A Manitoba election may be pending in the very near future, and as noted in an earlier post, the most recent poll shows a three point lead for the Conservatives over the NDP, 41% to 38%. However, a commentary published in the Winnipeg Free Press after release of the poll suggested that despite the Conservative lead, the NDP could win with fewer votes because it leads in the City of Winnipeg by a wide margin, while the Tories hold a big lead in rural areas. As Probe Research Director Chris Adams put it about the huge Conservative gains in rural Manitoba:
"…this is preaching to the choir. Building on their own rural base of support with massive victories in non-Winnipeg constituencies will now do little to improve the PCs' standings in the legislature."
Because of this unusual regional skew I modified my forecasting model to distribute support to mirror the Probe urban-rural results. My numbers show the Conservatives would win a bare majority of the seats in the legislature:
Progressive Conservatives – 29
NDP – 26
Liberal – 2
However, this is a razor-thin margin. The poll's numbers overall make it clear that the race at this stage is too close to call.
There are two key factors that favour the Conservatives:
1. The NDP is finishing its second term and the party has never won a third term in Manitoba. Like all governments it has been accumulating grievances. The Conservatives themselves have not won three consecutive majorities since the Roblin era, so multiple terms in Manitoba have not been the norm since 1969 (Gary Filmon won three times but his first win was a weak minority in 1988.)
2. The Conservative leader, Hugh McFadyen, is an urban Tory representing a southwest Winnipeg constituency who does have potential to win over city voters. More importantly, most of the marginal ridings in the city are in the south end. But he is facing a very skilled political leader in Gary Doer.
In the scenario sketched above based on the poll, the Conservatives would win several rural NDP seats – Gimli, Interlake, La Verendrye, the two Brandon seats, Dauphin and Swan River but also Seine River and Fort Garry in the city. I would guess that the NDP might hang on to a few of those rural seats, but remain vulnerable in a few more city ridings such as St. Norbert and Riel.
The poll's overall sample was large but the sub-samples much smaller with a larger margin of error so there is some uncertainty about the details of the analysis here. But it does reflect the persistent underlying reality of Manitoba politics of a province relatively evenly divided along class, ethnic and geographic lines.