Push Back Spotlight: Platforms & Wedges

The Liberal platform is out and it’s time for The Push Back to take a look at where the Liberals are holding the high ground. First, we’ll examine the reaction to the Liberals’ platform launch. Second, we look at wedge issues the Liberals have deployed to push the PCs off-message.

Liberal Platform – Did it Make a Splash?

On Monday, the Ontario Liberals released their platform which committed to a balanced budget by 2026 and laid out the party’s priorities on transit, housing, affordability, health care, and education. With Doug Ford off the campaign trail that day and ambitious promises ranging from a four-day work week to bringing back rent control, the Liberals were hoping for a big media splash. But how did their platform play with Ontario voters?

Ultimately, while the media gobbled up the Liberal platform announcement, the dozens of commitments received only a little more traction than the Liberals’ “buck-a-ride” commitment on May 2. Buck-a-ride remains very popular online, with 50 per cent of social media users expressing support for the policy. Comparatively, the platform was supported by just 36 per cent of social media users.

Mainstream Media

Mainstream media coverage of the announcement remained high over the past 24 hours with 164 TV mentions, 288 radio mentions and 294 online or print mentions. Media coverage peaked shortly after the announcement between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM on Monday, May 9. The graph below compares coverage of the platform announcement to coverage of buck-a-ride.

Social Media

Social media volume of the Liberal platform announcement has been high – but not as high as one would expect. In the 24 hours following the announcement on May 9, there were 3,110 total mentions – only slightly more than the total 2,457 mentions of the Liberals’ “buck-a-ride” promise in the 24 hours after it was announced on May 2.

Reaction to the Platform

Reaction to the Ontario Liberal platform was moderately positive on social media. 36 per cent of posts were favourable to the platform while only 20 per cent of posts were negative. The remaining 44 per cent of posts were “neutral” – usually journalists reporting on the platform or individual users sharing articles which link to the platform.

The Verdict – Rolling Stone

The release of the Liberal platform dominated the news cycle for the day and continues to make waves as commentators and political parties parse its contents. The fact that the Ontario PCs felt the need to respond to the ODSP piece with their own policy announcement, especially on a day where Ford was not planning to be at a podium, speaks to the compelling manner of the announcement. We will continue to monitor the rollout of the Liberal platform and how various policies are playing with the public.

Driving a Wedge?

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the Liberal campaign attempt to drive several wedge issues into this election, including mandatory COVID-19 vaccines in schools and a handgun ban. We’re putting these issues under the microscope to see if these issues are gaining traction online and how the Ontario PC campaign is pushing back.

Wedge 1: COVID Vaccine Mandates in Schools

This past Saturday, the Ontario Liberals pledged to add the COVID-19 vaccine to the immunization schedule for schools. Leader Steven Del Duca argued the “science is settled” on the COVID-19 vaccine and that it should therefore be added to the nine existing universally required vaccines. For these nine other vaccines, parents can exempt their children from mandatory vaccination through a statement of medical exemption or for “reasons of conscience or religious beliefs.”

During his announcement, Del Duca drew a clear distinction between himself and Premier Ford. He argued that the Premier has “waved a white flag of surrender on vaccinations” and that “he’s wanted to just wave a magic wand and for COVID to be over.”

Was the attack effective? Let’s look at the numbers.

Online Analysis

Volume on social media peaked at 289 mentions on May 7, below other top issues of the day. Coverage of vaccine mandates has since dissipated drastically and is now less than 50 mentions per day.

The sentiment on social media was overwhelmingly negative, with 76 per cent of tweets criticizing the Ontario Liberals’ proposal. Negative tweets also received much higher levels of engagement.

Ontario PC Response

Doug Ford and the PCs did not take the bait on this issue. Instead, the PCs opted to push back by reiterating that they would consult with Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, on the need for any further public health measures.

The Verdict – Swing and Miss

Ultimately, due to the initial negative public reaction online against the Liberal announcement, we believe the PCs averted this wedge issue with their measured response. The initial reaction from the public was negative and that was supplemented by critical op-eds from conservative columnists like Brian Lilley. Any further fuel Ford could have put on this fire (e.g., slamming the policy, defending personal health choices) might have given Del Duca the wedge he wanted. Instead, conversation about the topic dissipated quickly, leaving the Liberal campaign scrambling to find another wedge issue.

Wedge 2: Handguns

As discussed in our April 22 edition of The Push Back, the Ontario Liberals previously announced a pledge to ban all handguns in Ontario within the first year of being elected.

It’s clear this commitment was intended to be another wedge by the Liberals to back the PCs into a corner. We’ve seen this tactic at play in previous elections, including most recently by Justin Trudeau in the last federal election.

The below graphs highlight that, not only was the proposed handgun ban a highly talked about issue, but it also received overwhelmingly negative feedback online. The data is also supported by our research showing crime ranked as low as seventh alongside education as an issue of concern for Ontarians.

Online Analysis

Social media volume peaked at 2,798 mentions on April 19. It dissipated relatively quickly the next day, falling to 920 mentions the following day and 657 mentions the day after that.

Sentiment was largely negative on this issue, with 60 per cent of tweets criticizing the Liberal announcement. The majority of the neutral tweets merely reported the announcement without any editorialization. Only five per cent of the tweets expressed support for the handgun ban.

Ontario PC Response

Doug Ford and the PCs pushed back against the Liberal’s proposed handgun ban, stating that he is investing $185 million into fighting guns and gangs and that further investment is needed to support police. However, at least online, the real push back online was from the public who widely rejected the Liberal plan.

The Verdict – Swing and a Miss

Similar to the issue of mandating vaccines in schools, the Ford campaign’s measured response did not allow this issue to dominate the news cycle for an extended period of time. Social media volume dissipated quickly after the Ontario Liberal’s announcement and as shown by the graph below, it has only had one small spike since.

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