May 20, 2018

Entering the long weekend, the PC lead evaporates as NDP momentum builds.

Authored by:

David Coletto

David Coletto

Who doesn’t love the May long weekend?. The barbeques are lighted up, garden centres are bustling with people buying plants for their gardens, and friends and family head out to explore the great outdoors. During an election, they can also act as key moments in a campaign. A time when friends and family discuss politics and the election sitting around the camp fire, over a late Sunday brunch, or at the cottage for the first time. It’s a time when perceptions and assumptions can be either cemented or changed.

As Ontarians headed into their long weekend, we at Abacus were busy crunching the numbers of our latest survey. As with the previous wave, the numbers reported in this survey come from two separate sample sources.

The first comes from a panel study we have been running since the early April. In our first survey, we interviewed 4,685 Ontarians eligible to vote. From that initial pool, we invited them to come back and complete our second survey and then again this week to complete our third.

This method enables us to track opinion and intended behaviour over time throughout the campaign in a way not typically done in publicly released election polling. It’s way we approach our work with clients and my mission to never stop innovating or doing new things with my fabulous team at Abacus Data.

To ensure that our results are representative and are capturing broader shifts in the electorate, we also interviewed a new sample of 1,140 Ontarians eligible to vote. Both samples, the panel and the new sample, are weighted independently so each matches the Ontario population. Results are comparable across the two samples and I’m confident they provide us credible estimates of what the public is feeling and thinking about this election.

Wave 1 of our study was conducted from March 29 to April 8, 2018 with a random sample of 4,177 panelists.

Wave 2 was conducted from April 30 to May 6, 2018. 1,275 respondents from Wave 1 were recontacted and completed the survey. From May 4 to 6, an additional 500 new respondents completed the survey to create a total sample of 1,775 respondents.

Wave 3 was conducted from May 16 to 18, 2018. 1,684 respondents from Wave 1 and Wave 2 were recontacted and completed the survey. An additional 1,140 respondents were invited who had not participated in any previous study (what we call fresh sample).

Now, to the results!

Interest in the election continues to increase. 73% of Ontarians are following the election very closely or somewhat closely, 6 points higher than in two weeks ago.

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The NDP’s pool of accessible voters has grown again, the PC’s held steady and the Liberal pool shrunk. The Ontario NDP now has clearly the largest pool of accessible voters (67%), growing 5 points over two weeks. The PC pool held steady at 54% while the Liberal pool shrunk by 4 points to 42%.


The PCs and NDP are now neck and neck: PC 35, NDP 34, Liberal 24. When asked how they would vote, among decided voters, the PCs would get 35% (unchanged) with NDP up 5 to 34% and the Liberals down 5 to 24%. The Greens get 5%. This is the second wave in a row that NDP share among decided voters has grown. Since early April, NDP support has increased 10 points.

See below for comparisons across sample types (panel vs. new sample)

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NDP gains have come from all sources: undecideds, Liberal, and PC. One of the benefits of a panel study is we can see how preferences and intentions change over time among the same respondents.

The chart below reports current and previous vote intention of the panel study respondents from wave 2 to wave 3. For example, the top left cell (24.8%) can be interpreted as 24.8% of the sample said they would vote PC in Wave 2 and 3. The cell below that (0.5%) can be interpreted as 0.5% of the sample previous said they would vote PC but now say they will vote Liberal.

The bottom row (Total Attribution) represents the movement from one party to another (or undecided) in vote intention from the second wave to the third. The PCs and NDP had about equal numbers of people shift intentions (3.4% & 2.8%) while the most movement occurred among those who previously said they were undecided (7.7%) and among previous Liberal supporters (7.3%).

The NDP gained vote share largely because it held more of its previous support while attracting more new supporters to its ranks (8.4% gain – 2.8% attrition) while the PCs lost as much as they gained and the Liberals lost more than it gained from other sources.

This table gives us a good sense of who is winning the campaign thus far. The Tories are holding onto much of their support, the NDP is converting undecideds and attracting some Liberals, while the Liberals are leaking support to the NDP and undecided category.

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Also important to note is that the desire for change within the electorate has not dissipated at all. Nothing the Liberal campaign has done to this point has softened the desire for a change in government. In fact, today 83% of Ontarians want change, 62% intensively, up 3 since the last survey. Ms. Wynne is campaigning for re-election in an incredibly challenging environment for an incumbent.

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Next, I want to approach my analysis differently than we have in the past. Instead of describing the results, let me try to answer two questions I’ve been asked frequently these past few days.

  1. 1. Why are the Tories still the favourites to win today?
  2. 2. Can the NDP win the election?

Let’s look what our data tells us.


Despite only having a one-point lead in our horserace poll (others show larger leads but shrinking margins), some underlying numbers suggest the Tories have structural advantages in the electorate that could help them perform better than our poll suggests.

