The two main political parties in Ontario are now virtually tied as voters in the province ponder their options before next week’s provincial election, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in partnership with the Toronto Star has found.

In the online survey of a representative sample of 1,002 Ontario adults, 34 per cent of decided voters and leaners (-2 since mid-September) would cast a ballot for the Progressive Conservative candidate in their riding, while 33 per cent (+1) would back the governing Liberal Party. The provincial New Democratic Party (NDP) is third with 26 per cent (=), followed by the Green Party with six per cent (=).

The Progressive Conservatives are the top choice for voters in Southwest Ontario, Eastern Ontario and Northern Ontario. The New Democrats are still the most popular option in Hamilton/Niagara, while the Liberals have decidedly increased their standing in the 416 region, and are now just three points behind the Tories in the 905 region.

Among male voters, the Tory advantage over the Grits has dropped from eight points to three (36% to 33%). Among women, the race is still tight, with the Liberals holding a marginal advantage over the other two contenders. The NDP is practically tied with the Grits as the most popular option for respondents aged 18-to-34, while the Progressive Conservatives are ahead among respondents aged 35-to-54 and those over the age of 55.

The Progressive Conservatives continue to have the best retention rate among all contending parties, holding on to 83 per cent of the voters who backed the party in the 2007 provincial election. The NDP’s retention rate is 72 per cent, while the Liberals are at 65 per cent. The Greens have dropped to 40 per cent.

Since the Angus Reid Public Opinion survey conducted in mid-September, the proportion of committed voters for the Liberal Party has increased dramatically, from 56 per cent to 70 per cent. Conversely, only 57 per cent of NDP and Green voters say they will stick with their choice on election day. The Progressive Conservatives are at 69 per cent on this indicator, a five-point drop since mid-September.

Issues, Approval and Momentum

The economy (30%) is still the most important issue for Ontarians, followed by health care (17%), unemployment (13%), government spending (10%) and tax relief (9%).

A majority of respondents (57%) believe it is time for a different provincial party to gain power, while 27 per cent think the Liberals should form the government again.

The televised debate has solidified the stature of NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who once again posts the best approval rating (50%, +8), followed by Premier and Liberal Party leader Dalton McGuinty (37%, +2), Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak (35%, -1), and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner (19%, +1). Horwath also boasts an impressive momentum score (+29), while Schreiner (+1), Hudak (-22) and McGuinty (-29) all post lower numbers.

On the Best Premier question, McGuinty is now alone at the top (24%, +1), with Hudak (20%, -4) and Horwath (20%, +3) tied for second place. The Progressive Conservative leader is regarded as the best person to tackle crime, but is now barely ahead of McGuinty on the economy and job creation. The premier is slightly ahead of Hudak on managing the deficit and handling federal/provincial relations, and keeps a hefty advantage on education. Horwath—who trailed the two other leaders in every category two weeks ago—is now seen as the best person to handle heath care, while Schreiner keeps his edge on the environment.

Analysis

The Ontario electoral race is shaping up to be the most closely contested since 1990. While the fluctuation on the voting numbers may not appear particularly sweeping from what was observed in mid-September, there are other indicators that show a change in the electorate.

Liberal Party voters, who were among the least committed at the start of the Ontario electoral campaign, are now back in the fold. In addition, Dalton McGuinty is gaining points as the best person to head the government. Andrea Horwath’s performance in the televised debate has propelled her to a new level of popularity, but this has not yet translated into more votes for the NDP. Tim Hudak appears to head to the final week of the campaign with the most problems. Although his base still seems largely behind him, he has dropped markedly on the Best Premier question and has lost his lead on issues like the economy and deficit reduction.

Full Report, Detailed Tables and Methodology (PDF)

CONTACT:

Jaideep Mukerji, Vice President, Angus Reid Public Opinion
+514 409 0462
jaideep.mukerji@angus-reid.com

Methodology: From September 28 to September 30, 2011, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,002 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.