Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ontario polls point to volatile electorate

Late last week, the Toronto Star released the latest Ontario provincial poll by Forum Research. It showed that the Progressive Conservatives held a wide lead over the Liberals, who had recovered, and the New Democrats, who had tumbled. Yesterday, Nanos Research released their latest poll showing a close race. A week separated the two polls - could things be that fluid?
Let's start with the Nanos poll which, though older, is the most recently released. Nanos has been out of the field in Ontario for some time, with their last survey dating to Aug. 11-16, 2012. Since then, there has been no real movement for the Liberals or PCs: the Tories were down one point to 33.7% and the Liberals were down 0.4 points to 33.6%. On sample sizes of 500 respondents, that is less than insignificant movement.

The New Democrats gained 4.4 points to 26.5%, which is still within the margin of error. The NDP gain does put Nanos back in line with the other firms, however, which is good to see. Nanos was the odd-man out when it came to Ontario, putting both the PCs and Liberals above 30% and the New Democrats well behind, in opposition to the numbers from Forum, Abacus Data, and Innovative Research.

What is fascinating about Nanos's poll report is the chart that shows voting intentions all the way back to 2001. What is striking is just how little the PC vote has moved over the last 12 years. With few exceptions, the PCs have always been between 30% and 40% over that time, and were overwhelmingly hovering around 35%. That is a very solid, if immovable, chunk of the electorate. They can't seem to break out of that 1-in-3 range for more than a few months at a time.

By contrast, the Liberals and New Democrats have shown a great deal of movement. The Liberals were over 50% for much of the time between 2001 and 2003, dropped to around 40% until 2008, were between 40% and 50% until 2011, and have since moved between 30% and 40%. The NDP started at around 10% support, increased to around 20% between 2004 and 2007, dropped back to between 10% and 20% until 2011, and are now hovering between 20% and 30%.

The chart also shows how much of the movement of the Liberals and New Democrats is correlated. It would seem that, aside from a small proportion of Ontarians who switch between the Tories and Liberals, much of the vote swapping is taking place between the New Democrats and Liberals. This would suggest - and it is no shock to say it - that the Liberals have more to gain by trying to push down the NDP than they do the Tories.
But as it stands, the Liberals have better vote efficiency than the PCs and can beat them with a near tie. With these province-wide numbers, the Liberals would likely win 45 seats to the Tories' 37, and (considering the potential for error in both the polls and the seat projection model) have a little better than a 70% chance of taking the most seats. The New Democrats would win 25 seats.
The Forum poll shows a much different race, with the Progressive Conservatives holding an outright lead with 36%. The Liberals trailed with 29% and the NDP with 28%.

That represented a two point gain for the Liberals since Forum's last poll (pre-convention) of Jan. 23-24. The PCs were up four points while the NDP was down seven. Both of those shifts are outside the margin of error.

Are the two polls contradictory? Not necessarily. Nanos's poll was very similar to the other ones that were published by Innovative, Abacus, and EKOS Research at the end of January and earlier this month. It could very well be that in the week between Nanos's poll (which ran until Feb. 13) and Forum's poll (which was conducted on Feb. 20) the electorate shifted a little to the advantage of the Tories. The disparity in the results is not large enough that it can't be explained away by statistical wobbling and methodological biases (with a little bit of actual movement as well), but it does suggest that the Ontario electorate is volatile at the moment. This should be expected, considering that Kathleen Wynne is still feeling her way forward as premier.

Regionally, the PCs led in the 905 area code (which stretches from suburban Toronto to Niagara) with 43% to the Liberals' 26% and the NDP's 25%. The Tories picked up 13 points while the NDP fell 11. The Tories were also ahead in eastern Ontario with 38% to 30% for the OLP and 24% for the NDP, and had the advantage in northern Ontario (which stretches down to Barrie in Forum's polling) with 38% (+8) to 27% for the Liberals and 26% for the NDP (-16).

The Liberals were in front in Toronto with 43%, followed by the New Democrats at 27% and the PCs at 26%. The NDP had a slim edge in southwestern Ontario with 35% to 34% for the Tories and 22% for the OLP.
But whereas the Liberals had better province-wide vote efficiency than the Tories in the Nanos poll, in the Forum poll the New Democrats put their regional numbers to better use. Nevertheless, the PCs would likely win a slim majority of 56 seats, and have more than a 9-in-10 chance of winning the election. The NDP would take 28 seats (10 of them in southwestern Ontario) while the Liberals would win 23 (18 of them in urban Toronto and Ottawa).

A few points here or there makes a big difference. But Wynne is off to a good start when we look at her personal numbers.

