Andrew Tumilty: I haven’t given up on the Ontario election

Article originally published in The Line

If people think an outcome is all but assured, it’s hard to gain their interest. The Leafs are the exception that proves this rule. Somewhere in our hearts Leaf fans know how it’s going to end, and find ourselves watching anyway.

The polls have been remarkably consistent since the Ontario election campaign began. Ford sits somewhere in the high thirties, Del Duca in the mid-to-high twenties, and Horwath in the low-to-mid twenties. The lack of movement in the polls could certainly indicate a lack of interest from the public.

Still, with just a few days to go before Election Day there are factors unique to each party to watch that could have a significant effect on the eventual results. 

For Ford, this election could not have unfolded better. A lack of interest from the public is almost always good for an incumbent government, and the opposition parties have been forced to spend more time talking about each other then they likely planned to.

The most likely cause of Ford’s defeat was always going to be Ford himself, but a stable, comfortable lead in the polls meant he could run a largely risk-free campaign with few appearances, and even fewer media events.

In the final days, Ford’s campaign ought to be wondering if all this calm has tipped over into complacency for their voters. If conservative voters think this election is in the bag — polls and pundits have told them it is for weeks — some may be less inclined to bother voting.

It’s unlikely Conservative voter apathy could deliver a plurality of seats to either the NDP or Liberals. That said, lower turnout in the wrong ridings for Ford, could be enough to result in a minority government, a scenario opposition leaders have made clear they will not support.

Del Duca’s team have largely done a good job introducing him to the province, along with interesting policies like buck-a-ride transit fares and child care rebates. The question in these final days is whether the voters in Vaughan-Woodbridge have seen enough to make him their representative at Queen’s Park. 

If the overall results are as baked in as many seem to think, Liberals appear to be a good bet to form the official opposition. To make the most of that opportunity, it would be helpful for the Opposition Leader to have a seat in the legislature.

It’s hard to imagine what Horwath and the NDP can do in the final days to create a different outcome from where the campaign appears to be heading. They are fighting a war on two fronts, and might be losing on both. Polling in Toronto has them in third and in the low twenties, which could put as many as 12 of the 40 seats they held at dissolution at risk of flipping to the Liberals.

At the same time, the Conservatives’ outreach to union voters is putting traditionally safe NDP seats in northern and southwestern Ontario in play. The NDP may have to decide which front to fight on, and which one to sacrifice to avoid a devastating loss province-wide.

There is one other element in the last few days that could drastically change the final tally that pundits and predictions have pointed to for weeks. Polls have been consistent, but the seat projections could be wrong. If polling is a mix of art and science, then seat projections are more the sporadic art of Jackson Pollock than they are the rigid mathematics of Pythagoras. 

Projections look at polling trends and also past elections to get a sense of how polls can translate to seats. The issue with that approach is that 2018 was an outlier in Ontario elections, driven by the complete collapse of the Liberal vote.

Using the 2018 election to predict the 2022 seat count is like trying to predict when the Leafs will win the Cup again based on when they won it last. If an event doesn’t happen often, it’s hard to use it to figure out what will happen next.

The polls have made the election feel like it has been over for weeks, but it isn’t over yet. To steal one more hockey reference, all the campaigns would be wise to play this one right to the final buzzer.

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