Thursday, April 24, 2014

Polls clear as mud in Ontario

The Ontario Liberals and Tories are neck-and-neck. Or the Liberals have a wide lead. Or the Tories do. Should we split the difference?

The current aggregate of the polls puts the PCs and Liberals in a tie with 34% apiece, with the New Democrats trailing at 25%. That is probably as clear as it gets in Ontario, as no two recent polls agree on what the situation is in the province.

The chart below shows the province wide results of three polls conducted in Ontario in the last few weeks. All were done within a window stretching from April 7 to April 14, surveying roughly similar numbers of Ontarians but using three different methodologies.

The Forum poll, the earliest of the three, gave the PCs a seven-point lead over the Liberals, with 38% to 31% support.

The Nanos poll, the second of the three but the one released most recently, put the Liberals and Tories in a tie with 36% apiece.

The Innovative poll, the most recent of the three, gave the Liberals a nine-point lead, with 39% to 30% for the Tories.

One might be persuaded to see some progression across these three polls, with the Liberals gaining eight points between April 7 and April 14, all at the expense of the Tories, but that would not be the appropriate conclusion. For one, that is too short of a time span for such a dramatic swing in support. Secondly, different polls conducted by different firms using different methodologies should not be used in that manner. Nevertheless, the three surveys should be in the ballpark.

They aren't even in the ballpark in terms of trends. Nanos has shown a swing from the NDP to the PCs compared with their last survey of Feb. 28-Mar. 3. Innovative has recorded a swing away from the PCs and NDP towards the Liberals since their last poll from March. And Forum has registered a swing from the Liberals to the PCs compared to their poll of March 24.

The one thing the three polls seem to agree on, however, is where the New Democrats stand. All three polls put the NDP at either 22% or 23%, which represents a low-point for the party in the last few months. All three polls also show either stable or negative trends for the NDP, suggesting that Andrea Horwath is not heading into a potential election with any sort of momentum.

But even that is not too clear. The last poll by EKOS Research, out of the field on April 3, just a few days before Nanos and Forum, had the New Democrats at 29% and on the upswing, with the Liberals at 32% and the PCs at just 27%. So if we stretch this string of polls back to EKOS, we then have the Liberals somewhere between 31% and 39%, the PCs between 27% and 38%, and the NDP between 22% and 29%. Got it?

The seat implications for these sort of ranges are enormous. The three most recent polls point to anything from a PC minority government to a Liberal majority.
Seat projections
The seat projection using the Forum poll is the best for the Tories, with 51 seats to 35 for the Liberals and 21 for the NDP. Nanos's results would end up with a similar distribution of seats as currently exists in the Legislative Assembly, with 49 Liberals, 40 PCs, and 18 New Democrats. And the Innovative poll would give the Liberals a majority government of some 59 seats, with the Tories reduced to 27 seats and the NDP winning 21.

The EKOS poll would further confuse things, with 44 seats going to the Liberals and 31 to both the PCs and New Democrats.

Each leader can choose a poll to back-up an election call. Kathleen Wynne would certainly like to see the results from Innovaitve, Tim Hudak would take Forum's poll, while Andrea Horwath would gladly accept EKOS's results. On the other hand, Wynne could be booted from the premier's office according to Forum, Hudak could lose seats according to Innovative (and potentially the Official Opposition role according to EKOS), while Horwath could find herself stripped of influence with a Liberal majority. Who feels lucky?

At the personal level, Wynne and Horwath have better numbers. Innovative did not release any approval or leadership question results, but both Nanos and Forum did. They found somewhat similar results. On who would make the best premier, Wynne stood between 26% (Forum) and 32% (Nanos), while Hudak was second with between 24% (Forum) and 25% (Nanos). That squeezes Horwath out, who managed between 15% (Forum) and 18% (Nanos) support.

On the other hand, Horwath had the highest approval ratings in the Forum poll, at 40% to 34% for Wynne and just 27% for Hudak. A majority of respondents to the Nanos poll felt that both Wynne (54%) and Horwath (53%) had the qualities of a good leader, while just 39% said the same for Hudak.

