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This article was published 3/10/2014 (1869 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Judy Wasylycia-Leis is cruising to the finish line of Winnipeg’s mayoral race, having maintained a commanding lead over the rest of the pack.
According to a new Free Press/CTV Winnipeg poll, the only new dynamic in the countdown to the Oct. 22 vote is the fading of support for Gord Steeves and momentum for Brian Bowman, who has moved into second place.
With less than three weeks left in the civic election campaign, the survey conducted by Probe Research shows Wasylycia-Leis, the former New Democrat MP and MLA, comfortably leading all candidates with 41 per cent support of decided voters — a level of support she’s kept the past 10 months.
Bowman, a privacy lawyer, appears to be the only candidate with any momentum, moving past Steeves into a solid second.
While Bowman increased his support from a similar Probe survey at the end of August, he remains a distant second, with the support of 23 per cent of decided voters.
It appears Steeves’ appeal during the past month for the centre-right vote to coalesce around a single candidate has backfired — Steeves lost support to Bowman and has fallen to third place, with 16 per cent support of decided voters.
Probe president Scott McKay said no candidate has been able to narrow the lead Wasylycia-Leis has held for months.
Wasylycia-Leis is "strong city-wide and across all neighbourhoods," McKay said. She leads in all demographics: the overwhelming favourite of men and women in all age groups, at every education level and all income levels except for those whose household income is more than $100,000 — and even among those, she is statistically even with Bowman.
On a neighbourhood basis, McKay said that in the past month, Wasylycia-Leis shored up her support in the city’s suburban southeast, where she trailed Steeves at one point but now dominates, and where Steeves has fallen to third place.
Wasylycia-Leis is the overwhelming favourite in not just the city’s inner city, but the neighbourhoods of the southeast, northeast and northwest; she is leading but statistically tied with Bowman in the southwest.
Wasylycia-Leis’s level of support is now similar to what she attracted in her losing bid in 2010 against Sam Katz, 43 per cent to his 55 per cent.
McKay said Wasylycia-Leis’ dominance has been helped by Steeves and Bowman — and to a lesser degree Coun. Paula Havixbeck — battling it out for the hearts of centre-right voters.
"She is really benefiting from this division on the right," McKay said.
At one point in the campaign last month, Steeves held a news conference every day for six days attacking Wasylycia-Leis and her links to the governing provincial NDP. Lately, Steeves has focused his criticism on Bowman, describing him as inexperienced and even more financially irresponsible than Wasylycia-Leis. But instead of gaining, Steeves has lost support to Bowman, even among those voters who identify themselves as Progressive Conservatives.
"Steeves has been very disciplined in his message, playing the hard right... but (conservative voters) may have found those views too extreme, and they’ve gone over to a more centre-right candidate in Brian Bowman," McKay said.
Another factor in Steeves’ decline in the past month, McKay said, may have been his decision to avoid several mayoral forums, including those on aboriginal and inner-city issues.
"He didn’t think it was going to hurt him to sidestep those events, but I think some voters are wondering why he wasn’t present... It’s like he wants to be the mayor of some people and not others, and that’s not the way it works."
McKay said Bowman’s surge this past month appears to be the result of being able to distinguish himself from Wasylycia-Leis and attracting some right-wing supporters after spending the early part of the campaign trying to appeal to all voters.
But does Bowman have enough momentum to overtake Wasylycia-Leis in the remaining 20 days of the campaign? McKay said it’s technically feasible, but would require the supporters of all the other candidates to rally around him, and he said that’s not likely to happen.
"Where is his support going to come from? It’s not going to come from Judy," McKay said. "It would have to come from the other candidates, and if you add them all up, you just barely get there... and it just doesn’t work that way."
McKay said the survey found 39 per cent of Steeves’ support would go to Bowman, but the rest would would split among Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Wasylycia-Leis, David Sanders and Michel Fillion.