She scored better than Andrea Horwath and Tim Hudak on questions of trust, competence, and having a vision for Ontario in the Nanos poll. Combining these scores gives the Nanos Leadership Index, and it puts Wynne ahead with 66.8 points to 54.7 for Horwath and 46.7 for Hudak. Wynne has improved upon Dalton McGuinty's numbers by an average of three points in each category (9.3 points overall), while McGuinty's departure has opened the door for Horwath. She made a gain of almost six points per category (17.2 points overall) since Nanos's last poll in August. Hudak has hardly budged, but dropped almost two points per category and 5.8 points overall on the leadership index.

If we expressed the leadership index as a share of the total (removing "none of the aboves" and unsures), we get Wynne at 38%, Horwath at 31%, and Hudak at only 26%. That means that both Wynne and Horwath are polling better than their own parties, while Hudak is polling worse.

Forum's approval ratings suggest the same thing. Wynne scored a 36% approval, 15 points more than McGuinty did in his last poll as premier. Her disapproval rating, at 30%, was 41 points lower. Still, 35% have yet to form an opinion but Liberals like her: 67% approve (19 points up on McGuinty), while only 8% disapprove.

Hudak, on the other hand, continues to flounder. His approval rating has not moved at only 27%, while his disapproval rating is 50%. His approval rating has dropped to 56% among PC voters, with a disapproval rating of 23%.

Horwath remains head and shoulders above the others, with an approval rating of 49% and a disapproval rating of only 24% (down four points since January). And 82% of New Democrats approve of her performance.

Taken together, this would indicate that both Wynne and Horwath have some upside going into a hypothetical election campaign, while Hudak still has the potential to drag his party down. But his numbers remain solid while the Liberals and NDP oscillate. Wynne has moved her party upwards a few ticks and Horwath has dropped, but the movement is still not enough to put either one in a definitive position. It makes an election campaign a huge gamble for everyone.


  1. One thing I find odd about the Nanos poll is that he has almost no gender gap and almost no age gap in party support - support for all the parties is relatively consistent among men and women and young and old...every other poll I have seen in Ontario has tended to show a big gender gap with the PCs doing really badly among women and younger people.

    1. The sample sizes, particularly for the age groups, are quite small.

  2. This Nanos Tory stuff follows the logic that Darrell Bricker is saying that their are two "pools" of voters. A small pool of 40% of which the Tories usually have 35% and the Libs maybe 5% at most and a much larger pool of 60% that is shared between the Liberals, NDP Greens and federally by the BQ, With decent splits in the big pool the Tories benefit.

    The logic is that the big pool is a zero sum game where participants can only gain at each others expense. :-(

    Geo. O.

    1. If we accept this theory that the "pool" of right-leaning voters in Ontario is at a 40% ceiling - how do we explain the federal Tories winning 45% of the vote in Ontario in 2011??

      The other fly in the ointment in this theory is that there is a segment in Ontario (believe it or not) of PC/NDP switchers. They are mostly outside of Toronto and they are populists and they are fed up with the Ontario Liberals - but they are conflicted over just how much drastic change they want.

    2. Absolutely right DL. Mr. Bricker and others should stop categorising voters. One election a voter may vote Tory the next Dipper-how would that voter be characterised by Mr. Bricker? Would they be in the right pool or the left?

      Mulroney got 50% in 1984 and Dief received 54% one election so, with due respect to Mr. Bricker I beleive his hypothesis needs refinement.

      -Fed up with Toronto

    3. Not to mention that on the flip side, the Conservatives only had 30% of the vote in 2004. Clearly it's possible for other parties to make inroads with conservative voters.

  3. Not on topic, but Joyce Murray got another endorsement, this time from a politician: senator Céline Hervieux-Payette (she used to be an Opposition leader in the Senate). This is according to the Joyce' Facebook page , http://www.facebook.com/mpjoycemurray

    1. I saw that. Trudeau also got Takach and Brison. Will update on Friday, as usual.

  4. Very odd that two distinct areas such as Barrie and Thunder Bay will be categorized as "Northern Ontario".

    But anyways, the next Ontario election will be an interesting one to watch. It will be too close to call, perhaps until election day itself. Right now it looks like it would be between a PC majority or some form of co-operation between the OLP/NDP.

    Earlier this month, I believed that Ontario wont go to the polls till late 2013 or early 2014. Now I believe the NDP would take their chances by going to the polls this spring. Things will likely get worse for the NDP if they continue to prop up the government without having the new premier face the electorate.

  5. Much more telling is that if you look at the individual pollsters, their results don't vary.

    This tells me that it's the pollsters who are volatile, not the electorate. Their predictions vary widely according to their assumptions.

