Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Election drums begin to beat in BC

While Election Day is still months away, the irrefutable noise of an election campaign is starting to be heard off in the distance.

Last weeks announcement that the Liberals have selected their candidate for the North Coast, has begun the political season for local political observers, leading to any number of debates over whether the acclaimed candidate for the Liberals Herb Pond will make the best MLA for the region, or if incumbent Gary Coons will be allowed to carry on his work on behalf of the NDP as the representative for the people of the North coast.

As we work our way through the final few days of the first month of the year, the political theatre will start to become more pronounced, as the provincial parties and North coast contenders highlight their debating points and seek to sway the electorate to their point of view.

If the results of the first poll of this 2009 political countdown are any indications the economic climate is going to be the main talking point for those that seek to be elected to the Legislature in May.

In a survey by the Mustel Group of 750 randomly selected British Columbians , the economy was featured as the over riding concern of the moment, with over 40 per cent of the respondents outlining that as their main concern as a new year begins.

Every other single issue that one could think of fell below the 10 per cent threshhold, providing a surprising first glance at what British Columbians believe is important in these times.

While much has been said about health care, education and social issues over the last few months, all three categories split the remaining 60 percent, all hovering between 5 and 10 percent, along with crime, the Environment and Government issues.

Reflective of the drop in gas prices over the last three months, the cost of fuel has fallen off the political radar for the moment, dropping from being of concern to close to 18 per cent last June to less than 2 per cent for this most recent poll. The anger of the summer apparently quelled as the world price has tumbled and local gas stations reduce their pass through costs at the pump.

The Education and health polling numbers are the most intriguing to explore, despite high profile accounts of crisis or near crisis situations in the health care system these days, and debates over school funding, over crowding and school closures, neither seem to have been able to grab a share of attention away from the concern over the economy.

Health care which at one time as recently as February of 2007 was the concern of over 30 per cent of those polled now has dropped to about 8 per cent, which is a fascinating drop and one that seems hard to reconcile considering the frequent stories of troubles finding doctors, wait times at Emergency Rooms and recruiting problems in rural areas. If anything the situation today seems even more dire than it was two years ago, yet that is not reflected in this most recent poll.

Perhaps the polling data doesn’t reflect rural interests as fully as it does urban ones, there is no breakdown on those 750 respondents, we don’t know how many of them live in cities and how many live outside of the Greater Vancouver and Victoria areas.

Health care and education seem to be in a much greater crisis outside of the larger centers, political operatives would be making a huge mistake in their calculations if they took these polling numbers as the definitive word on what British Columbians are concerned about.

As for the breakdown of the potential vote come election day, this first poll of the preamble to the campaign provides comfort to the Liberals who hold a significant lead over the Carole James led NDP, Gordon Campbell’s party took 47 percent of the participating vote, compared to 33 for the NDP.

Those numbers will provide a significant measure of relief for the Premier, who only two months ago had seen his lead over the NDP shrink to but 4 per cent. The rebound was a gain of 3 for the Liberals, while the NDP lost votes to the Greens and others.

That suggests that the Greens may be poised to play the spoiler, the Greens were considered favourably by 16 per cent of the respondents, in a two party race one would suspect that a majority of that 16 per cent would be more likely to vote NDP, which would certainly tighten the race quite a bit.

There would seem to be little further growth available for the Liberals, barring a total collapse for the NDP numbers, so for Carole James the work will be to eat away at some of the uncomfortable Liberal vote and repatriate a large portion of the vote currently parked with the Greens.

Without those gains, the NDP may once again be facing a fate as opposition, the results suggest that there is still much work to be done to get their message out to the electorate, a shift to the government side of the benches will not happen unless they can find the key issues and solutions to them that the voters are most concerned about at this moment.

No comments: