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What we know (and don't know) so far about the B.C. election campaign

Liberal leader Christy Clark’s allegation this week that the NDP’s John Horgan never raised concerns in the legislature about the softwood lumber industry may have won her some much-needed support in the Interior and the North, Postmedia’s pollster says.

An analysis of polls conducted before and after Wednesday night’s televised leaders debate shows Clark’s support and favourability ratings are up slightly outside Metro Vancouver, in areas where the forestry and lumber industries — under attack by the U.S. government — employ many people.

“Horgan’s numbers are lower in the north. Clark was very good at getting to Horgan on that issue,” said David Valentin, vice-president of Mainstream Research, which conducted an instant poll for Postmedia late Wednesday after the debate.

Clark suggested during the 90-minute debate that Horgan didn’t care enough about the softwood industry or its workers to raise the issue in the legislature. (Canada’s trade deal with the U.S. expired in 2015, and this week the Trump administration announced steep tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber exports to the United States.)

For the record, the NDP on Thursday pointed out that Horgan had discussed softwood in the legislature in October 2015, and noted five other times when opposition critics raised the issue.

Still, despite this skirmish and Clark’s slight bump in sawmill country, more than halfway through the campaign, the race remains too close to call.

April 26 post-debate poll from Mainstreet Research.

Indeed, the post-debate poll showed the 1,074 respondents surveyed thought Horgan won the debate by a slim margin, but predicted Clark would win on election day by a larger margin.

“One of the general rules of the debate polls is that the general population starts trending to the debate audience when it comes to voter intentions. I suspect the Green party should gain a few more points,” Valentin said.

“The interesting question is: Are the Liberals going to make any more gains? This is a very volatile situation.”

Polling firm Insights West’s Mario Canseco agreed that the election outcome is impossible to forecast at this point. Based on the last three provincial elections, the NDP and Liberals have fairly set support bases, making the campaign “ultimately a fight for a very small piece of real estate.”

It boils down to about a dozen ridings in play, many of them in the Lower Mainland in cities such as Surrey and Delta, he said.  

While there were no knock-out punches during Wednesday’s debate, the poll afterwards revealed there was some movement since the weekend that showed the NDP 10 percentage points ahead of the Liberals.

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In the areas of B.C. outside Metro and Vancouver Island, 44 per cent of the debate watchers surveyed said they would vote Liberal, compared to just 30 per cent in the earlier poll from the weekend. Conversely, Horgan’s post-debate support in the Interior and the North dropped to 24 per cent, compared to 30 per cent earlier in the week.

After the debate, Clark’s favourability level in the North and Interior rose to 41 per cent, compared to 32 per cent earlier in the week. Horgan’s numbers remained unchanged. (The error margins for both polls were under three per cent.)

However, only the Greens’ Andrew Weaver had positive favourability ratings (meaning more people like him than not), which makes him the dark horse in the race who appears to be stealing support from both the other parties

“The Green party is doing more damage to the Liberals in Metro Vancouver than anywhere else,” Valentin said.

The main challenge for the Greens, Canseco said, will be to sustain that momentum and keep their supporters from gravitating at the last minute to the other parties.

The Greens hold about 20-per-cent support, which under a different voting system, such as proportional representation, would result in far more seats than the party’s current one. Under B.C.’s first-past-the-post system, the Greens increasing their seat total will depend on that support being concentrated in a handful of ridings where they can outpace the other parties, Canseco said.

What influences how people vote today may be different than during the last election in 2013, when the economy (a strength area for the Liberals) was top of mind. This time around, the economy is playing third fiddle to housing and health care. Millennial voters don’t like how the Liberals have handled the over-priced housing crisis, and voters over 55 are generally not happy with medical wait lists, he said.

“Part of the situation for the NDP is can you connect on the economic file,” Canseco added. “The opposition leader needs to be seen as a good economic manager” to win the election.

lculbert@postmedia.com

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