For the first time in eight years, the Progressive Conservative party can’t count on the support of the majority of people in the province, according to new poll numbers released Thursday.
As the PCs stumble, the New Democratic Party is picking up support; if an election were held tomorrow, one in three voters would vote for the NDP.
The poll, conducted by Corporate Research Associates (CRA), continues a trend which indicates the province’s political landscape is dominated by the PCs and the NDP. Support for the Liberals — ostensibly the Official Opposition — remains flat, and substantially below the NDP.
“Although the NDP (doesn’t) pose a threat if an election was held today, they certainly are presenting a threat,” said CRA president Margaret Brigley. “The NDP have established themselves as the opposition.”
Political leaders of all three parties downplayed the significance of Thursday’s poll numbers.
“If I’m going to do it by popularity contest, I’m going to get myself in trouble really fast,” Dunderdale said. “I think what the poll speaks to more than anything else is the solid, substantive support we have in the province.”
Dunderdale’s government is still well ahead of its political rivals in public opinion, and she has the highest approval rating of any premier in Atlantic Canada.
But her current approval rating of 60 per cent is down substantially; in November, that number was 75 per cent.
If an election were held today, Dunderdale could count on 49 per cent of decided voters; the NDP would get 33 per cent. The Liberals could count on support from 18 per cent of decided voters.
But in every single metric in the CRA poll numbers, the PC party’s support is falling.
Both Dunderdale and Brigley attributed that to a few tough months.
“It’s been a long winter with the House of Assembly open and very serious issues — hard issues — on the floor every day and in the media every day,” Dunderdale said.
Dunderdale said that fish plant closures, the Muskrat Falls debate and federal cuts have all taken their toll.
By and large, Dunderdale’s losses have been the NDP’s gains.
Memorial University political science assistant professor Kelly Blidook said it is easier to be an opposition party when difficult issues are in play.
Blidook said it’s still not clear whether the NDP can hold on to support when things are going well for Dunderdale.
“Whether or not that has any long-term impacts, it will be interesting to see,” he said. “These things come and go. You could certainly have a period where things look up again, and that could make a big difference.”
Speaking to reporters Thursday, Michael shrugged off the poll numbers, saying it’s just a signal for her to keep doing what she’s doing.
“It’s a sign that what we’re doing is satisfying people at the moment. I think the track we’re on is a good one. We’re speaking to the issues that are important to people,” she said. “The message to me is keep at it, keep working hard.”
Ball said the Liberals see their stubbornly third-place numbers as “stable” and they’ve already got plans for the coming months to rebuild party support.
“Our objective hasn’t changed. We have a plan in place,” he said. “We’re engaged as a party and certainly we’ve made some changes as we try to connect with the people of the province.”
The CRA poll surveyed 802 people in the province between May 10 and June 4. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.