02/01/2013 09:42 EST | Updated 02/01/2013 09:44 EST

Poll Shows Kathleen Wynne May Spell Trouble For NDP's Andrea Horwath


The early numbers are in and they look good for newly-minted Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne.

Contrary to pre-convention polling which suggested Wynne’s leadership would lend a major boost to Liberal fortunes in the province, a new poll by Innovative Research Group for the Toronto Star shows Wynne’s personal numbers may yield potential gains for her party.

The survey, conducted by telephone over the three days immediately after Wynne’s convention victory, puts the Ontario Liberals at 31 per cent support to 30 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives and 27 per cent for the New Democrats. The sample size of the poll is small, only 446 interviews, so all that can really be said is that the three parties are gummed up together and that Wynne has not had a negative effect on the party’s support.

But what is more interesting are the numbers related to Kathleen Wynne herself. They suggest her leadership may cause the most problems for NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

In contrast to her party’s narrow edge in popular support, Wynne enjoyed a six-point advantage over PC leader Tim Hudak on who would make the best premier. At 24 per cent, Wynne improves upon Dalton McGuinty’s result from December by five points. Hudak slipped by two points to 18 per cent, while Horwath dropped significantly from 21 per cent to only 13 per cent.

In terms of favourability, the NDP leader still has the best numbers: 37 per cent have a very or somewhat favourable impression of her, with only 14 per cent having a somewhat or very unfavourable impression. But that is a drop in favourability of six points for Horwath, whereas Wynne’s favourability is an improvement upon McGuinty’s last results: 36 per cent have a favourable impression of the new Liberal leader. Perhaps more significantly, only 12 per cent have an unfavourable impression of her, compared to the 55 per cent unfavourability rating McGuinty was carrying in December.

Still, a large proportion of Ontarians have yet to form an opinion on Wynne (30 per cent did not recognize her name, while another 11 per cent either refused to answer or were unsure of their opinion).

But the fundamentals are positive for the Liberals. A large majority (71 per cent) said it was exciting to have a woman as premier and 45 per cent agreed that the "Ontario Liberal Party may have its problems, but it is still the party best able to run the government." Only 30 per cent agreed that they would never vote for the Liberals again.

The consensus opinion appears to be that Wynne should first tackle the dispute with the province’s teachers, as 17 per cent said that was the issue they most hoped Wynne would change course on. That was higher than any other issue (eight per cent picked an improvement to health care, seven per cent highlighted job creation) and supporters of every party chose it as the top priority. If Wynne can deliver, the prospect for a bump in the polls is good.

Nevertheless, the province is still divided in three, with each of the leaders laying claim to a large chunk of the electorate. A few points’ worth of change here or there would make the difference between a minority or majority government and the identity of the person in the premier’s office. The stakes could not be higher.

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.

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