Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

Doug Ford leads in the June 2 election campaign, but the Liberals have surged ahead of the NDP and could stop a Progressive Conservative majority, according to internal Grit polling obtained by the Star.

A confidential three-page memo to Liberal campaign director Christine McMillan from pollster Dan Arnold concludes that “the PCs are tenuously in majority territory” in the 124-member legislature.

“There are 20 ridings where they lead by less than five points – if they falter in these ridings, they will fall out of majority territory. The Liberals run second in 16 of these 20 ridings, ”Arnold wrote Friday.

“A five-point swing from the NDP to the Liberals in the GTA and other key ridings would therefore leave us in a position to win 40+ seats and hold the PCs to a minority,” the Pollara Strategic Insights chief strategy officer continued.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, and Green Leader Mike Schreiner have repeatedly said they would not prop up a Ford minority government.

(At a Jan. 25 Ryerson Democracy Forum discussion moderated by the Star’s Martin Regg Cohn, the three opposition leaders emphasized that they could not keep the Tories in office.)

To measure Del Duca’s May 16 debate performance against Ford, Horwath, and Schreiner, the Liberals conducted a poll between last Tuesday and Thursday.

The live-caller survey – to land lines and cellphones – of 1,514 people found the Tories at 40 per cent support, the Liberals at 27 per cent, the NDP at 21 per cent, the Greens at eight per cent, and other parties at four per cent.

It is considered accurate to within 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

In comparison, The Signal, the Star’s polling aggregator by Vox Pop Labs, has the Tories at 36.1 per cent support, the Liberals at 26.1 per cent, the NDP at 24.9 per cent, the Greens at 5.9 per cent, and other parties at 7.1 per cent.

The Signal, which is constantly updated as new data is released, aggregates publicly available polls and does not include internal party surveys.

A confidential Campaign Research poll for the Tories leaked to the Star on May 13 had the PCs at 40 per cent support, the Liberals at 26 per cent, the NDP at 23 per cent, the Greens at five per cent, and other parties at five per cent.

“Though PC support is relatively unchanged from pre-debate levels, the Liberals have widened their lead over the NDP from one point last week to six points this week,” wrote Arnold, a former director of research and advertising for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“This improved positioning is directly a byproduct of the leaders’ debate,” he continued, referring to the 90-minute encounter moderated by Star’s Althia Raj and Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda.

“Ontarians who watched the full debate are most likely to identify Del Duca and Schreiner as the leaders who exceeded their expectations and Horwath as the leader who did worse than expected.”

Arnold said “this is consistent with our Tuesday night focus groups among debate watchers, where participants appreciated Del Duca’s ‘direct’ explanations of the Liberal plan, but felt Horwath only criticized without offering any positive solutions.”

There are concerns for the Liberals, however, because the Tory leader impressed his supporters.

“Though we have improved our positioning vis-a-vis the NDP, it is important to recognize that Ford’s debate performance largely resonated among PC voters,” he said.

“As a consequence, Ford has been able to stem some of the early campaign negative momentum that built up due to Highway 413.”

That’s a reference to the Tories’ proposed 60-kilometer freeway between Milton and Vaughan, which is opposed by the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens.

“We should also be mindful that only one in 10 Ontarians watched the full debate, so the next step is building off this post-debate momentum with the larger public.”

According to Arnold, Ford had a plus-nine “momentum score” after the debate compared to plus-17 for Del Duca, and minus-seven for Horwath. Schreiner’s tally was not included in the memo.

“Momentum score is calculated based on the (percentage) of respondents who say their opinion of the leader has improved over the past week minus the percentage who say it was worsened,” the pollster noted.

The memo also said “strategic voters in the 905 are more likely to see the Liberals rather than the NDP as the most viable anti-Ford option at a 6: 1 ratio.”

That means Del Duca’s campaign will focus on the Greater Toronto Area, including his own riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge, where the Grits privately admit he is in a tight contest against Tory Michael Tibollo.

With inflation soaring, Arnold said Del Duca should make the case to voters that “the PCs are for their people (developers, donors, the wealthy). ”

“This is more salient with voters than blaming Ford for the affordability crisis, ”he said, adding Del Duca’s” 19-point affordability pledge, “including the $ 1-a-ride transit fare pledge, tests well in focus groups.

While the Liberals are bullish about taking NDP seats in Toronto, Brampton, Kingston, Ottawa, Sudbury and Thunder Bay, they concede the Tories could win New Democrat strongholds in southwestern Ontario, Hamilton and Niagara.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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