Toronto Star with Heather Bastedo 21 May 2018
Doug Ford’s folksy appeal to “the people” and disdain for “the elites” may be winning him support in the June 7 election, but a new poll shows there is no class war in Ontario.
Both working-class and so-called “elite” voters favour Ford’s Progressive Conservatives over Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Andrea Horwath’s NDP, according to the poll by New Square, a non-profit initiative focused on probing the views of Ontario’s working class and how they differ from elites.
Both listed government mismanagement and health care as the most important election issues, according to the online poll of 1,000 English-speaking Ontarians conducted between May 10 and May 14.
Neither group is happy with the leadership choices. Almost half of respondents agreed “none of the leaders stand for me,” says the poll released Monday.
Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected to participate rather than on a random sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. However, of online polls of this size, the confidence interval is equivalent to 95 per cent.
Although the poll found no evidence of a war between the working class and higher earners in Ontario, deep poverty does appear to be a factor, as does where one lives.
“The results don’t show any support for Trump-style populism at this point,” said Heather Bastedo, New Square’s managing director. “The only caveat is that people in Ontario are hurting, and that’s something to watch.”
Housing, crime and jobs are the top three quality-of-life concerns for those living outside the Greater Toronto Area, where Ford and Horwath are ranked very close — at 16 per cent and 15 per cent respectively — among those with a preference, the poll shows. Wynne trails at 6 per cent.
But inside the GTA, where housing and transit are more important, Wynne is rated more favourably at 14 per cent, ranking second to Ford who leads with 18 per cent. Horwath runs third with 12 per cent in the GTA, the poll showed.
“Everyone talks about the working class, and how populism could change things, but few, if any, have spoken to ordinary people to find out,” Bastedo said. “We wanted to amplify working-class voices and determine their influence in the coming provincial election.”
New Square defines a working-class person as having one of the following characteristics: a job that is physical; earning an hourly wage rather than a salary; an annual income of less than $35,000; unstable, part-time or precarious work; or dependent on government assistance, family or charity for support. Elites are defined as everyone else.
The survey of 500 working-class and 500 elite Ontarians asked a series of political, lifestyle and economic questions, and is an attempt to find out how Ontario’s working class differs from the elite and if that difference is driving voter choice in the election, she said.
“What we found was where you are living is likely to affect you. If you live outside the GTA you are likely to vote differently,” Bastedo said. “If you are working class, you’re not necessarily going to vote differently. But if you are (economically) hurting in that group, you are.”
Almost 90 per cent of those polled are concerned about the province’s rising cost of living, with nearly six out of 10 feeling the squeeze when it comes to the price of gas, groceries and electricity. Three out of 10 say they are struggling with almost everything while about 15 per cent listed just one economic concern and where therefore deemed to be unaffected by cost-of-living increases.
Those who are feeling the squeeze and have a political preference favour Ford and Horwath, while those who are struggling are most likely to support Ford. People unaffected by the cost of living prefer Wynne, according to the poll.
“There is no class war. The difference lies in what is motivating their political choices,” Bastedo said. “If you’re feeling the squeeze or struggling, your issues and choices will be different, and a lot of Ontario is feeling the squeeze.”
When it comes to party identification, both groups identify most strongly with the PCs, however more elites (26 per cent) than working class (22 per cent) identified as Tories. More elites (23 per cent) than working class (16 per cent) also identified with the Liberals. Slightly more working-class respondents (12 per cent) identified with the NDP than the elite (10 per cent), the poll shows.
Working-class respondents were the least likely to have a clear party affiliation with 21 per cent unsure versus 13 per cent of the elite.
“It is clear that with the greater number of working-class Ontarians unsure about their party choice, their final decisions could have a large impact on the results,” Bastedo said.