For more than a month, party leaders have campaigned across the province following carefully crafted paths meant to maximize exposure and voter influence.
“The leader’s appearance in a riding, if handled properly, is often a boost to local support on everything from fundraising, to local media coverage, to volunteer participation,” says political consultant and former Queen’s Park staffer Brian Kelcey.
“A well-timed leaders’ visit can add up to 1.5% to your vote in tight races. People are more motivated to feel that the seat is in play, to participate accordingly, and it’s easier to fundraise if the leader is fronting your event.”
And this election, like others in just about any plurality-based system, is all about the swing ridings, the electoral districts won with the thinnest of margins or where loyalties are most likely to turn. This is where the leaders are giving as much face time as possible.
Interactive: This map illustrates the political landscape going into Thursday’s election and where the party leaders have been campaigning from May 5 to June 9. Swing ridings in the seat-rich region around Toronto, Hamilton and Niagara will be key.Ridings versus campaign stops »
Take Niagara Falls, which the Liberals won in 2011 by fewer than 500 votes (1.06% more than the Progressive Conservatives). In this year’s byelection the NDP’s Wayne Gates managed to swing the riding orange by a little more than a thousand votes over the Conservatives.
The NDP is working hard to defend and shore up support in its narrowly won turf. Andrea Horwath has made at least six visits to the Niagara region, including a tour of the Spencer ARL plant and a visit to the Fort Erie Race Track on opening day.
A visit by a party leader can “influence voters’ perception of party strength (and weakness) in the riding” according to Cameron Anderson, Co-Director of the Political Behaviour Research Group at the University of Western Ontario.
And focusing limited political capital on swing ridings gives parties the most “return on investment” adds Kelcey.
“It’s much more efficient to try to change 10,000 votes in the right places than it is to try and change 500,000 votes elsewhere.”
Other swing ridings include London West, which Peggy Sattler took in a byelection last year, and Scarborough-Guildwood, which Liberal Mitzi Hunter won for the Liberals.
In addition to this important real estate, much of the campaigning has been focused in Toronto. Within the downtown core, the Liberals are playing defence trying to stave off encroaching parties while making incursions into the NDP riding of Toronto-Danforth.
The Liberals are training their crosshairs on Trinity-Spadina, a longtime orange riding which the NDP won by only 2.4% in 2011.
The NDP are going after Glen Murray, who won Toronto Centre by a huge margin in 2011: 13,665 votes. Andrea Horwarth has made three stops here including a recent high-profile concert and rally featuring Juno Award winner K’naan this past Sunday.
— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) June 9, 2014
Etobicoke-Lakeshore could swing Liberal this time around; Doug Holyday won by only a slim 4.5% in the 2013 byelection. He’s facing the same Liberal opponent this year, city councillor Peter Milczyn.
Farther outside the GTA there are hot spots like Kitchener-Waterloo, where Wynne has made at least four stops. The riding was won by New Democrat Catherine Fife and the Liberals are hoping their promises of support for the technology sector will appeal to the region’s young workforce.
The NDP appears to be going after Health Minister Deb Matthews’ riding of London North Centre, an enclave of red surrounded by NDP orange. Horwath has campaigned in the riding multiple times in at least five separate locations.
The Liberal-dominated Ottawa region is under heavy attack by the Conservatives. Leader Tim Hudak has made five stops there. They likely have the best shot in Ottawa West-Nepean, where Bob Chiarelli will be defending his seat.
“At this stage of the campaign, all three parties need to focus on swinging those seats that are ‘winnable’ to their side,” Anderson said. “For the Conservatives, this means focusing on seats in the 905 area of the GTA. The Liberals probably need to continue to focus on the urban areas and fending off challenges from both the Conservatives and NDP. The NDP is probably looking at urban and manufacturing-based ridings and trying to shore up support.”
The outcome of Thursday night will reveal who executed their plan the best.