Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Pre-Wynne, NDP led in Ontario

Just before the first ballot results of the Ontario Liberal leadership convention were to be announced, the Toronto Star released a Forum Research poll on the voting intentions of Ontarians. The poll showed that the  New Democrats narrowly led over the Progressive Conservatives, and that the leadership of Kathleen Wynne or Sandra Pupatello wouldn't change a thing. Will that hold?
Forum was last in the field on Dec. 17, and since then the NDP increased their support by four points to 35%. That gave them the advantage over the PCs, who slipped one point to 32%. The Liberals were unchanged at 27%, while the Greens were down three points to 5%.

The margin between the NDP and Tories is not statistically significant, but the changes in support of the New Democrats and Greens are (just).

The New Democrats were ahead in the 905 area code with 36%, trailed by the Tories at 30% and the Liberals at 28%. They were also ahead in the wider GTA with 34% to 32% for the Liberals and 28% for the PCs.

In southwestern Ontario, the NDP picked up 12 points to lead with 39%, putting them ahead of the Progressive Conservatives, who were down to 35%. The Liberals dropped eight points to only 18% in the region.

The NDP also had the advantage in northern Ontario with 42% to 30% for the PCs and 22% for the Liberals.

The Progressive Conservatives led only in eastern Ontario, with 42% to 28% for the Liberals and 24% for the New Democrats. The Liberals, meanwhile, were ahead only in the 416 area code, with 37% to 33% for the NDP and 25% for the PCs.

Most of the changes in support were within the margin of error, so we could be looking at a lot of statistical wobbling. On the face of it, though, it does appear that the Liberals experienced an uptick in Toronto while the NDP made gains in rural (eastern, southwestern, and northern) Ontario. Interestingly, the only major change in support occurred in southwestern Ontario, the only region of the province in which Sandra Pupatello's numbers were better than the generic ballot (23%). With her defeat, the Liberals might not expect to recover in southwestern Ontario anytime soon.

But the election of Wynne or Pupatello would not have changed much. Forum found that, under Wynne, the Liberals would have 26% support to 34% for the NDP and 32% for the PCs. For completely logical reasons, a Wynne leadership pushes one point from the Liberals (and the NDP as well, of course) to the Greens. In other words, her leadership of the party should not change anything in the short term - at least according to these numbers. Pupatello had an identical result, except the PCs dropped a point too. Gerard Kennedy would have done better, with 30% to the NDP's 32% and the Tories' 31%, but that is academic at this point.
With Ontarians' current voting intentions province wide, the Progressive Conservatives could eke out a tiny minority with 40 seats, to 37 for the New Democrats and 30 for the Liberals. The margin is close enough that if this were my final projection in an election campaign, I'd only give the Progressive Conservatives a 45% chance of winning the most seats (33% for the NDP and 22% for the Liberals). Put simply, a toss-up forecast.

The regional distribution is still quite stark, with the Tories winning 31 of their 40 seats in eastern, central, and southwestern Ontario, while the Liberals win 26 of their 30 in and around Toronto.

Note that this projection is based on the province-wide numbers. If it were regionally based (as the model will be when the next election rolls around), the NDP could do even better, winning more seats in the GTA and likely enough to put them narrowly ahead of the Tories.

The ace up their sleeve has to be Andrea Horwath, as she has an approval rating that is head-and-shoulders above her rivals. More than half, or 51%, approve of her, compared to 28% who disapprove. Still, one-in-five don't know what they think of her. New Democrats are almost unanimous, though: they give her an 80% approval rating.

Tim Hudak does worse among Tories, with 59% approval. Among Ontarians as a whole, he gets 27% approval to 53% disapproval. This is still a major problem for the PCs, just as Dalton McGuinty was a problem for the Liberals. His approval rating was 21% to 71% disapproval on the eve of his departure, with only 48% of Liberal supporters approving of him.

Will Ontarians warm up to Kathleen Wynne? Her numbers were improving as the convention approached. Only 8% of Ontarians thought she was the best choice to be OLP leader in November, improving to 23% in December and 25% just before the weekend. That still put her behind Pupatello (26%) and Kennedy (33%), but not by the same margins as in previous polls. Among Liberals, she was the choice of 27%, within the margin of error of Pupatello (28%) and Kennedy (33%). By that score, the Ontario Liberals did not make a bad choice.

Undoubtedly, a rash of polls will break out in the coming weeks as we try to gauge where the party stands now that Wynne is the premier and the province could potentially be heading to an election soon. If her numbers are good, we might see the NDP being a bit more amenable to compromise and the Liberal minority could survive. If her numbers are not, both Horwath and Hudak might turn the screws.