If a provincial election were held in Ontario today, there’s no telling who would win. Dalton McGuinty, Tim Hudak,and Andrea Horwath would all have a shot, and not because they are locked in a close three-way race. The polls are just all over the place.
Ontario is the most confusing province in Canada when it comes to voting intentions, as the two firms most active on the provincial scene are in complete disagreement on what is happening and have been for months.
Nanos Research’s most recent poll, taken in mid-August, showed that the Progressive Conservatives had a slim edge over the Liberals with 35 to 34 per cent support. The New Democrats, with 22 per cent, were well behind. This poll suggested a close race between the Tories and the Liberals and that not much had changed since the last election.
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A poll taken by Forum Research, also in mid-August, instead found the PCs leading with 38 per cent support, trailed by the New Democrats at 28 per cent and the Liberals at 27 per cent. This poll told the story of an easy PC victory with Horwath and McGuinty fighting it out for the role of Official Opposition.
There’s no reconciling these two polls, and it has been this way in Ontario for quite some time. Even the recent by-election in Kitchener-Waterloo was preceded by contradictory surveys. One taken a week before the vote put the Liberals and Tories in a tie with the NDP close behind, while another on the eve of the election put the New Democrats well ahead with the other two parties tied for second. The NDP did win the riding easily, but the Liberals put up a poor third-place performance.
Then another province-wide poll by Forum Research was released this week, this time for the Broadview Strategy Group. It pegged the New Democrats at 36 per cent support (a gain of eight points in a matter of weeks) and the Tories at 35 per cent, with the Liberals in a catastrophic third place with only 22 per cent support. A third story is told with this poll, one of a close race between Horwath and Hudak and a disastrous showing for the McGuinty Liberals.
This set of polls only agrees on two things. Firstly, that the Progressive Conservatives are probably in the lead or at least neck-and-neck with one of the other two parties. And secondly, that Hudak is the least popular leader of the three. His approval rating in Forum’s August poll stood at only 24 per cent, below McGuinty’s 29 per cent, and he had only a 53 per cent approval rating among PC voters (compared to McGuinty’s 77 per cent among Liberals and Horwath’s 81 per cent among New Democrats). The Nanos poll also gave McGuinty a higher rating than Hudak on competence.
Perhaps the New Democrats are indeed on the upswing, with their by-election win in Kitchener-Waterloo acting as either a catalyst for, or a sign of, their newfound gains. But based on what the polls have been showing in the province, the safer bet might be to accept that we don’t quite know what is going on in Ontario.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.