Push Back Insights: Cars and Coalitions

Cars and Coalitions

Welcome to the second edition of our weekly Push Back analysis. It’s been a busy first week on the campaign trail, so let’s dive in with our research insights.

Each week, we’re asking Ontario voters whether they think political parties are gaining or losing ground on the issues they care about most. In this edition, we’ve taken a look at the transportation proposals of each party, thoughts on a coalition government, and how Ontarians feel about giving public dollars to big auto.

As the NDP and Liberals battle it out to determine who will be the definitive ABC (anything-but-conservative) vote, both have ruled out any possibility of a coalition.  However, voters themselves seem less wary of a coalition, especially in swing ridings across the GTHA.

Support for Potential Liberal or NDP Minority Agreement (% support)

We also asked voters how much they cared about public funding being used to attract billion-dollar auto investments in Ontario. On average, 48 per cent of Ontarians view auto investments as important even if they require public dollars. Support is highest in Northern Ontario (52 per cent), the 905-area code (51 per cent), and southwestern Ontario (50 per cent).

What We’re Watching

Looking ahead, here are a few things on our radar that could generate some push back between the contending parties.

  • The Liberals have been working hard to drive a wedge with the PCs on education. Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca has laid out a robust pan to cancel the Highway 413 project in order to fix school infrastructure, cap class sizes at 20 students and reintroduce an optional Grade 13. Education ranked low in our research into voter priorities, so will these announcements move the needle?
  • The PCs are fighting a battle on two fronts. Coming out swinging, the PCs have doubled down on their attacks against Del Duca with a new attack video and website seeking to tie him to former Premier Kathleen Wynne. It’s reminiscent of previous federal Conservative systematic attacks to brand former Liberal leaders like Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Earlier this week, the PCs also launched an attack ad against the NDP, branding them as “an expensive disaster”.

We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these attacks and wedges, and if they break through the noise on social media. It could be these are targeted strategies with certain voter groups or in a handful of swing ridings. Stay tuned!

Transportation Affordability

In the first week of the campaign, promises on transit and affordability dominated the conversation.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca is looking to tap into Ontarian’s desire for more affordability (the top issue in last week’s research), with a new buck-a-ride program, cutting all fares in “every transit system in Ontario” to $1 until 2024. It’s a not-so-subtle swipe at PC Leader Doug Ford’s 2018 election promise of “buck-a-beer.”

In contrast, Ford reaffirmed his plan to build Highway 413 to reduce traffic and gridlock in the GTA. Ford pushed back on Del Duca’s and Horwath’s plans to cancel Highway 413, criticizing their refusal to address concerns about the impact of gridlock on the growing GTA population. Picking up on the affordability question, Ford also restated his commitments to keeping transit costs down by getting rid of licence plate stickers and removing tolls on Highway 412 and 418.

We took a look at whether voters are aware of their policies. Our May 2-5 research shows that Ford’s and Del Duca’s transportation plans managed to punch through with voters (37 per cent and 36 per cent awareness, respectively), while Horwath seems to have missed the bus (only 11 per cent awareness).

Which announcement generated more conversation? Here’s a closer look at which plan outperformed on traditional and social media this week.

Mainstream Media

This week, there have been over 290 stories about the PC’s Highway 413, but over 850 stories about the Liberal’s “buck-a-ride.” The majority of coverage is provincewide, but key national outlets such as the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, the CBC, and CTV have been covering the stories.

Social Media

Social media volume on the issue has been high. This past week, there were over 4,500 mentions of the Liberal’s “buck-a-ride” promise, and over 3,500 mentions of the PC’s Highway 413 promise.

The Push Back Verdict – Missing the Bus

An effective election campaign comes down to each parties’ ability to contrast with their opponents, and in a week where everyone was talking transit, Horwath has ‘missed the bus’. We give a tip of the hat to Del Duca this week for dominating the conversation with ‘buck-a-ride’, and to Ford for pivoting to affordability on Thursday (as the data shows). Del Duca and Ford chose their lane and managed to connect with voters, which shows in the polling and media data. For the NDP, not so much.

Dental Care

NDP leader Andrea Horwath may have missed out on transportation week, but it is likely because she had her own plans and priorities. In our research, health care was the second most important issue to voters. On Day Two of the campaign, the NDP announced a dental care plan for low- to middle-income families. During her press conference in Scarborough, Horwath promised to completely cover dental care for households earning $90,000 a year or less. Horwath also indicated the plan would be implemented quickly, in partnership with the federal government, because families are struggling with the cost of living. She said the first step to getting people the access they need was to defeat Doug Ford.

PC Leader Doug Ford pushed back on the NDP announcement during his campaign event in Pickering on Thursday, saying the existing low-income seniors’ dental program works well and a PC government plans to keep spending $90 million annually on it.

With rising concerns about the cost of living and quality of care, can a promise for covered dental care influence voters?

Mainstream and Social Media

Social and mainstream media volume on Horwath’s dental care plan shows the NDP’s election promise is picking up some traction. In the last week, there were over 1,600 mentions of the plan on social media and 140 stories in the mainstream media. We’ll be watching to see if this traction continues to build into the next week.

The Push Back Verdict – Rolling Stone

We would label this announcement as a “rolling stone”, that could end up making an impact with voters. While there has been limited media traction, the NDP is seeing momentum on social media (and likely at the doors). Though Ford has downplayed the proposal, we anticipate the NDP will continue to push on the dental care plan as an issue of affordability. We’ll continue to monitor the conversation to measure the effectiveness of her plan with voters.

Abortion Access

The Liberals raised concerns this week about the PC’s position on abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark abortion case. On social media, a 2019 video resurfaced of PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff at an anti-abortion rally, sparking conversation about the PC’s position on the matter. At the time Ford said, the PCs are a “big tent” of members “from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs.”

On Wednesday, when asked by the media about his current take on the issue, Ford indicated he would not reopen any abortion issues in the legislature saying, “We’re not changing in Ontario, we’re keeping it exactly the same.” Other parties including the NDP and OLP have announced plans to expand and enhance access to abortion.
While this issue is plaguing federal conservatives, was Ford’s response enough to hold off the critics? Let’s take a look.

Social Media

After news broke south of the border, social media volume was high with over 12,000 mentions of abortion within the context of the Ontario election. While volume remains high, it began to taper near the end of the week.

The Push Back Verdict – Burning Coals

We’d classify this exchange as “burning coals.” Over the course of the week, media and social media coverage peaked and then declined, and reporters did not follow up with Ford on the issue after his initial response. While reporters have moved on, it doesn’t mean that the PCs won’t face this spectre again on the campaign trail. The Ontario Liberals and NDP may take a page from their federal cousins from the 2019 and 2021 national campaigns to see if they can make the issue stick to the conservatives. It’s certainly an issue to watch in Ontario, especially as U.S. media follows the issue closely.

In Other News

  • As mentioned earlier, the Liberals released their full education plan this morning, which included reintroducing an optional Grade 13 and hiring 1,000 more mental health workers for students and staff in schools.
  • This morning, Ford announced a promise to extend GO train service in Durham Region with four new stations. Just before the announcement the Liberals pushed back, calling out Ford for delaying the Bowmanville GO train expansion when first elected to office in 2018.
  • NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was out talking about housing affordability today, including releasing an updated housing platform. The plan will spur the construction of 1.5 million homes, end exclusionary zoning, and establish a new government agency to finance and build at least 250,000 affordable rental homes over the next 10 years.