, the possibility that the NDP could actually win the next election becomes more and more real… Suddenly, a dollar contributed (now) is worth a lot more than it was four or five years ago.”
A recent poll conducted by Probe Research for the Free Press found the New Democrats had the support of 44 per cent of decided and leaning voters across Manitoba, compared to 34 per cent for the governing PCs.
Support for the NDP was at 52 per cent in Winnipeg; 23 per cent for the PCs. Polling also found the Liberals had earned a bit of support in the capital, at 18 per cent.
Outside of Winnipeg, 51 per cent of decided and leaning voters put their support behind the Tories. (The survey was conducted March 9-21 and had a confidence interval of 95 per cent, plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.)
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters may not have felt compelled to donate outside of an election year, Koop said Tuesday.
“It’s probably been a lot easier to be (Opposition Leader) Wab Kinew in the last few years than it was before the last election (in 2019).” – Political studies Prof. Royce Koop
However, frustration with the Tories combined with the emergence of a more “disciplined and focused” NDP likely persuaded partisans and non-partisans alike to separate themselves from their cash, he added.
“It’s probably been a lot easier to be (Opposition Leader) Wab Kinew in the last few years than it was before the last election (in 2019),” Koop said, noting the NDP suffered from internal fractures, but appears to have shed some of the old conflicts that left voters with the impression the party was more interested in in-fighting than governing.
“People see this and potential donors, they pay attention. And everything feels much more real in Manitoba politics right now… It feels like the next election is up for grabs.”
Kinew chalked up the healthy donor support last year to his party’s campaign opposing Bill 64, the now-defunct Education Modernization Act. A lot of first-time party donors and people who would not typically donate to a political party stepped up with contributions in response to the Tory education reform bill, he said.
“The first time we talked to those folks was because of their anger with Bill 64, in a lot of cases,” Kinew said. “It’s those touch-points that everybody probably remembers last year as being real moments of people getting engaged politically, whether it was around Bill 64 or people being upset with the pandemic response.”
He acknowledged it will be a challenge to carry that momentum forward, but said the party is now on track to raise enough cash to top out Elections Manitoba’s spending limit for the 2023 campaign. During the 2019 campaign, the limit was set at just over $1.9 million.
“We want to be able to match what the PCs spend dollar-for-dollar,” Kinew said. “It’s an ambitious goal for the NDP to spend the campaign limit during the election period, but we’re on the path to doing that.”
Annual financial statements for the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba and the Manitoba Liberal Party have yet to be filed with Elections Manitoba. Parties have until May 2 to do so.
“We want to be able to match what the PCs spend dollar-for-dollar.” – NDP leader Wab Kinew
Koop said it remains to be seen if the Tories have been able to motivate their base during a period in which many Manitobans were unhappy with the performance of government. The PCs reported $2.4 million in contributions in 2016 and $2.1 million in 2019. Donors ponied up $1.4 million during the first year of the pandemic (2020).
“Tory donors are probably deflated, but that will correct itself when we get closer to the election,” Koop said.
Rehashing the shortcomings of the NDP during its most recent tenure in government (1999-16) will be sure to fire up the Tory base, Koop added.
During question period Tuesday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon took a shot at the NDP for historic emergency room wait times, while Finance Minister Cameron Friesen described the former government’s management of Manitoba Hydro as the “economic scandal of the century.”
“But when it comes to this block of voters in the middle that decide elections… my impression is that people don’t think about those things anymore,” Koop said.
“The current government has given them other things to think about.”
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.