Fresh polling provided to CBC News shows the depth of opposition to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her party, but suggests her government's big budget promises could swing some NDP voters into the Liberal camp.
The polling conducted in early April by Innovative Research Group shows Doug Ford and the Ontario PC party with 37 per cent support, followed by the Liberals at 26 per cent, the NDP at 18 and the Green party at six per cent. Ten per cent of voters said they were undecided.
Ford is tapping into "a sense of anger that governments are governing in the interest of special interests and not in the interest of real folks," said the polling firm's owner Greg Lyle, in an interview with CBC News.
The polling gives a snapshot of the province's mood at a crucial stage in the pre-election period: immediately after the budget, which will form the bulk of the Liberal platform. It is being released Monday, the same day the Liberals launch their first attack ads targeting Ford and the NDP releases its campaign platform. Election day, June 7, is little more than seven weeks away.
A PC victory is not inevitable, said Lyle, but the chances of a Liberal win are looking rather slim.
"The odds of them coming anywhere close to what they did in the last election are really narrow right now," Lyle said. "There would have to be a really dramatic falling off in the Tory vote."
While mostly grim for the governing party, the polling offers the Liberals one glimmer of hope: the budget might help them woo voters who identify most closely with the NDP. Among those surveyed who consider themselves NDP-aligned:
- 60 per cent are satisfied with the budget
- 43 per cent say it leaves them feeling more favourable toward the Liberal government
- 43 per cent believe the budget will have a positive impact on the economy
But a stumbling block for Wynne's party is the size of the pool of voters who identify closely with the NDP or Liberals.
At a similar stage before the 2014 election, 31 per cent of those polled said they personally identify as a Liberal, 21 per cent said a Progressive Conservative and 11 per cent said New Democrat. The new polling says 31 per cent of voters identify as PC, 27 per cent as Liberal and 12 per cent NDP.
Lyle describes that shift toward the PCs as dramatic. "They're growing both from taking votes from the Liberals and from pulling voters in who were previously uncommitted or undecided," he said.
The research suggests Ford and the PCs are gaining much of their support from people who feel they are struggling economically.
"He voices their anger, he voices their frustration." said Lyle.
Ford is appealing to "people that believe you can be anything you want, but are having a very hard time getting by. They believe in the promise of the Canadian dream, but they think it's being denied to them." He said Ford is telling these voters: "It's government getting between you and your dreams, and I'm going to stop that."
Wynne and the Liberals are also clearly trying to win over those same voters who feel they are struggling to get by. Their approach differs from the PCs, by framing the problem as unfairness. Their solutions are the range of new initiatives announced over the past year, including the $15 minimum wage, to expanded rent control, free daycare from age two and a half, and free prescription drugs for under 25s and over 65s.
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The promises in last month's budget did not immediately swing many voters into the Liberal camp, according to Lyle's analysis of the polling. "All it did was stop the bleeding among the people they'd got, and maybe opened the door to some New Democrats to come around," he said. "That's not bad for a survival strategy, but that's nowhere near enough to be able to win."
Lyle sees one path to victory for either the Liberals or the NDP: create a desire for an alternative to Ford, and position themselves as the only real alternative.
The polling suggests there could be some room for fostering anti-Ford sentiment.
- 52 per cent of those polled agreed with the statement, "Doug Ford has a history of poor choices and bad behaviour that make him unsuitable to be premier."
- 48 per cent agreed with the statement "Doug Ford scares me."
- 42 per cent agreed with "I am afraid of what Doug Ford and the PCs might do if they form government"
The Liberals and NDP will want to try to capitalize on that fear and drive it higher. "The history says scaring people about Tory cuts works," said Lyle. "The question is, will it stick?"
Compared with a similar time ahead of the last election in 2014, several measures do not look good for the Liberals. The number of people willing to consider voting for the Liberals is down 19 percentage points. The pool of people who agree with the statement "I am so angry at the provincial Liberals, I will never vote for them again" is up six percentage points, to 41 per cent. This part of the polling was conducted in mid-March, just after Ford's leadership win.
Other highlights of the polling:
- 50 per cent said they strongly agree it's time for a change in government, and 19 per cent said they somewhat agree
- 92 per cent said they were aware of the allegations against former PC leader Patrick Brown, a record high awareness level for any issue the firm has polled about since 2000
- only 33 per cent said they have heard all they need to decide how to vote, while 62 per cent want to hear more before they make up their mind