How will this year’s budget affect the popularity of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government? We simply can’t know that yet. But what we can know is what Ontarians think about the job she’s done up until Thursday’s fiscal blueprint, thanks to some deep-dive polling from the Innovative Research Group’s Greg Lyle.
Lyle has the current party preference numbers a little tighter than other pollsters, with the PCs holding 40 per cent voter support compared to 31 per cent for the Liberals and 20 per cent for the NDP. Were those numbers to hold up on election day, they would almost certainly deliver a Tory majority government.
However, a closer look at the numbers suggests the outcome of the next election is anything but a slam dunk for the Tories. The largest chunk of Ontarians still consider themselves Liberals (33 per cent), compared to only 26 per cent for the PCs and 11 per cent for the NDP. So even though the Grits aren’t popular right now, they are starting out with a larger chunk of voters identifying with the party.
Of course, having the largest number of supporters in principle doesn’t mean you have them in practice, and that’s clearly the case for Wynne. Only 8 per cent of Ontarians surveyed think she’s changed Ontario for the better, while 21 per cent indicate the province is doing about the same. A whopping 66 per cent believe she’s changed Ontario for the worse — a daunting number of minds to change.
Even worse, when those surveyed were asked if they could think of any decision or action of Wynne’s that they liked, fully 55 per cent said no. The list of actions they disapproved of included everything from the semi-privatization of Hydro One, to general mismanagement, to “too many things to list.” (The results are based on a rolling poll, in which Lyle periodically samples randomly selected Ontarians. These latest numbers come from surveys taken in February and March with weighted samples of 600 respondents; the poll has a margin of error of of +4.0%, 19 times out of 20.)
Not surprisingly, PC and NDP supporters couldn’t find anything they liked about Wynne’s record. But even self-described Liberals gave the government failing grades on several key issues: 20 per cent more Liberals disapproved than approved of how the party has managed the province’s finances, and 31 per cent more disapproved of how it handled the electricity file. However, Liberals did think Wynne was successfully handling the environment (34 per cent more Liberals approved than disapproved the government was doing well here); education (with 17 per cent more approving); and providing equal opportunities for all Ontarians (with 14 per cent more approving).
Despite some speculation that she might step down, Wynne has been adamant that she intends to lead the Grits in the June 2018 election, Lyle’s numbers show more people would consider voting Liberal if she were to leave the political scene. Interestingly, only 23 per cent of Liberals surveyed said they’d happily re-elect Wynne. Thirty-five per cent said they needed to see changes in the way she governs for the premier to have a shot at their vote next time. But 25 per cent of Liberals surveyed said they’d only vote for their favourite party if Wynne quit, and 13 per cent indicated they wouldn’t vote Liberal again under any circumstances.
Interestingly, 24 per cent of self-described Progressive Conservative supporters said they’d consider voting Liberal next time if Wynne left; only 45 per cent of Tory voters swore they had no interest in voting Liberal next time.
What might give the Liberals — with or without Wynne at the helm — some solace are the numbers associated with PC leader Patrick Brown, who’s coming up on two years in that job. The good news for Brown is that more people think well of him than don’t: 22 per cent had a favorable impression of him, while only 13 per cent viewed him unfavorably. But an astonishing 50 per cent of those surveyed had no idea who he was. Is that lack of recognition a barrier to his ability to reach the premier’s office or will he be able to increase his profile over course of the campaign?
The premier’s other opponent, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, also has a good margin on the approval question: 32 per cent view her favourably, while only 18 per cent didn’t. Strangely enough, despite already having fought two province-wide election campaigns as leader, almost three in 10 Ontarians don’t know who Horwath is, which surely must disturb NDP operatives.
The upshot of all this: the Liberals face a huge challenge in that the premier is running well behind her party in popularity. Only 23 per cent of Ontarians have a favorable view of Wynne, compared to 64 per cent who don’t (and that 31 per cent support the party has).
Is that high a negative rating fatal to Wynne’s re-election prospects, and to her party’s? Interestingly enough, Lyle — a founding member of Mike Harris’ Common Sense Revolution — says no. With this and next year’s budgets still to be judged by the electorate, and time left for Wynne to stop doing the things that irritate voters so much, Lyle says he’s simply not prepared to conclude that the Wynne-led Liberals are toast.
I’ll be speaking with Greg Lyle on The Agenda on Friday, April 28; watch at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., or on Twitter (@TheAgenda).
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