POLITICS
10/03/2011 04:00 EDT | Updated 12/02/2011 05:12 EST

Tax and spending issues more important to voters than demographics: analysts

TORONTO - If you own your home, are middle-aged or older, and pay income taxes, the odds are higher you'll be casting a vote in Thursday's Ontario election than on giving the polling booth a pass.

However, which party you vote for is likely to depend more on where they stand on taxes, government spending and other issues than on your age, marital status, gender or whether you're a new Canadian, analysts say.

To be sure, data show demographics do play a role in voting tendencies, says Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.

As a result, the parties have narrowcast parts of their messaging and platforms at women, workers, immigrants and other groups.

The Liberals, for example, promised a $10,000 tax credit for employers who train and hire certain freshly minted Canadian professionals.

For their part, the Tories promised to reduce barriers to newcomers by improving transparency of foreign-credential recognition, and to create a tax credit for employers who sponsor language training.

Statistics Canada data show 28.3 per cent of people in Ontario were immigrants in 2006, up from 23.7 per cent in 1991.

While the Liberals have tended to do well in areas dense with newcomers, Kay says there are myths about visible minority voting patterns.

For one thing, he says, the immigrant community is "much more diverse" than has been fully appreciated.

"There is a great deal of variation among visible minorities," Kay says.

For example, those from Central and South America are more likely to vote Liberal or NDP than for the Conservatives, while those from Hong Kong and China tend toward the Tories.

Data from the May federal election show homeowners are more likely to vote Conservative than are renters.

Similarly, people over 65 are twice as likely to vote Conservative as people under 25. By contrast, twice as many people under 25 voted NDP as compared to senior citizens.

Over the last 40 years, the proportion of seniors in Ontario has jumped by two-thirds, according to Statistics Canada census data, suggesting an increasing edge for the Tories.

That might explain why the Liberals showcased a tax credit for renovations that would allow seniors to stay longer in their own homes.

At the same time, the Progressive Conservatives have pushed their plan to scrap time-of-use smart meters by saying the government should not be telling seniors when to do their laundry.

For their part, the New Democrats have promised to strengthen a fund that guarantees pension benefits when companies go bust.

But demographics only partly explain voting habits and patterns, says pollster John Wright with Ipsos Reid.

What the May federal election and mayoralty vote in Toronto a year ago showed, Wright says, is that a "coalition of taxpayers" came together.

"Even in the immigrant communities (and) in the enclaves, people who were first generation to Canada voted with the conservatives," Wright says.

"It was because their concerns aligned with what the conservatives were pitching."

But Wright says where people ultimately put their "X" still came down to the "ballot question" they felt they had to answer in the polling booth.

"We've had a response to campaigns as opposed to a natural aging tendency," he says.

On Thursday, Ontario voters, regardless of what demographic they belong to, will be deciding what ballot question they wish to answer.