It is likely that the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario will emerge victorious in this Thursday’s Ontario elections thrusting Doug Ford into the Premier’s seat, but a last minute surge in favour of the New Democrats should not be ruled out, say a group of prominent pollsters tracking voting patterns.
“On the one hand the Conservatives and Doug Ford have some advantages structurally in the electorate because they are more competitive in more ridings across the province, but on the other hand the New Democrats have the largest number of voters who want to vote for them,” David Coletto, CEO of polling firm Abacus Data told VICE News.
“The biggest question is how much the NDP and PCs can get their voters to come out. Conservatives have an advantage there because they have habitual voters, usually older and more affluent, but the NDP is not as strong with those groups,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs. “But if young people show up in a big way like they did with Trudeau in 2015, that could be good for the NDP.”
As of early this week, two major polls predict a majority government for Doug Ford and the PCs. CBC’s Ontario poll tracker run by pollster Eric Grenier predicts that the PCs have a 82 percent chance of winning a majority in Ontario, despite the NDP being on track to win the popular vote. An EKOS Poll shows that the PCs have a four-point lead over the NDP, and if voting were to happen today, Doug Ford would become premier with a majority government.
The Regional Distribution Factor
One of the biggest reasons why the Conservatives seem to have an edge over the NDP to win, despite numerous polls that suggest Andrea Horwath will sweep the popular vote, is because of the way in which seats are distributed across Ontario.
"This is a pretty disruptive election, so what went on in the past may not provide a lot of insight into what’s going to happen on Thursday."
Conservatives are doing twice as well in rural and suburban areas that have fewer voters but more actual seats, EKOS Politics CEO Frank Graves told VICE News. “A lot of NDP voters are concentrated in areas where you can only just win one seat, so even if you get a majority of votes in that area, it doesn’t help you much. The Conservatives have much more seat efficiency.”
“The NDP vote isn’t effectively clustered in the same way the PC vote is,” Bricker said. “But I have to say, this is a pretty disruptive election, so what went on in the past may not provide a lot of insight into what’s going to happen on Thursday.”
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An example of how the regional distribution of voters can influence election outcomes can be seen in the 1996 British Columbia provincial elections. Despite the BC Liberal Party winning 40,000 more votes overall than the BC NDP, the Liberals garnered six seats less than the NDP because of the way in which voters were spread out geographically. “I hesitate to say this with certainty, but looking at voter geography and the various factors involved in voting patterns, I think it is fair to say that the PCs have a structural advantage,” Ian Holliday, a polling expert at the Angus Reid Institute told VICE News.
Graves believes that besides regional distribution, the other advantage the Conservatives have is demographics. “Older voters tend to vote more consistently, and they also tend to vote Conservative. The determining factor here could be the level of emotional engagement in voters — who is actually going to come out and vote on Thursday? I’d say a good portion of PC voters are ‘ordered populists’, people who are fed up of the status quo and are economically insecure, but is that vote going to be big enough?”
"The PCs have a structural advantage."
“The NDP still has three days to get out there and mobilize young voters, especially those who are anti-Ford, but progressive and perhaps were planning to vote Liberal,” Coletto said. “Young women, specifically are the core of the NDP constituency. If you get women younger than 45 coming out in masses to vote, that’s good news for the NDP.”
According to the EKOS poll, 44 percent of voters between the age of 18 and 34 will vote NDP versus 33 percent in that same demographic that plan to vote PC. By contrast, the PC Party has a 35 percent support amongst voters over 65, versus 27 percent for the NDP and 29 percent for the Liberals.
Too close to call
Ultimately, there remains a reluctance amongst pollsters to actually predict who will become premier of Ontario in three days, simply because voter behaviour in the ballot box and the unreliability of conventional polling methods are increasingly contributing to election predictions that turn out to be completely wrong.
"If you get women younger than 45 coming out in masses to vote, that’s good news for the NDP."
“Eric Grenier and the CBC poll tracker said that the Liberals were going to win a minority in the last federal elections, so the truth is polling is all over the place,” Bricker said. “Many of the seat models we see in polling are based on the fact that there is minor fluctuation in voting preferences but this has been a very, very unpredictable election so far.”
According to Graves, although the election is still too close to call with just three days remaining, a telling factor would be if progressive voters start to really react to the idea that Doug Ford could actually win a majority government. “The most interesting question to me is does this kind of Trumpian-lite politics that Doug Ford is espousing have strong roots in Canada? And if so, will it motivate more progressives to come out and vote?”