Liberals lead Tories by 3 as NDP gains.

As we head into the final week of the 2014 Ontario election campaign, the race is too close to call.  Since last week, support for the Liberals is down three points while NDP support is up four.  The Liberals continue to do well in Toronto and in the communities surrounding Toronto but their support has slipped in other parts of the province. The uncertainty of the election is related to the fact that there is no dominant ballot question.  When we asked respondents what the Ontario election has been about, no answer was selected by more than one in five eligible voters.  If that shifts between now and June 12, we could be in for a surprise. If the election is about electing a government they can trust, the Tories and NDP will do well.  If it is about dealing with the economic troubles facing the province, the Tories will win.  But if the election is about stopping Tim Hudak and protecting social programs, the Liberals will win.  If it is about all these factors, we are likely in for a minority legislature, similar to that produced by the 2011 election. Liberals The past week has been tough for the Liberals.  Their support is down three points, Kathleen Wynne’s personal numbers have worsened, and more people would be dismayed if the Liberals formed government after June 12.  However, Wynne still leads as best premier over Hudak and Horwath. PCs Hudak’s positive debate performance did little to improve PC support.  In fact, Hudak’s personal numbers have actually worsened since before the debate.  For the first time in our tracking, a majority of eligible voters have a negative impression of the PC leader.   However, Tory supporters are the most committed and they are more likely to...

Hudak dominates Google Trends since May

The chart below tracks interest in the three main party leaders according to Google Trends. Since the budget was announced in early May, Hudak has generated more interest than the other two leaders. There is a noticeable spike from June 2 to 4 in the lead up and aftermath of the leaders’ debate. For methodology on how Google calculates the chart see...

Perceptions of the Economy Improve but Jobs and Economy still Top Issue

The economy and jobs continues to be the central issue of concern for the most voters in the Ontario election. Despite the importance of the economy on the election, the Tories or NDP have not benefited much.  While its Million Jobs Plan as set the agenda for the campaign, Tory support has stalled. As our chairman, Bruce Anderson wrote about last weekend, “the Progressive Conservatives might have been better advised to campaign for change based on corruption, wasteful management and the deep fiscal hole the Liberals have dug.” Why?  Perceptions about the state of the economy in Ontario have actually improved slightly over the course of the campaign. In our most recent survey, 48% of eligible voters rated the Ontario economy as very good or good while 52% believed it was poor or very poor.  Regional divides continue to exist with the southwestern region being most pessimistic about the economy and the GTA region being most positive about it. Over the course of the election campaign, perceptions about the economy have improved, despite the messages from the PC campaign that things have never been worse in Ontario.  The rhetoric from the PC campaign isn’t matching the feelings of many voters across the province, especially in the GTA region where the Tories need a break through. Will last night’s leaders’ debate change focus of the campaign?  It’s too early to tell.  But it is clear that the Tories and the NDP were trying to bring attention back to Liberal mismanagement and scandal while at the same time bringing more focus to the weak state of public finances and economic growth in the province.  Our poll next week will help us better understand if the debate and the opposition’s attempt to change the ballot question has...

In debate format, Wynne can’t run on, or hide from McGuinty’s record

Tim Hudak’s campaign, until last night, was a hot mess.  An accident-prone tour, an ad campaign that wandered from topic to topic and an economic plan that would fail grade 9 math.  The stakes were high for Mr. Hudak going into last night’s debate and the expectations were low.  Many voters might have tuned in simply to have their instinct that he’s not fit to be Premier confirmed. Instead, he may have stopped the downward momentum of his campaign, and given voters a chance to re-evaluate him.  He was far better at taking down the Liberal record than NDP leader Andrea Horwath and he was, remarkably, allowed to brush off broadsides about his math problem. Hudak came off as less scary, less radical and less of an amateur than might have been expected.  A win, even if not a virtuoso performance. For her part, Andrea Horwath seemed to confirm that her third place standing in the polls is warranted.  She is neither a horrible debater nor a gifted one.  But since few think she will be Premier there is a risk that viewers take a mental break when she is talking.  To overcome that, her themes, cadence, poise and performance must hit a higher standard, or she becomes barely noticeable.  Which seemed to be the case last night. Kathleen Wynne’s night was a moment of reckoning for the sins of Dalton McGuinty.  Without his record hanging around her neck, chances are she would have come off easily as the best choice to be Premier.  She is clearly smart, on top of the policy issues facing the province, and seems more authentic, less packaged than her Tory rival. But too often, she found herself wounded by blunt attacks on the integrity and trustworthiness of Liberals. ...