"The stars would really have to align" for Bowman to overtake Wasylycia-Leis, McKay said. "If Judy were to stumble in a really big way, this would help Bowman for sure... but she’s playing it so safe."
McKay said the only threat to Wasylycia-Leis’s base of support appeared to be from Ouellette, a University of Manitoba administrator, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to grab the support of 10 per cent of decided voters at the end of August and appeared to be on the rise.
But the survey found Ouellette unable to increase his level of support in the past month.
"I thought if anyone was moving other than Bowman, it might have been (Ouellette)," McKay said. "He’s just not been able to fully connect with people. Maybe people are wondering about his level of experience. He’s not been able to break out of the pack of also-rans."
Bowman’s message is not resonating with young voters. McKay said he has projected himself as the young outsider, the non-politician, heavily promoting himself on social media, but voters 18 to 35 years old are overwhelmingly supporting Wasylycia-Leis, who has 40 per cent support among them. For that age group, Bowman has only 14 per cent support, trailing even Steeves who has the support of 20 per cent of 18- to 35-year-olds.
"We were all scratching our heads wondering why is that?" McKay said. "Here is the man (Bowman), who is probably the youngest or second-youngest, using modern campaign approaches, so why isn’t he connecting with this group?
Wasylycia-Leis said she’s heartened to see her hold on her support, which she characterized as growing.
"There is a clear recognition from one end of the city to the other for building a city that works," she said in an interview, evoking her campaign slogan.
"The message I take out of this poll is I gotta keep working hard and convince more people I have what it takes to make this city right again."
Bowman, who started this race as a relatively unknown commodity, said he’s happy to see his support grow from an initial six per cent to 23 per cent in a series of polls – but acknowledged there remains a very large gap between him and Wasylycia-Leis.
"We’re extremely enthused by the growth we’ve been enjoying. It just shows we have lots of work to do in order to win the trust and confidence of voters," Bowman said in a telephone interview. "Our campaign has an extra bounce in its step today. It’s really encouraging to have the momentum going into the home stretch."
Steeves spokesman Keith Borkowsky said his campaign will not comment on either the Probe poll or the decision to cancel a campaign event planned for city hall today.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette, running in fourth place with nine per cent support in the Probe poll, encouraged Winnipeggers to turn to him as "the only real alternative to one version or other of the status quo." That’s a reference to Wasylycia-Leis’s NDP background and Bowman’s chamber of commerce support.
"Our campaign has always had the expectation that we’ll see a stronger turnout from people who don’t usually vote, including young people and the Aboriginal community," Ouellette said in a statement.
"To win, I also need the support of people in the suburbs and even from the establishment, and I’m seeing some of that. People are angry and frustrated with city hall being run for and sometimes by special interests, and that hurts everyone."
David Sanders, pegged at fifth place in the Probe poll with five-per-cent support, said he believes his numbers will grow as voters get to know him better.
"I am confident that Winnipeggers will realize that I am the candidate most capable of driving the changes needed at city hall, and that they will support me in uniting the entire community to go forward with real optimism and confidence," he said in a statement.
Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, now running in sixth place with four-per-cent support, shrugged off Probe’s findings.
"The only poll that counts is (election) day and I will continue with our strategy," she said via text message.
Probe conducted the random and representative telephone survey of 602 adults between Sept. 18 and Oct. 1. The margin of error is plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Is it now a foregone conclusion that Judy Wasylycia-Leis will be Winnipeg’s next mayor?
Join the conversation in the comments below.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Friday, October 3, 2014 at 6:44 AM CDT: Adds question for discussion
12:32 PM: Updates with Havixbeck's reaction to poll
12:36 PM: Updates with Ouellette's reaction to poll
1:23 PM: Updates with Bowman's reaction.
1:42 PM: Updates with comment from Steeves' campaign
2:58 PM: Updates with Wasylycia-Leis reaction
3:14 PM: Updates with Sanders' reaction