09/09/2011 04:57 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST

Ontario Election: Poll Puts Liberals Far Ahead Despite Dim View Of McGuinty

Flickr: JenniferK
TORONTO - A survey giving Ontario's Liberals a startling lead in public support signals a definite shift in voter attitude even if the actual gap turns out to have been exaggerated, the pollster said Friday.

In contrast to polls over the past year that put the Progressive Conservatives in front, the Harris Decima survey suggests the Tories had only 29 per cent decided support and the Liberals 40 per cent.

While a rogue poll is always a possibility, pollster Bruce Anderson said survey data related to election issues supported the idea of shifting public sentiment as the Oct. 6 voting day nears.

"While I'm not prepared to say I'm absolutely certain that it's a 10-point Liberal advantage, I feel pretty confident that what we're picking up is some narrowing of the race," Anderson said.

For example, the Tories under Tim Hudak enjoyed a comfortable lead over Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberals when people were asked about the issue of tax cuts or controlling government spending.

But when asked to think about education, health care, transportation or jobs, the Liberals outshone the other parties.

"If people are only thinking about taxes and spending, they do want to change government and they want Tim Hudak as premier," Anderson said.

"As we get closer to an election date, what we're seeing is people saying, 'Well, I really have to look at the whole range of issues preoccupying me.'"

It also found 17 per cent of those asked were undecided, which Anderson said he considered normal.

The poll also found that only 45 per cent of respondents believed McGuinty had much of a plan for the province's future.

Slightly more than half said they were unhappy with some of what the Liberals had done, but were not angry enough to opt for a Tory government.

Anderson said the success of the federal New Democrats will likely help legitimize the NDP in Ontario as a political force and offer a choice to voters unhappy with McGuinty but not necessarily willing to back Hudak.

The two-week survey of voter intentions between Aug. 25 and Sept. 4 — just before the campaign officially kicked off — pegged support for the NDP under Andrea Horwath at 24 per cent.

The Green party, which pressed again Friday to be included in the televised leaders' debate later this month, would have been picked by just six per cent of those asked.

The survey of 651 Ontario voters is considered to have a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

That means Liberal support could have been as high as 44 per cent and as low as 36 per cent, with the Tories enjoying as much as 33 per cent or as little as 25 per cent decided backing.

On the hustings Friday, Horwath pledged to reimburse companies up to $5,000 of the wage they pay a new hire for one year.

The Liberals promised another $110 million for northern Ontario.

Hudak found himself defending Randy Hillier, a high-profile Tory candidate who has been embroiled in a long-running tax dispute with Canada Revenue Agency.

Hudak, who speaks often about defending taxpayers on the campaign trail, said Hillier was negotiating with the government to pay back the amount owed.