Call it the football factor: If Thursday's Ontario election is as close as polls are hinting, the outcome could be tilted by a soccer game 8,000 kilometres away — a possibility several campaign teams are already bracing for.

The World Cup of soccer begins on election day. That afternoon, Brazil plays in the opening game against Croatia, starting at 4 p.m. ET — right when polling stations normally start to experience their largest crush of voters, as people head home from their jobs.

Election vs. World Cup

Voting hours in Thursday's Ontario election: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET.

World Cup opening match time: 4 p.m. to about 6 p.m. ET.

Eligible voters in Ontario in 2011: 8,999,958 

Average World Cup game viewership in 2010: 188,400,000   

Sources: Elections Ontario, FIFA TV 

But the attraction of a high-profile soccer match stands to distract thousands of fans from heading out to vote right after work. Add in a couple drinks during the game, the camaraderie at the local bar, the post-game euphoria or misery, and many of those fans might never make it to the polls.

"It's definitely something that's been on our mind since as soon as we heard the election was going to be June 12," said Anthony Schein, campaign manager for his brother Jonah Schein, the NDP candidate in the soccer-mad Toronto riding of Davenport. 

"We're definitely planning for the fact that getting across parts of the riding across main thoroughfares will be tough, especially after 6 o'clock when the game ends and people tend to drive around and honk horns."

1 seat can change all

So maybe a few thousand people don't vote — so what?

Don't forget the last election. The Liberals won 53 seats, one shy of a majority. One seat can make all the difference between a hamstrung and short-lived minority government versus four years of unimpeded majority rule. 

And in a couple of neighbouring Toronto districts in particular, Thursday's Brazil-Croatia game could shift the balance.

The football factor will surely be strongest in Davenport. Almost 30 per cent of the riding's voting-age population claims Portuguese heritage; a quarter of adult residents speak Portuguese as their mother tongue. And while Portugal isn't playing in the World Cup until next Monday, many Portuguese fans also cheer for Brazil, home of their linguistic brethren and former colony.

The riding also boasts sizeable populations with Italian and Latin American heritage — who tend to take a strong interest in the quadrennial global soccer tourney.

Anthony Schein said he wouldn't be surprised if almost "50 per cent of people will stop what they're doing to watch the game" in the riding.

His brother won Davenport for the NDP in 2011 with 45.8 per cent to the Liberals' 41 per cent, or an edge of fewer than 1,500 votes. The Liberals won it in 2007 over the NDP by a similarly tight margin.

Cristina Martins World Cup ad

Cristina Martins, the Liberal candidate in the soccer-mad riding of Davenport, has taken out ads in Portuguese-language newspapers reminding constituents that 'the first World Cup game is on Election Day, June 12. Coverage of the game starts at 4 p.m. for Brazil vs. Croatia. Vote early!' (Cristina Martins campaign)

It's a close race again this time around, and neither party is taking any chances.

Jonah Schein's main opponent, Liberal Cristina Martins, who was born in Portugal, has taken out advertisements in Portuguese-language newspapers reminding constituents that the game starts at 4 o'clock and imploring them to "vote cedo" ("vote early").

"We put up posters in sports bars around the riding, before the advance polls, to let people know that it's important to vote before kickoff," campaign spokesperson Sheamus Murphy said. 

"It's part of our standard pitch at the doors. We advertised the fact of the World Cup as an incentive to get to the advance polls."

Murphy said one thing his candidate won't be doing is going around to sports bars after the game and rounding people up to go vote.

"The game doesn't change our strategy; it's just a factor. The reality is that all across the entire province, people will be tuned into that first game — whether they speak Portuguese or Croatian as a first language, or another language." 

York South–Weston

The World Cup game could also factor in the riding to the northwest, York South–Weston, where again people of Portuguese, Italian and Latin American heritage comprise sizeable proportions of the population (nearly 30 per cent in total).

It will likely be another close race between two perennial electoral rivals. Liberal incumbent Laura Albanese, born in Italy, defeated Portuguese-born Paul Ferreira of the NDP in 2011 and 2007 by narrow margins of 734 and 452 votes, respectively — just a couple percentage points.    

In their first race, Ferreira beat Albanese in early 2007 in a byelection by a mere 315 votes.

In a constituency where every vote matters, Ferreira's campaign manager said they're being "very mindful that the World Cup is a big deal."

Paul Mason said that means encouraging people to vote early. And then on election day itself, Ferreira is planning on dropping in at several locations in the riding that are showing the game.