Apr 19, 2018

Matters of Leadership: How Ontarians feel about those running to be Premier

Authored by:

David Coletto

David Coletto

Our analysis thus far of data collected from our survey of over 4,100 Ontarians has concluded that:

  • The election is anyone’s to win but that Doug Ford and PCs have the easier path to victory and Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals face immense head winds as they seek re-election.
  • One in five Ontarians are undecided at this stage and many will likely not vote. But those who may, there’s a strong desire for change and few have positive impressions of Premier Wynne.
  • “Ford Nation” is a small but sizeable group of Ontarians who share an extraordinary affinity for Doug Ford. He connects with these Ontarians more than any other politician, and they are enthusiastic to be his tribe. They feel he fights for them, speaks their language, and doesn't talk down to them. Though they do not suffer from the pronounced economic and cultural anxiety of the Trump voter, they are nonetheless a group with some similarities – a disinclination for elites, mainstream media, and the "scourge" of political correctness.

In this edition of our poll analysis, we turn our attention to the main party leaders and how Ontarians feel about Ms. Wynne, Mr. Ford, and Ms. Horwath.

Here's what we found:

Most voters have a pretty good idea who Ms. Wynne and Mr. Ford are but most don’t have much sense of Ms. Horwath. 

Slide1 Leaders

Using the 2015 federal election as a comparator, we can see how the provincial leaders compare in the public's knowledge of them. We find that Ms. Wynne is not as well known as Mr. Harper was while people have about the same knowledge of Mr. Ford as they did of Mr. Trudeau.  Ms. Horwath, on the other hands, is far off where Mr. Mulcair was at the start of the last federal election in terms of what people know about her.

Slide2 Leaders

Six in ten Ontarians have a negative view of Kathleen Wynne compared with 15% who view her favourably. Mr. Ford is split about even, with 35% having a negative view compared to 29% with a positive. Ms. Horwath has a mostly neutral image with the public. More positive than negative but six in ten either have a neutral impression or don’t know enough about her to have a view.

Slide3 Leaders

Compared with the start of the 2014 election, Ms. Wynne's negatives are far higher, Mr. Ford is viewed less negatively than Mr. Hudak was, and Ms. Horwath is about where she was at the start of the last campaign.

Slide 4 Leaders

Dislike for Ms. Wynne crosses all demographic and regional groups. Men are as likely as women to have a negative view of the Premier. Younger Ontarians tend to have less negative views than older ones but there’s minor variation in positive impressions. Perhaps most striking, 38% of those who voted for Ms. Wynne in 2014 say they have a negative impression of her compared to 35% who have a positive impression.

Slide5 Leaders

Doug Ford finds more affinity among older voters, men, and those living in the GTA. 57% of those who voted PC in 2014 have a positive view of him, as do one in five past Liberal and NDP supporters. 

Slide6 Leaders

Andrea Horwath’s image is undefined and fairly neutral among most groups. Older voters tend to have more positive and negative impressions of her. Not surprisingly, 65% of past NDP voters have a positive impression. Only 5% view her negatively. Among past Liberal supporters, almost three in ten have a positive impression of the NDP leader.

Slide7 Leaders

To understand the image of the three leaders, we asked respondents to rate how well certain words or phrases described each leader.

For the most part, used negative words or phrases to describe Premier Wynne. Clear majorities felt she was incompetent, cold, narrow minded and doesn’t have a clear vision for Ontario. Majorities also felt she was extreme and talks down to people like them. Positive terms used most frequently were experienced and tough.


The image of the Premier is entirely different among those who are open to voting Liberal. Almost all think she’s experienced and large majorities felt positive terms like honest, open-minded, and tough described her well. In contrast, a substantial number of accessible voters felt she was cold, incompetent, and lacking a clear vision for Ontario.


People are divided in their views of Mr. Ford. About half felt he was open-minded, speaks for people like them, has a clear vision, and is competent. Far more people see him as tough as opposed to weak but also extreme as opposed to moderate.


Andrea Horwath has the most positive image of the three leaders we tested. Most describe her as open-minded, and speaks for people like them. She’s generally seen as warm, competent, and experienced. Notably, no more than one in five respondents felt any of the negative descriptions defined her well. 


Obviously there is still time for Ontarians to get to know all three main party leaders.


There are a few key takeaways from this data.

Obviously there is still time for Ontarians to get to know all three main party leaders. While opposition leaders are typically less well known than the incumbent, the number of Ontarians who say they know little about NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is quite high, especially for a leader about to enter her third election campaign.

Wynne’s personal image is far more negative today than the one she had at the start of the 2014 provincial election. More challenging still, those who want change seem to be motivated by a dislike for her personally, than by what her government has done or is promising to do if re-elected.  Changing someone’s impressions is a tall order, especially when so many have intense negative views. It’s no wonder the campaign is focused on discrediting Ford.

Doug Ford enters the election in a stronger position than the last PC leader (Tim Hudak) did.

Doug Ford enters the election in a stronger position the last PC leader (Tim Hudak) did. While more people have a negative impression of Mr. Ford than positive, his numbers are more positive and less negative than those of Tim Hudak. This can still change. This explains the Liberal strategy of trying to raise Mr. Ford’s negatives as part of the “make change risky” strategy Ihor outlined in our first analysis on this survey.

Finally, and perhaps most striking in these results, is the opportunity that exists for Andrea Horwath to increase her profile, take advantage of her positive impressions with many voters, and wedge between her two primary opponents.

Few Ontarians have a negative view of the NDP leader. At this point, she’s not viewed negatively by many past Liberal or PC voters, and on many attributes, more describe her using positive attributes than they do to her rivals. More people describe her as honest, speaks for people like me, experienced, open-minded, and warm than they do either Mr. Ford or Ms. Wynne. Moreover, only 14% consider her to be extreme, less than half the number who feel the same way about her rivals.

While impressions of Ms. Horwath are shallow, those that have impressions tend to be more positive. Given the polarized nature of views towards her rivals, the NDP and Andrea Horwath are well positioned to appeal to voters who want change but may not feel comfortable with Mr. Ford and those who may like what the Wynne government has done but fear a Ford win.  

These results paint a picture of an electorate not fully engaged or aware of all the options on offer in the election. Kathleen Wynne is largely disliked. Doug Ford is polarizing but his negatives are not as high as we might expect, and Andrea Horwath is largely a blank canvass. As the election gears up and voters pay more attention to the leaders, the potential for sharp shifts in preferences is there.

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

Access more, more often

Subscribe to follow driving factors, receive customized insights and research findings that help provide important context along the 28 day journey to Queen's Park.

Never miss an update.

Join the ONPulse mailing list for updates as they occur — you can unsubscribe any time: