Ontario's 2014 provincial election is tomorrow and has been characterized by an unusually high degree of negativity. After 11 years and various scandals there are considerable negatives attached to the incumbent Wynne government. However, the opposition PCs have behaved in some respects as if they don't want to win. Their promise to cut 100,000 jobs was a major blunder and making an elementary error in arithmetic is unforgivable as well as a perfect way to demonstrate the party's unfitness to govern. I have the impression (as do others such as Lispop's Barry Kay) that a more careful, moderate campaign might have had Mr. Hudak's party sailing into office. Instead he appears to have maximized the small 'c' conservative character of his platform. NDP leader Andrea Horwath could not articulate a clear rationale for opposing Kathleen Wynne's budget and has suffered an unprecedented degree of internal party dissent (for an opposition party), particularly in Toronto. It is rare for an opposition party to do such a poor job of appealing to its own base.
The closing polls so far appear to be headed slightly in the direction of the Liberals. However, that doesn't mean they are headed for a majority. The following blogs plus the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy all provide estimates of how many seats each party is expected to win in the election for the 107 members of the Ontario legislature. Note: this is probably not their final estimate.
All these sites in my view are quite capable and know the art of forecasting seats well.
Strategic / Tactical Voting
Strategic voting has emerged in Canadian politics in the past 15 years. It is a consequence of the federal and provincial Conservative and Progressive Conservative parties moving to the right opening up a large ideological gap between them and the NDP and Liberals on the Centre-Left. I think it more precise to use the British term 'tactical voting' as it is simply a decision by individual voters to opt for a second choice to prevent a third party from winning. In Canada this typically means NDP voters casting a ballot for the Liberals to block Conservatives (as a consequence partisan New Democrats hate it).
It first bloomed in a major way in the 1999 Ontario provincial election where it succeeded in contributing to several Liberal victories and one NDP win. In this election the Wynne Liberal strategy has as a key element a pitch to NDP voters to prevent a Hudak victory. The last Forum research poll estimated that 37% of 2011 NDP voters have moved to the Liberals this time, indicating that it is likely to be partially successful. There are groups online such as http://www.one-big-campaign.blogspot.ca/ that advocate tactical voting although it is doubtful that many voters will even become aware of the existence of this or other such groups let alone be influenced by them. Nonetheless many will cast a tactical ballot.
The size of the NDP vote will have a critical impact on the overall shape of the election and here is where polls disagree. Support for the NDP has been reported at various levels between 30% and 17% and overall there has been a significant difference between online and phone polls (including IVR) in both early and late campaign polls - an average of five or six points.
My observation is that online polls have overstated NDP support in the past. Regardless, the real level of support matters. As an illustration, if we assume that the most recent Ekos likely voter model numbers (L - 41.1, PC - 33.2, NDP - 17.1) are accurate it would easily produce a Liberal majority. (While Ekos' likely voter model adds to Liberal support, others such as Angus Reid do the opposite boosting the PCs at the expense of the Liberals.) The key is that the 17.1% for the NDP would represent a large drop from their 22.7% in 2011 and the direct loss of seats to the Liberals. It is third parties who create minority legislatures if the race between the two leading parties is close. The chances of a majority for either party rises in direct relation to the increasing or declining strength of the third party.
Based on the 2011 election we can say the Liberal vote is the most efficient. That voting pattern, if something like it prevails again, would permit the Liberals to be as much as two points behind the PCs but still be ahead in seats. The Ekos likely voter model seems improbable to me. It is my impression that likely voters models should boost the Conservative share. We will soon see. Overall the polling points to the Liberals having the most seats.
A Final Word on Polls
No one pollster is the most accurate in each election. I have been tracking this for some time. The most accurate pollster in the 1999 Ontario election was Ekos. In 2003 and 2007 it was Harris-Decima (known simply as Decima in 2003) while in 2011 it was Forum Research with Abacus close behind. In reviewing these old spreadsheets I made one amusing discovery: in 2003 the Lick's Hamburger Poll was slightly closer to the election result than one of the commercial polling firms.