Apr 11, 2018
The 42nd Ontario general election – it’s anyone’s game.
On June 7th, 2018, there’s a path to victory for any of the provincial contenders.
This upcoming election is said to be about change. An overwhelming majority of voters say they want change, and few prefer or are excited by the status quo.
However, a comprehensive dive into our latest poll, surveying 4177 Ontarians on their views about the upcoming provincial election, shows us a race that is far from over.
Today 60% of Ontarians believe it is definitely time for a change of government. 20% are softer change voters who think change would good but not important. An equal amount prefers the status quo (20%). This is a similar breakout to what we saw two months before the last federal election, where roughly the same proportions wanted Harper out of power.
Certainly, Premier Wynne and the governing Liberals face strong headwinds in their re-election efforts.
Only one in five Ontarians say they’d prefer to keep the Liberals in office. Change is strongly felt across the province and across demographics, with almost half of past Liberal voters preferring change to some degree.
- There are some notable exceptions. The desire for change is softer among younger Ontarians under 30, residents of Toronto, and those who identify on the left of the political spectrum.
Months away from election night, most Ontarians are following news about this electoral contest at least somewhat closely. And the desire for change is deeply felt whether you are paying a lot of attention or ignoring it entirely, head in the sand. This might explain why about as many people are following this election as closely two-months out from voting day as they were a few weeks out when we did polling at the start of the 2014 provincial election.
What does that change look like?
If an election were held tomorrow, Doug Ford would likely become Premier of Ontario as the PCs would clearly win the most votes.
40% of Ontarians who are decided would vote PC, 28% Liberal, 24% NDP, and 6% would vote Green. 22% say they are undecided at this point.
- The PCs do well throughout the province, and particularly well in the GTA, Eastern Ontario, and Southwest Ontario. The Liberals are essentially tied with the PCs in their stronghold of Toronto, while the NDP leads in Northern Ontario.
- Vote intention splits along the lines of gender and age. The Liberals are ahead with millennials under 30, whereas the PCs are less competitive with this cohort, especially among younger women.
- The PCs have a clear lead among older Ontarians – particularly older men - while the NDP is more competitive among women, especially those under 45.
While the PCs lead vote intention at this point, the election outcome is far from certain. Two months out from election day, the data suggests each party has plenty of runway left to take the lead and win. As part of our survey, we asked Ontarians not only vote intention, but how likely someone is to vote for each party.
We found that 44% would at least consider voting for the Ontario Liberals, 58% would consider voting for the NDP, and 59% would consider the PCs. While the Liberals would need to convert a greater share of their accessible vote to win, winning the popular vote is not impossible, despite how improbable it may seem at this point.
Few are certain who they’d vote for at this point. The survey finds 16% are certain to vote PC, 9% saying they are certain to vote Liberal, while 7% are certain to vote NDP (32%) meaning 68% are flexible or persuadable potential voters.
Can “changementum” be stopped or diverted?
While it’s no doubt an uphill battle, even change voters can be turned around. The 40% of the electorate that are not definitely opting for change, and even a slice of those who definitely want change, are still actively in play for Premier Wynne and the Ontario Liberals.
Is this just a change election?
Parsing through the data, we see no definitive issue at the top of the agenda. There are nuances to what voters of different political stripes want, but neither is there a unifying issue among voter constituencies.
- PC voters are more concerned about the deficit/debt and honesty/ accountability in government, though many prioritize healthcare, jobs, and pocket book issues (taxes, electricity prices).
- Liberal and NDP voters are more likely to prioritize housing affordability.
- Liberal voters are particularly less likely to prioritize electricity prices.
What are the possible storylines for the 2018 election?
Rather than convince us it’s a definite Ford victory, our scan of the data sees the election as evolving into one of three possible scenarios.
1. It’s simple - change wins. People want change, nothing changes, the PCs do best at uniting change voters and win. The Liberals remain an unpopular brand, and the NDP is deemed too risky to consider, or at least the less desirable version of change. Doug Ford refrains from doing or saying anything that knocks the PCs off track and keeps the ballot question about change, accountability and cutting the waste – firm and advantageous ground for the PCs.
2. Change you can trust. The desire for change doesn’t dissipate but people become uncomfortable with the idea of Doug Ford as premier. Horwath unites progressives with a bulk of less ideological change voters with the help of #neverFord Liberal and PC partisans. Horwath is come to be seen as a progressive and sensible candidate that offers a non-risky alternative to Ford with a policy agenda similar to the Liberals’. But voters still get change. The Liberals are relegated to third place and no longer the obvious answer to “Anyone But Ford”.
3. Make change risky. Voters want change but the two alternatives are deemed unacceptable. In our view, this has happened to some extent in the past three provincial elections. To happen, the intensity for change must dissipate and Ontarians vote Liberal in sufficient quantities. Liberals do a good job of making change risky for their target population – women, millennials, and urban and suburban GTA residents. The PC vote is supressed by making Ford look unfit or extreme, and Horwath is marginalized as an unserious and unlikely alternative to Ford.
It’s entirely likely, and the best estimate based on today’s information to expect that the next premier of Ontario is going to be Doug Ford. The Ontario Liberals are historically unpopular, the change sentiment is overwhelming, and the Premier’s personal ratings are consistently low. But there’s plenty of paths this election could take to make any outcome likely. As they say: “campaigns matter”.
This is an election without a defining consensus policy priority at this stage. The Tories are the favourites, the NDP have not faced an opinion environment more favourable to them since 1990 and despite their weaknesses, there’s still room for a Liberal revival. Change will either carry the day for one of the two opposition leaders, or perceived risk will dampen the enthusiasm for a new regime at Queen’s Park.
Follow us here as we continue to track the evolving viewpoints of Ontarians as the election wears on. And stay tuned for more releases on data, analysis and punditry from our friends at Summa Strategies and Spark Advocacy.
About the survey
The survey was conducted online with 4,177 Ontarians aged 18 and over, from March 29 to April 8, 2018. A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.
The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 1.55%, 19 times out of 20.
The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Ontario’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding
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