For the first time in Newfoundland and Labrador history, the NDP is polling in first place — ahead of the governing PC Party.
According to polling done by Environics Research Group, the NDP now commands 38 per cent of popular support; 35 per cent of decided voters support the PCs, and 26 per cent back the Liberals.
“It’s pretty big,” said Derek Leebosh, vice-president of Environics. “I think we’re getting to a point where there could be a competition between Newfoundland and Quebec over which is the most NDP province in Canada.”
Environics surveyed 1,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians between June 19-29; the results are considered accurate within a margin of error of 3.2 per cent 19 times out of 20.
The numbers put the NDP and PCs within the margin of error — essentially tied — but they continue to tell the story of steadily slipping poll numbers for Premier Kathy Dunderdale’s party.
During last fall’s provincial election, the Tories took 56 per cent of the popular vote; a poll conducted in May by Corporate Research Associates in May showed the Tories had 49 per cent support.
Memorial University political scientist Kelly Blidook said that the numbers reflect a rough six months for Dunderdale’s government, and with the Liberals largely absent from the public eye most of the anti-conservative vote is migrating to the NDP.
“So long as the governing party is unpopular and so long as one of the two main opposition parties is not doing very much, the other party is going to win in part by default, right?” Blidook said, although he cautioned that things could turn around for the PCs. “It could be that the PCs are actually in a free-fall.
“The numbers certainly are a fall but whether or not this is something they’ll pull out of, I mean, I think that’s a pretty powerful party,” Blidook said.
But NDP Leader Lorraine Michael said she doesn’t buy that this is all just anti-PC Party sentiment; if that was the case, she said, people would say they were undecided instead of supporting the NDP.
“They’re not just saying they don’t know where to go, so obviously they’re seeing in the NDP something they want,” she said. “I don’t think it changes what we do in the next few years; I think it keeps us focused on the direction in which we’re doing.”
In an emailed statement, Dunderdale said, “This poll does not change our focus or our priorities as a government.
“We laid out our four-year plan in October, which received strong endorsement by the people of the province. We will continue to fulfill our commitments, making decisions that are in the best interests of the people and the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Liberal Leader Dwight Ball saw positive news in the Environics polling numbers; the Liberals saw an eight percentage point jump in popularity from May’s CRA polling.
“In terms of overall gains we’ve picked up more than any party,” he said. “We’re clearly now in a three-party race in this province.”
Environics also asked people whether they believe the provincial government is on the “right track” or the “wrong track.”
Forty five per cent said they believe things are on the right track; 42 per cent said things are on the wrong track, and 12 per cent refused to answer.
Respondents were also asked about their thoughts on the federal political scene, and the NDP was out in front on that side of things too.
Federally, 49 per cent of respondents said they’d vote for the NDP if an election was held today, 34 per cent supported the Liberals and 17 per cent backed the Conservatives.
Federally, 67 per cent of people say the government is on the wrong track, versus 20 per cent who say things are on the right track.
A lot of that, Leebosh said, is probably the lingering effects of former premier Danny Williams’ ABC Campaign to encourage people to vote for anybody but Conservatives.
New Democrat MP Ryan Cleary said that fits with what he’s hearing from people.
“There’s at least a generation of Newfoundlanders that will never vote federal Conservative because of the carry-over from the Danny Williams days and because of Stephen Harper,” he said. “People don’t see him as a friend of Newfoundland and Labrador.”
Blidook said one of the possible effects of these kinds of polling numbers is that Dunderdale will move to distance herself from the federal Conservatives.
For a year or more, Dunderdale has been striking a conciliatory tone with Harper, trying to mend fences.
“That might be the decision that’s ultimately made because why would you stay close to a federal government that polls at 17 per cent in the province and two thirds of people think is on the wrong track?” Blidook said. “Is there just no way of repairing this particular bridge? It’s obvious that even with trying to befriend the federal government, very little came of it. We don’t see decisions that have seemed friendly towards Newfoundland.”
Blidook cautioned that the Environics polling numbers could just represent a moment in time, but he said if the tight race between the PCs and the NDP is borne out, it will change the political environment in the province.
“I think things will be different,” Blidook said.” Whether or not that leads to better policy outcomes, it certainly means there’s going to be more concern and more debate, and when the government does things, they’re going to be more careful about defending it and possibly even tarring their opponents in the process.”