With only days left before Ontario's provincial election, Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak are still running almost dead even in the public opinion polls. But for the first time in the campaign – and so near to the finish line – the Liberals appear to have the edge heading into Thursday's vote.
It remains extraordinarily close. Of the nine polls released in the last week, the Tories have led in five and the Liberals in four. The margin between the two parties has been three points or less in six of the surveys, suggesting a statistically insignificant gap.
Support for the Progressive Conservatives has ranged between 31 and 37 per cent over the last week, while Liberal support has been pegged at being between 32 and 38 per cent support. Considering the margins of error of these surveys, anything from a PC minority to a Liberal majority can be envisioned in their results.
A weighted aggregation of the campaign's latest polls, however, indicates Mr. McGuinty's team holds a narrow lead over Mr. Hudak's Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals are currently projected to have the support of 35.2 per cent of Ontarians, compared to 34 per cent for the Tories. The New Democrats stand at 25.2 per cent support while the Greens trail far behind at 4.3 per cent.
The Liberals and Greens have budged by less than one point since last week's projection. The Tories have slipped 1.4 points while the New Democrats, whose support ranged between 23 and 29 per cent in polls released in the last week, are up 1.8 points.
This slim lead is likely enough to give Dalton McGuinty his third consecutive majority government – but only just barely. The Liberals are projected to take 55 of the Ontario Legislative Assembly's 107 seats, the minimum required to form a majority government with the election of a Liberal Speaker. The Progressive Conservatives are projected to win 31 seats, down one since last week, while the New Democrats are projected to win 21, up one.
Changes since last week's projection have come in the southern portions of the province. While the Liberals have taken one seat away from the Tories in the Hamilton and Niagara region, the New Democrats have stolen one Liberal seat in the southwestern region.
The Liberals are projected to win most of the seats in every part of the province except central Ontario, where the Tories are expected to take the lion's share of seats, and the two regions of the province leaning towards the NDP: Hamilton/Niagara and Northern Ontario.
The Liberals are leading in nine projected close races, putting them near the upper limits of their probable seat range. While ThreeHundredEight.com's seat projection model gives Dalton McGuinty's party 55 seats, considering the 13 close races involving the Liberals they should win between 46 and 59 seats, straddling minority and majority territory. Almost two-thirds of the Liberal range would give them a minority government, however, suggesting that as a somewhat more likely outcome than a majority government.
The high end of the PC range has fallen below striking distance of the Liberals. The Tories are involved in 10 close races, putting their likely seat range at between 28 and 38 seats – well short of the Liberals. The New Democrats are projected to be leading or trailing in five close races, making their likely seat range between 19 and 24 seats, a tremendous gain on the 10 seats the NDP took in the 2007 provincial election.
With only a few days left in the campaign, there is little chance that Dalton McGuinty can roar ahead or that Tim Hudak can take a decisive lead. The outcome of this week's election, with such a narrow margin between the two largest parties, remains uncertain. The race being as close as it is, little movement in public support is needed to give one party or the other the edge. What does seem certain, however, is that Thursday's vote will be Ontario's tightest election in more than a quarter of a century.
ThreeHundredEight.com's projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and record of polling firm accuracy. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 107 ridings in the province, based on shifts in support from the 2007 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency.
These projections are a reflection of the likely result of an election if an election were held today. They 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.