That makes it difficult for Hudak to bank on a good campaign to propel him to office - his personal numbers are still very low. Horwath, however, may have the most to gain as she is seen the most positively of the three leaders. On the other hand, if the electoral choice becomes one of either Hudak or Wynne, Horwath could see herself shoved aside. Whether to pull the plug on this government will be a difficult call to make for the NDP leader. Predicting the results of this vote may be even harder.


  1. I'd say that until an election is actually called it's unlikely this whacky situation will clear.

  2. Given the Wynne Liberals lousy performance this really only shows how unsaleable Hudak is !

    1. Hudak is unsalable at 30 to 38%

      Given your descriptions in the past about Harper's performance. ... can I assume you feel the same about the federal NDP stuck below 30 or the liberals at 30 to 35%. I know I think Trudeau and muclair are unsaleable.

      As a rural westerner I think the results here show more about the people of the 416 and their apathy so long as they are getting their handouts. If they are the ones who believe Hudak is unsaleable.... well, we might even have to put the most popular premier on the trading block to get someone even better.

    2. Barcs as a Westerner you are not aware of and know little about Mike Harris. Until you learn and understand the effect he had on this province you are just talking to the wind !!

      His disastrous affect has doomed the provincial Tories to not being govt until they get a leader who can actually grasp the public's attention. Hudak is NOT that Leader !!

      We've had great Tory leaders in the past like Bill Davis but Harris so damaged the party image it will take decades to regain support.

    3. What 416 handouts are you talking about? Seems more like anti-urban sentiment than facts.

      If anything "handouts" in Ontario occur in the North and Southwest parts of the province due to weak industry. Not necessarily a bad thing, since job investment is needed in those areas.

      Yes, Hudak is unsaleable. He squandered a large lead in the 2011 election by running a lousy campaign against an unpopular incumbent. He is our Adrian Dix/Danielle Smith.

      His personal numbers are still low. People in his own party are wary of his aloof leadership and far-right policies. On top of that he lost three by-elections that the Tories hold federally to the NDP!

    4. If you think about it Jay Hudak is too close to a Mike Harris follower and we all know this province simply does not want a repeat of that !

    5. I agree Peter. I don't think Ontarians want a hard right government like they did in 1995. They just want a middle of the road government that will make investments in health, education and transportation, without squandering billions in scandals.

      Hudak is too aggressive on civil service and unions. It makes him look mean-spirited rather than clever. Even if we don't work in the public sector, we may know people that do, and these people aren't the moochers that Hudak makes them out to be.

      Hudak doesn't understand the GTA either. He is screaming Subways, Subways, Subways just like Rob Ford. It was the Harrisites that cancelled Subway expansion in Toronto.

      Subways are not going to help in the 905 either. LRT, train and rapid bus services are the way to go in these municipalities.

      The Liberals are sleazy, but more in tune with the electorate.

    6. Peter,

      Mike Harris left office nearly 15 years ago! Most Ontarians know little of Mike Harris. It is very unlikely a voter today in Ontario will either vote for or against a candidate because of Mike Harris or Bob Rae. Dalton McGuinty is fresh on the minds of voters thanks to his on-going scandals, these scandals have the potential to sink Wynne.

    7. I think voters today know who Harris is, even if they were not at a voting age at that time. Harris was a transformative premier, similar to Trudeau and Mulroney in the federal level. Their governments enacted ambitious policies shaped our society today.

    8. Oh I think Ontarians remember Mike Harris quite well, which explains at least in part why they're quite unreceptive to Hudak, who is widely perceived to be cut from the same ideological cloth.

      I'm hesitant to take the simplistic view that elections are just contests between party leaders, but I think in this kind of fairly evenly balanced situation the personalities and the public perception of the leaders become unusually salient. I think there is some genuine fatigue with the Liberals (as there was in 2011), but there is a (entirely justified) concern that Hudak is too far right of center. Conversely, the perception of Wynne is that she is capable and a person of integrity - she's not loved, exactly, but she is perceived to be a dedicated and hardworking Premier, which makes her a safer choice for voters in the center. Horwath is obviously well liked, and has the warmest public persona of the three, but I think it would take some momentous event for an election to break in the NDP's direction.

