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B.C. Liberals' internal polls predicted win, campaign chief says

The B.C. Liberals may have stunned many British Columbians with their dramatic election-night victory, but the party says it knew a week prior that it had the public support to defeat the NDP.
B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark campaigns on Oak Bay Avenue with Oak Bay-Gordon Head candidate Ida Chong and Clark's son, 11-year-old Hamish. The Liberals knew that the party would benefit from having its charismatic leader meet as many voters as possible on the campaign trail.

The B.C. Liberals may have stunned many British Columbians with their dramatic election-night victory, but the party says it knew a week prior that it had the public support to defeat the NDP.

The Liberals’ internal polling — a nightly, rolling, weighted opinion that proved far more accurate than public polls — showed a steady rise for the governing party that increased at the campaign half-way mark after the televised leaders debate, said campaign director Mike McDonald.

“It was in that post-debate period headed into that weekend, things were really resonating,” McDonald said.

“We may have had the votes to win this election as early as a week before the election. I think the advanced poll numbers may well bear that out.”

New Democrats have said it will take time to figure out how they collapsed from a seemingly insurmountable lead in public opinion to another term in Opposition and the loss of three seats. The party’s campaign director, Brian Topp, turned down a request for an interview.

Liberals, meanwhile, think they’ve figured it out.

It started at the end of the spring legislative session in March, with the party trailing the NDP by about 15 percentage points in the polls, McDonald said.

Organizers made the deliberate choice to use Christy Clark’s image as the centre of the election campaign, based in part on how she’d “electrified” the crowd at the Liberal party’s annual convention months earlier, McDonald said.

At the time, there were no shortage of critics and pundits who viewed Clark as a weak leader and more of a liability than an asset to re-election.

But the Liberals decided “we have to utilize her in a way that reintroduces her to the voters,” McDonald said. They bought a 30-minute TV infomercial, emblazoned her face on the side of the tour bus and set an aggressive schedule to have her meet as many people as possible.

“When Christy goes on tour, she’s such an engaging personality that the tour really works,” McDonald said. “People are excited and the crowds were coming out for her. She turned the situation into a plus for us.”

The premier took her 11-year-old son in front of the cameras. She flipped pancakes, wrote her name in concrete at a construction site. She had coffee in people’s homes and drove heavy machinery.

“We felt, in a head-to-head match-up with [NDP leader Adrian] Dix, we would win that,” said McDonald, who ran the campaign out of Vancouver but who lives near Ladysmith.

Clark told the Times Colonist editorial board in March she could capture public support because she wasn’t running against perfection, she was running against Dix.

The contrast appeared to work.

“There were two things happening, women were coming back to us in a quite significant way, especially after the debate. But the other thing was the 55-plus voters were really in our corner,” McDonald said.

Seniors are much more likely to actually vote than any other age group, previous B.C. elections have shown.

NDP MLAs have admitted their party’s focus on positive campaigning missed early opportunities to criticize the Liberal record on child poverty, health care, education, social issues and the Harmonized Sales Tax.

In an interview with the Maple Ridge News, Mike Bocking, failed NDP candidate for Maple Ridge-Mission, said “for some inexplicable reason, we gave Christy Clark a free pass.” He compared it to squaring-off against the Liberal party’s “bazooka” campaign with an NDP “pillow fight.”

McDonald said he doesn’t think his party ran a completely negative campaign, pointing to positive ads at the beginning of the 28-day battle.

“We did have a pretty good mix,” he said. “We recognized we cannot go 100 per cent negative because you have to give people something to believe in too.”

NDP MLA John Horgan said publicly this week his party didn’t provide a platform people were excited to vote for.

McDonald agreed. “I think the problem with the NDP approach was that they didn’t outline a vision. It’s one thing to go positive but you have to have something to sell. They were selling change but not filling in the blanks.”

The Liberals identified key supporters and got them to the polls, he said. NDP president Moe Sihota admitted his party “fell on the sword of complacency” and failed to get out supporters.

The Liberal goal, always, was to drive the campaign message back to the economy and families, McDonald said. The fight over who was best to manage B.C.’s econom-ic future was the war on which the election was won, Clark has said.

“We felt we had a plan, and we stuck to the plan,” McDonald said.

“It required us to have faith in ourselves, and our ability that the plan would deliver.”

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