Could an Orange Wave Crash Doug Ford's Party?

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In what many predicted to be a two-way race between the incumbent Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP now finds itself polling in second place. Following two strong debate performances, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s message appears to be resonating with voters. According to a recent report, the Ontario NDP could be on the verge of riding an orange wave into official opposition status, just like Jack Layton did in the 2011 federal election.

The latest seat projections from Barry Kay at the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy show the Tories winning 72 seats, the NDP securing 30, and the Liberals falling to 22. While this still puts the Doug Ford PCs well within majority territory (they need 63 seats to achieve that), the likelihood of the NDP as the official opposition is becoming more of a reality. With these rising fortunes, the NDP finds itself having to fend off more attacks, and even questions about the possibility of a coalition government.

The notion of a coalition government was quickly put to bed by Horwath, who said there was no way she’d partner with the Wynne Liberals, have struggled to make any real progress in the campaign thus far. There’s also the fact that the Liberals remain deeply unpopular in the province, so a coalition wouldn’t be helpful to the NDP’s brand.

On the other side of the spectrum, it's not only the PC Party that is taking notice of the NDP’s recent boost in popularity. Ontario Proud, a right-leaning Facebook page which boasts over 350,000 followers, is now training their sights on the NDP. From a communications perspective, this is a boon: the PCs are in a unique position this election to have such a large and vocal third-party activist -- something the Liberals and NDP can’t currently muster.

While it is far too early to predict the final outcome of the vote, it will be interesting to watch how much the NDP can eat into the Tories’ lead. Will it be enough to reduce their victory to a minority government? That will depend on Ford being able to stay on message and avoid any major gaffes, and for Horwath to continue to grow her popularity (she has benefited from significant increase in net favourability over the last three months) while at the same time making inroads in new ridings across the province - as she works to position the NDP as the "anyone but Ford" option. This could be difficult for the NDP as they have a small base and will need to work hard to win over and retain converts. The NDP surge could be short-lived if the Liberals manage to turn things around, but if they don’t, they could find themselves reduced to third party status -- a remarkable change of scenery for the party which has been in power for the past decade and a half.

The third and final leaders debate will be held on May 27. Watch this space for our insights and analysis as the three parties make their final push ahead of the June 7th vote.

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