The polls are worse than they look for Christy Clark and the BC Liberals.

In the 1996 provincial election in British Columbia, the BC Liberals won the popular vote, with 41.82% of all votes cast going to the party that was then led by Gordon Campbell. The BC NDP, under incumbent Premier Glen Clark, finished on election night with 39.45% of the popular vote, a drop of about about one percentage point from the previous general election.

And yet, though Clark lost the popular vote to Campbell, Clark won a majority of seats in the BC legislature. Clark’s caucus had 39 MLAs, Campbell’s had 33. There were three in the “other” category.

How does one explain that? Pollsters and political insiders chalk that up to the “efficiency” of the BC NDP vote. What that means, is that BC New Democrat voters are spread among a lot of ridings in BC while the vote for the so-called “free enterprise coalition” in B.C. — the BC Liberals are now carrying that banner though it was once carried by Social Credit — is concentrated among a smaller group of ridings. 

While 1996 was a relatively long time ago, there are many BC New Democrats who believe that its voter support remains just as “efficient” now as it did back then.

And if you believe that the BC NDP vote is more efficient than the BC Liberals, those polls you’ve seen for the BC Liberals make Christy Clark’s prospects look even worse.

The latest poll from Angus Reid, for example, has the BC NDP at 48 per cent, the Liberals at 28 per cent and the Conservative Party of BC at 11 per cent. 

First observation: Even if the BC Conservatives disappeared tomorrow and all its support went to the BC Liberals, the “free enterprise coalition” has only 39%. Wait a minute: 39% is still less than the popular vote Gordon Campbell got back in 1996 when Glen Clark won a majority government with — coincidentally —  39% of the popular vote.

Second observation: It will not be merely enough for the BC Liberals to match the BC NDP on popular support or even come close. The BC Liberals, because their vote is “inefficient” or concentrated, will likely need to be three, maybe even five percentage points better than Adrian Dix and the NDP. And that means, the headline of the latest poll from Angus Reid — “New Democrats Hold 20-Point Advantage in British Columbia” — probably understates the bad news for Clark and the Liberals. Better might be “New Democrats Hold 25-Point Advantage in British Columbia.”

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