    9. Big Jay and AJ,

      If one were to follow your "logic" one would need to conclude Ontario voters are irrational since, they would cast their vote based on a politician who left office 15 years ago or longer (why will politicians take Mike Harris into consideration and not J.S. MacDonald or Leslie frost or Nixon?)! Perhaps a small minority of these voters exist but, rational people (hopefully the vast majority of Ontarians even if they are Leaf fans) will cast a ballot based on the performance and policies of politicians in the present and their perception of how their policies or political actions will influence their future.

    10. Bebe, with all due respect you logic does not make sense.

      Mike Harris left office in the summer of 2002. Not even a full 12 years. His legacy is still recent.

      J.S. MacDonald was the first premier of Ontario. Leslie Frost was the premier in the 1950s. Clearly you cannot compare a premier that left office in 1871 and 1961 to a premier than left office in 2002!

      Who are we to judge who is a rational and irrational voter? A voter either votes for their self-interest or for the interest in society in general. Fair game as long as the rules of the democratic election are fair.

      Partisans of all stripes like to blame the voter for stupidity. Browse the forums of major newspapers and you will see people claiming the average Ontario voter is stupid for electing the McGuinty-led Liberal government three times. People will also claim Canadians are stupid for electing the Harper government. Ironically, it is the same swing voters in Ontario that gave McGuinty and Harper their majorities.

      But if a party, leader or local candidate is unable to sell their message to get themselves elected, it is their fault.

    11. Who says any voter is rational bede ??

      Heck I think the only rational ones are those who don't vote !! They recognise that you can't change reality !

    12. Peter,

      Most people are rational. This is demonstrated by the decisions people make. Most people make decisions that are to their benefit, even donating to charity is a rational choice since, it improves one's happiness. Most people are rational if they were not rational they would consistently do stupid actions such as crossing the street without looking both ways or walking into walls. Undoubtedly accidents do occur but, their relative infrequency demonstrates most people are rational.

      Big Jay questions who are we to decide what is rational? The answer is quite simple; rationality is a defined term and means based on reason or logic. As human beings with intelligence we are able to make judgements and determine whether actions or outcomes are rational or not and whether such actions meet the criteria of rationality.

      Big Jay,

      If you don't think people place their vote based on the performance of Leslie Frost or J.S. MacDonald why would you believe people will base their vote on Mike Harris? Many voters, albeit a declining number, will remember Frost's tenure in office, others will have read enough of J.S. MacDonald to form opinions on his time in public life. Why can't we compare premiers? You and Peter seem to think people will base their vote on somebody who left office 12 years ago. Why not 100 years ago? Surely you see the inconsistency of your position?

      The only people who want to think people will vote based on a former premier's tenure instead of politicians and policies of the present do so because they wish to deflect attention from the problems of the present, problems orchestrated by those currently in office. They hope people act without reason because it clear to them that most people will find the behaviour of the present premier and her government as well as the behaviour of her immediate predecessor unacceptable-they know the proper and reasonable choice is for a change in government.

    13. I'm one of those who feel that Mike Harris (while far from perfect) generally gets a bad rap. I'd also almost vote for Osama to get the current Libs out of office. My vote this election is decided.

      That being said, I do think it reasonable for people to associate Hudak and Harris. The man served in Harris' cabinet, and has never tried to distance himself from Harris.

      Add to that that Hudak was one of the more vicious "attack dogs" in that government, and you can see why people may associate him with it.

      Also people realize that political parties generally do not reinvent themselves every 12 years. Bob Rae is still a millstone around the NDPs neck, and will likely remain one beyond his lifetime.

      While it may not be strictly "rational" to associate the federal Liberal party with adscam, I'm sure I'm not the only one who does. Actions of previous governments can last for a lifetime, or as long as the voters memory.

      A last point about Hudak is that he has seemed to be willing to take drastic action (such as the right-to-work white paper). A criticism of Harris that I've found, even among his supporters, is that he moved in the right direction, but perhaps too quickly. Hudak has done well to tone that stuff down.

      In the end I believe the people of Ontario have had enough of the Liberals, and will overcome their distaste of Hudak. I hope that he grows into a statesman-like premier who can build some consensus, but at present I haven't seen enough to think he has shed the "attack dog" mentality that he so often displayed as a member of the Harris government (and in opposition).

      In short I'm hoping he can pull a John Baird. To do so he will need to work on his style and charm. Any success on the substance of his policies over time will depend on this transformation, regardless if that is actually rational or not.

