POLITICS
09/27/2011 06:00 EDT | Updated 11/27/2011 05:12 EST

Health, jobs and crime among top issues in Manitoba election poll

WINNIPEG - Health care is the biggest election issue for Manitobans who responded to a new opinion poll.

When asked by Environics Research Group to name the most important issue in deciding which party to support, 27 per cent of respondents said health.

The economy and unemployment was next at 18 per cent, followed by crime at 14 per cent. Taxation ranked fourth at 11 per cent, followed by debt and deficit at seven per cent.

The online poll was conducted by Environics Research Group between Sept. 20 and 26, and provided exclusively to The Canadian Press on Monday. Overall, 45 per cent of decided respondents backed the Opposition Tories, while 42 per cent supported the governing New Democrats. Only 10 per cent supported the Liberals.

Crime does not normally rank so high in most provinces, said Derek Leebosh, Environics' vice-president of public affairs. But in a province that routinely registers the highest rates of murder, assault and other crimes, its third-place ranking could be expected.

"It's unusual to see crime ranked that highly on this type of a question," Leebosh said.

The numbers could be seen as good news for incumbent premier Greg Selinger. When asked which party leader would do a better job of managing health care, 36 per cent of respondents said Selinger.

Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen garnered 25 per cent while Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard scored 19 per cent. Twenty per cent were unsure.

However, McFadyen came out on top when people were asked which leader would best manage the economy — 38 per cent to Selinger's 30 per cent.

McFadyen also beat out Selinger on taxes, crime and managing the deficit, while Selinger scored highest on the environment, social inequality and dealing with floods and other natural disasters.

"It all leads back to a very close race," Leebosh said.

When asked which leader would be best at running an "honest, ethical and trustworthy government", 29 per cent of respondents picked Selinger, while 24 per cent chose McFadyen. Gerrard received 14 per cent and 33 per cent of respondents said they were not sure.

Unlike traditional telephone polling, in which respondents are randomly selected, the Environics survey was conducted online among 1,000 respondents, all of whom were chosen from a larger pool of people who were recruited and compensated for participating. Environics then adjusts the sample to reflect a broad spectrum of the population.

The non-random nature of online polling makes it impossible to determine statistically how accurately the results reflect the opinions of the population at large.