Dalton McGuinty has every reason to seek compromise with Andrea Horwath's NDP to get his budget passed, as Ontario's Premier is trailing both Ms. Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in public support.
Were an election held today, the Ontario Liberals might be relegated to third place in the provincial legislature.
According to ThreeHundredEight.com's vote projection model, which aggregates all available polling data, the Liberals currently have the support of only 28 per cent of Ontarians, a drop of almost 10 points since the Oct. 2011 election.
The Progressive Conservatives, with 35.4 per cent support, remain unchanged from their result last fall. Instead, the New Democrats have made a giant leap forward by picking up more than seven points to reach 29.9 per cent, placing them in second place ahead of Mr. McGuinty's Liberals.
The Greens are projected to have the support of 5 per cent of voters in the province, while 1.7 per cent of Ontarians support other parties.
Though there is enough uncertainty in the polls to make the support levels of the Liberals and New Democrats overlap somewhat, it seems very unlikely that anyone but the Ontario PCs are in the lead province-wide.
But with such a close three-way race between the parties, none are in a position to win a majority of the Legislature's 107 seats. With these levels of support, the Progressive Conservatives would likely win 52 seats, just short of the 54 needed for a bare minimum majority government. Nevertheless, it would represent an increase of 16 seats over their current haul of MPPs.
The New Democrats, who currently hold 17 seats at Queen's Park, would likely win 29 seats and become the Official Opposition. The Liberals, meanwhile, would have their representation cut in half and be reduced to only 26 seats.
The Tories would likely win the lion's share of seats in eastern, central, and southwestern Ontario but also take a large proportion of the seats in the GTA. The New Democrats would win more than half of their seats in Toronto and in northern Ontario, while the Liberals would virtually be reduced to only the provincial capital and its outskirts.
But Dalton McGuinty still has a higher approval rating than the PC Leader, according to a recent poll by Angus-Reid. Mr. McGuinty ranks seventh out of nine premiers (PEI's Robert Ghiz was excluded from the survey). With a 51 per cent approval rating, Ms. Horwath is the most popular party leader in the province. Other polls confirm these findings.
However, the NDP Leader may not want to pull the plug on the ongoing negotiations with the Liberals to help the government pass its budget. Polls indicate that a healthy majority of Ontarians do not want an election to be held in the short-term.
It has been a rough year for Mr. McGuinty's Liberals. After winning the last election and falling just short of a majority, they lost the lead in voting intentions to the Progressive Conservatives at the beginning of this year and have fallen behind the New Democrats in recent months.
Though the Liberals were trailing the Tories by a wider margin as late as July 2011, only three months before the general election Mr. McGuinty eventually won, being displaced by the NDP changes things significantly. The Liberals were seen as the only legitimate alternative to Mr. Hudak in 2011, but they could lose that position if the New Democrats continue to make gains.
While the Tories opposed the legislation on allowing gay-straight alliances to be formed in Ontario's public schools (including those in the Catholic School Board), that Mr. Hudak did not more fiercely oppose the legislation is perhaps an indication that the PCs have taken a lesson from their recent defeat, avoiding political grenades like their controversial chain-gangs that played a role in derailing their fall campaign.
In the run up to the 2007 election, John Tory bested the Liberals in the polls for a spell, just as Tim Hudak was ahead for most of 2011. In both cases the Liberals later prevailed in the ballot boxes. Dalton McGuinty still has the advantage of being more personally popular than the opposition leader, but with the New Democrats now making inroads the Premier needs their support in the legislature more than ever.
The projection aggregates all publicly available polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 107 ridings in the province, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2011 election. The projection is subject to the margins of error of the polls included as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.