B.C. Election: Liberal economic message resonates; concerns over campaign finance and housing persist

B.C. Election: Liberal economic message resonates; concerns over campaign finance and housing persist

Six-in-ten B.C. residents say opposition lacks a real plan to help the province


March 24, 2017 – Investigations into campaign financing have commenced, tax cuts have been tabled, hacking allegations have flown (and apologies have been given), all this against a backdrop of party leaders trash talking each other.

It must be election season in British Columbia.

A new analysis of public opinion polling data by the Angus Reid Institute finds plenty of room for optimism among those who would support the BC New Democratic Party – the opposition holds an early advantage in leader approval and on key social issues. But recent history will remind many observers that elections are often not decided until the final days.

Meantime, two competing narratives are unfolding for the B.C. Liberals. While the incumbents hold the high ground on fiscal management, their leader has lower approval ratings and is dogged by rising concerns over affordability and ongoing questions about her governments fundraising practices.

Key Findings:angus reid bc election

  • Three-quarters of B.C. residents (76%) agree that the current Liberal government is “only interested in helping its political donors and big business”
  • Three-in-five (62%) say the opposition parties don’t have a real plan to help British Columbians
  • Housing (21%), health care (19%), and the economy (14%) are seen as the top issues facing British Columbia today

 

Index:

Part 1 – Advantages and Challenges for the B.C Liberals

Part 2 – Advantages and Challenges for the NDP and Green Party

 

Part 1: Advantages and Challenges for the B.C Liberals

Can Clark overcome personal unpopularity a second time?

With just under two months until the provincial election, this analysis finds positive signs for the BC NDP and significant points of concern for the governing BC Liberals. One notable such concern is leader approval. Premier Christy Clark has had a less than warm relationship with British Columbians in recent years.

Currently, 31 per cent of respondents say they approve of Clark, while both NDP leader John Horgan and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver garner higher levels of good opinion (though in the case of Weaver, not significantly more).

A considerable number of British Columbians also voice uncertainty over both Horgan’s and Weaver’s leadership (23% and 42% respectively), suggesting their campaigns have work to do to familiarize the public with each. By contrast, and perhaps due to her relative longevity on the provincial political scene, respondents are far less equivocal about Clark:

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While this may appear to be troublesome for the incumbent Premier, consider that the lowest approval rating the Angus Reid Institute has recorded for her in six years of tracking was 25 per cent in March 2013. Clark went on to win the election in May of that year and garnered a 20-point jump in approval the following quarter (June 2013):

angus reid bc election

Political Fundraising top of mind

Earlier this month, the provincial government, responding to mounting criticism of British Columbia’s loose political fundraising rules, announced that it would be forming a panel to investigate political fundraising. The province garnered worldwide attention when the New York Times ran an article labeling it the “Wild West” of Canadian political cash.

B.C. currently has no limits on political donations and allows corporations and unions to donate large sums, leading many to accuse the government of participating in pay-to-play access. Previous Angus Reid Institute polling found these donations immensely unpopular:

angus reid bc election

British Columbians are concerned this government is inordinately focused with the interests of those who donate to the party. Fully three-quarters (76%) say they agree with the statement that the BC Liberal government “is only interested in helping its political donors and big business”.

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This issue is of particular importance to younger people. Nine-in-ten (89%) 18-34-year-olds agree with the statement, while agreement declines with age:

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What remains to be seen is how each age group will turn out at the polls. According to Elections BC, two-thirds (66.6%) of registered voters in the 55-64 cohort voted in 2013, and three-quarters (74.2%) of those 65 – 74 years old did so as well. Fewer than half of registered voters under age 45 showed up on Election Day.

Opposition leader John Horgan has attempted to capitalize on this fundraising controversy. He released a letter to the premier asking her to introduce campaign finance reform legislation that would ban corporate and union donations entirely. Seven-in-ten B.C. residents say they would support such a ban.

Liberal economic message resonates

There are three key issues that will likely define the B.C. election. Asked to choose the most important issue facing their province today, British Columbians choose housing, health care and the economy above all others:

angus reid bc election

Based on the Angus Reid Institute’s tracking of top issues in the province, it appears that the priority British Columbians place on the economy is lower than usual heading into this election. There has been a 12-point drop in the number of residents naming the economy over the last year, while housing issues have risen to the fore:

angus reid bc election

For the government, this could be viewed positively or negatively. It may be that economic issues have dropped in precedence for many residents due to the relative strength of B.C.’s economy, or it may be that housing woes have become so pointed that they supersede economic concerns for many residents.

The B.C. Liberals successfully ran their 2013 campaign largely on a platform of strong economic growth and based on early messaging appear to have a similar strategy this time around.

This plays to the perceived strength of the party. B.C. is tied with Saskatchewan for the most residents saying its provincial government is doing a good job on the economy. In both provinces, just over four-in-ten (42%) voice this opinion, close to double the number who say the same in neighbouring Alberta (22%), and well above the Canadian average (29%).

angus reid bc election

Some of this goodwill may be traced back to one of the defining issues of the 2013 election. Adrian Dix, the NDP leader at the time, (in)famously stated his opposition to Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline twinning project just weeks before the election. Clark said she would consider the pipeline proposal as long as it met her five conditions to ensure the province benefitted from the deal. The contrast in styles was enough to shift a significant amount of momentum away from Dix.

In retrospect, the premier’s decision to abstain from condemning the project looks even better. The pipeline – which the federal government ultimately approved last year – is a key symbol in the provincial government’s economic growth portfolio, and is supported by more B.C. residents (41%) than oppose it (34%).

Additional economic metrics bode well for the Liberal case. B.C. had an unemployment rate of 5.1 per cent at the end of February – the lowest in the country – and the province will see its fifth straight year of budget surplus this year. In the minds of potential voters, the current government is best suited to deal with economic issues, but only narrowly ahead of its biggest challenger, John Horgan’s NDP.

angus reid bc election

* leaders invited to election debate by B.C. 2017 leaders debate consortium are shown

Many want a focus on investment

For many British Columbians, priority has shifted from concerns over the deficit to a desire for more public spending. Asked to choose their three economic priorities for B.C., half of respondents (51%) say investing in public services such as education and health care is at the top. By contrast, three-in-ten (30%) choose “promoting jobs and growth where I live”, and one-in-four say “maintaining a balanced budget”. Both garner lower support than investment in affordable housing (34%).

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This doesn’t necessarily mean that B.C. residents are unconcerned about economic growth. Rather, it may display an appetite for increased services in a healthy economy under a government that at times has been criticized for lower investment in social services than required.

There are also distinct preferences on the government’s economic focus by age group. People over the age of 35, for example, are roughly twice as likely to say maintaining a balanced budget is a top priority, while millennials are more likely than other generations to say that affordable day care programs are a necessary area for the government to place its resources:

angus reid bc election

Part 2: Advantages and Challenges for the NDP and Green Party

A focus on those feeling the squeeze

While the economic case is a strong one for the government to make, there appears to be room for the opposition to make headway on the issue, too. Recent reports from the University of British Columbia and Generation Squeeze noted that while B.C.’s economy has grown it has been among if not the worst-performing for younger Canadians in recent years. This is a potential vulnerability for the B.C. Liberals.

And while those ages 25-34 were least likely to vote in 2013 (39.8% of those registered cast a ballot), both Horgan and Weaver will be looking to replicate the surge of young voters that led to increased turnout in the 2015 federal election. For both parties a bigger turnout from the youth could translate into a greater share of the vote.

Also working against the government on the economic file is the widespread sense that inequality in the province is growing. Three-quarters of B.C. residents (75%) say this is a “huge problem” for the province today, and nearly half (47%) also say they disagree with the idea that a person need only work hard in BC to find success:

angus reid bc election

The NDP has promised to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by the end of its first term if elected. Such a proposal may resonate with a large group of voters who see their friends and family falling behind.

