The Ontario provincial election is Dalton McGuinty’s to lose.
So says pollster Greg Lyle of Innovative Research who was speaking this morning at a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Public Affairs Association of Canada.
According to Lyle’s numbers – which were hot off the press – the Liberals right now stand at 40 percent support, the Tories at 35 percent and the NDP at 17.
More significantly, when asked which “party brand” Ontario voters supported, the Liberals had a ten point lead 36 percent to 26 percent over the Conservatives.
What’s more, the issue matrix favours the Liberals as the two top issues for Ontarians in the election – health care and education – are good ones for McGuinty to campaign on. In fact, the Liberals “own” the education issue.
And finally, Lyle says there is no real great desire for change. While 52 percent of Ontarians think it’s time for a change only 35 percent strongly think it’s time for a change.
Could the Liberals still lose?
Yes says Lyle, if PC leader John Tory can better define himself and build up his favourables or if some scandal breaks during the election. Another wild card is NDP leader Howard Hampton. If he can raise his visibility and connect himself to issues like the environment, health care and education, the NDP could win enough seats to bring about a minority government.
It seems, if McGuinty’s faces a real threat in this race it comes from the Left. The NDP, for instance, owns the environment and social policy issues. And the NDP got a real boost when it was decided to keep the Green Party out of the debates.
For some reason, Tory has not been able to capitalize on the “ethics in government” issue. He is, however, strong on issues like taxes, crime and the economy. To be successful he has to make those the issues of the election. That means changing the channel from the “faith-based” school issue.
The PC base is strong, but they don’t have a lot of room to grow. The real fight during the election, says Lyle, will between the Liberals and the NDP as they struggle to win over soft supporters from each camp.
Here is how the leaders stack up on the favourable/unfavourable numbers:
Dalton McGuinty: Favourable 33% Unfavourable 43%
John Tory: Favourable: 35% Unfavourable 31%
Howard Hampton: Favourable 23% Unfavourable 24%
Tory also scores better than McGuinty on who is a better leader: 29-19; and on who has a better plan, 23-20.
And 48 percent of Ontarians think McGuinty is a flipflopper and 41 percent say he does not keep his promises. (No surprise there)
Perhaps the most interesting number of all, however, is that 61 percent of Ontarians have not made up their mind yet, and they want to hear more.
What they hear over the next few months will decide Ontario’s destiny for the next four years.