A new Angus Reid opinion poll measures BC Liberal support at 26%, trending downward. This approaches levels faced by the NDP government before voters decimated its MLA ranks in 2001. However, considering other factors, the depth of current public distaste for Gordon Campbell’s government may be unprecedented.
The NDP succeeded in two elections. First under Mike Harcourt with 41% of the popular vote in 1991 and, with Glen Clark as leader, with 39% of the vote in 1996. During ten years holding office, the party had almost no sympathetic media coverage and was subject to frequent and severe criticism over claimed budget deception, ferry construction program failure and alleged influence peddling that went unproven in court. Coverage of real and imagined scandals was relentless and the party was further troubled by its usual disunity from distinct interest groups – socialists, moderates, radicals, trade unionists – struggling within the party for influence.
Additionally, third parties competed for attention throughout the NDP rule. Greens were bleeding leftist support and Gordon Wilson spent years trying to field his own populist movement. Despite the apparent personal popularity of post-Clark leader Ujjal Dosanjh, Gordon Campbell’s Liberals, with 58% of the vote, won all but two seats in 2001. The NDP vote fell from 39% of 1996 to 22%.
Consider the voting numbers again. In the last 5 years of NDP government, their popular support fell from 39% to 22%, a loss of 17% that left them holding only two out of 79 seats in 2001.
BC Liberals began their reign with 58% in 2001 and saw that drop to 46% in 2005 and again in 2009. The recent Angus Reid poll puts their current support at 26%, a fall of 32% from their beginning level and 20% from the election of last year. This political disaster happened despite general success of the 2010 Olympics that Campbell thought would be helpful in restoring his image.
The assumption of allies is that Liberal unpopularity arises from imposition of HST and from their own version of budget deception. It is assumed that “tough” decisions early get forgotten and when the publicity machine kicks into full gear, all will be well. My own analysis is different. I believe that unhappiness with the Campbell government relates broadly to matters of ethics and ideology. Changes set in motion are so significant that the party will explore new depths of unpopularity, sufficient to become again the futile rump provincial Liberals were under Ray Perrault and Pat McGeer during days of Social Credit.
The BC Rail Corruption Trial, particularly if it carries on until next year, will be opening wounds among Liberals that will not heal easily. As the party begins to disassemble, new scandals of influence peddling will bubble to the surface. Additionally, old media has lost its influence. Global TV and the editorial boards at Vancouver dailies can shape their messages however they wish but they compete with new media as never before. If nothing else, the Internet can hold the press to account.
I paraphrase English writer Samuel Butler:
The most important service rendered by new media is that of educating people to approach old media with distrust.