Week two on the Ontario election campaign trail featured bumps on the leaders’ tours, candidate rallies, platform announcements and conflicting federal by-election calls in two GTA ridings adding to the race for voter support.

H+K Strategies is today releasing its findings from a pre-writ survey of Ontario residents undertaken April 16-27 using H+K’s online panel, H+K Perspectives. The objective of our research was not to ‘forecast’ the election outcome. We wanted to create a baseline so we could track views on the priority issues for voters and the determinative characteristics of a leader from the voters’ perspective. We wanted to gain insight into the underlying motivations for party support. The findings are included here.

Voters identified priority issues leading into the campaign – with the top three issues being health care, jobs and management of the economy. As the platform announcements roll out, it is clear the Liberals and the PCs are looking to attract support from other ‘camps’ based on the issues. According to our survey, for the Liberals it needs to be about attracting soft NDP supporters on health care issues. For the PCs it is about attracting Liberal supporters on job creation and management of the economy. The PCs have delivered. The Liberals still need to talk about healthcare – but there is plenty of time for that shift. Check out the slide below for the details.

Understanding what voters in age/demo groups see as the ‘characteristic of a Premier is illuminating. Overwhelmingly, ‘trustworthiness’ is it. Regardless of age, income, education, or residency, trustworthiness is the key determinant characteristic from our sample, with decisiveness a distant second. We will feature the ‘characteristic’ questions in our second wave of research to see how the candidates are evaluated.

There is plenty of data and findings in our H+K Perspectives report, so take a look. And read H+K’s election team’s ‘take’ on the campaign, ‘Week Two’, below.

Ps: Want to get a real insider’s perspective from the campaign trail? Look no further than H+K’s very own Geoff Owen, VP and Group Leader of H+K Toronto’s Public Affairs team and Shabnum Durrani, Account Director also with our Toronto Public Affairs team. Geoff is on the road with PC Leader Tim Hudak for the entire writ period and Shabnum is embedded in Premier Wynne’s local campaign. Look for profiles on these two insiders in the weeks to come.

After two full weeks of campaigning, Andrea Horwath has cemented an early campaign focus on affordability. In the past seven days Horwath has committed to: raise the minimum wage, cut small business taxes, remove the provincial tax from hydro bills and cut auto insurance rates for Ontario motorists. In our H+K Perspectives survey, Horwath is seen as the most compassionate leader and her emphasis on pocketbook issues for struggling families is one way she is emphasizing that brand strength.

While the locations of Horwath’s events (childcare centres, shopping malls and living rooms) tell the story of who she is appealing to, the ridings she has so far visited tell us where she feels she can pick up new seats – notably the Southwest (PC seats) and the North (Liberal seats).

Kathleen Wynne’s new attack ad against the NDP leader signals that the Liberals still need to chip away at the NDP vote if they are to have any hope of re-election. But with a majority of respondents in our survey believing Ontario is on the wrong track and Horwath being the leader best able to ‘chart a new path’ for Ontario, the question for Andrea to pose to voters going forward is: What kind of change does Ontario want – Hudak or Horwath?

Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan has been the talk of the campaign thus far. Why? It’s bold, radical, focused, unapologetic and represents a truly dramatic shift for Ontario. What is the driving force behind such a plan? A plan like that is all about tapping into the notion that Ontario is on the wrong track and it needs to get on the right one.

The Million Jobs Plan is meant to galvanize a political base. How does it do that? Quite simply, it speaks to a strong desire for change and directly to core (in this case, Conservative) values. Tapping into both of those emotional drivers would mean that the plan should resonate strongly with PC voters. The interesting tidbit based on our H+K Perspectives pre-writ panel? Before the election was called, only a small majority of Tim Hudak’s supporters (58 per cent) actually believed that the province was on the wrong track. Adding more food for thought is the reaction of Ontarians this week to the plan: 62 per cent strongly disapprove of the promise to cut 100,000 public service jobs and two-thirds don’t believe that the PC leader can actually create the promised one million jobs. Ostensibly, those surveyed would include many of Mr. Hudak’s voters.

What to do? Perhaps as Mr. Hudak is: be authentic. Hudak ranks dead last in our survey on the compassionate scale and he’s been clear that he will present the straight, difficult goods in this election. He is also ranked second in terms of decisiveness. Bet that score has gone up this week. But maybe most importantly, he is seen as the most trustworthy amongst the three leaders. Seems Mr. Hudak might have a chance over the next weeks to turn some of his base on to the ‘right track’.

The Liberals presented a budget designed to appeal to NDP voters. However, one week into the official campaign Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals have been focusing on targeting Conservative voters who may be put off by Tim Hudak and his plan to cut 100,000 public service jobs – 87,000 more jobs than those cut by former Conservative Premier Mike Harris. The Conservatives have indicated that many of the 100,000 jobs they are looking to cut would be in the education sector. The Premier has responded accordingly by visiting an elementary school and highlighting the priority of education to a Liberal government.

The PC job cuts promise may be what causes Conservative voters to really look at Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne as a true alternative. Prior to the election, forty-eight per cent of respondents to the H+K Perspectives survey thought the province was on the right track. Fifty-two per cent of respondents answered that Ontario needs a change in direction. The real question in the weeks to come will be about what sort of change people want. Or, when faced with the alternatives, will people begin to appreciate the path the province is currently on.