BC NDP maintains double-digit lead ahead of expected campaign; Rustad & Falcon lack appeal, trust on top issues

BC United and BC Conservative supporters divided over whether merger was a “missed opportunity”

May 30, 2024 – In the latest iterative developments from the annals of “BC-politics-is-never-boring”, breathless speculation about the fate of two centre-right parties has dominated backroom and chattering class conversations for weeks.

But shifting political currents on the surface – from BC United to the Conservative Party of B.C. – belie the fluidity of each party’s vote. In the wake of a failed merger between the entities, each party leader must now attempt to differentiate themselves to a vote base largely open to either.

A significant problem for BC Conservative leader John Rustad will be overcoming the “unknown” factor: when British Columbians are asked, unaided, to match an image of BC’s four main party leaders with the movements they lead, the majority (54%) cannot do so for Rustad.

New public opinion data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute reveals another challenge for both Rustad and BC United leader Kevin Falcon: when respondents are aware of who both men are, perceptions of each are hardly enthusiastic, especially for the latter. Fully 54 per cent of British Columbians have an unfavourable view of Falcon. For Rustad, it’s 44 per cent, twice the number who think well of him (22%).

Positive perceptions of leadership, good recognizability, and favourable views are crucial for both Falcon and Rustad, given the “swing factor” among right of centre voters. Each party stands to lose up to half of its current base to the other should supporters opt to switch in an effort to block the BC NDP under Premier David Eby from forming government.

As it stands today, the New Democrats lead in vote intention at 41 per cent, representing an 11-point advantage over the Conservative Party of B.C. at 30 per cent. Opposition BC United are chosen by 16 per cent of would-be voters. This represents a 50 per cent loss from the party’s 2020 election popular vote.

 

Click below to see Key Takeaways from the data.

Ahead of an expected September campaign and October election, David Eby and the BC NDP hold a solid advantage in vote intention:

But what if BC United or Conservative Party of B.C. voters felt the other party had a better chance to defeat the BC NDP in their district? Approximately half of each party’s voters say they would consider switching:

 

One the top issue facing the province – the cost of living and inflation – no party holds an advantage. In fact, “none of them” is the top choice to handle this file. That said, David Eby and the BC NDP are preferred by a comfortable margin on both health care and housing affordability: 

To test the recognizability of each provincial party leader, ARI showed respondents an image and asked them to choose which party that person leads. Seven-in-ten were able to align Eby and the BC NDP, while just 46 per cent can do the same with Rustad and the Conservative Party of British Columbia:

Among those individuals who do have a view of the provincial leaders, the most common terms for Falcon and Rustad are largely negative, while the inverse is true of Eby and Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau:

From mergers to rebrands, to shifting policy and leader putsches, history shows us British Columbia is no stranger to brutal political plot twists and intrigue. Unlike many other provinces, party names and indeed even their philosophies, have not in the last three-quarters of a century traditionally aligned with federal parties.

From the post-war era until the early 1990s, the province was governed almost exclusively by premiers representing the right-leaning Social Credit Party: W.A.C Bennett, his son, Bill Bennett, and in the final throes of the party’s political life, by Bill Vander Zalm, and finally, for four months, BC’s first female premier, Rita Johnston.

The 1991 general election represented a sea-change. Not just because of a landslide win for the BC New Democrats under then-premier Mike Harcourt (it was the first time in 20 years the BC NDP would take  power, and this time, and the first time ever it would hold it for more than a single term), but also because it would eventually lead to the end of the lion that had once been the Social Credit Party (commonly known as the Socreds), and an ideological shift of what was then the BC Liberal Party – heretofore more closely aligned with federal party policy and politics, but not for much longer.

The political implosion of Social Credit in 1991 would leave it with just seven members in the legislature. The BC Liberals catapulted from oblivion in the same election to form a caucus of seventeen. Liberal leader Gordon Wilson would see his time at the party helm cut short within just a few years, replaced in a party coup by former Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell.

Campbell’s ascension brought to the BC Liberal Party funders, organizers, volunteers, and candidates who had previously put their time, money, and energy into the Socreds. The party that once straddled the centre-left of the BC political spectrum had realigned itself to the centre-right. It would eventually prove a winning formula after the collapse of the BC NDP in 2001. The BC Liberals would go on to govern for 16 years.

Though it has not governed in BC since 1928, the Conservative Party in British Columbia never quite went away. Through several election cycles between 2001 and 2020, the BC Conservative Party has largely been on the fringes. Surges in popular support have in the recent past been quashed by influential voices from the ranks of the federal Conservative party warning right-leaning BC voters off the BC Conservatives, highlighting the political the dangers of splitting the centre right vote provincially. What represents a fundamental shift in 2024 is the absence of such voices.

