Two reasons to question the new Rob Ford polling

Why the data is mostly a mirage


Mark Blinch/Reuters

Here’s some surprising news that might shake you from your cold-induced hibernation: According to the Toronto Sun, new polling collected by Forum Research shows that divisive Mayor Rob Ford has actually improved in the eyes of Torontonians, with the recent is-it-or-isn’t-it crisis of an ice storm giving Ford an approval bump of five per cent.

The numbers may be further fuel for the lampooning Toronto has received from the late-night talk-show circuit, hinting at the possibility that Ford Nation may yet prevail in the upcoming city election, with crack-use admissions and other wild allegations not affecting the ardor held for the man by a certain swath of the city. However, there are two major reasons Canadians should look past the headlines and see the data as mostly a mirage.

1. The polling comes after #icestormTO.

Here’s the reality of any weather-based crisis: any politician, even one on auto-pilot, can come out looking rosy. With cameras flashing and media clamouring for answers, a weather crisis provides an easy opportunity for any politician to stand at a dais and look like they’re holding the hands of the afflicted.

In the U.S., then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie rode their effective managing of crisis situations to meaningful presidential runs. Even New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin found himself with enough popularity to get himself re-elected shortly after his widely slammed handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Naheed Nenshi’s handling of the floods in Calgary affirmed his popularity and iced his subsequent re-election.

Even though Ford’s press conference was maligned in some circles for a perceived complaint of his family needing to find a hotel and for the possibility of his playing politics over calling a state of emergency, it would have taken a gaffe of fairly massive proportions to not expect a slight hike for Canada’s most notorious mayor. Not only that, but it’s become clear that Ford did not have major pull during that crisis. The province instead worked directly with deputy mayor Norm Kelly, meaning Ford had all the more time to do what he does best: offer help, for all appearances, to the little guy.

2. Rob Ford’s electability rides on disapproval, not approval, numbers.

Another reality: the election is really, really far away. Ten months doesn’t feel like that long, but all the prospective polls have been including names like John Tory and Olivia Chow and we don’t even know if they’re running yet. If the surprise rise of David Miller (or Rob Ford, for that matter) is any indication, this race is going to look very different even by April.

That said, Ford faces a tougher climb than others because, even when he was first elected, to the chagrin of many in the downtown core, the crack use and the other allegations have only served to catalyze those who dislike him—bad news for any politician seeking election. After his November admission to drug use in a drunken stupor, an Ipsos-Reid poll found that 62 per cent would not vote for Ford “under any circumstance,” a number that has gone down—as any such number would, once the reaction to such a bombshell admission mellowed out—but not by a whole lot. In a mid-December follow-up poll by Ipsos-Reid, 61 per cent of people would not even consider voting for Ford. And even in this optimistic poll, by a pollster that has proven to be a bit kinder to Ford than others, a full 54 per cent still said straight-up that they would not vote for Rob Ford. That means, in a campaign that so far features at least two announced candidates espousing the same kind of fiscal-conservative agenda as he does (and, in Tory, a possible third), there is only 46 per cent of the vote he can meaningfully win.

That’s a pretty low ceiling, a thin margin in an already crowded field that doesn’t provide much breathing room for campaign missteps or swing-voter seduction. At the Torontoist, David Hains makes the same argument, with this statement: “In order to win in 2014, Ford will need to win over some people who right now say they would not consider voting for him, or win an extremely high percentage of those who say they would consider it. This appears unlikely.”


Two reasons to question the new Rob Ford polling

  1. Well, I suppose you can hope the polling is a mirage, but I think it`s accurate.
    I cannot believe the stupidity of the anti Ford groups in Toronto who have been handed opportunities time after time, by Ford himself, to boot his butt to the curb.

    If the left really think they can drop a candidate like Olivia Chow into this race and have a chance of winning next Fall, then they are in Dreamland. Ford will slaughter her like he did Smitheram last election.

    I think the only chance that Ford can be beat, especially if he drops another 20-30 pounds and stays sober, is for a, ( only 1) candidate to go against him and make the voters believe that their policies will mirror Fords`, without the late night jokes. And that candidate cannot be an almost incomprehensible and proven socialist spender like Chow or anybody else associated to former downtown spenders like David Miller.
    Simply making fun of Ford without offering a credible fiscal-managing alternative will guarantee 4 more years of Ford.

