Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ontario Liberals competitive again, but majority seems out of reach

The Ontario Liberals have avoided defeat with the budget support of Andrea Horwath's New Democrats. The polls suggest that an election was not something that Kathleen Wynne had any particular reason to fear, as her party has been in a tie with the Progressive Conservatives in four of the last six provincial surveys and the New Democrats, though still polling above their 2011 election result, have settled into third place.

But while she has kept her party in a position where they can reasonably hope for re-election if a campaign goes well enough, there are some indications that Wynne has not been able to rebuild some of the bridges that were burnt in Dalton McGuinty's last campaign as Ontario leader.

Though the Liberals lost seats throughout the province in 2011 (three each in northern and central Ontario, two in eastern Ontario, and one seat in each of the Toronto, GTA, and Hamilton/Niagara regions), their majority government was primarily lost in southwestern Ontario. In that part of the province, the Liberals lost eight seats that had been theirs at dissolution. It was the region that had the largest numbers of errors in the 2011 projection, suggesting that the OLP had lost disproportionately in the region.

If the Liberals are to have a plausible hope for something more than a squeaker majority, they need to re-gain ground in the southwest. The first real test of whether Wynne can win in the region will come when by-elections are held in London West and Windsor-Tecumseh, probably within the next two months.

The chart below shows how the parties have been polling in southwestern Ontario since the 2011 election. This morning's Forum Research poll has not been included since the report is not yet on their website.

Certainly, Wynne has managed to improve Liberal fortunes in the region as she has done throughout Ontario, at least compared to the trough the Liberals found themselves in around the time McGuinty announced his plans to resign as premier. But in no poll has the party improved upon the 33.2% of the vote they took in the region in 2011.

Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives have only been on an incremental decline (though some surveys have bettered their 39.8% election result) while the New Democrats have made important gains. This means that the Liberals are in no position to win back the seats they lost, and could be put under even more pressure in some of the ridings they currently hold where the New Democrats have a good base.

How might the Liberals have performed in the southwest if Windsor's Sandra Pupatello had won the party's leadership race? She might have given the OLP the boost needed in the region to grapple back some of those lost seats. But at what cost?

Wynne seems to have been the best choice the Liberals could have made to solidify their Toronto base. The OLP was in serious trouble of losing the favour of Torontonians to the benefit of the New Democrats, who had moved ahead in the city in some polls at the end of 2012. But after Wynne became leader, the Liberals soared in Toronto and are currently polling at or above their election result of 47.3%.

This gives the Liberals a very solid base of some 17 seats in the city, and with the New Democrats taking a hit they could even wrest away a couple more from the NDP. Some of that surge in support is spilling over into the GTA, giving the Liberals another dozen or so seats they can count upon. With roughly 30 safe-ish seats in and around Toronto, it puts the Liberals in a strong position to challenge for re-election.

But that is where their numbers in southwestern Ontario and the other corners of the province come in. The latest poll from Ipsos-Reid suggests that the Liberals trail in central Ontario by five points and in eastern Ontario by 10, in addition to their deficit in the southwest. The Liberals are still very competitive in northern Ontario, which puts a few more seats into their column, but they are a long way from being in solidly majority territory. Recent moves about investing in public transportation for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area may help bolster Wynne's support in that region, but will do little to boost Liberal support outside of the metropolitan area. There is even the potential for push back if the perception is that the Liberal government is raising the taxes of Ontarians outside of the GTA to pay for Toronto's public transportation (despite the current proposals only calling for tax increases in the GTHA itself).

This is why the by-elections in London West and Windsor-Tecumseh have inflated importance. As a test of the Liberals' ability to hold on to seats outside of Toronto under their Torontonian leader, the results will help determine whether Wynne has what it takes to win an election campaign provincewide. If the Liberals win both of the by-elections, the opposition parties may not be inclined to defeat the government in the autumn, and might wait to re-assess their chances in the spring of 2014. If the Liberals lose one or both of them - and in particular to the NDP - we may find ourselves in another campaign when the leaves start to fall.