Million Dollar Jobs Plan Driving Campaign Agenda; Wynne still leads as Best Premier

Yesterday, we reported that the Liberals hold a seven-point lead over the Tories but that the race is closer among likely voters.  While a majority of eligible voters in Ontario want change and only 27% think the Liberals deserve to be re-elected, a large portion are not yet ready to pass judgment on the Wynne government. The stable horse race numbers mirror perceptions about the political party leaders. While NDP Leader Andrea Horwath continues to have the most favourable personal numbers (or the least negative), Kathleen Wynne continues to have the advantage on who would make the best Premier.  Among eligible voters, she leads Tim Hudak by six points with Andrea Horwath well back in third. There is little evidence in our data that Horwath’s more aggressive posturing last week has had much impact on her support.  While her personal numbers are still stronger than other leaders, there’s still a large portion of the electorate who have a neutral impression of the NDP leader. In this release we also report on the effectiveness of campaign promises announced during the campaign.  It is clear that the PC Party’s Million Jobs Plan has dominated the campaign.  Two in three eligible voters say they have heard a lot about both the jobs plan and the promise to cut 100,000 jobs.  While the plan to create a million jobs is overly popular, the public sector cuts is not.  These findings demonstrate the liability the promise to cut jobs has had on the Hudak campaign, despite the fact that they set the campaign’s agenda early on. The findings also suggest that while popular, the NDP promises have not cut through all the noise created by the PC/Liberal debate over economic management.  Horwath’s promise to introduce tax credits, free tuition,...

Election Polling Brief: Vote Intention by Self-Identified Class

There’s been a lot of discussion and focus on the middle class in federal politics.  The middle class voter is all the rave these days. But we haven’t heard too much about middle class voters during the Ontario election.  So I wondered, who is winning the hearts and minds of middle class voters in Ontario? The answer seems to be the Ontario Liberals. In our survey, we ask respondents to place themselves into one of six social groups: working class, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class, and upper class.  The largest group in our sample are from the middle class (about 40%).  The chart below breaks down committed voters by class.   Among middle class eligible voters, the OLP has a 10-point lead over the Tories with the NDP well back at 18%.  The NDP does best among those who self-identify as lower middle class (39%) while the Tories do best among those self-identifying as upper middle class (41%) while its a close three-way race among those self-identifying as working class. Methodology The survey was commissioned by the Sun News Network and conducted online with 1,000 respondents who are eligible to vote in Ontario. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Ontarians, recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading provider of online research samples. The survey was conducted from May 28 to 31, 2014. The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys.   The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.  The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 875 committed voters of...

Liberals lead Tories by 7; Closer race among likely voters

With just under two weeks to go in the campaign, the Liberals continue to maintain a small advantage over the PCs.  Among eligible voters, the Liberals have opened up a seven-point lead, but among those most likely to vote, the Liberals and Tories are statistically tied with the Liberals at 37% and the Tories at 35%.  The NDP has failed to gain any momentum, despite Andrea Horwath’s more aggressive strategy last week. While the debate could shake up the race, deeper analysis of the poll results suggests that the Tories have little room to grow beyond its current support and there is little enthusiasm for the NDP among the key swing groups that would consider voting NDP. Consider these findings: among those who would consider voting Liberal or NDP but not PC, the Liberals lead the NDP by 20-points.  More importantly, when asked how they would react to a Liberal, PC, and NDP government, these voters were more likely to be “delighted” with a Liberal win, few were delighted if the NDP won, and almost all would be dismayed if Tim Hudak was able to form a PC government.  The state of mind among these voters bodes well for the Liberals as they seek to squeeze the NDP by raising fears about a Hudak government. The upside for the Tories is that their supporters appear to be more motivated and more likely to vote, hence the small gap between them and the Liberals among likely voters.  However,  it is clear that the first three weeks of the campaign have been won by the government, not the challenging parties. The PC campaign needs to reverse this direction in order to win – the debate carries extraordinary stakes for Mr. Hudak now. Interest in the campaign...

