By David Coletto
As the May 16 Election Day approaches in Newfoundland and Labrador, a new survey of 700 eligible voters conducted by Abacus Data finds the Progressive Conservatives lead the incumbent Liberal Party by 5-points.
Here’s what we found:
#1: A SLIGHT MAJORITY OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS FEEL THE PROVINCE IS HEADED IN THE WRONG DIRECTION AS 65% DESCRIBE THE PROVINCIAL ECONOMY AS POOR OR VERY POOR.
When asked to assess the direction of the province overall, 53% feel it is off on the wrong track compared with 33% who feel it’s headed in the right direction. Not surprisingly, Liberal supporters are more likely to think things are going in a positive direction, where most PC and NDP supporters think it’s headed in the wrong direction.
Negative assessments of the provincial economy seem to be a key driver in the negative mood overall. 65% of eligible voters in NL feel the economy is currently poor or very poor compared with 32% who feel it’s good or very good. Views are consistent across the province. Liberal supporters are slightly more optimistic about the economy when compared with NDP and PC supporters.
#2: THE ECONOMY, JOBS, AND HEALTH CARE ARE THE TWO MOST CITED TOP ISSUES FACING THE PROVINCE. PROVINCIAL FINANCES, MUSKRAT FALLS, ELECTRICITY PRICES, AND TAXES ROUND OUT THE TOP 5.
When asked to identify the top issue facing the province, unprompted, 31% said the economy or jobs was the top issue, followed by 18% who mentioned something related to health care and 11% who mentioned the state of the province’s finances. Another 9% mentioned Muskrat Falls or electricity prices while 6% mentioned taxes.
When asked which party is best able to deal with the issue they think is most important, the PCs and Liberals were close among those who said the economy and jobs was the top issue. The Liberals lead among those who care about health care while the PCs have an advantage among those concerned most about the province’s finances.
Of note, for all four of the top issues, at least a third of respondents either said none of the parties were best to deal with the issue or were unsure about which was best. This suggests there’s a high level of ambivalence about the choices voters have in the election.
When asked whether it is time for a change in NL or whether the Liberals should be kept in office, 67% preferred a change in government, although less than half (48%) felt that it was definitely time for a change in government. In contrast, 22% felt that it was definitely best to keep the Liberals in office
Among those who say they voted Liberal in the 2015 provincial election, 36% think it is definitely time for a change in government while 33% think the government definitely should be re-elected. For the Liberals to win, they need to reinforce those who want them re-elected while convincing the 19% who want change but say it’s not that important to them to come back into the Liberal fold.
For comparison purposes, at the start of the 2018 Ontario election, 60% of voters felt it was definitely time for a change in government while 59% felt the same way at the start of the 2015 federal election. Dwight Ball and the Liberals face headwinds in their quest for another term but they don’t seem as strong as those faced by recent governments who ultimately were defeated.
#4: ADVANTAGE PC: THE PCs LEAD BY 5 POINTS OVER THE LIBERALS AMONG COMMITTED VOTERS 42% TO 37% WITH THE NDP AT 15%. 21% OF ELIGIBLE VOTERS REMAIN UNDECIDED AT THIS POINT.
When asked how they would vote if the election was held at the time of the survey, 42% of committed respondents would vote PC with the Liberals 5-points back at 37%. 15% would vote NDP while 6% said they would support another party.
Compared with our survey conducted in May 2018, the ballot is largely unchanged for the two largest parties. The NDP vote share is down 8 while support for another party is up 6.
Given that the NDP is only running 14 candidates and the NL Alliance is running only 9 candidates, many respondents will not have a candidate for either party on their ballot and so we may be overestimating support for both parties.
As the PCs lead by 5, there are still many undecided voters. Overall, 21% of respondents say they are undecided – high for this stage of the campaign – but down 20 points from a survey we did a year ago.
Regionally, the PCs lead on the Avalon Peninsula and in the east and central regions of the province while the Liberals lead in the western part of the province and in Labrador.
Demographically, the PCs lead among both men and women, and across all age groups, although the NDP does better among those under 45.
Half of those who say they voted Liberal in the 2015 provincial election now say they will vote for another party or are undecided. The same is true of those who voted NDP in 2015. In contrast, the PCs have held onto over two-thirds of their past vote.
#5: 4 IN 10 HAVE A NEGATIVE VIEW OF DWIGHT BALL, HIGHER THAN BOTH CHES CROSBIE AND ALISON COFFIN.
When we ask about the three main party leaders, we find that no single leader is liked by a sizeable group of voters. Liberal Leader Dwight Ball has the highest negatives while NDP Leader Alison Coffin is not well known and those who do know of her mostly have a neutral impression.
PC Leader Ches Crosbie has a mixed image. 27% of eligible voters have a positive view of him while 30% have a negative view. One in three says their impression of the PC leader is neutral.
#6: DESPITE TRAILING THE PCs IN THE POLL, MOST ELIGIBLE VOTERS THINK THE LIBERAL PARTY IS GOING TO WIN THE PROVINCIAL ELECTION.
Most eligible voters in the province still expect the Liberals to win the election, despite the party trailing in the polls.
With just over a week to go in the provincial election campaign, Ches Crosbie and the PCs have a small, but statistically significant, lead over the incumbent Liberals and Dwight Ball.
The PC lead is built on strong support on the Avalon Peninsula and in the eastern and central regions of the province. The party also finds support among all demographic groups.
Despite this lead, a few variables suggest that the election may still be too early to call.
First, none of the leaders are particularly well-liked and people haven’t formed much of an opinion of Mr. Crosbie. While Mr. Ball’s negatives are higher, his overall image is more positive than some recent premiers who have been defeated at the provincial level.
Second, as the NDP is only running candidates in 14 constituencies, it is difficult to predict how those who would normally vote NDP might vote without their preferred party on the ballot. 77% of NDP supporters would prefer a change in government, although only 66% say it’s definitely time for a change. At the same time, NDP supporters are just as likely to have a negative view of Mr. Ball as they are of Mr. Crosbie and so how they end up voting, if they do at all, may depend on which of the two men they would prefer as premier.
Finally, if over the next week, the debate turns more decidedly to the province’s health care system, the Liberals may benefit. If, on the other hand, voters increasingly frame their choice around who is best to manage the province’s finances, the PC support might grow. Given that many voters remain unsure who is best to manage the economy and that issue is most likely to be top of mind for voters, the party perceived to have the best plan to manage the economy may ultimately prevail.
The telephone was conducted with 700 eligible voters in Newfoundland and Labrador between May 2 to 5, 2019. 65% of interviews were conducted on cell phones while 35% were conducted on landlines.
The margin of error for this study is +/- 3.8%, 19 times out of 20.
The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Newfoundland and Labrador’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
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