Negative ads that Dalton McGuinty's Liberals launched last month against Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak seem to have found their target, with the gap between the two provincial parties narrowing, a new Nanos Research poll shows.
The Nanos survey also found that Mr. McGuinty, the incumbent premier, was the political leader Ontarians trusted the most on health-care, and that he and Mr. Hudak ranked evenly when respondents were asked whom they trusted on the economy.
The Tories had branded Mr. McGuinty the "Tax Man" during a pre-election ad blitz last June. But the Liberals fought back the following month with ads that said Mr. Hudak treated voters like "dolts" and "chumps."
"This poll is on the heels of recent Liberal attack ads on Tim Hudak," pollster Nik Nanos said. "They affect people's views of Tim Hudak and they also indirectly help Dalton McGuinty as a default."
Still, as the Oct. 6 Ontario election draws closer, the Tories retain a lead of just under five points over the Liberals.
The margin between the two parties was 7.3 points in the previous Nanos poll in May.
The negative ads have narrowed the race but it is too early to predict longer-term trends, Mr. Nanos said.
Support for the Liberals rose from 34 per cent in May to 37.6 per cent in the Nanos poll, conducted last week for the Globe and Mail and CTV/CP 24.
The increase in Liberal popularity falls just beyond the survey's margin of error.
Support for the New Democrats and Green Party slipped but Mr. Nanos cautioned that the new numbers fell within the poll's margin of error.
Support for the Conservatives remain stable, at 42.1 per cent. It was 41.3 per cent in May.
Andrea Horwath's New Democrats had enjoyed a measure of success in the previous poll, surging to 18.7 per cent. However, her party slipped back to 16.2 per cent, a change that, Mr. Nanos noted, remains within the poll's margin of error.
Support for the Green Party went from 5.4 per cent in May to 3.4 per cent, another shift that remains within the error margin.
Conducted during a week of turmoil on the financial markets, the poll reflects a shift in voters' concerns.
Health-care remained the no. 1 issue but only for 28.9 per cent of respondents, compared to 34.1 per cent in May.
The economy, which was the most pressing issue for 14.7 per cent of people in May, is now the biggest concern of 21 per cent of respondents.
High taxes (10.5 per cent) and education (8.3 per cent) were the other major worries.
Mr. McGuinty was seen by 33 per cent of voters as the best leader to deal with health-care, compared to 26.5 per cent for Mr. Hudak and 13.3 per cent for Ms. Horwath.
On the economy, 32.8 per cent trusted the Liberal leader the most, 30.1 per cent chose the Tory leader and 9.4 per cent chose the NDP leader.
And despite the Tax Man label, Mr. McGuinty was picked by 30.3 per cent of respondents, while 29.2 per cent named Mr. Hudak and 10.8 per cent Ms. Horwath.
The poll was conducted between August 10 and 13 when Nanos Research contacted 1,000 Ontarians by phone, with 830 of them having decided voting intentions.
The results are accurate within 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, when dealing with voting intentions. The margin of error is 3.1 points for questions dealing with issues and trust in leaders.