    14. Bebe, judging someone's rationality is usually subjective. What you may think is rational voting behaviour might be considered irrational by somebody else. (Of course, some actions will be considered irrational by a wider range of people).

      If a voter decides not to vote for the NDP or PC due to their last tenure in government, I do not believe it is irrational behaviour. If they believe the party cannot be trusted after what happened when they were last in power, than that is their call.

      You claim that you see inconsistently because I said that people may judge a party for what happened the Harris years, but not the MacDonald or Frost years. Mike Harris years were much more recent. Why is it hard to believe that there is a difference from a premier who left 12 years ago than someone who left office 50 or 100 years ago.

      This happens in other provinces too. The B.C. NDP still carries some of its baggage from the 1990s.

      Whether or not the OLP is defeated this election or not, we will hear for years about people who refuse to vote for the Liberals because of the scandals and mismanagement.

    15. Big Jay,

      Rationality is a defined term and many studies of voters and human behaviour indicate the vast majority of people act rationally or with reason. Will one or two people act irrationally at times? Yes. We see this all the time in the legal system which is why the charge of manslaughter exists. However, to think Ontarians as a whole will act in irrationally at the next election is wishful thinking.

      You can not have it both ways. If people as you claim, use past premiers' performance as the determinant factor in their vote for politicians then why not 100 years? Is 12 years the cut off? Is it 13 years? Either you use past performance as a determinant factor or you don't and if you don't then Mike Harris or Bob Rae will not influence a vote. If you do then Leslie Frost or Sir J.S. MacDonald will influence peoples' votes. Mike Harris is not relevant in politics anymore just as Leslie Frost or Nixon are no longer relevant to Ontario politics. Only the very few who hold grudges and act in a irrational manner will base their vote on the past instead of the present and the future.

      No it doesn't happen in BC. In BC people did not vote for Dix because he was a member of the disgraced Clark ministry and in that position he violated the law. people judged Dix on his actions not on the actions of a premier who left office 12 years earlier.

    16. Bede Dunelm,

      I think you are being a little hyperbolic in your argument. It is reasonable to assume that people's voting behaviour is influenced by what they have experienced in their lifetimes. Voters today have memories of the Harris and Rae years. They do not have memories of MacDonald and most do not have memories of Frost.

      Arguing that taking into consideration the Rae and Harris years is the equivalent of the Frost and MacDonald years is stretching a logical argument to its illogical and absurd limits, and I suspect that you know this.

    17. Thanks Eric. I think we all have a tendency to pontificate and really need to understand that living in a place is very different from reading numbers about it. The numbers may say one thing but the reality is far different.

      Not living the reality in Ontario can give a far different view than actually living there.

  3. Hi Eric,

    Any idea if methodology might be influencing these diverging results, or is this a real reflection of volatility in voting intention? Do these polls ask other questions that may shed some light on this?

  4. I feel all three parties have a decent chance of forming government. They all have their strengths and weaknesses.

    I think the general consensus is that the average swing voter is tired of the Liberals, but they do not want a staunch right-wing government that will make drastic changes.

    I guess this is why we get funky policy from all three parties claiming they will invest in transit, health and education while shying away from any tax increases!

    I think Wynne should have called an election last fall. The Tories were weak at that time with leadership and policy issues. Now, the Liberals look weak since their mismanagement scandals are not going away. There is even a new scandal today revealed by the Globe and Mail, that Liberal insiders were getting paid millions in public money. The Tories have reversed their position on right to work and have strengthen their ground name with new voter identification technology.

    Horwath, I feel is the wildcard in this election. The NDP victories in Kitchener Waterloo, London West and Niagara Falls were impressive - especially when looking at the numbers they received in previous federal and provincial elections. There seems to be great potential for them in Southwest Ontario. If they can apply the same strength in other Southwestern ridings, they can take seats from both the Liberals and Tories and form form government.

    Still, I feel the likely result is a reduced Liberal minority. The Liberals are still strong enough to hold 40-45 seats. The majority of the seats will be in the GTA/Ottawa of course, but they also pockets of support and entrenched incumbents in London North Centre, St. Catherines, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, Sault St Marie, Thunderbay - Superior North and others.