    Our polls suck. (And you unfairly get the blame for it.)

  6. There are NDP/PC switchers but not very many. In Michigan they call them the "Deer Hunter" vote. Macho guys with a pickup truck who like guns and hunting. They also may be union guys CAW types who can't stand their boss. As a result they switch. Often found in Oshawa, and northern Ontario but they realize PCs almost dead in northern Ontario provincially.

    Often found in BC interior. Switched from Nelson Riis to Reform.

    Count the races among 107 Ontario that were NDP/PC races. You don't need two hands.

    1. From my quick research and memory I think your correct there are only few(not counting a few seats thats are genuine three way fights). Welland, Oshawa, Essex, Kenora-Rainy River, to a lesser extent Timmins-James Bay. I might be missing some but these are the PC/NDP fights where the Liberals ran a distant third.

      I should point out there are more ridings that are three way fights where PC/NDP vote switching could come into play along with the OLP vote being battle for.

    2. We should not forget that the NDP won Kitchener-Waterloo from the Tories and the Liberals were a distant third...also Bramalea-Gore Malton is very much a three way contest

  7. There may not be very many NDP/PC tossup ridings - but that doesn't mean that there aren't lots of voters across the province who are mad at the Ontario Liberals and who are deliberating whether to protest by voting PC or NDP. In our multi-party system, people go through a two step process - Step 1 - do I want to relected or defeat the incumbent government. If Defeat then Step 2 is which opposition party do I vote for?

  8. I live in Timmins, hare the Liberals and love the NDP but would switch to the PCs in a minute if they put a moderate person in as leader and dumped some of the those wacko gun lovin rural types from caucus. Since that ain't gonna happen I'll take that NDP. Holding my nose.

    1. I live in the western GTA and I generally vote NDP as well, but I did willingly hop to the PCs in 2007 when the local NDP candidate sucked and John Tory was in charge of the PCs.

      I don't think I would ever vote for Tea-Party-wannabe Tim Hudak. One of my earliest memories of politics is wondering why Ontarians were so stupid as to hand Mike Harris free reign for two majorities in a row.

      I trust the Liberals about as far as I could toss their caucus, so the Greens are my second choice for now.

  9. My father was an NDP/PC switcher, a union guy through and through but a social conservative from a military family. Family in the past was militantly anti-catholic and saw the Liberals as the RC party. "If you want the Pope to tell you how to live your life vote Liberal, LOL.

    1. Ironic, as the Roman Catholic Church is one of the most conservative and anti-liberal of Christian denominations today.

      The last time faith seriously entered into an election campaign in Ontario, back in 2007, the media went into such a collective frenzy over it that you would never have known there were any other issues at stake.

  10. London Fanshaw and Sarnia Lambton had a 3 way aspect to them.

  11. There are deep fault lines in Canadian politics back to the hanging of Louis Riel that point PC/C = Protestant Lib = RC. We will grow out of it but it is not gone.

    1. To be fair I think those sectarian fault lines go back to at least the American revolution whereby, American protestants objected to the generous rights and privileges granted the francophone Catholic inhabitants of Quebec such as language rights, adherence to French Law, their language and, the Catholic faith in the Quebec Act.

  12. All these comments show the Conservatives and NDP are out on a mission to destroy the Liberal Party.

  13. You say that as it it is a bad thing. Personally I look forward to the day that the Liberals are defeated so badly that they are never in a position to govern again. The Liberals are the jiggling jelly of politics, fence sitters who think we can have high public services without taxing the rich or the corporations enough

    The Liberals are a kind of con job that promises big things buy never delivers.

    1. I'd rather have the Greens as the "centrist" party, myself. At least they stand for something.

    2. Be careful what you wish for Anon.,

      The Liberal party in Saskatchewan disappeared and it is likely the NDP will be shut out of government for a generation. A similar story exists in BC where the demise of the centrists parties lead to right wing governments from 1953-1991 with one brief interruption. Alberta is another case in point; the centrist parties disappeared and Alberta has been ruled by rightwing governments since 1935.

      With the growth of the West and Southern Ontario the demise of the Liberal party (if it happens) may well cement Tory political dominance nationally for a generation or two!

    3. Anon 19.5, if you have paid any attention at all to politics, the Liberals are the only party that has delivered. Our healthcare system, our progressive tax system, balancing the budget, trade, social programs, all of these are created by Liberal governments. The tories, whenever they are in government, have destroyed things with their cuts and austerity. Its also notable that when Liberals are the government or official opposition, we never suggested or wished that any other party to be defeated so badly that they could never form government. Unlike you, Liberals have always valued diversity in our democracy rather than less diversity, however much we disagree with the other parties.

