Long way to go between current poll, future results

For NDP Leader Wab Kinew, the most recent Free Press-Probe Research poll results contain both good and bad news.

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Opinion

For NDP Leader Wab Kinew, the most recent Free Press-Probe Research poll results contain both good and bad news.

The good news is, well, pretty darn good. The early June survey showed the NDP out in front of the governing Progressive Conservatives and Premier Heather Stefanson with a comfortable 10-point lead provincially — and an alarmingly high 27-point lead in Winnipeg, where most elections are decided.

The good news continues when you look at key regions and demographics: Kinew has the highest approval rating of any of the three main party leaders; the New Democrats are very popular with women in Winnipeg (a key electoral group); the NDP enjoys gaudy leads in both southwest and southeast Winnipeg, two areas of the city where Tories currently dominate but which appear to be lining up as potential gains for the NDP.

The last bit of good news is the poll shows voters are not flocking to the Liberals. Grit Leader Dougald Lamont has been an effective critic of the PC government. Unfortunately, his party seems to be mired in a distant third place — out of sight and mind of many voters.

However, even with all that, there is still bad news for Kinew and the NDP to consider.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES NDP Leader Wab Kinew has the highest approval rating of any of the three main party leaders.

Although the survey is a reasonably accurate picture of voter sentiments today, we are still to far out from the October 2023 general election to believe this is how it would turn out.

That’s one of the biggest flaws in voting intention polls taken between election; they ask how people would vote “if a provincial election were held tomorrow.” The only time that would present an accurate prediction of the outcome is if the poll were taken the day before a vote was scheduled.

As such, this poll — as promising as it may be for the Opposition NDP — doesn’t really tell us what’s going to happen in 17 months time.

Opposition leaders often track huge leads over governing leaders because, freed from the burden of actually having to govern, they can howl and stamp their feet in indignation with reckless abandon. Voters in opinion polls tend to judge opposition parties and leaders less on what they have done or say they will do, and more on how angry they are at the bunch in charge.

Voters in opinion polls tend to judge opposition parties and leaders less on what they have done or say they will do, and more on how angry they are at the bunch in charge.

The problem for the NDP, and for all opposition parties, is when it comes time to mark a ballot, voters will be assessing specific pledges and policies for all the parties competing for their attention. That kind of scrutiny can erase any pre-election poll advantages.

This dynamic can be seen in other regions around the world.

In the recent Ontario election, Tory Premier Doug Ford entered the campaign leading most polls but seemingly vulnerable to growing discontent about his COVID-19 pandemic response. Ford was, however, resoundingly re-elected with a majority, after voters studied NDP Leader Andrea Howarth and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and deemed them to be unworthy of support.

In the United Kingdom, the perils of opposition politics is also on full display.

On June 23, voters will go to the polls in the Yorkshire constituency of Wakefield for a critically important byelection. The riding had been solid Labour territory for decades, but swung to the Conservatives in 2019.

In Manitoba, while Kinew and Lamont have done admirable jobs fulfilling the role of opposition critic, neither has been assessed by voters in the crucible of an election campaign where you have to enunciate your own plans and not just denigrate the plans put forward by opponents.

Tory Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are, however, in a tailspin. A recent poll of Wakefield put Labour up 48 per cent to 28 per cent over the Conservatives. Labour campaign organizers are taking no comfort.

“I can categorically say we are not 20 points ahead and we are fighting for every vote,” Louise Haigh, a Labour MP who is running the Wakefield campaign, told the Guardian. “The fact we have only won one byelection in 25 years shows the scale of the task. It is not a foregone conclusion that we win.”

Labour’s problem is the same one shared by the Ontario Liberals and NDP: its leader, Keir Starmer, is not connecting with voters.

As controversial as Johnson is, his buffoonish charm is undeniable. Starmer, on the other hand, is dogged by concerns he is awkward, standoffish, and estranged from the average voter. He is carrying the burden many opposition leaders must bear: he is seen as a denigrator, not a leader of governments.

CHRIS YOUNG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES The problem for opposition parties is when it comes time to mark a ballot, voters will be assessing specific pledges and policies for all the parties competing for their attention

In Manitoba, while Kinew and Lamont have done admirable jobs fulfilling the role of opposition critic, neither has been assessed by voters in the crucible of an election campaign where you have to enunciate your own plans and not just denigrate the plans put forward by opponents.

There is no doubt both parties have benefited from the ongoing inability of the PC government in general, and Stefanson in particular, to appear even remotely competent.

But at some point — certainly by this time next year — Kinew and Lamont will have to prove to voters the reality of a change in government is as attractive as the prospect appears now.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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