There was no clear winner for Ontarians who watched the televised leaders debate, but a unique second-by-second analysis shows that New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath connected well with the voting public, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in partnership with the Toronto Star has found.

The online survey of a representative provincial sample of 1,000 Ontario adults asked several questions related to the televised debate, and relied upon Vision Critical’s proprietary ReactionPlus tool to review the emotional reaction of respondents to two debate exchanges and the three closing statements from the province’s party leaders.

Debate Watchers

Among Ontarians who watched all or part of the televised debate, 28 per cent of respondents think Premier and Liberal Party leader Dalton McGuinty won, while 27 per cent choose Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, and 24 per cent select New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Andrea Horwath. One-in-five debate watchers (20%) are undecided.

Horwath left the best overall impression, with 81 per cent of debate watchers saying that she performed “very well” or “moderately well”—compared with 67 per cent for Hudak and 57 per cent for McGuinty. In fact, more than two-in-five respondents (44%) say their opinion of the NDP leader improved after watching the debate, for a momentum score of +37. Conversely, the momentum scores for Hudak and McGuinty were negative (-5 and -19 respectively).

Overall, 40 per cent of debate watchers say they are now more likely to vote for the NDP. The proportion of likely voters is slightly lower for the Tories (36%) and the Liberals (30%).


In this Angus Reid Public Opinion poll, four clips were played to respondents, who were then asked to report which of ten different feelings they experienced as they experienced the content. After watching each clip, respondents also answered questions related to the performance and believability of the leaders, as well as a final question on specific leadership traits.

The first clip featured Hudak talking about government agencies. Respondents were mostly annoyed by his critique, and there was very little traction for positive indicators such as informed and engaged.

Still, practically half of respondents (48%) think Hudak performed well in this clip, while 44 per cent believe he did poorly.

The second clip featured the discussion about Hydro companies and international contracts. When McGuinty questioned Hudak’s views, there was a noticeable spike in respondents who felt informed. Annoyance peaked when Hudak questioned McGuinty on the Mississauga contract cancellation, but when Hudak defined the government as one that has “run out of ideas”, interest rose and disturbance dropped.

Overall, more respondents believe Hudak (53%) did better than McGuinty (47%) in this particular exchange, and the Progressive Conservative leader is also seen as more believable (55%) than the incumbent premier (45%).

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The last clip featured the three closing messages from the party leaders. McGuinty drew a high level of interest when he defined Ontario as the number one producer of jobs in Canada, but saw a spike in disturbance when he claimed that the province is headed in the right direction. For Hudak, both annoyance and interest grew when he asked Ontarians if they can afford “four more years” of Liberal government. Horwath provoked a high level of interest and curiosity, and the lowest level of disturbance and annoyance.

The three party leaders were practically tied when respondents were asked who performed better in the closing messages (Horwath 35%, Hudak 33%, McGuinty 32%). However, Horwath was regarded as the most believable leader by 39 per cent of respondents, compared to 31 per cent for Hudak and 30 per cent for McGuinty.

An additional question on leadership traits showed Horwath as a person who is honest and trustworthy (52%) and who understands the problems of Ontartians (39%). McGuinty has the upper hand on being a strong and decisive leader (44%). McGuinty and Hudak are practically tied on inspiring confidence (35% and 36% respectively), on having a vision for Ontario’s future (37% and 38% respectively). Finally, Hudak and Horwath are almost even on generally agreeing with Ontarians on the issues they care about (37% and 38% respectively).


While Ontarians are not quick to select a victor in the televised debate, Horwath was the person who did the most to advance her cause. The NDP leader connected with voters, leaving a positive impression and appearing as the most believable option in the final messages. Also, she has managed to change the mind of some Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, who are now saying they would consider voting for the NDP after her performance in the debate.

Hudak was able to score some points on the hydro discussion, and came across as the victor of that duel with the premier. However, the Progressive Conservative leader registered high levels of annoyance and interest at practically the same times during the survey, showing that he is clearly a divisive figure.

McGuinty is still regarded as a decisive leader, but has lost momentum on some of the other traits that he used to own when pitted against previous provincial leaders. The premier connected well on some of his messages of hope, but was not able to convert as many undecided voters as his two rivals.

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)


Jaideep Mukerji, Vice President, Angus Reid Public Opinion
+514 409 0462

Methodology: On September 28, 2011, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,000 randomly selected Ontario adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Ontario. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.