  1. Catherine Fife in KW was a protest vote. This together with the red tory credentials of the previous seat holder (Elizabeth Witmer), I fully expect this seat to move back to the liberal column, barring a liberal wipe out.

  2. Catherine Fife was not a protest vote. She was clearly the best candidate and won all the debates held. It is more likely that the Liberals will lose the Kitchener-Centre seat than winning the Kitchener-Waterloo seat.

    However, this debate might be obsolete if the next election will be held with the new ridings in place which will add another riding to the Waterloo region and hence changes several boundaries.

    1. I don't think so.

      First, in Canada (as opposed say to the US) most people don't vote for candidates, they vote for parties, Elizabeth Witmer being a notable exception, interestingly enough.

      Second, I don't think the figures support your conclusion. In this district the NDP has always come a distant third to the conservatives and the liberals.

    2. By-elections are notoriously unreliable and subject to "odd" results. For example last year the BC Liberals lost two by-elections in what are generally considered BC Liberal seats. On May 14th they won both back even though a NDP star candidate and former popular mayor was a candidate in Port Moody.

      As we see in the graph above the Tories hold a significant lead in SW Ontario, all things being equal, probably makes them the favourites especially taking in the riding's recent history.

      Some people vote for a party and some people vote for a candidate; my anecdotal experience is people often use the candidate as a tie-break between party A and party B. In the States party voting is just as common, if not more so, than Canada or Australia or Great Britain. I would suggest voting by party is common due to the number of elections being conducted at once. Many American voters simply vote for a slate.

    3. Umm. NO.

      This district was Liberal federally during the Martin, while PC provincially because Elizabeth Witmer was a good representative, with the NDP always coming 3rd. In 2011, 49,600 people voted in the provincial election, while in the bi-election, 46,500 people voted. That's almost parity to the general election! So yes, Catherine Fife either picked up AT LEAST 5000 votes from each the PCs and Liberals, or more Grits/Tories didn't vote and Catherine Fife somehow drew out a large number of non-2011 voters (which may be true to a small extent too, since there's a college here).

      Either way, I agree with txwi. K-W was a Witmer seat, and is now a Fife seat. Though Fife's success may not translate federally (although it certainly doesn't hurt in the least bit), I'm thinking this seat's fate is now in Fife's hands (and her opponents).

  3. It all depends on Horvath !!

    Which way she goes on the Budget will set the stage !!

  4. As well as Horvath, who will apparently support the budget, there is the Hudak factor.

    Bluntly unless the party can either shut him up or preferably dump him the PC party will actively grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Talk about a disaster looking for a place to happen ??

  5. I have three questions. Firstly why have you stopped putting in under the Ontario, Quebec, and federal polling averages (when you click on the link for them and go to their separate pages) a percentage probability that a particular party (the Liberals for example) would win the popular vote if an election were held now? In other words, why does it no longer say "there is an X% chance that party Y would win the popular vote if an election were held today.

    Secondly, for those same polling averages, why are you now rounding the numbers to the nearest whole number when you display them on the main page?

    Thirdly, what did you mean when you said
    "though some surveys have bettered their 39.8% election result" in regards to the Ontario Tories seeing as in the last Ontario election the Tories got about 35% of the vote.

    1. Three answers:

      I have to include the BC results into the probability calculations, which I haven't done yet.

      Seems silly to emphasize decimal points on the front page. Also, might encourage people to click through and be able to read what I have on those pages.

      I was referring to their vote share in southwestern Ontario.

  6. Two followup questions. Firstly, out of curiosity what did the Liberals and NDP get in Southwestern Ontario in the 2011 Ontario election.

    Secondly, when are you going to start doing a poll average section for Nova Scotia?

  7. 33.2% for the OLP, 22.8% for the NDP - at least how I currently define the SW.

    I'm hoping to launch the Nova Scotia projection in June. Rumours are that the election will be at the end of September.


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