A snapshot poll suggests the Liberals could be gaining ground in the volatile Ontario provincial election.
The poll, conducted by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail and CTV/CP24, confirms other indications that support for the incumbent Liberals under Dalton McGuinty is trending up, while the Conservatives under Leader Tim Hudak appear stalled.
The Liberals enjoy the support of 38.1 per cent of Ontarians, according to Nanos, up six points from the 31.9 per cent who supported them in a similar poll taken 10 days earlier, shortly before the election was called.
The Conservatives are holding steady at 34.7 per cent, compared to 35.4 per cent in the earlier poll, while the NDP under Andrea Horwath has improved from 22.8 to 24.3
These are early days, and with only 500 people polled, the margin of error sits at 5 per cent. As such, numbers matter less than trends. Those trends show that Conservative support has softened since the spring and summer, though the party continues to fight strongly for first place, while the Liberals and NDP have both gained ground.
The Nanos numbers were buttressed by an Ipsos Reid poll released Monday that showed the Liberals at 38 per cent, the Progressive Conservatives at 37 per cent and the NDP at 24 per cent.
Polls in Ontario elections can fluctuate widely over the course of a campaign. For Graham Murray, a political analyst who specializes in Ontario politics, the numbers are most interesting because they point to the possibility of a minority government.
"Normally, we think of 40 points as the gateway to a majority government in Ontario," he said in an interview.
But the Conservatives are no longer at that threshold and the Liberals haven't crossed it in some time. The key will be whether the NDP can sustain its higher-than-usual levels of support throughout the campaign.
For the Nanos poll, voters were canvassed during the weekend of Sept. 10 and 11, in the midst of a fierce fight over a Liberal proposal to give employers $10,000 to hire immigrant Canadians in certain professional categories.
Mr. Hudak pounced on the plank, saying it would take jobs away from Ontario workers and hand them to "foreigners."
After the Liberals explained that the program was aimed at Canadians who have been citizens for less than five years and who are having trouble getting the necessary work experience for professional accreditation, the Conservatives backed off slightly, though still condemning the proposal as unfair affirmative action.
At the least, the Tory attacks do not yet appear to have hurt the Liberals.
What could be hurting both main party leaders is the attack-ad war that each is waging against the other. When voters were asked which party leader they trust the most, "Undecided" topped the list, at 24.1 per cent, followed by Mr. McGuinty at 22.6 per cent.
Coming in third was None of Them, at 19.7 per cent, with Mr. Hudak at 19.3 per cent and Ms. Horwath last at 11 per cent. (The Green Party barely registered in the poll.)
"Undecided" also came in on top, at 26.8 per cent, in a question asking which leader has the best vision for the province, with Mr. McGuinty right behind at 25.5 per cent and Mr. Hudak at 19.5 per cent. Ms. Horwath tied with None of Them at 16.2 per cent.
"The question really might be: 'Who do I dislike least?' when people go into the polling booths," pollster Nik Nanos concluded.