When Kathleen Wynne announced that Ontarians would be going to the polls on June 12, she told reporters gathered outside her office door that the election would be about trust.

Earlier that day, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said trust was the very reason she had decided to bring the down government in the first place.

Upon withdrawing the prospect of NDP support for the Liberal budget, Horwath declared she could no longer “support a government that people don’t trust anymore.”

The latest data from users of Vote Compass, an online democratic engagement application offered by CBC News, suggests Horwath is ahead of both Wynne and PC Leader Tim Hudak when it comes to respondents' perceptions of trustworthiness. But when it comes to perceptions of the parties, both the NDP and Liberals, while higher than the PCs, fail to achieve the same level as their leaders.

Trust is elusive in politics. It is a scarce resource in any politician’s arsenal and the reason why campaigns are often waged as wars of attrition. Given that trust is in exceedingly short supply, exhausting an opponent’s stock is preferable to depleting one’s own reserves.

To be sure, there is no shortage of fodder for any party looking to a tear a strip off its rivals.

Despite efforts to distance herself from the controversies associated with her predecessor, Wynne remains mired in the fallout from gas plant cancellations, Ornge corruption allegations and the eHealth scandal.

Horwath’s decision to effectively kill what was widely seen as a progressive budget and consequently plunge the province into an election has potentially cost her the support of high-profile members of the NDP base.

And while PC Leader Tim Hudak bills himself as the man with the (million jobs) plan, recent revelations of basic errors in the PC platform’s arithmetic have dealt a blow to efforts to position himself as a competent economic manager.

The turn to negative campaigns over the past several decades ensures that, regardless of the victor, no candidate will come out of this campaign unscathed.

Perceptions of trustworthiness

Evaluations of trustworthiness are rarely effective in forecasting election results, but they do offer insights into how politicians and their messages resonate with the public.

Vote Compass, used by more than 90,000 Ontarians since the outset of the election campaign, offers insights into how politicians and party leaders are perceived when it comes to trust.

More than half of those who've used Vote Compass in this campaign evaluated the parties and party leaders on trustworthiness, on a scale of zero to 10. The results have been weighted by population-level estimates from Statistics Canada in order to approximate a representative sample of the Ontario population.

Chart: In your opinion, how trustworthy are the party leaders and the parties? (Rating out of 10. Mobile users, see the chart here)

Horwath and the NDP receive the highest aggregate ratings on trust among the leaders and the parties, respectively. 

Horwath scores higher among younger, lower income, more educated and female Ontarians than do any of the other leaders. But perceptions of her trustworthiness have dropped from those registered by Vote Compass users during the 2011 Ontario election campaign.

And despite enjoying a small lead over the other candidates on perceptions of trustworthiness, fewer self-identified NDP supporters indicated they would actually vote for the NDP in this election than did Liberal supporters who indicated they would vote Liberal or PC supporters who indicated they would vote PC.

Hudak received the lowest aggregate ratings on trust of all the party leaders. He is clearly the most polarizing figure in the election campaign, garnering much lower ratings on trustworthiness from non-PC supporters than either Horwath or Wynne received from non-NDP or non-Liberal supporters, respectively. The one exception is Wynne’s perceived trustworthiness among PC supporters, which tied Hudak’s rating among Liberal supporters.

Chart:  In your opinion, how trustworthy are the party leaders and the parties? By party preference (Mobile users, see the chart here)

Hudak’s highest ratings on trust come from Vote Compass users who self-identify as being on the right of the political spectrum. As is the case with Horwath, however, Hudak’s trustworthiness ratings have also declined from those registered by Vote Compass users in the 2011 Ontario election campaign.

Hudak is also the only party leader whose individual ratings on trustworthiness are lower than those of his party, both at an aggregate level and when looking exclusively at his own supporters.

Wynne is confronted with the opposite dynamic to Hudak. Her individual ratings on trustworthiness are not far behind those of Horwath (she in fact receives higher ratings on trustworthiness among Liberal supporters than Horwath does among NDP supporters).

However, the perceived trustworthiness of the Liberal Party trails well behind Wynne’s individual ratings, making for the most substantial disparity between leader and party ratings on trust.

Wynne’s ratings are higher than those ascribed to Dalton McGuinty in Vote Compass findings from the 2011 provincial election, but even among declared Liberal supporters there is a notable gap between the perceived trustworthiness of the party leader and the party itself.

Chart:  In your opinion, how trustworthy are the party leaders and the parties? Men vs. women (Mobile users, see the chart here)