While the polls still have not entirely converged in the Ontario provincial election campaign, they do seem to point to a positive trend for Kathleen Wynne's Liberals.
The governing Liberals have moved ahead in ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projections, gaining two points since last week to lead with 36 per cent support. The Progressive Conservatives under Tim Hudak have fallen three points to 33 per cent, while Andrea Horwath's New Democrats are holding steady at 23 per cent support. The Greens are polling well above their 2011 electoral result at 7 per cent.
It is possible that these levels of support would return a legislature that looks almost exactly like the one that was dissolved at the beginning of May. But the race remains close enough that everything from a PC minority to a Liberal majority is possible. The Liberals would likely win between 40 and 58 seats if an election were held today (a range which extends past the 54 needed to form a majority government), with the Tories taking between 30 and 47 seats and the NDP between 16 and 24 seats.
This is a reversal from last week, when the PCs enjoyed a two-point edge over the Liberals and were narrowly favoured in the projected seat count. Though it remains close and difficult to call, the Liberals do seem to be improving their position as the campaign rolls on.
Heading towards consensus?
The contradictory polls that have marked the 2014 campaign are not unusual, as the same thing occurred in the first weeks of the 2011 campaign. The margins were tighter, but the polls could not agree on whether the PCs or the Liberals were in front until the week before the vote. In 2014, we may also be heading towards more of a consensus as election day approaches.
In the four polls published since last week, the Liberals have led in three of them. Their support has ranged between 31 and 41 per cent, but the two most recent polls – using different methodologies – pegged Liberal support at between 34 and 36 per cent. The Tories, meanwhile, have been reduced to a far more narrow band of support: between 30 and 35 per cent.
In the previous four surveys, that band was much wider and stretched higher at between 30 and 39 per cent for the Tories, while the Liberal band was somewhat lower (30 to 38 per cent). In the four surveys before that, the PCs stood between 33 and 42 per cent.
While this leaves their exact level of support up to interpretation, it suggests that the Tories are slipping. The Liberals are generally stable, if not increasing. The polls are in agreement in this regard. Abacus Data, EKOS Research, Ipsos Reid, and Forum Research, the four pollsters regularly reporting in this campaign, have all shown lower numbers for the PCs in their most recent surveys than they did earlier in the campaign. The Liberals have either been stable or up.
There is no similar consensus in the direction the New Democrats are heading – which suggests they may be holding steady.
PCs dropping in battlegrounds
The battlegrounds expected to decide the outcome of this election may be turning against the Progressive Conservatives. In the 905 area code region (stretching from the Toronto suburbs to Niagara Falls), the PCs have dropped six points since last week to 33 per cent, with increases being roughly shared between the Liberals (36 per cent) and New Democrats (24 per cent). These levels of support would likely deliver 16 to 17 seats to the Liberals in the region, against eight to 11 for the PCs and five to seven for the NDP.
In the southwest, the Liberals have picked up five points to move to within three points of the Tories (32 to 35 per cent), while the New Democrats appear stagnant (down three points to 24 per cent). The Tories are still likely to win the bulk of the region's seats, however, with between 10 to 15 compared to between four and eight for the Liberals and three to five for the NDP.
The PCs do seem to be gaining support in two regions where they have few seat gains to make: Toronto and eastern Ontario. The Liberals remain in front in the provincial capital with 42 per cent, but the PCs currently stand at 31 per cent (up three points), with the NDP in third at 21 per cent. In eastern Ontario, the PCs lead with 40 per cent to 36 per cent for the Liberals, with the NDP at 16 per cent.
The northern and central part of the province remains a three-way contest, with the Liberals at 31 per cent, the NDP at 30 per cent, and the PCs at 29 per cent.
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.