Electoral uncertainty and low voter turnout — Is this the result of this issue-less, hope-less campaign?

When an election is reported to be as close as this one, the question about majority or minority government becomes inevitable. Certainly, our recent Hill+Knowlton Strategies research suggests that the NDP and Progressive Conservatives are in a dead heat, which is consistent with most other research in the public domain.

In our recent survey, we raised the majority/minority question with voters by asking about their preference. The question was framed: “Regardless of how you think you will personally vote in this election, what type of government would you prefer to see on June 7th?”  Not surprisingly we see an even split for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party (OPC) and the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) (36% each).  And, when we look at this by party preference we see the usual alignment with vote intention.  The question was then broken down by majority/minority for each party and by a margin of about 2 to 1, people would prefer to see a majority government rather than a minority government, regardless of party support (e.g., 26% prefer OPC majority, 10% OPC minority; 24% ONDP majority, 12% ONDP minority).  That ratio goes up to almost a 3 to 1 preference for a majority of the party in which a voter is supporting.

But, expectations are not aligned with preference.  When we asked the follow-up question: “What type of government do you think it will be on June 7th?”, it is still widely believed to be an OPC win (45% think the OPC will form government, 34% think ONDP will and 11% think the Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) will).  And many more people are expecting a possible minority outcome compared to their appetite for one. Among those that think the OPCs will win, it’s a pretty even split predicting a majority or minority (21% majority, 24% minority). True to form, the OPC supporters being generally a more committed group, are more likely to predict an OPC win (79%) with more thinking they will gain enough seats for a majority (44% think it will be a majority, 35% a minority).  Equally true to form, the larger-tent ONDP is not as confident in their chances.  Only 6 in 10 (59%) think they will win (of note, fully 31% of them think the OPCs will form government).  And, among those who do think they will win, the plurality thinks it will be a minority win (33% compared to 26% thinking they will secure a majority).

This uncertainty could be indicative of the fact that the majority of voters feel like this is an “issue-less” election, and that the election is really only about change. 58% across the province agreed with the statement “I really worry that this election is only about changing government and isn’t about any real issues”.  OPC supporters were the least likely to feel this way (yet still 49% agreed), with over 7 in 10 OLP supporters agreeing (72%), and 63% ONDP supporters.

It is difficult to motivate behaviour in the absence of any issues to use as leverage—each party is riding on the “change” argument, which we clearly see in this research cuts three-ways:

  • OPC – “Change to us because it can’t be Wynne.”
  • ONDP – “Change to us because it can’t be Ford.”
  • OLP – “Don’t change, stick it out, because it can be either of the other two.”

A “change” narrative in an election is as old as elections themselves, but recent successful incarnations have married their “change” message with “optimism”, such as Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” or Obama’s “Yes We Can”.  Each of these campaigns were successful in large part because voters actually connected with the positive elements and it gave people hope.  What is remarkable in this election is the pronounced lack of optimism. Instead, we see the “change” narrative coming from each campaign resulting in voters feeling “frustration, pessimism, fear or indifference”. Taken together, these emotions are felt by 65% of the electorate, while only 18% say they feel optimistic.

This hopeless version of the “change” narrative is clearly demotivating for voters in the province considering almost 4 in 10 agreed with the statement “I think a lot of people are going to stay home and not vote in this election” (37%).  And, that proportion holds across party lines (ONDP–37%, OPC–36%, OLP–39%) and across likelihood to vote (will definitely vote–34%, will probably vote–48%, will probably not vote– 43%).

These findings, taken together with the low levels of enthusiasm voters have with their choice, and the issue-less campaign, foreshadow a historic decline in voter turnout.


Hill+Knowlton Strategies conducted an online survey of residents of Ontario between May 28-29, 2018.  A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of 400,000 Canadians.  In total n=1,500 members of the general public in Ontario 18 years or older participated.  The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of this size is ±2.5%, 19 times out of 20.