Manitobans care more about health care than any other issue in this provincial election, by a wide margin.
A Free Press/CTV News Winnipeg Probe Research poll found 44 per cent of all respondents said health care was "top of mind." The next closest issue, at 15 per cent, was the state of jobs, the economy and the cost of living.
"Usually when we ask about community issues, health care is in the mix," said Probe principal Curtis Brown. "But it’s not leading to this extent."
The findings should come as no surprise, Brown said. Heading into the election, as speculation mounted about whether Premier Brian Pallister would move up the election, the Progressive Conservatives continued their sweeping reforms of the health-care system, which have been the focus of the provincial political discussion. And no matter their political stripes, Brown said, health care is at or near the top of Manitobans’ list of primary concerns.
Probe found the majority of respondents who had decided to vote for the NDP (64 per cent), the Liberals (51) or the Conservatives (31) ranked health care as their main consideration. Of undecided voters, 51 per cent agreed. Though Green supporters’ top-of-mind issue was climate change and the environment (37), health care was next at 32 per cent.
Overall, Brown said, the poll figures illustrate each party’s respective campaign strategies.
For the NDP, which is tabbed by pre-election polls as the Conservatives’ main opponent, and the Liberals and Greens, who maintain decent levels of support, the so-called "progressive issues" tended to matter more to survey respondents.
Respondents who supported those parties were more likely to identify education and climate change as key concerns than PC counterparts.
Meanwhile, Tory supporters tended to be more financially focused in their response. Taxes (27 per cent), jobs/economy/cost of living (21) and the provincial budget (19) were more pressing to those with blue signs on their lawns than those with orange, red or green.
Brown likens this difference in identified issues to "sword" and "shield" issues. Parties tend to discuss certain topics more freely and openly, using those as metaphorical "swords" to show their strengths. But sometimes, parties are defensive about topics they feel less strongly or confidently about, opting to "shield" themselves from criticism.
"I think this pattern fits (the poll results) perfectly," Brown said.
There’s likely no stronger indication of that idea at play in the polling results than the percentage of each party’s supporters who said climate change mattered most. Predictably, 37 per cent of Green Party voters said so, while a greater percentage than Brown can recall of NDP (17) and Liberal (15) respondents did the same. Conversely, only three per cent of Conservative respondents were most keen on going green.
"Tory voters are way more concerned about the budget and the state of the provincial debt," said Brown. "(The results) align with what we know about those parties’ supporters."
However, 12 per cent of voters are still on the fence about who to support. Amongst the undecided, health-care led the way at 51 per cent, trailed by jobs (17), climate (9), taxes (8), education (7) and the provincial budget (2).
As the election draws closer, Brown says, parties are unlikely to deviate from their set strategies to win over those who’ve yet to declare an alliance, instead opting to ensure that voters who said they’d vote for them will.
Now, as always, it’s about playing to the base: the Conservatives will continue to use economic issues as their swords, forcing other parties to raise their shields, and the NDP, Liberal and Green parties will do the same with progressive concerns while attacking the previous government’s track record on health care.
Overall, Brown says, "The poll tells us what Manitobans really care about, and what candidates are likely hearing when they go to the doorstep."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
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