      And anon 23:37, the Liberals stand for a progressive society, fiscal responsibility, equal opportunity for all. You seem to not want to know what Liberals stand for. I suggest you do some research on that before stating the mistruth that Liberals don't stand for anything.

    4. It also speaks a lot about the character of Tory and ND supporters on how they think they are the only ones entitled to govern. We are a democracy, we value alternative views in government rather than just the two that are on top. This shows you can't trust tories and NDs on the political rights of alternative parties and alternative political views, as they seem to be focused on a political genocide of other parties instead.

    5. On the contrary, when the Liberals were in Opposition or Government, we all heard no end of calls for the NDP and other then-minor parties to disband, leave, etc. and get out of the way of continued Liberal and Conservative dominance.

      Why, just in the 2011 federal election, there was a huge push for Harper and Ignatieff to have their own exclusive debate as the assertion was that nobody else mattered or could win. Boy, were they wrong!

      I find it hugely ironic that the Liberals now find it in themselves to complain about being sidelined by parties ahead of them in the standings. Now you know how NDPers and Greens have felt for decades ...

    6. After the defection today and the obvious national unity problems within the NDP I don't think there will be calls for a Harper-Mulcair only debate in 2015. As we move closer to the election the NDP's position on the Clarity Act as well as their own Sherbrooke Declaration will become harder to explain to Canadians.

    7. MB what are you talking about?

      Our healthcare system, our progressive tax system and social programs... all of these are NDP ideas that Liberal Governments either co-oped or were forced to enact to get support in minority governments.

      Free trade (NAFTA) was a Conservative plan enacted in 1988 and ratified by Liberals. By the by, Free Trade has been a disaster for Canada so if the Liberals was to take credit go right ahead.

      As for you horse hockey about Liberals and diversity of opinion, that an old idea they once had and are now trying to resurrect. Or did you forget about how the Grits crowned Mr. Ignatieff without so much as a leadership race, diversity of opinion my butt.

      As an NPDer, yes I want the Liberal to be finished off and consigned to history along side the PCs. It has nothing to do with diversity or any aversion to it. No I want them gone for two very important reasons.

      1) Since Trudeau left office in 1982, the Liberal party of Canada has stood for nothing, with the exception of its own self aggrandizement and reelection.


      2) Whether you admit it or not, the Liberal Party (provincial or federally) is only two steps behind the CPC and their provincial allies. The only major difference being the Liberals pay lip service to the needs of the poor, under privileged and the middle class.

      At least the Tories are honest on their views (regardless of its repugnance and contempt).

  14. Marco,

    Your comment above contains a number of factual errors.

    For one Trudeau stepped down in 1984 not 1982.

    Secondly, free trade was originally a Liberal idea put forth by Laurier in the late 19th century. Free trade has been a boon for Canada, GDP has tripled since, 1988. Hardly a disaster unless you are opposed to higher living standards!

    Thirdly, Louis St-Laurent (who had a majority government) introduced medicare, it was subsequently passed by all province in 1961 under the Conservative government of Diefenbaker.

    Fourthly, Medicare is a British idea. Our healthcare system is modeled on the NHS! The NDP can take zero credit for its design. In addition while medicare was first to appear in Saskatchewan it was in Alberta under a right-wing Social Credit government that it received national popularity or notoriety.

    Fifth, progresstivity in the tax system started with the its implementation in 1917 under a Unionist government of Sir Robert Borden.

    In total then; a progressive tax system, medicare and social programs are not NDP/CCF ideas nor were they implemented by them. Nor were any governments co-oped (sic) by the CCF/NDP to implement them due to a minority government.

    You have simply proved the NDP is unable to do the minimum amount of research necessary to check facts. With comments like the ones you have written the NDP is well on its way to fourth party status in 2015!

    1. If free trade is so great, why did it take 90+ years and a Conservative government to implement a "Liberal" idea? And if the CCF/NDP cannot claim credit for medicare and social programs, then the Liberals surely cannot claim credit for free trade and its benefits.

      Speaking of Medicare, the fact remains that the first jurisdiction in Canada to implement it was Saskatchewan under a CCF government in 1946. This was the key "breaking of the ice" that paved the way for the rest of Canada. Were it not for that, St.-Laurent and Pearson might well have never moved on the subject.

      Income taxes only came in during WW1 as a means of paying for Canada's participation in the war. At the time, it was hardly a "progressive" tax if at all.

      By the way, one person's failed fact-checking does not damn an entire party. Didn't arrogant assertions like yours lead to the Liberals' current predicament?