First, the party is leading by 9-points among those aged 45 and over. We know that older people are more likely to vote. The last federal election saw a spike in youth voter turnout but it’s hard to say whether that level of engagement will be replicated in Ontario. School is out on college and university campuses across the province. It’s harder to organize and mobilize turnout when students have returned home and are dispersed. And younger people don’t appear to be excited about any of the options on offer nor scared enough of any to compel them to vote for an alternative. That could change in the next two weeks but (sadly) I’m not expecting high youth turnout at this point. That benefits Mr. Ford and the PCs.

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Second, they lead among those who said they voted in the 2014 provincial election while trail the NDP among those who didn’t vote in 2014 or can’t remember if they voted. This again demonstrates the PC advantage among more consistent and reliable voters.

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Third, PC support is spread more evenly across the province which means they are in contention in more seats. So even if they tie or even trail the NDP in popular vote, there’s a good chance the PCs will still win more seats and perhaps even a majority of them in the Ontario legislature.

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Finally, although Doug Ford’s negatives continue to rise, the left is divided among the Liberals and NDP. And we see no evidence that Ford is losing much support on his right flank. So, unless this changes (and we are seeing some evidence of consolidation on the left), Ford and the PCs will benefit from a divided opposition and go up the middle in many ridings across the province.

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Short answer: Absolutely. I’ve felt that way after looking at the data from our very first survey.

By the way, our ability to see this potential is thanks to the depth of our analysis and the quality of our surveys. I think it’s what separates my team at Abacus Data from other firms and it’s how we approach all the work we do.

Here’s why I feel the NDP can still pull off an upset.

First, the NDP has the most room to grow. There are still two weeks left in this campaign and two thirds of the electorate is open to voting NDP. More important, that number has increased by almost 10 points since early April while the PC and Liberal pools have shrunk over time.


Second, the NDP has momentum and momentum is a powerful force in politics. Heading into the long weekend, this is exactly where the NDP wants to be. There are neck and neck with the Tories, the Liberals are sinking, and the number of “convertible” NDP voters continues to grow.


Third, the more people get to know Andrea Horwath, the more they like her. She had a great debate on CityNews, continues to perform well in public appearances, and is making friends without making many enemies. Her negatives have held steady while her positives have increased by 14 points since early April. The opposite is happening to her primary opponent now, Doug Ford.


Fourth, 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. And we find evidence that as more people come to recognize the NDP’s lead over the Liberals, its support will continue to grow.


Finally, few fear the prospect of an NDP government. Two-thirds feel the NDP and Horwath can govern as well as anyone else including 55% of Liberal supporters and 36% of PC supporters. Moreover, when we ask how they would react to the different parties winning the election, only 19% say they would be dismayed if the NDP formed a government after the election. Less than half of the number who feel the same about the Tories and 34 points lower than those feeling the same about a Liberal win.

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We will have more analysis of Wave 3 of our survey out on this website and on our social platforms over the next few days. But it’s clear that the election is far from over. The NDP has momentum now but the Tories still have structural advantages in the electorate that make them the favourites. If the NDP wins, it’s because they kept the momentum going and it was strong enough to overcome the PC advantages in the electorate. New Democrats have to convert more Liberals, mobilize young voters, and consolidate the left.

Peter Chamberlain 398960 Unsplash
The NDP has momentum now but the Tories still have structural advantages in the electorate that make them the favourites.

At the same time, the PC campaign stumbles and Mr. Ford himself might cost the party another chance at victory. Although many people in the province like Doug Ford’s brand of politics, it’s clear that PC members took a substantial risk in electing him leader. Over time, he has polarized the electorate and opened a wide door to Ms. Horwath to capitalize on the public’s desire for change without the fear of uncertainty created by Mr. Ford’s promises. If the data’s trend continues, almost as many people will have a negative view of Mr. Ford as they do of Ms. Wynne by the end of the campaign. If that happens, it’s very likely that the NDP will win more votes than the PCs. Whether that converts into more seats for the NDP remains to be seen.

If the data’s trend continues, almost as many people will have a negative view of Mr. Ford as they do of Ms. Wynne by the end of the campaign.

One thing that is clearer today than two weeks ago is the likely fate of Ms. Wynne and the Liberals. While some popular Liberal MPPs could be saved by voters torn between their desire for change and their affinity for their local representative, the 15-year Liberal dynasty is likely coming to an end. All the key metrics are heading in the wrong direction for them. Unless the public changes its mind about Andrea Horwath, it’s improbable that the Liberals will have enough time to turn things around now that they are clearly in third place.

Watch this space throughout the week for detailed analysis of our latest poll.


For those interested, there was no statistically significant difference in vote intention among the panel respondents and new respondents.

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Download the detailed tables with weighted and unweighted counts here: http://abacusdata.ca/wp-conten...


The survey was conducted online with 2,824 Ontarians aged 18 and over from May 16 to 18, 2018. The sample is composed of two parts. 1,684 respondents who took part in our first and second survey of the election were completed the third wave. An additional random sample of 1,140 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 +/- 1.9%, 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


In our latest episode, Abacus Data's Ihor Korbabicz sits down with Alison Smith, founder of Queen's Park Today. The two discuss the media coverage of the election, including the evolving coverage of the NDP.


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