Profiling the BC Electorate
Abacus Data was retained by the Sun News Network to conduct a study of the attitudes and vote intention of the BC electorate heading into the upcoming 2013 provincial election. The study included a national survey of 1,042 British Columbians aged 18 years and older.
The provincial public opinion survey found that BC voters, divided into five different value segments have polarized views. To help us understand the views and voting behaviours of British Columbians this report uses a segmentation model similar to that used by the Pew Research Center in the United States that is designed around eight policy themes that test perceptions about government policy and social issues. This report breaks down the policy priorities and issues stances among these five group segments.
It is important to understand the differences between these value groups to understand where the current governing party holds support and among which groups whom they have lost support since the last election.
This study shows that the BC Liberals have lost the most support among pro-business liberals and populist social democrats. These groups show that they have shifted their support away from the Liberals and now divide their support between the BC NDP and the BC Conservatives.
What does this analysis mean for the BC election on Tuesday?
This analysis of the current BC electorate uncovers a number of important points to consider as we head into the final weekend of the campaign.
- British Columbians have a strong populist streak running through their political culture. Most believe that corporations have too much power and that corporations make too much profit. This populist streak along with a rather secularist, environmentally conscious, and socially liberal outlook unites most British Columbians. But on many other issues, British Columbians are quite divided. For example:
- They are divided on how the Canadian federation should operate. Half think that the federal government should have more power (45%) while the other half think that the provinces should have more power to run the economy and deliver public services (55%).
- Half think that the government can’t afford to do much more to help the poor (56%) while the other half believes that government should do more to help needy Canadians, even if it means going deeper into debt (45%)
- A slight majority believe that the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional Canadian customs and values (56%) while 44% believe that immigrants strengthen Canadian society.
- 57% believes that government is always wasteful and inefficient while 43% think that government often does a better job than most people give it credit for.
- These polarized values interact in different ways to produce five unique voter segments that each share common overarching values.
- About half of British Columbians are unabashedly pro-business and pro-development. Pro-business liberalsthink businesses do not make too much profit and that resource development should sometimes trump environmental considerations.
- Conservative supporters share those values but are also more socially conservative and skeptical about the benefits of immigration.
- The other half of the electorate is more economically liberal, favouring government intervention in the economy, tougher regulations against corporations which they do not trust, and more protections for the environment.
- These two groups characterize the polarized environment in the province.
- If the BC Liberals lose on Tuesday, it is because they lost significant support among pro-business Liberals.
- In 2009, 60% of these voters supported Gordon Campbell and the BC Liberals. In our poll in late April, only 37% of decided pro-business liberalssaid they were planning to vote Liberal.
- The BC Liberal strategy of aggressively contrasting their own pro-development, “open for business” mantra with the NDP’s more environmentalist, social democratic agenda is likely the right one consider the findings of this study.
- However, with only a four week campaign and an electorate itching for change, the strategy may not have been enough.
- The NDP’s coalition is made up of very strong support among the province’s staunchly progressive voter segment (also the smallest) but also large portions of what we describe as populist social democrats.
- These populist voters distrust corporations, want environmental protections but, like the conservative segment, skeptical of immigration.
- In the 2011 federal election, Stephen Harper and the federal Conservatives won a quarter of these voters and over four in ten would consider voting for Stephen Harper today. Their economic and social values are cross pressured which can lead to volitile vote choices often dependent on the key issue of the campaign and broader provincial or federal political climate.
- While the BC Conservatives emerged with a bang in late 2011, their support throughout the campaign has hovered around 9%. The party’s supporters are made up of conservatives, pro-business liberals, and populist social democrats, most of whom voted BC Liberal in 2009.
- If the BC NDP wins on Tuesday it is not because they have made significant gains in support among but because the BC Liberal coalition collapsed, splintering votes to the BC Conservatives and even to the BC Greens.