The majority government that Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives expect – and think they deserve – is slipping away as the June 7 Ontario election campaign enters its final leg.
With the Victoria Day milestone behind them, all three parties will be campaigning frantically – the Tories to win the majority they were confident they had safely locked up; the New Democrats to grab the balance of power; the Liberals to survive.
Three new polls report a shift in momentum from “desire for change” to “anyone but Ford.” The benefit goes straight to Andrea Horwath’s NDP, which is capturing virtually of the support bleeding from Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.
If the trend continues, the NDP would win enough seats to hold the PCs to a minority – an NDP government being a possibility, albeit remote. The Liberals, meanwhile, are sinking ever deeper into third place.
Earlier, most polls reported a comfortable PC lead in the range of 10 percentage points. But the lead has been cut roughly in half in the past 10 days.
The first of new polls, by Innovative Research Group (taken May 9-12) put the PC lead over the NDP at four percentage points (35-31); a poll a few days earlier (May 7-9) by the same firm had given the Tories a 38-28 margin.
Next, a new Ipsos/Global News poll (May 11-14) showed the PCs leading the New Democrats by five points (40-35), down from 11 points (40-29) in its previous poll one week earlier.
Third, at the weekend, Abacus Data reported its new poll (taken May 16-18). It had the PCs (at 35 per cent) in a statistical tie with the NDP (34 per cent). The previous Abacus poll (April 30-May 6) had given the Tories a lead of six points (35-29).
Not all polling firms agree. Mainstreet Research, which has consistently reported higher Conservative numbers than other pollsters, still had them 13 points ahead in its May 15-18 survey.
Looking at the new polls as a group, two striking features emerge. First, so far Ford and his party have weathered the battering that the controversial new leader has taken from his opponents; the PC numbers have barely moved since the campaign began. Second, virtually all the movement has occurred between the other two parties with “soft” Liberals moving to the NDP; there is no significant movement from NDP to Liberal.
The Abacus survey, which uses a combination of random interviews plus a panel of representative voters (the panel being refreshed for each poll), offers some interesting insights. For example, the desire for change remains intense with 83 per cent of respondents seeking change after 15 years of Liberal government; that’s up three points from earlier.
The desire for change may be the bedrock of Conservative support, but it is offset by fear of putting change in the hands of Ford, whose agenda, beyond cutting spending and reducing taxes, remains a mystery to many voters. The NDP is the beneficiary of this dichotomy.
As David Coletto of Abacus puts it, “Only the NDP can appeal to voters who want change and those afraid of Doug Ford at the same time. Voting NDP kills two birds with one stone: you get change and stop Ford.”
Even if popular support is evenly split, as Abacus suggests, the odds will favour the Conservatives. Their support is spread more evenly across the province than the NDP’s and they have a higher proportion of supporters aged 45-plus, who are more likely to vote than younger Ontarians.
On the other hand, the NDP has the advantage of the largest pool of “accessible voters.” Sixty-seven per cent of respondents told Abacus they were prepared to consider voting NDP, compared to 54 per cent for the PCs and 42 per cent for the Liberals.
In Howarth, the New Democrats have the best-liked leader and her positives are growing while Ford’s are shrinking.
At the moment, she has momentum. How far will it carry her and the NDP?