All eyes on leaders debates as P.E.I. election heads into final week
It looks like it will be a dogfight to the finish of the P.E.I. election with the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives just nine points apart going into the final week of the campaign, according to polling data commissioned by The Guardian and the Journal Pioneer.
The incumbent Liberal party is in the lead, but the Progressive Conservative Party has seen a significant boost in support and has narrowed the gap with the Liberals.
The Corporate Research Associates (CRA) poll of 579 Prince Edward Island residents shows support among decided and leaning voters for the Liberal party at 44 per cent. That's a 14-point drop since the last quarterly CRA poll in February.
PC party support, meanwhile, has grown nine points to 35 per cent.
CRA chairman and CEO Don Mills says these numbers would put the Liberals back in office if the election were held today.
"The race has tightened but the numbers still favour the Liberals," Mills said, noting the Liberals currently have the same lead as when they won the 2011 election.
That means if these numbers hold, the Liberals would garner a similar majority of over 20 seats.
But if the PC party continues to show the same growth in support it has so far garnered through the campaign, it could be a different story.
"The big question mark is this - is there momentum for the PCs? Because there has been such a change in support in a fairly short period of time between the two parties," said Mills.
This is the first publicly released poll conducted since Rob Lantz was elected leader of the PC party. CRA's last quarterly poll ended the day Lantz was elected leader.
At that time, interim PC leader Steven Myers was in third place in personal popularity among party leaders behind the NDP and Liberals at 10 per cent.
Lantz has grown that number significantly, now sitting at 28 per cent. But he is still in second place and 10 points behind Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan, whose personal popularity is at 38 per cent. The gap between them is closer, however, in Queens County, with only six points between the two leaders.
Mills says he believes Lantz is responsible for the rise in Tory support through this campaign.
"He's made a material difference for the Conservatives, which is surprising because he's only been the leader for, what, six weeks?" Mills said.
"The Liberals, I think, were counting on the fact a new leader would not get any traction quickly, but he's actually done remarkably well in a short period of time."
Meanwhile, 15 per cent of decided and leaning voters said they would vote NDP and another six per cent said they would vote Green.
The NDP and Green parties' combined support of 21 per cent marks the highest polling results for third parties ever in P.E.I. going into an election.
“The big question mark is this – is there momentum for the PCs? Because there has been such a change in support in a fairly short period of time between the two parties,” Don Mills, CRA chairman and CEO
"If that were to hold, that would be a big change in voting behaviour on the Island, and a lot of that voting behaviour actually hurts the Liberals because people who vote NDP tend to be more sympathetic for the Liberals," said Mills.
NDP Leader Mike Redmond has dropped from 14 to 10 per cent in personal popularity and now stands neck-and-neck with Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, who is at nine per cent.
As for regional party support, the battleground appears to be in central P.E.I.
The Liberals and Tories are just two points apart in Queens County and NDP support is higher at 18 per cent.
"A lot of support that the Liberals previously had in that county has gone to the NDP," Mills said.
That's why he believes Redmond's zero-hour decision to change districts from downtown Charlottetown to Montague on the eve of the election was a mistake.
"He's actually going to hurt his party by not running where they are the strongest, and that may be where the NDP vote may not hold up and go back to the Liberals," Mills said.
The Green Party has focused much of its efforts into trying to get Bevan-Baker elected in his home district of Kellys Cross-Cumberland.
But Mills says at six per cent support in Queens County, that goal is a long shot.
"To think that they could knock off a seat there, it would be pretty surprising."
Mills says he believes this final week of the campaign will be critical for the Liberals and the Tories in determining the outcome of the election.
The leaders debates will likely play a key role, he added. The Guardian's leaders' debate is on Thursday, April 30.
"If the momentum is changing and the election is making a difference, if (Lantz) were to do well in the debates, it doesn't take a lot of shifting to make this a very close race," Mills said.
"It only takes four or five percentage points to change from the Liberals to the PCs and this becomes a much more interesting, nail-biting election."
These results are based on a telephone survey of 579 adult Prince Edward Islanders conducted by CRA with overall results accurate to within plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Party results are based only on decided and leaning voters, with a slightly higher margin of 4.5 per cent.
Of the total sample interviewed, 13 per cent were undecided, two per cent refused to state and four per cent said they do not plan to vote.