Housing

One issue dominating the political agenda in British Columbia over the past few years is housing and real estate. As previously mentioned, one-in-five (21%) residents say this is the top issue of concern in the province.

Initially criticized for its perceived unwillingness to tackle this issue, the provincial government eventually responded last summer, when it introduced a 15 per cent tax on foreign home buyers in Metro Vancouver. At the time, the Angus Reid Institute found massive support for the tax among residents of the region. Eight-in-ten (82%), however, echoed criticisms leveled by opponents, saying the government waited too long and should have stepped in sooner with regulations to curb the rising costs of housing in B.C.

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The policy appeared to have a positive effect on Christy Clark’s approval rating; increasing from 27 per cent to 34 per cent over the course of three months (see graph earlier in release).

Persistently high housing prices however, have left many feeling there is little they can do to keep up. More than eight-in-ten polled say they are worried the next generation won’t be able to afford a home in their community (85%), and that too many people in the province are being left behind (82%).

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It is within this discussion of economic anxiety and disparity that the NDP potentially offers its strongest case for governance. That this issue is prioritized so highly suggests that British Columbians remain unsatisfied, and continue to look for leadership on this file.

Social services

Another issue where BC residents lean toward trusting the NDP is on key social services – particularly health care and education.

Asked which party leader is most suited to deal with these two issues, three-in-ten British Columbians choose John Horgan. He holds an 11-point advantage on Christy Clark in both cases, though it must be noted three-in-ten also say that they aren’t sure to whom they should give the reins.

angus reid bc election

* leaders invited to election debate by B.C. 2017 leaders debate consortium are shown

Perhaps aiming to mitigate this potential advantage for the opposition, the BC Liberals made a proposal to cut MSP premiums in half for more than two million residents part of their 2017 budget announcement. That said, with wait times longer than all provinces outside of Atlantic Canada, British Columbians do appear frustrated with their care.

Environment

Andrew Weaver and the Green Party appear could be poised to play a substantial role in this election. As evidenced by the 1991 election, when the “long-dormant” B.C. Liberals vaulted into the provincial consciousness to gain one-third (33%) of the vote, the impact of a competitive third party is not something to be taken lightly by either main party.

Early polling suggests that Green candidates may alter a number of races that would have been head-to-head affairs in 2013. While former leader Jane Sterk led the party to 8 per cent overall in the last election, early averages from ThreeHundredEight have the Greens closer to 14 per cent, and projected to pick up an extra three seats.

The main issue that drives support of Weaver and his party is unsurprising – the environment. This is the sole issue on which Weaver is most likely to be seen as the best leader:

angus reid bc election

* leaders invited to election debate by B.C. 2017 leaders debate consortium are shown

With pipeline and energy projects already prompting furious levels of opposition in some corners, they are also certain to dominate the campaign, and Weaver may have an opportunity to attract more voters. As noted previously, 42 per cent of British Columbians say that they are “unsure” whether to approve or disapprove of him. Many of these people may be open to his message.

As previous Angus Reid Institute polling has found, B.C. residents are inclined to favour environmental protection over economic growth when looking at energy policy. With the economy playing such a significant role in the 2013 election and likely to do the same in 2017, the party most trusted on the environment could make headway during debates on this issue.

angus reid bc election

Six-in-ten say opposition parties don’t have a real plan

While this poll finds clear opportunities for the opposition, an outright level of skepticism permeates the views of British Columbians when it comes to vision and planning. Indeed, the majority in this province reject the notion that neither the NDP nor the Greens hold credibility or advantage on this front.

Asked to consider the statement “the opposition parties in this province don’t have a real plan to help British Columbians”, six-in-ten residents (62%) agree:

angus reid bc election

Knowing their weaknesses with the electorate, this view may prove to be the trump card the B.C. Liberals hold in their hand as this high stakes contest begins.

 

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693 shachi.kurl@angusreid.org

Dave Korzinski, Research Associate: 250.899.0821 dave.korzinski@angusreid.org



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