The Million Jobs Math puts the Hudak campaign at a Crossroads

To his credit, Tim Hudak designed his campaign to do what most of the modern political strategy textbooks tell you to do: remember that elections are usually about the economy. But it isn’t always that simple. First, perceptions of the economy aren’t great, but they aren’t bad enough to make it a foregone conclusion that the Liberals were going to be tossed.  Here’s some of the math: 12% of Ontarians say the economy is performing “very poorly”. Of this group 3 out of 4 say the Wynne government is doing a lousy job.  (That’s 8% of voters) Another 44% say the state of the economy is “poor”. Among these folks, half rate the government poorly.  (Another 22% of voters) Taken together, this suggests the total number of voters who are unhappy at the state of the economy and blame Premier Wynne is roughly 30%. That’s not the kind of number that easily sweeps incumbents out of office, and it reflects the fact that for many people in the province, the wolf doesn’t seem to be on the doorstep. Let’s slice into a few more numbers from our last poll. Of all of those who think the economy is in poor or very poor (56%) shape, about 60% think it’s time for another party to take over.  That gives you about 34%. No matter how you slice it, there’s nothing in these numbers that would make the case for the Progressive Conservatives to centre their campaign around a better jobs program. And that’s before you consider that of the 34% who want a change in economic direction, many had doubts about Tim Hudak, even before events of this week. Among those who say the economy is poor, half (48%) say Tim Hudak would do a poor...

Andrea Horwath gets tough and feisty

David Coletto Toronto Sun FIRST POSTED: THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014 12:14 AM EDT It’s all Andrea Horwath’s fault. Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals blame her for not supporting their budget. A handful of long-time NDP activists in her party blame her for shifting to the political centre and abandoning core social democratic principles in her effort to win the Ontario election. Pundits have criticized her campaign for drifting and not offering voters a clear vision for the province. Our polling indicates that while she’s the most popular leader in the province, NDP support has not improved since the start of the campaign. It’s tough being the NDP leader these days. But on Monday, the NDP unveiled a new Horwath: tough, feisty, and not afraid to go negative. Gone are all the smiles and good cheer. During the leaders’ debate in Thunder Bay, Horwath went after Wynne and the Liberals on the gas plant scandal over and over again. She used words like “corrupt” and “waste” dozens of times. This new approach makes sense when we consider recent findings of the Sun News Network/Abacus Data polls. The NDP is stuck in third place. Despite fatigue with the Liberals, scandals, controversy hanging over the premier’s office and a Progressive Conservative campaign that has so far failed to win support beyond those who voted PC in 2011, the NDP cannot seem to break the 25% mark in the polls. Moreover, the Liberals have been effective at making the election a two-horse race — a choice between two different economic visions for the province — the so-called red door versus blue door. Keep...

Jobs and the Economy Still #1 Election Issue

Jobs and the economy continue to play a central role in the 2014 Ontario election campaign. The shift in tone and focus of the NDP campaign makes sense when you consider the results of this survey.  If the ballot question is focused on economic management, Horwath and NDP are likely to be squeezed by the polarizing debate between the Liberals and PCs. Horwath, and Hudak to a lesser extent, are trying to bring focus back to the gas plant scandal and issues around honesty and accountability in government.  The challenge with this strategy is that voters may not find any of the parties credible on that issue.  Among those who said honesty in government is their top issue, most were unsure about which party could best manage the issue.  This suggests that voters are cynical about all parties and their motives.  Even if the NDP is successful in shifting the electorate’s focus back to Liberal scandals, they may not be able to take advantage of it. As  our Chairman Bruce Anderson explained last week, with a large enough group of the electorate believing the economy is doing well, and only a few believing things are very poor, the appetite for change may be muted by concern over the stability of the economy.  As we have seen time and again in provincial elections over the past three years, incumbents have been re-elected because voters are not willing to risk change in an uncertain, but not desperate, economic times.  Voters increasingly value leadership competence and credibility over commitment to a cause or ideology.  In this world of “valence” politics, change simply for change’s sake is not enough. In other words, enough voters may resist throwing the bums out if they are uncertain that the alternatives will...

Wynne still ahead as “Best Premier” but unsure up on measure

Yesterday, we reported that the Liberals hold a small lead over the Tories but that little has changed in voting intentions in the past week of the campaign.  While a majority of eligible voters in Ontario want change and only 24% think the Liberals deserve to be re-elected, a large portion are not yet ready to pass judgment on the Wynne government. The stable horse race numbers mirror perceptions about the political party leaders. While NDP Leader Andrea Horwath continues to have the most favourable personal numbers (or the least negative), Kathleen Wynne continues to have a small advantage on who would make the best Premier.  Although, the percentage of undecided respondents on the best premier question has increased to 41%. There is little evidence in our data that Horwath’s shift to the centre, which has angered a number of NDP activists, has hurt her reputation with much of the NDP’s voting base.  Among those in the NDP core, 72% have a positive impression of the NDP Leader, a number comparable or stronger than the equivalent for Kathleen Wynne or Tim Hudak among their core supporters. The results continue to suggest that many eligible voters have still not paid much attention to the campaign or are not satisfied with the choices on offer.  With a high percentage saying they are unsure which leader would make the best Premier, the opportunity for a big shift in vote intention is still possible. Andrea Horwath still has the best opportunity going forward to capitalize on the fluidity of the electorate as fewer voters have a negative impression of her.  If she performs well in debate in Northern Ontario and in the leaders’ debate on June 3, voters may be receptive to her message. Key Findings Andrea Horwath...

