Ontario Politics – One Year to Go

In just over a year, Ontarians will head to the polls. Greg Lyle sat down with Steve Paikin on “The Agenda” to talk about where the parties and their leaders stand today and their prospects moving forward (click here to watch on TVO’s website).

The Horserace

The key political fact is that the PCs and the Liberals have reversed position from the last election. We combined 30 monthly live caller land line and cell polls and looked at the results by quarter. In the last quarter, 40% of Ontarians said they would vote for the PCs if an election were held, while only 31% would vote for the Liberals. Even more worrying for the government should be the rise of support for the PCs in the seat rich Toronto area. In 2011, the Liberals won 38 of the 44 available seats in the region. Today, the Liberals are down 14 points in the North East GTA, 10 points in the West, 15 points in the City of Toronto suburbs and down 10 points in the core. PCs lead everywhere in the GTA except the central core where they trail by just 4 points.

Underlying Party Brands

Despite the reversal in vote, the underlying Liberal brand remains strong.  One third of Ontarians wake up in the morning and see a Liberal in the mirror.  The Tories trail by 7 points at 26%.  Only a little over one in ten (11%) say they feel closest to the NDP.  What that means is all else being equal, the Liberals should have the most votes.  But all else is NOT equal

Comparing Leaders

There is no love lost between Ontario voters and their Premier.  We have tracked how Ontario voters feel about their leaders 8 times since Kathleen Wynne won the Liberal leadership.  Wynne’s negatives have grown from 12% in January 2013 to 64% today.  It’s not only her opponents and uncommitted voters who dislike her – three in ten current Liberal voters have an unfavourable view of the Premier.

Watching that trend emerge, INNOVATIVE decided to dive deeper into what is driving these negative views of the Premier in an online survey of almost 800 Ontarians.   Particularly striking is that 66% of Ontarians believe that the Premier has changed Ontario for the worse, including 45% of those who say they voted for the Liberals in the last election.

The challenge for Wynne becomes particularly clear when we ask Ontarians whether they are willing to support Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals in the next election.

With a year to go, only 10% of Ontarians say they would be happy to vote for her, while a further 17% say they are willing to consider voting Liberal with Kathleen Wynne as leader, but they need to see some changes. Of those who said they needed to see changes, when asked for specifics, the most popular responses were around hydro prices, accountability, and better decision making.  However, reflecting the health of the underlying Liberal brand, another 18% say they are willing to vote Liberal with a new leader.

Looking Ahead

We are confident these polls provide a good understanding of where Ontarians stand today.  But they do not predict the future.  It’s important to remember two things:

First – elections are about choosing between the options presented.  The spotlight is on the Liberals now, but that will change in the lead up to the election when the Liberals will be compared to the alternatives.

Second – Campaigns matter. There is still just over a year until the election. Patrick Brown remains largely undefined. This is the single biggest wild card in the lead up to the elections.  If the Liberals and Working Families are as successful defining Brown as they were with Hudak and Tory, the race will get much closer.  Andrea Horwath remains significantly more popular than Kathleen Wynne and in the last two campaigns her favourables have grown.  The challenge for the NDP is to become a relevant option to voters.

With their underlying brand strength, it would be foolish to count the Liberals out.  But if Kathleen Wynne can rebound from these numbers, it will be a rare and remarkable comeback.

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