  5. Eric, there is something weird about these numbers in the polls and I'm not talking about the all-over-the-map topline numbers - I'm talking about the regional numbers, specifically the 905. Hudak is polling very high (consistently) in this region. This region is predominantly represented by liberals provincially (though not federally). In the IPSOS poll here: the liberals are pretty much tied with the NDP in second at around 28% whereas Hudak is at 47%. Here's my speculation - the only reason the NDP is so high is the "rust belt" ridings like Hamilton and Oshawa although they are actually sitting VERY low in crown around Toronto Proper. The liberals must then be sitting in second place in most of the ridings they currently hold in Peel, North of TO and East of TO in Durham where they are weak anyway. I can't see how results like these could be anything less than a conservative sweep of 905, save perhaps a few of the Mississauga Ridings (Mississauga South). What could explain this surge that has not happened in Toronto Proper or rural regions - granted the liberals are down but nearly as much (and they have wind turbines to gripe about!). My hunch is changing immigration patterns - more and more (wealthier) immigrants who are more conservative-friendly (socially due to religion and fiscally conservative as well). I know you're not a sociologist but do you have any sort of explanation for this conservative surge since 2011?
    The second thing that I would note is that Wynne seems to have compensated for much of her lost GTA support by gaining (or at least holding steady) in areas where they traditionally fare poorly (north, southwestern and eastern Ontario).
    Now, I know your model gives the conservatives at most a minority but, given their support in the 905 and their natural and structural rural advantage, I can see Hudak winning a majority with numbers as low as 37% by holding his rural base and sweeping the GTA. I am reading this wrong? That would surely be enough seats to win. Of course, the liberals have incumbency advantage but 47% PC support? That's a landslide!
    To get in to the politics of it, this is extremely weird considering Wynne has spent much time touting her transit policies for the GTA and Hudak seems to be content promising the moon but offering no credible way to pay. It all seems so illogical.

    1. The 905 poll shows PC 47% OLP 27% NDP 21%.

      PC numbers do seem unsually high.
      It can probably include deep PC ridings like Dufferin-Caledon, Durham, York-Simcoe. Maybe even Hudak's Niagara Falls-West Glanbrook?

      The NDP has actually become more competitive just outside of Toronto. They took Bramela Gore Malton. Of course including Hamilton and Niagara regions makes their numbers larger.

      In May 2011, the "ethnic" vote helped the Tories win the 905. But those same voters voted for the provincal Liberals in October 2011.

      Ethnic voters are not monolithic either. The NDP won ridings in Scarborough and Brampton because they targeted certain ethnic groups. The South Asian community is a perfect example. Where I feel all three parties have a foothold with those voters.

    2. big reason for the disparity between federal and provincial conservative fortunes in the 905 in 2011 was the week spent talking about 'foreign workers' by the PCs. if you think those talking points are going to help you in Brampton/MIssissauga, you're gonna have a bad time.

  6. AJR79,

    It's interesting you mentioned John Baird. Baird may be a loud mouth, but I think he would make a decent Ontario premier. I think without the shackles of Harris or Harper, I think Baird would be more of a moderate.

    Hudak, I feel is too much of a lightweight. He lacks political instinct. He comes off as overtly aggressive and goofy at the same time. He is at best junior cabinet material, not premier.

    Mike Harris, while I personally disagree with his policies, was a slick and effective politician. Not many could have brought a third party rump party into majority government in one election cycle.

  7. Until there is another conservative premier, Mike Harris will remain an influence on Ontario politics because he is the figure all subsequent conservative leaders are compared against. When Bill Davis retired in 1985, he remained the hallmark that Miller, Grossman, Brandt, and Harris were compared. Eves, Tory, and Runciman were equally unsuccessful in raising the PC banner, just as Hudak has been. Just as Tory was seen as too 'red', Hudak is seen as too 'blue'. What Ontario is looking for is a middle of the road government that invests in the future, but still respects the taxpayer. That's why the Liberals are still polling in the 30s despite their scandals, why the NDP are in the 30s with their new practical side and liked leader, and why the PC are polling in the 30s above their leader whose popularity is an anchor on their chances of forming a majority government. Anything less than a majority for the PC is a failure as the Lib/NDP have already show they are willing to work together to get things done.

    As for being rationale, individuals are rationale, but groups are emotional. Otherwise, why would anyone ever vote for the Bloc Quebecois or the Green Party?


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