Though Canadians are becoming less pessimistic about the future of the economy, that is good news for only one of the two premiers preparing for an election campaign this year.
A new poll by Nanos Research indicates that 19 per cent of Canadians believe the economy will be stronger in the next six months, an increase of three points since October. While 31 per cent believe the economy will be weaker, that is down eight points since the third quarter of 2011.
Nik Nanos, President & CEO of Nanos Research, describes the general mood as "cautious yet not as negative", and at 31 per cent the number of Canadians pessimistic about the future has dropped sharply since the end of 2008 when almost 60 per cent felt the economy was on the wrong track. Nevertheless, Canadians remain less confident than they were two years ago.
But in Quebec (where an election is likely is this year or next) and Alberta (where an election is scheduled for some time between March and May), the mood of voters is heading in opposite directions.
"The research shows there was a noticeable improvement in forward confidence in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta," says Nik Nanos. Up seven points since the third quarter, 28 per cent of people in the three Prairie provinces feel the economy will be getting stronger. Only 23 per cent, down 10 points, feel it will get weaker.
For Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta, these are positive numbers at a time when the economy is the most important issue for voters.
However, Quebecers are nowhere near as rosy about the future. Only 10 per cent feel that the economy will be getting stronger, compared to 35 per cent who feel it will be getting weaker.
The perilous state of the world economy was one of the key factors leading to Jean Charest's re-election in 2008. Prior to the vote, the Liberals governed with a weak minority in a National Assembly split three ways between his party, Mario Dumont's ADQ and the Parti Québécois. Arguing that only one set of hands should be on the wheel of the province, Charest was awarded with the majority he presently enjoys.
But if Quebecers feel that their future outlook is poor, Charest will have some difficulty convincing voters that he is the one to turn things around after almost nine years in power. Only 12 per cent of residents of the province think their personal finances are better off than they were a year ago, down eight points since October and below the Canadian average of 17 per cent. In the Prairies, on the other hand, 26 per cent feel they are better off, a proportion that is on the rise.
With the world economy still in peril and austerity set to be an important theme in the upcoming federal and Ontario budgets, how voters feel about their pocketbooks will be paramount when they head to the polls later this year.
"Perceptions related to the strength of the economy are a key factor to monitor in elections," says Nanos. "When voters believe the economy is strong or improving, it usually bodes well for incumbents."
That's good news for Alison Redford; not so much for Jean Charest.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
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