Ontario Liberals lead Tories by Two

As the Ontario election campaign enters its second half, no party has a clear lead in vote intention.  The Liberals have a small lead among all eligible voters and among those most likely to vote, they have leaped ahead of the PCs and now lead by three points. The NDP remains competitive but still well back in third place. The Liberals continue to do well in Toronto but the race is very tight in the vote and seat rich region around Toronto.  The Liberals and Tories are deadlock at 33% in the GTA region with the NDP not far back at 25%. Despite the fact that the advertising ban was lifted on Wednesday May 21, interest in the campaign has not increased since the previous week of polling. Moreover, 60% of eligible voters still report not being contacted by any party or campaign. At this stage of the campaign, survey data indicates that the Liberal and PC campaigns have been most active province-wide however respondents living in NDP held ridings were more likely to report being contacted by the NDP; a sign that the NDP is concentrating on the ridings it currently holds as well as a handful of ridings it thinks it can win. Despite the Liberal lead, only 24% of eligible voters believe the Liberals and Kathleen Wynne deserve to be re-elected.  51% think it is time for another party to take over while 25% say they are unsure.  This group of “unsure about change” voters is the key to understanding how the election campaign may ultimately turn out. Right now, the Liberals lead among these “unsure about change” voters (OLP 26%, NDP 16%, PC 12%) but 39% are still undecided about how they will vote. While many will likely not turn out...

Ontario Election Roundup: Unpredictability is the Word

The opening round of this Ontario election battle has been well worth watching.  Anyone who says they know how this election will turn out is truly only guessing, as I see it, because many voters have not yet turned their attention to the choices on offer. If it’s too early to tell how things will end up, it’s not too early to talk about what’s happened so far and how some of the positions taken and campaign messages might influence voters.  Here are a few things that have struck me so far. In our polling, it’s clear that many voters think the economy is under performing. While this is usually a pretty good indicator of a desire for change, it’s critical to understand the psychology of how voters think about politicians and the economy.  It’s far from a binary situation – there’s more nuance than one might think. When the economy is terrible, voters think almost anything would be better, and this is usually when change happens electorally.  However, when people think the economy is weak (but not terrible) we can often see different, more tentative instincts.  Voters want the economy to get better, but for those who are employed and able to pay their bills, there’s also some fear that it could get worse, with the wrong measures. This is the context in which Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan has landed.  The challenge he’s facing is that his formula may sound great to the most conservative voters, but a leap of faith for others.  To some ears, it may sound like harsh medicine, the kind of thing that feels like it could produce hard times rather than good times. Uncertain voters may want to believe in the Million Jobs upside, but they don’t...

Why Hudak and the Tories aren’t breaking through

Elections are decided on two questions. Does the incumbent government deserve to be re-elected? If the answer to that question is no, the next is whether there is an acceptable alternative to replace them. The 2014 Ontario election is no exception. The Ontario Liberal Party has been in power for almost 11 years. Controversies such as the gas plant cancellations, ORNGE, and eHealth have hurt the government’s reputation and trust with voters. The provincial economy remains sluggish with the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in tough shape. Most of you probably think the Liberals should have little to no chance of winning a fourth mandate. But our polling for the Sun News Network released this week clearly suggests otherwise. There’s no doubt most Ontarians think it is time for a change. But “most” is sometimes not enough to replace governments. So why are Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservative Party having such a difficult time breaking through with voters in Ontario? How could the Liberals be so close to winning another election? Our survey results help us make sense of it all. First, the PC Party has the smallest pool of potential voters — those who would even consider voting PC. While the staunchest group of PC supporters is larger and more motivated than either the Liberal or NDP base, the PC Party has fewer voters outside its core support willing to give the Tories a chance. Second, Tim Hudak is not as well liked as the other leaders. His personal numbers are weaker and he trails Kathleen Wynne by six points on which leader would make the best premier. Voters want change but they still do not see Hudak as an alternative premier. Third, and most important to understanding the election so far, by...