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[Ottawa – October 3, 2011] – In our most recent roll up of roughly 1,200 eligible voters in Ontario, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal Party is opening up a stable and widening lead over rivals Hudak and Horwath. While the patterns that we have seen over the last week show that the debate has had no discernable impact on the fortunes of the three parties, the Ontario Liberals appear to be moving ahead slightly while the NDP appears to be wobbling slightly in the home stretch. Progressive Conservative support is quite firm, but simply not large enough at this point to wrestle power away from Dalton McGuinty.

Although the Liberal lead is highly statistically significant and appears to have widened, it is still unclear whether this will be a minority or majority government. The answer may very well lie in the issue of voter turnout which produced some major surprises in the May 2nd federal election. Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party found a majority victory on the strength of a major turnout advantage in Ontario in May. The obvious question is how turnout will work in this election. Indeed, if the provincial Tories were to achieve the same turnout advantage that their federal cousins enjoyed, they could easily be vaulted into government. A careful analysis of the underlying forces at work suggests this is unlikely and it is the Ontario Liberals who will be very close if not over the cusp of majority on Thursday.

The main reasons for these assertions are based on an analysis of the demographics and the underlying emotional orientations of the constituencies for the main contenders. The most important predictor of turnout in Ontario’s last federal election was age. Youth voters had the most anaemic participation rates; gen X, (25-45), somewhat better; boomers much better; and seniors (over 65) the highest rates. In the last federal election, the Conservative Party of Canada virtually owned the senior vote in Ontario with nearly twice the support that the Liberals found there. The federal Conservatives also had a large lead with boomers, though they fared relatively poorly with younger voters (who mostly stayed home).

In this election, however, there is a profoundly different demographic. The Ontario Liberals have an insignificant lead with seniors (which may be growing) and they are also leading with the crucial boomer segment. The Progressive Conservatives do well with seniors and men but they also do well with lower educated voters who are less likely to vote. The Ontario Liberal Party has a massive lead with the university educated who are very likely to vote and may be emotionally engaged by the Liberals as well. The NDP does well with all of the groups that are softer voters (younger and lower socioeconomic status groups) and there is some evidence that they are not emotionally engaged enough to actually show up in the same proportions that they are found in our surveys.

The other crucial driver of voter turnout (other than party machinery) is emotional engagement. Ontario Liberal supporters show a strong mixture of optimism (primary) and happiness (secondary). Both of these positive sentiments are linked to higher voter turnout. It is also the case that Liberal supporters are nearly unanimously pleased with the direction of the Ontario government. Turning to the Progressive Conservative supporters, they are also emotionally engaged with a response that is largely “angry” although there may be a growth in the less motivating “discouraged” category which is the dominant emotional response to the current government within NDP supporters.

It is also notable that in addition to being more discouraged than mad, NDP supporters are not overly upset with the direction of the provincial government. This may be why much of the enlarged NDP base from May 2nd has gone to the Ontario Liberal Party (about 25% of current Ontario Liberal supporters voted NDP in May). When we put all of this together, we expect that the actual turnout will see the NDP (and the very soft Green Party vote) decline on Thursday.

There is one other clear finding that is worth commenting on. We see that Ontario voters are clearly leaning to the idea that it is best to hedge bets with the senior levels of government in Ottawa and Queen’s Park. Nowhere is this lean to saying that the presence of strong majority Conservative government will make more voters lean to a non-Conservative choice than in Toronto. The ruins of the federal Liberal fortress are not applying to this election where Toronto voters say that the Conservative majority in Ottawa makes them four times more likely to vote non-Conservative than Conservative. This suggests that the vision of Conservative “trifecta” has clearly dampened the Progressive Conservative Party’s prospects throughout the Greater Toronto Area. It should be noted, however, that this aversion to multiple Conservative governments isn’t rooted in some kind of “buyer’s remorse” with regards to the current federal Conservative government; the Conservative Party of Canada still leads handily in Ontario.

As you can see, this result would put the Ontario Liberals in government again. In fact, if turnout is as predicted now, it would produce a slim but clear majority. Over the final few days of the campaign, we will track the key predictors of turnout but based on the stability and trajectory, it appears that what would have been an unthinkable prospect of a third majority is now once again in the grasp of the Ontario Liberals.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (October 3, 2011)

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