Ontario’s rising voter turnout bucks 24-year trend

Voters flock to a poll in Toronto's west end, June 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario voter turnout, which had fallen steadily for five provincial elections in a row, reversed a generation-long trend yesterday and rose above 50 per cent.

Before last night, turnout in Ontario elections had fallen steadily since Bob Rae’s upset victory in 1990. Five elections in a row saw smaller and smaller turnout, and elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011 each set a new Ontario record for low turnout.

Unofficial results say voter turnout for Ontario’s 2014 elections was 52.1 per cent. That is 3.9 percentage points higher than the 2011 elections, which brought out the lowest voter turnout Ontario has ever seen, with 48.2 per cent.

Low voter turnout in this year’s advance polls led some to predict a fourth record low turnout in this election, but that turned out not to be the case.

Interactive: How did your riding’s turnout change since 2007? Type an address or postal code in the box above. Double-click to zoom, click and drag to move around. Click a riding for details, and switch between views using the drop-down menu.

Interactive: Ontario voter turnout »

Interactive: Ontario voter turnout

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The NDP met some setbacks in the 416 area code last night, losing Davenport, Trinity-Spadina and Beaches-East York, barely scraping by in Parkdale-High Park, and losing thousands of votes in stronghold Toronto-Danforth, once represented federally by Jack Layton.

All these ridings saw sharply higher turnout yesterday than they did in 2011. Trinity-Spadina, where Liberal Han Dong defeated long-time incumbent NDP MPP Rosario Marchese, saw a 23 per cent increase in voter turnout, the highest in the province.

In all five of those ridings, the NDP’s reversal of fortune wasn’t due to a drop in support – counting individual votes, no NDP candidate did much worse than they did in 2011. Instead, a pool of voters who sat out the 2011 election seems to have showed up at the polls and uniformly voted Liberal.

Parkdale-High Park’s NDP incumbent Cheri DiNovo, for example, found herself in a struggle for survival last night, despite gaining a few dozen votes in relation to 2011.

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Oshawa, where growth in turnout was ninth-highest in the province showed the reverse pattern – voters there handed New Democrat Jennifer French a convincing win over PC incumbent Jerry Ouelette.

Turnout was also up, by almost 13 per cent, in Durham, a Liberal pickup from the PCs.

Jane Hilderman of the Samara Foundation says there many reasons why voter turnout can go up.

“When there is often a close race, you can see a bump in turnout. If it’s a particular salient ballot question, that can also help improve turnout,” she said.

Elections Ontario spokesperson Peter Berry says returning officers were reporting steady activity at the polls on election day. But their official numbers will not be published until June 18.

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