The Progressive Conservatives enter the last two weeks of the New Brunswick provincial election campaign in a commanding position, enjoying a wide enough lead in the polls to secure a majority government.
With a vote that is concentrated in the right places to win seats, support would need to shift in a significant way between now and election day to put any other party on top of the seat count.
The CBC’s New Brunswick Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, puts Blaine Higgs’s PCs ahead with 39.6 per cent support, followed by the Liberals under Kevin Vickers at 32.3 per cent.
David Coon’s Greens and Kris Austin’s People’s Alliance trail in third and fourth with 15.8 and 6.3 per cent support, respectively. The NDP is fifth with 5.2 per cent.
Since the 2018 vote, this represents a big swing between the two leading parties. In that election, the Liberals won the popular vote by nearly six percentage points. Now, they are behind by more than seven points.
The Liberals have dropped since 2018, with some of that support going to the Greens. But the PCs have made their gains from both the Liberals and the steep decline for the People’s Alliance, which took 12.6 per cent of the vote two years ago.
This swing puts Higgs in the driver’s seat. The Poll Tracker estimates that the PCs would win between 25 and 30 seats with these levels of support, giving them at least the 25 seats they need to form a majority government.
The Liberals are projected to win between 14 and 20 seats, while the Greens are in the running for three to four seats. The People’s Alliance risks being wiped off the electoral map, though it is still in contention in two of the three seats it took in the last election.
Higgs, who saw his personal approval rating soar to as much as 80 per cent as his government grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, remains a popular leader.
The Angus Reid Institute recently found his approval rating standing at 61 per cent — down from his spring highs but still significantly higher than any of his recent predecessors on the cusp of an election.
Polls by Léger for Acadie Nouvelle and by Narrative Research found Higgs scoring much better than his rivals on who New Brunswickers prefer as premier, with a margin of between 14 and 18 percentage points over Vickers. Coon and Austin were even further back.
Satisfaction with the Higgs government has also remained quite high, though Narrative found a drop of 14 points before and after the PC leader kicked off the election campaign. Nevertheless, both Narrative and Léger found a healthy majority of New Brunswickers reporting satisfaction in polling conducted since the campaign began.
PCs leading in the south, Liberals in the north
The Progressive Conservative Party isn’t polling as highly as Higgs or his government, but how its support breaks down at the regional level gives it a big cushion in its quest for a majority government.
Granted, the regional sample sizes in the Léger and Narrative polls, as well as a Mainstreet Research survey published on Monday by Maclean’s, are small. But they show similar results, suggesting they are a good reflection of where things stand.
The numbers point to the PCs’ advantage in the urban areas, with double-digit leads in both Fredericton and Saint John and a significant edge in and around Moncton. The PCs are well in front in rural southern New Brunswick while only in the north are the Liberals ahead.
The Greens appear to have their strongest support in and around Fredericton, where they have surpassed the Liberals and stand in second place.
The People’s Alliance, however, has seen its support collapse in the provincial capital.
Léger and Mainstreet suggest the People’s Alliance has just five to six per cent support in Fredericton, compared to over 20 per cent in 2018. That helped deliver two seats to the party in the region. The polls now indicate the People’s Alliance support is stronger in Saint John, where the party has no seats.
But the most important political divide is on language.
Linguistic split gives PCs a seat cushion
The Léger and Narrative polls give the PCs an average lead of 30 points over the Liberals among English-speaking New Brunswickers. Among francophones, the Liberals have a lead over the PCs of about 31 points — an almost perfect mirror image.
This is a far wider gap between the two linguistic groups than in 2018, when polls suggested the Liberals were only behind the PCs by eight points among anglophones. The margin among francophones has held steady.
That’s a problem for the Liberals. While they seem well-positioned to retain their vote (and their seats) in the predominantly French-speaking parts of New Brunswick, they have lost significant support to the PCs in the English-speaking regions.
Coupled with a decline of the People’s Alliance, this has boosted the PCs in southern New Brunswick — where the they could easily find the three seats they needed in 2018 for a majority government.
In fact, this linguistic split amplifies their advantage. Because of it, the PCs would still be favoured to win a majority government even if the Liberals were leading by three percentage points provincewide. If the Liberals were leading by seven points, the PCs could still manage to come out ahead in the seat count.
That means the current PC lead of 7.3 points in the Poll Tracker is more like a lead of 10 points when it comes to winning a majority government.
That’s a lot of votes that have to move over the next two weeks before Higgs’s election gamble looks risky. For now, it is looking like a safe bet.