Premiers facing COVID-19 outbreak take hit in approval ratings

New survey from the Angus Reid Institute

The pandemic isn’t over yet, and that is especially the case for a few provincial premiers.

The latest approval ratings data from the Angus Reid Institute show most premiers with sliding approval ratings, but among those that have dropped the most are those fighting a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

(Note: the Angus Reid Institute does not publish approval ratings for P.E.I. Premier Dennis King, because “its small population precludes drawing discrete samples over multiple waves.”)

The biggest mover this quarter is Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who has seen his approval ratings drop 18 points since June. At that time, the province had about six or seven new COVID-19 cases per day per 100,000 people. That number is now over 40.

What is The Writ?

Moe used to be one of the more popular premiers. He had an approval rating of 61% in November 2020, just after winning the 2020 Saskatchewan election. But now he’s one of four premiers under-water, with a net rating of -11.

Falling almost as much is New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, with his approval rating down 17 points since June to 38%. He now has a net rating of -20, a big shift from November 2020, again after an election victory, when his approval rating was 63%.

COVID-19 looks like the cause here as well. Before the fall, New Brunswick’s case-load per 100,000 had never risen above four. It’s currently just under 13 per day.

#EveryElectionProject

Speaking of New Brunswick, I posted a new video on my YouTube Channel today looking back at the 1987 New Brunswick election, held on this day 34 years ago. Check it out:

Of course, both Moe and Higgs should thank their lucky stars they aren’t Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. He now boasts the lowest approval rating (22%), the highest disapproval rating (76%) and the worst net rating (-54) of any premier — and things have been getting worse. His approval rating dropped by nine points since June when it was already low.

He has been on a steady decline throughout the pandemic. His approval rating was still 48% in May 2020, but it has slumped by 26 points since then.

The precedents don’t look good for Kenney. Alison Redford’s approval rating had fallen to 23% in the last Angus Reid Institute poll before her resignation as premier in 2014, while Jim Prentice’s approval rating had fallen to 25% in an Insights West poll just before his defeat in the 2015 Alberta election.

Ford holds, Legault drops

Kenney doesn’t need to face voters until 2023 (though he will face United Conservative party members before that) and both Moe and Higgs are in the clear until 2024.

Ontario’s Doug Ford and Quebec’s François Legault, however, are heading into an election year in 2022.

Ford was the only premier to see an increase in his approval rating in the ARI poll, even if it was an insignificant one-point increase to 36%. His net approval rating is still low at -25, but 36% is something his Ontario Progressive Conservatives can work with. It actually matches, or is a little higher than, his approval rating during the 2018 Ontario election. (At 61%, his disapproval rating is higher than it was then.)

For Legault, a 56% approval rating and a net +16 rating is a great place to be a year out from an election. But his approval rating has dropped by 10 points since June, making him the third-biggest faller in this quarterly report. If that trend continues, then Legault could be in some trouble. More realistically, 56% puts him just about where he was before the pandemic. And a recent poll gave his party enough support for a landslide victory, so there’s that.

The popular kids: Horgan, Houston and Furey

At the very top of the table are two Atlantic premiers who won elections in 2021: Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Andrew Furey.

Furey has an approval rating of 56%, down six points since June. But he has recovered from his post-election slump, when his approval rating was just 45% in March 2021.

The newly-minted premier of Nova Scotia is starting off on a high with the best net approval rating of +29. His approval rating (55%) is about tied with Horgan, Legault and Furey, but his disapproval rating of just 26% is the lowest in the country. Even place-holder Manitoba premier Kelvin Goertzen has a higher disapproval rating at 27%.

John Horgan of British Columbia remains one of the more popular premiers in Canada, despite currently being the longest-serving provincial premier in the country (believe it or not). Nevertheless, his approval rating dropped seven points to 56%. His rating was 64% after winning the 2020 B.C. election.

Still, the popularity of Horgan and the B.C. New Democrats probably played a role in the federal election, as B.C. was where Jagmeet Singh’s NDP made some of its most important gains. I laid out the NDP’s performance in the federal election in the latest instalment in my series of post-election analyses. You can check it out here:

The Writ
NDP shows signs of progress, inability to close
The New Democrats went into the 2021 federal election campaign with a lot of optimism, in sharp contrast to where things appeared to be heading back in 2019. At the outset of that campaign, the NDP’s poll numbers were trending down, the party had lost a number of incumbents and fundraising was lacklustre. Whether the NDP could maintain recognized party s……
Read more

Overall, a few takeaways from this ARI poll:

  1. Any positive impact the pandemic had on premiers’ approval ratings appears to have worn off, with Ford, Legault and Horgan back to pre-pandemic levels of support.

  2. For the two premiers facing an election soon, these numbers don’t suggest defeat is imminent, though in the case of Ford his re-election isn’t a given.

  3. While the rally-round-the-flag effect might have diminished, mishandling the pandemic can still take a toll, as it has for Kenney, Moe and Higgs.

On that last point, the leaderships of neither Moe nor Higgs seem to be in any danger, and the next election is years away. They have time to turn things around. Jason Kenney, however, has no such luxury. We know the Manitoba PCs will name a new leader in the next few months, which means Goertzen’s name will disappear by the time the ARI gives us another approval ratings update in a few months.

We’ll see if his name will be the only one to drop off.

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