Conservatives, Liberals face tight race in Ontario election: poll

Just weeks before the provincial election writ drops, a new poll suggests that although most Ontarians are happy with the direction of the province, they want a change at the top.

Fifty-one per cent of Ontarians believe the province is on the right track, a jump of 19 points since this time last year, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll conducted for Global News released Wednesday.

But only one in three people say current Premier Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals deserve re-election. Two of three respondents said it’s “time for another political party to take over.”

However, a smaller related survey, called a flash poll, suggests McGuinty is well positioned to give Tim Hudak and his Progressive Conservatives a run for their money. If the election was held tomorrow the PCs would get 38 per cent of the vote, compared to 36 per cent for the Liberals.

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The election campaign doesn’t officially start until September 7 with Ontarians heading to the polls on October 6.

Andrea Horvath and her NDP would receive 23 per cent of the vote and the Green Party led by Mike Schreiner would get three per cent.

The numbers are in contrast to a poll last month that showed the election was Hudak’s to lose with a lead of 11 points.

“Everybody is in play right now. Everybody is in the game. Everybody is in the hunt,” said John Wright of Ipsos-Reid. “The campaign of 30 days is going to really matter a lot.”

Wright said parties generally need 41 to 43 per cent of the vote to win a majority and it is a small group of voters that will determine the winner in Ontario.

Harper’s Conservatives won a majority in May’s federal election with just 40 per cent of the popular vote.

Wright said the Liberals may have an advantage if they link Ontario’s progress to their eight years in power.

“The question is whether during the campaign they can ramp up the attacks on Mr. Hudak and at the same time start to draw attention to, if things are going as well as they are, the government should be getting credit for that.”

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Ads showcasing numbers of new doctors, surgeries and jobs created under the Liberal government have already hit the air waves in an effort to do just that.

Still, the poll also showed that McGuinty faces big hurdles convincing Ontarians he is the person to lead the province.

Hudak continues to score higher – although the gap is shrinking – on positive leadership attributes.

Forty-two per cent of respondents said Hudak was best to manage the economy and tax dollars, compared to 32 per cent who said McGuinty would do better. Hudak was also considered by respondents to be the best equipped to manage the healthcare system.

More people also pegged Hudak as the person who would get things done, who has a vision of Ontario you can support, and who can be trusted.

McGuinty came second in all categories of positive leadership traits except for “someone who is open to the ideas of others,” where he trails Horvath who scored 30 per cent and Hudak at 33 per cent.

The poll was conducted between July 29 and August 4, 2011 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The flash poll was conducted by phone between August 5 and August 8, 2011 and has a margin of error of +/-4.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20.