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Ontario parties pursue very different strategies in the home stretch of Election 2018

As Ontario enters the home stretch of the provincial election campaign, it seems all but certain that a new party will form government.

We continue to see the rise and momentum of Andrea Horwath’s NDP, at the expense of both Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Doug Ford’s PC’s, although the latter appears to be maintaining its core vote. Many polls have the NDP and PCs in a statistical tie.

The StrategyCorp poll tracker will continue updating as new polls are released June 7th.  Our five-poll rolling average is now showing the NDP leading the PCs, although by a small margin. In the end, it may come down to a combination of vote efficiency and the local get-out-the-vote ground games of each party.

Ontario PC Party
In the last few days of the election campaign the Progressive Conservative strategy has shifted as it increasingly appears that they may not currently enjoy the broad support required to form a majority government. CBC’s current seat projection model places the odds on a PC victory, but the NDP have continued to strengthen in the number of seats they are projected to win.

For Doug Ford, last Sunday’s leaders’ debate was a chance to demonstrate to voters that he and the Ontario PC party are the voice of change.  While he performed well in places and was able to get his populist “for the people” message across, polling over the last few days has demonstrated that some Ontarians are reluctant to vote for him.

The Party adjusted its strategy this week and began profiling their strong bench, including Christine Elliott, Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney. This demonstration of a team of experienced political incumbents and skilled newcomers is viewed as a strategic advantage for the PCs – especially in contrast to the NDP.  It is expected that Mr. Ford will continue to leverage that team in announcements going forward.

The Tories also took the opportunity this week to release a broadened platform with costing information.

With the Tories trying to regain momentum, Ford is likely to strategically focus his efforts on battleground ridings in the GTA, Southwestern Ontario and Eastern Ontario.

The challenge for the Ford campaign is that the ‘progressive’ vote is solidifying around Andrea Horwath’s NDP with the campaign becoming for the most part a two-way race.  The good news for Tories is that their vote is more widely based and if polls are to be believed, historically more likely to vote, than the NDP.  PC get-out-the-vote efforts are well-established in many ridings.  That means a strong Tory turnout on election day in key 905 and 416 ridings could make a big difference in seat count even if the popular vote is close.

Ontario NDP Party
A flawless performance in last Sunday’s leaders debate would be the capstone to the NDP’s campaign, fuelling another boost of momentum to take the party to election day. A poor performance by Andrea Horwath could give the Conservatives breathing room in this last week. However, party strategists had to be satisfied with a solid performance that landed in between.

As the perceived front-runner, Horwath was under attack from both Ford and Wynne which put her in the unenviable position of having to talk over her opponents to correct inaccuracies and attacks. Despite that, Horwath succeeded in laying out her plan and landing memorable jabs on Ford for his absent platform.

It’s not always the case that a party’s strategy in this final week of the campaign is the same as at the start, but the NDP has had that luxury. The party succeeded in establishing Horwath as a credible contender to be premier. Now their work is to coalesce a large group of voters who believe its “time for a change” to vote for the NDP instead of for Ford’s PCs. This job is complicated by the fact that there are many weaknesses in the ranks of candidates, giving Horwath the opposite problem of Ford: a leader people uniformly like, with many questions about her ability to form a skilled Cabinet.

Watch for the party to launch a large ad campaign in the last week contrasting Ford’s tax cut plan with Horwath’s plan to improve public services and make life more affordable. This “air war” will reinforce an ambitious leader’s tour through ridings, particularly in Southwestern Ontario, the 905 belt, Toronto and the North where voters, especially women, may switch to orange on June 8.

See what policies Andrea Horwath has put forward to voters in our NDP Quick Reference Guide.

Ontario Liberal Party
Premier Wynne’s solid performance during the Leaders’ final debate round was much needed given how public opinion polls show the Party’s fortunes waning. Faced with almost historically low polling numbers, the Liberal campaign opted to double-down on its track record, while simultaneously launching an advertising campaign branded “Sorry, not sorry.” Strategically, it may be what is needed to stem the flow of support that continues to flow away from the governing party.

The Liberals also released their platform this week – we’ve created a Liberal quick reference guide to the policies they’re banking on to entice voters.

In the final week, the Liberal campaign will be evaluating where it needs to direct its resources in order to maintain some strength in the legislature. Their focus will likely be shoring up support in historical Liberal strongholds such as Ottawa-Vanier, Toronto-Centre, Orléans, Ottawa-South, Ottawa-Centre, St-Paul’s, St. Catharines, as well as directing efforts at seats that are in question but where they still have a fighting chance such as Don Valley West, Mississauga-Lakeshore, Thunder-Bay-Superior-North, Scarborough-Guildwood, Kitchener-Centre, Scarborough-Centre and Vaughan-Woodbridge.

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