    2. Thanks Anonymous,

      I didn't want to bother replying to Erskine May's nonsense, most people should know it was nonsense.

      I will admit I was mistaken about Trudeau, which I am ashamed of, as I hold him in high regards.

    3. Anon 01:53, it took such a long time for free trade to be implemented because the conservatives keep opposing it. Even Mulroney opposed it before he became PM, he had to be convinced before he gave it his support. He then did not properly negotiate NAFTA with the Americans, and Canada got the short end of the deal, that was why liberals opposed it in 1988. The Mulroney NAFTA was a knock off to a proper FTA that the liberals could have negotiated.

      Why didn't liberals implement it before? Because there was vocal opposition in the country to it, and because tories and ndp opposed it. They did not want to overturn the democratic will of Canadians and ram an agreement down Canadians' throats, like Mulroney did.

      About medicare, you have to look at it in the context of the time period. At the time, a lot of doctors fiercely opposed its introduction in Saskatchewan. A lot of Canadians were also fearful of it given the weak postwar economy, and fears of a recession. As usual, the liberals don't want to ram legislation down Canadians throats, doing it against their will is anti-democratic. Once Canadians changed their minds and supported it after they've seen the results in SK, the liberals didn't hesitate to implement it. And I doubt you would get it from the PCs, they were opposed to it all the time even in the face of popular support.

      As for income tax, the Liberals made it more progressive throughout the years. But when the CPC came to power, the gap between the rate that high earners have to pay and lower earners have decreased. The Tories have shifted this closer to a flat tax system, completely undermining what Liberals have done.

      And I think the tendency of the NDP and Tories to impose their ideas and theory on Canadians is more arrogant than the Liberal approach of making decisions based on the democratic will of Canadians.

    4. Once again your remarks contain a number of errors. I am unsure why you fail to research your statements. Mistakes do happen of course and I give you the benefit of the doubt that your factual errors are caused through accident not nefarious means. However, it is my belief that when one writes on forums such as this you and I do have a journalistic obligation to be truthful, if for no other reasons than the writings often do get attributed to a political party or ideology.

      I am not trying to claim credit for the Liberals or Conservatives. I simply want to correct the mistakes you have made and set the record straight that the NDP/CCF has not been the catalyst for many progressive programs in Canada. In short, I write to defend the truth and history.

      First: If an idea originated in the 19th century it must be over 100 years old since, we currently live in the 21st century. I would explain why it took so long to come about (Free Trade) but, the information is widely available in most Canadian history texts.

      Secondly, medicare is a national program. Tommy Douglas nor the CCF nor the NDP implemented medicare. The NDP must stop taking credit for something they had little to do with. Douglas implemented a universal single-payer system in Saskatchewan-not medicare.

      Thirdly, income tax which came in 1917 was progressive from the get go! The tax rate was 4% for all single men with an income above $2000! Married men had a $3000 personal exemption. For income above $6,000 the tax rate ranged between 2-25%.

      Clearly income tax rates have always been progressive in Canada.

    5. Thanks, Erskine May, I did not want to bother replying to the disrespectful and ill-mannered remarks by Marco. Most of what he said is complete nonsense.

      As for the calls in the last election about a Harper-Ignatieff only debate, it was Harper who initiated that challenge, not Ignatieff. None of the Liberals ever initiated any challenge for a LIB-CON only debate, those calls were either made by the CPC or outside political commentators.

      It's clear the Liberals always wanted diversity of opinion. Even when the NDP was the last party in the HoC, Trudeau offered Broadbent the chance to join his cabinet in the early 1980s, but he refused, and Dion also offered Layton the chance to form part of the government in 2008. It's clear the NDP is not going to return the good favour that we offered them, so they can consider any hope that they have of influencing the government in the future as nil.

      Also, there was a leadership race to replace Dion, but all the candidates dropped out of the race before the vote. One of the reasons why Ignatieff flip-flopped so much is because Ignatieff tried to accomodate the diversity of opinion of other leadership contenders and that of his caucus, with his terrible political skills.

      The rude way that NDPers express their opinions only puts more people away from their ideas and the ideas of the NDP. No one wants a government ran by disrespectful people with ill-manners, and no one wants a government with supporters that voices their beliefs with so much disrespect and shows no tolerance for facts and opinion of others. There is only one way to describe it, complete arrogance.

  15. PC's must be scratching their head how they are letting power slip from their hands yet again. With a lagging economy and numerous government scandals the Tories should be holding a solid lead.

    The electorate continues to hold serious reservations about Hudak, especially in the all important 905 and 416.

    1. Last poll I saw had Hudak winning a majority government!


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