The provincial New Democratic party has also, realigned over the years. The BC NDP of the 1990s was more traditionally focused on unionized, working-class voters, and therefore on the politics of strongly left-leaning class warfare. A period of internal party strife through the first decade of the millennium bore witness to the struggle of some caucus members who wanted the party to put environmental issues front and centre, while others pointed to the party’s – and the province’s – roots in resource development. By 2017, a strong desire for political change coupled with an arguably more centrist NDP led the party back to government under John Horgan, who then won a majority mandate in 2020.

The party at risk of being squeezed out of its place in provincial politics? That would be BC United, formerly the BC Liberals (current leader Kevin Falcon campaigned on the name change). The party once seen as the true home of right leaning politics in BC, it is now losing its support to the more stridently right BC Conservatives, while ideologically centrist voters do not appear to fear the NDP.

The Full Story

INDEX

Part One: Leadership

  • Fewer than half can identify surging Conservative Party’s leader
  • Approval and Favourability
  • How British Columbians describe each leader
    • The Good
    • The Bad

Part Two: Issues

  • Who’s best to lead on British Columbians’ top issues?

Part Three: Vote intent

  • Regional
    • Surrey spotlight
  • Age and gender
  • Retention of 2020 voters

Part Four: Switchers and missed opportunities

  • Half of United and Conservative voters would support the other to beat the NDP
  • BCU and Conservative voters divided about merger

Part One: Leadership

Fewer than half can identify surging Conservative Party’s leader

The expectation is that British Columbians will head to the polls in October. For the incumbent New Democrats, in power since 2017, news last week that its two main rivals would in fact not be merging likely brightened up a moody May. For the opposition BC United, cauterizing a hemorrhage that has dropped the party to a distant third in vote intention is the goal, while for the surging provincial Conservatives, growing awareness of the party and its leader evidently remains a tall task.

Consider that while 70 per cent of British Columbians surveyed can match Premier David Eby with his party when presented with just his image, fewer than half can do the same for Conservative Party of BC leader John Rustad, who was ousted from the opposition BC United in 2022 for voicing anti-climate science views.

By contrast, both BC United leader Kevin Falcon (59%) and Green Party of B.C. leader Sonia Furstenau (58%) score much higher in terms of identifiability. Both latter leaders have had more time in the spotlight, but Rustad doesn’t have the benefit of time with an expected September campaign fast approaching:

Approval and Favourability

Respondents were then asked for their views – if they have any – of each of the four provincial leaders. For Eby, 45 per cent approve of his performance while 37 per cent disapprove. Eby’s approval rating has hovered between 45 and 48 per cent every quarter since December 2022. Each of the other party leaders are subject to a much larger “unknown” factor. Despite this, both Rustad (44%) and Falcon (53%) register higher levels of negativity than Eby:

How British Columbians describe each leader

The Angus Reid Institute asked British Columbians to look at paired words or phrases and say which side they feel best represents the leader they’re assessing. For example, 29 per cent of British Columbians feel Eby is “charismatic”, while 41 per cent say he’s “boring” and 30 per cent say they’re unsure. As descriptors emerge, the advantage in positive assessments is clearly Eby’s. Some of this is due to the lack of awareness of other leaders and some, particularly in the case of Falcon, is due to negative perceptions:

The intensity of positive terms is higher for Eby and Furstenau as seen in the following heatmap table.

Falcon is most likely of all leaders to be viewed as uncaring, a liar, and arrogant, though many say this of Eby as well. In terms of overall negative intensity, Falcon leads, followed by Eby, Rustad, and Furstenau.

Part Two: Top Issues

All signs point to an election that will hinge on party policies on a handful of top issues. Paramount among them are two cost of living concerns – inflation and housing affordability. Additionally, health care remains a constant issue for would-be voters. Climate change and crime are also chosen by one-quarter of B.C. residents as a top concern:

Who’s best to lead on British Columbians’ top issues?

The clear strength for Eby’s BC NDP is that it leads by a comfortable margin as the best party to handle two of these top issues and shares top spot with Rustad on the other.

Health care and housing affordability challenges have been persistent throughout Eby’s time as premier and grew under his predecessor John Horgan. The province signed a $1.2 billion three-year bilateral deal with the federal government in late 2023 that it will likely be keen to promote this fall on the campaign trail. In addition, billions have been allocated for homebuilding and housing affordability measures over the next decade.

