Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ontario and Manitoba elections - no obvious winner in sight.

The first thing that needs to be said about these two elections is that by the usual rules of politics both incumbents should have been heading for defeat from the outset.

In the case of Ontario the Liberals are endeavouring to win a third term with a leader with low approval ratings, a year after introducing an unpopular new tax, the HST, that applies to many more goods and services than the old provincial sales tax.  Third terms are highly unusual, while the party that wins the election usually has a well regarded leader, so the Liberals started out with three strikes against them.

In Manitoba the NDP has a new leader in Greg Selinger who, despite his considerable virtues, is less popular than predecessor Gary Doer (however, he has a much higher approval rating than Dalton McGuinty).  And the NDP is trying to win a fourth term, something that has not been done in Manitoba since Duff Roblin.  Winning multiple terms is difficult in most places simply because all administrations eventually accumulate grievances directed at them from various sectors of the public.

There is less than two weeks to go in both campaigns. The clear narrative for both is that they are close but both incumbents could win re-election (in Ontario's case likely as a minority government).

A large sample poll in the Toronto Star today makes it clear that the race is extremely close (similar findings appeared in other polls last week).  The Star poll reports that the survey would result in 47 ridings each for the Conservatives and Liberals and 13 for the NDP. The poll is large enough to have results for every riding.  However, some of the results reported don't look right to TC. My forecast model suggests that a tie vote would produce an advantage for the Liberals as they have had the more efficiently distributed vote in the past. In addition TC would expect to see more seats for the NDP than just 13. But it is tight enough to go the either way and many individual riding contests must be very close.

Despite the Liberals' handicaps it appears that attacks on PC leader Tim Hudak (see, for example, this web site: have taken their toll. This Ipsos poll from earlier this month reported that voters preferred McGuinty to Hudak as premier.  The disapproval of McGuinty found in the survey noted above suggests that it may be a case of who is the least preferred. 

Both Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horvath were not well known coming into the campaign.  The NDP has been in the range of 23 to 26 per cent support, well above the 16.8 per cent the NDP won in 2007.  The NDP's poll numbers this summer look like a spillover from the federal campaign and the outpouring of emotion for Jack Layton, so Horvath still must close the deal with voters to do well. However, this Ipsos poll released a few days ago suggests she is making progress.  The poll also makes it clear that Rob Ford has become a huge liability for the PCs in Toronto. His unpopularity could cost them dearly in this election:
A majority (53%) of 1,719 Torontonians polled say Rob Ford being mayor of Toronto makes them less likely to vote for the Progressive Conservatives, while just 9% say they’re more likely to vote for the PC Party
The television debate coming Sept. 27 could make a significant difference. It represents an enormous challenge and opportunity for both Hudak and Horvath.  I suspect there is less on the line for McGuinty but he still must perform well given the tight race.

Two significant developments yesterday: a poll reporting that a majority think the NDP deserve re-election and a reasonably successful television debate appearance for Greg Selinger.

The most memorable aspect of the debate was Selinger successfully forcing Liberal leader Jon Gerrard to state that he may have had made "a mistake" in voting against a Selinger budget.  Even though PC leader Hugh McFadyen was on the sidelines for this exchange, it was quite important as the role of the Liberal vote in Manitoba elections is critical given that many federal Liberals support the NDP  provincially.

There is some evidence that Liberals are in deep trouble in this election, and the beleaguered party could lose both its seats. Former MLA Kevin Lamoureux has moved to the House of Commons, and his seat has been split in two by redistribution (both are likely to go NDP) while the PCs are making a strong effort to unseat Gerrard in River Heights.

TC thinks the PC's biggest problem may be that they start out so far behind in the City of Winnipeg where they only held four seats entering the campaign.  In 1995 when the party last won an election they won 14 seats in the city.  The PCs recognize this. The Free Press had an article on the PC effort to win the south end riding of Seine River.  TC's view is that the PC's must win that riding and several others in the city (such as Kirkfield Park, Southdale and St. Norbert plus others) to have a chance of winning.

Nevetheless, the PCs have all the advantages that accrue to being able to campaign on "time for a change", and a leader who is showing more poise in his second campaign.  The election outcome remains uncertain.