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Ontario Liberals could edge out PCs, polls say – but it’ll be close

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne is seen at a farmer's market in Waterdown, Ont., on June 7 as she campaigns for the June 12 election.

COLIN PERKEL/THE CANADIAN PRESS

With just two days remaining before Ontarians are called to the voting booths, polls suggest the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives remain in a neck-and-neck race, as they have for most of the provincial election campaign. Will that hold through to election day?

The latest vote and seat projections from ThreeHundredEight.com, incorporating all poll data released up to Tuesday morning and in the field to Monday night, puts the Liberals and Tories in a tie with 37 per cent apiece, with the New Democrats in third at 20 per cent and the Greens with 5 per cent. That is virtually unchanged since last week.

The Liberals remain in the best position to emerge with the most seats with these levels of support. The party would likely win between 42 and 60 seats if the election were held today, straddling the 54-seat mark necessary to form a majority government. That is an improvement over their standings last week, when a majority government was at the very high end of the likely outcomes for the party.

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The PCs have dropped to an estimate of between 32 and 45 seats, which would seem to rule a majority government out. They could, however, squeak by the Liberals in the seat total.

The New Democrats should be able to win between 13 and 22 seats with these levels of support, retaining their status as the third party and, potentially, the balance of power in a minority legislature.

These are most likely estimates, however, which assumes that the polls have provided a relatively accurate portrayal of Ontarians' voting intentions. If the polls falter or if there is a significant shift in the final days of the campaign, the Tories could end up with a majority government as well – their maximum seat estimate is 58. But that does not leave a lot of margin for the party. The most likely scenario at this stage is a minority government, likely Liberal but possibly PC.

The importance of turnout

Participation at the advanced polls was down from 2011, suggesting that a record low voter turnout could occur on Thursday. This makes it all the more important for pollsters to correctly gauge who is most likely to cast a ballot.

In this final week of the campaign, the polls are generally in agreement on where the parties stand among all eligible voters. No poll has recently given either the Liberals or PCs a statistically significant lead, with three of the five pollsters who have reported in the last week pegging the margin to be one point or less. Support for the Liberals has ranged from between 34 and 39 per cent in these surveys, with the Tories at between 31 and 37 per cent. The New Democrats have been harder to place, with support estimated at between 20 and 28 per cent. But these numbers clearly suggest a toss-up between the PCs and Liberals, with the NDP in third.

Among likely voters, however, it is less clear. EKOS Research puts the margin at two points in favour of the Liberals, with 38 per cent to 36 per cent support for the Tories, with the NDP well behind at 17 per cent. Abacus Data puts the PCs and Liberals in a tie at 34 per cent, with the NDP at 26 per cent. And Ipsos Reid puts the PCs up by eight points over the Liberals, 40 per cent to 32 per cent, with the NDP at 24 per cent.

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Those are all drastically different scenarios. Due to the weakness of the NDP, EKOS's numbers would likely deliver a strong Liberal minority or potentially a majority government. Abacus points to a very divided minority legislature. And Ipsos suggests the PCs could potentially win a majority government of their own.

The election will thus test the parties' respective get-out-the-vote machines, as well as the likely-voter models of the pollsters in the field.

Regional breakdowns

The Liberals hold the most decisive lead in Toronto, with roughly 47 per cent to 27 per cent support for the PCs and 21 per cent for the NDP. This gives the party a strong seat cushion, as they should be able to win between 16 and 21 seats in the city alone.

Elsewhere, the Liberals are engaged in close contests. In the Greater Toronto Area and Hamilton/Niagara region, the party is narrowly up on the PCs with 38 to 36 per cent support, with the NDP trailing at 20 per cent. In northern and central Ontario, the three parties are deadlocked: 34 per cent for the Liberals, 32 per cent for the PCs, and 27 per cent for the NDP.

In eastern Ontario, the PCs enjoy a wide lead with 48 per cent support to 34 per cent for the Liberals and 11 per cent for the NDP. But this masks the close races between the Liberals and PCs in Ottawa and ridings like Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, as the Tories put up large majorities in the other parts of the region.

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And in southwestern Ontario, the PCs hold the advantage with 39 per cent to 30 per cent for the Liberals and 24 per cent for the NDP. Though it remains one of the stronger regions of support for the New Democrats, the strategy to focus on the region does not seem to have paid any dividends.

In fact, little has changed since the start of the campaign. The Liberals have consistently led in Toronto and the PCs in the southwest and eastern parts of the province since the writ was dropped. Likewise, the race has been close in the GTA and north. The campaign has done little to give momentum to one party or another, making a repeat of the 2011 election, or the make-up of the legislature at dissolution, a significant possibility. But voters still have a few more days to make up their minds – and on Thursday parties will have only a few hours to get their supporters to the polls.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the province, based on the regional shifts in support since the 2011 election. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. Full methodology can be found here.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.

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