Despite these announcements, frustration with seemingly unsolvable problems in health care, housing and cost of living is evident among many British Columbians, as close to three-in-10 say none of the four leaders will do a good job on each issue. Falcon is not seen as the best option by more than 13 per cent on any of the three top issues:  

If Rustad and his B.C. Conservatives are to continue to build on their evident momentum, it may be based on secondary issue strength. That is, Rustad is the clear top option when it comes to handling crime, the economy, and the deficit, which are all important, but second tier issues for British Columbians at large. Perceptions of which party and leader would be best to handle the drug use crisis are emblematic of the considerable challenge it poses. The largest group (29%) say none of the parties would do a good job, while Rustad (27%) and Eby (22%) trail closely behind.

Part Three: Vote intention

Anything can happen between now and October, but regardless of how one parses the data, the NDP appear to have a solid advantage in vote intention. Upon first appraisal, one-in-three British Columbians say they would vote for the BC NDP candidate in their district if an election were held imminently. More than one-in-five (23%) would vote for the Conservative Party, while the third largest group are undecided (18%). This undecided group diminishes to 11 per cent when hesitant voters are asked which party they lean toward.

Considering only leaning and decided voters, 41 per cent would support the BC NDP, while 30 per cent would vote for the Conservatives. BC United are the third choice at 16 per cent, which represents an 18-point drop from 2020 results.

The broad trend shows the burgeoning existential crisis for BC United. Since late 2022, the party’s voter support has halved from 32 to 16 per cent. Meantime, the B.C. Conservatives, previously relegated to “other” party status, having received just two per cent of the vote and running fewer candidates than the Libertarian Party in 2020, have surged to replace Falcon’s party as the major threat to the governing BC NDP:

Regional

Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island appear to be significant regional strengths for the incumbent BC NDP. The party garners nearly half of the vote share in these regions. In other parts of the urban centre however, the picture is much murkier, with three of the parties generating more than 24 per cent support. The B.C. Conservatives most likely region for significant gains in this election is the Interior and northern parts of the province:

Surrey spotlight

Highlighting one of the key jurisdictional battlegrounds shows just how close some of the races may be in October. There is no path to victory for any party without a strong showing in the City of Surrey, home to ten provincial districts, and more prone to political swings than other major cities in the region. The two top parties split the vote near evenly, while BC United performs better than its provincial average. Currently the BC NDP hold eight of the 10 seats in Surrey, while BC United hold two.  

Age and gender

Women continue to provide the BC NDP a near two-to-one advantage over its next closest rival (45% NDP, 25% Conservative), while men are divided evenly (36% NDP, 35% Conservative.) B.C. Conservative Party support peaks among 35-to-54-year-old men, where it reaches two-in-five:

Retention of 2020 voters

Time will tell whether BC United is in the midst of an irreversible cascade, or a temporary calamity born of brand confusion and protest voting. Currently, that party, which maintains its place as opposition and will, importantly, run many incumbent candidates with much more local legacy than their Conservative counterparts, is ceding half of its 2020 vote share to the latter:

Part Four: Switchers and missed opportunities

The vote intention picture is far from static and predictable with less than half a year to go until the expected election. Much of the unpredictability going forward will hinge on the satisfaction of potential voters with what their party has to offer. Consider that currently more than half of voters say they are voting for their current party because they dislike the other options more. As indicated in the previous section, this has many 2020 voters shifting allegiances as they gauge the unfolding situation:

BCU and Conservative voters divided about merger

Perhaps for this reason, a number of centre-right voters (39%) say that the failed merger of the Conservatives and BC United was a missed opportunity. This rises to half (49%) among those who say they will support the latter. B.C. Conservatives are less likely to say this, but still one-in-three feel it would have made for an easier road to forming government:

Half of United and Conservative voters would support the other to beat the NDP

One of the most obvious questions to ask is about the interplay of the parties that held discussions about merging. Would BC United voters support the Conservatives in their riding if they offered a better chance of defeating the BC NDP candidate? And what about vice versa?

Half of both groups say it’s a possibility, if not likely, that they would switch to support the alternative in this case (see detailed tables), which leads to some interesting projections. If, indeed, half of BC United voters decided to rally to the Conservatives, vote intention is nearly split (41% NDP, 38% Conservative). This would certainly have a substantial impact on close races, like those that appear possible in Surrey and throughout the Lower Mainland:

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from May 24 – 27, 2024 among a representative randomized sample of 1,203 British Columbian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI. Detailed tables are found at the end of this release.

For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.

For full release including methodology, click here.

For full questionnaire, click here.

Image Credit – Facebook Pages of each candidate

MEDIA CONTACT:

Shachi Kurl, President: 604.908.1693 shachi.kurl@angusreid.org @shachikurl

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

 

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