INNOVATIVE has tracked most Ontario budgets through our online tracking survey most years since 2006 and rarely has a budget a budget been received as favourably as this one among those paying attention. But we have never seen fewer pay attention to a budget than this year.
There are many challenges facing Ontario’s Finance Minister Rod Phillips as he approached the budget in this pandemic year, but it is unexpected to find that attention may be one of the biggest. Just over one-in-four Ontarians (27%) has heard anything about this year’s budget. A typical budget gains the attention of half or more and then record is 84%.
Among those who did pay attention, the impact of the budget is actually far better for the government than it has been in recent years. The share of respondents who said the budget left them less favourable to the PCs is down from 52% last year to only 25% this year. This includes a drop of 24 points in the share of those who say it left them much less favourable.
Similarly, satisfaction with the budget was up significantly. In 2019, 31% of respondents said they were satisfied with the budget and 64% were dissatisfied. Now, 46% are satisfied and only 43% are dissatisfied, with a 25-point drop in the share of respondents who are very dissatisfied. This is the highest level of satisfaction we have seen since the first term of the McGuinty government. While satisfaction is highest among PC partisans, 44% of Liberals and 29% of New Democrats say they are satisfied with the budget.
Looking at how well the budget addresses specific issues, Ontarians have a much more positive view of this years budget than last year in many areas. The biggest change is on education which has been a major weakness for the Ford government. Last year 63% said the budget would leave the education system worse off, while this year only 36% say the same. However, that is still higher than the share who think the budget will improve the education system. Today, only 16% of Ontarians think the budget will leave the education system better off.
Similarly, the share who say the budget will leave the health care system worse off is significantly down from 57% in 2019 to only 35% in 2020. However, again those who say it will leave the health care system worse off outnumber those who say it will leave the system better off (35% and 24% respectively).
The best news for the Progressive Conservatives is that some of the most crucial voters had largely positive impressions of the budget. A core part of the PC coalition when they won the 2018 election were two segments of voters INNOVATIVE calls “Canadian Dream Heavy Strugglers” and “Canadian Dream Moderate Strugglers”. These voters believe that in Canada they can achieve anything they want through hard work, and yet are struggling to get by.
Canadian Dream Strugglers are the most likely segments to say the budget left them with a more positive impression of the PC government, most likely to say it left them satisfied with the provincial government, and most likely to say the budget will have a positive impact on their own personal financial situation.
Ontarians who are paying attention are impressed with the new budget. The challenge for the government is to get more people to pay attention.