It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the biggest hurdle to the re-election hopes for the Liberal Party of P.E.I. may be its leader, Premier Wade MacLauchlan. One only has to look at Tuesday’s latest Corporate Research Associates poll. Don Mills, the CRA’s chairman and CEO, said as much.
The party’s satisfaction numbers far exceed the personal popularity of its leader, a trend for well over a year now. It’s led to some conspiratorial whispers: Does there need to be a change at the top if the party is to have any chance in the next election?
The odds of the Liberals winning a fourth consecutive mandate were always considered a longshot. Few governments are ever rewarded with a third mandate, while a fourth is considered a once-in-a-lifetime event.
The results of the last election were much closer than the seat total indicated. The Liberals won 18 seats with 40.8 per cent of the popular vote while the PCs won eight seats with 37.4 per cent. It’s widely agreed that without Mr. MacLauchlan as leader, the Liberals would have lost. The party’s popularity plummeted 11 points from 51.4 per cent in 2011 as the result of heavy PNP and e-gaming baggage.
Premier MacLauchlan was a fresh face who promised to do politics differently; and he was able to lead the Liberals to victory. He did do things differently – the budget is balanced; the province just announced a record surplus of $75 million; the population and numbers of working Islanders have increased, and the economy is doing well. The premier and party have never shied away from taking the credit.
This week’s CRA poll was the most anticipated sampling since just before the last provincial election in May 2015. If the numbers for both Liberal party and premier had stalled or dropped, it would have increased the pressure on the premier to consider stepping down.
The key number in this poll is satisfaction (mostly or completely) with the government, which rose to 57 per cent, up from 49. CRA data suggests that unless a party is over 50 per cent, its chances for re-election are dim. If those numbers hold, the party’s outlook has brightened considerably.
The Liberals still trail the Greens by 37 to 36 per cent in voter preference. But the Liberals went up one per cent and Greens went down one per cent. It’s in preference as premier where the numbers most favour the Greens. Premier MacLauchlan dropped another point to 24 per cent, while Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker also dropped one point for the second poll in a row, but is at a lofty 37 per cent. Green support seems to have flattened or slight declined; while the undecided vote has increased to almost 30 per cent. It suggests voter volatility is increasing.
Now the province’s political attention will shift to the Progressive Conservative party and its upcoming leadership convention. Observers suggest that a lot of the Green support is coming from Conservatives who have parked their vote because of recurring PC leadership issues.
As Mills explains, this week’s poll bodes well for both Greens and Liberals. The Green party has seen its public support increase from 25 per cent in November 2017 to 37 per cent in November 2018. But negating that good news is the overall satisfaction level with the performance of Premier MacLauchlan’s government.
The poll numbers are enough to quell any rumblings or unrest in the Liberal backroom. If the odds are at least even for re-election, Mr. MacLauchlan isn't going anywhere. Potential successors such as Wayne Easter, Doug Currie, Jordan Brown, Heath MacDonald and company will have to wait in the wings a little longer.