    • “( only 1) candidate to go against him and make the voters believe that their policies will mirror Fords`, without the late night jokes” will split the vote on the right and potentially draw votes from the anyone-but-Ford camp – but that still leaves a fairly big pot of centrist or left-leaning votes in the anyone-but-Ford camp. So there’s room on the ballot for more than one candidate, and still see Ford go down to defeat, as long as one of those candidates is a viable right-leaning candidate.

      • Let`s suppose the viable right-wing candidate is John Tory.
        If he comes off as a wishy-washy blue tory then he will steal little support from Ford, and even without a left candidate would probably lose a close one to Ford.
        If there is a left candidate and Tory is wishy-washy there will still not be enough center-lefts for that candidate and Ford wins a close one.
        If there is only left candidates against Ford, he wins easily.

        So I see the only chance to remove Ford is for someone like Tory to somehow convince the voter that he is a fiscal conservative, and for the downtown left-centrists to refrain from entering a strong candidate and throw their full support behind Tory and hope enough people hold their noses long enough till the votes are counted.

        • Ford has between 54 and 61% of voters who would not vote for Ford under any circumstance, acording to the current numbers as reported above. Assuming an equal spread of voter turnout across the spectrum, that means if Tory is the only other candidate, Ford loses (because the anti-Fords would vote for Tory just to see Rob go).
          If there is a left-center candidate in addition to Ford and Tory, Tory may well attract some of the soft Ford support, and some of the anti-Ford centrist support. What then determines the outcome is how that anti-Ford vote splits out. And that is presently difficult to call, given all the hypotheticals.
          I doubt Ford has much room to grow (votes wise anyway). A candidate whose policies mirrors Fords (to use your own analogy) will split the current Ford support to at least some degree.
          So too many factors to make this easy to call, but I don’t think it is anywhere near the lock for Ford that you seem to think. Especially if the voters are downwind of him (speaking of holding noses).

          • Agreed, if the election is held tomorrow Ford loses under your scenario, which is why I said that Ford will gain support if he loses pounds and questionable friends, and don`t forget, he is the only announced candidate in a 10 month campaign.

            Look at it this way:
            Those people who voted for Ford in the last election can forgive and forget the nasty behavior of Ford, if they think he`s finally grown up—because his behavior may have embarrassed them to some extent but didn`t hurt them directly.
            However, those people who voted for Susan Fennell in Brampton will always remember that while they were scrimping for the basic necessities of life she was flying First Class with the chauffeur waiting on her call—all at public expense.
            All politics are local and it doesn`t get any more local than your wallet.

          • Speaking of Fennell… she used to be a good mayor and was a real breath of fresh air when she ousted Peter Robertson and his back-room cronyism. I voted for her then, and in every election since… though I thought long and hard last time, as she had already started showing signs of turning into her predecessor. This time around, I’ll be finding another place to park my vote.

          • You know a lot more about Brampton municipal politics than I but the fact that you were a Fennell supporter and you now say there is no way you can vote for her underscores my point.

            Fennell—-Forcing citizens to pay higher and higher taxes while blowing those funds on her own pleasure is unforgivable.
            Ford———-Stressing the fact that you will be a good manager of their tax money while living a reckless personal life is forgivable, if there appears to be a mending of ways.

            Call it —The return of the prodigal son—call it misplaced loyalty—-call it revenge against the downtowners. It`s there.

          • There’s also the point that when politicians prove themselves unworthy, sensible voters look or an alternative. In the case of Ford, his behaviour ought to make him unworthy, no matter what one thinks of his policies. A voter who likes his policies ought to look for another who has the same politics without the serious personality disorders.

          • I still find it hard to believe that we’ve reached the point where the character of our elected leaders doesn’t matter. I also think that Ford supporters need to ask themselves how will Ford get his way if he has little support on Council. He hasn’t been able to get his motions passed lately and, unless there are significant changes to Council’s make up, he will continue to be a lame duck Mayor after the election. The Mayor only has the power that Council gives him. Ford supporters may want to look at any alternative candidate who may not be as fiscally strict as Ford, but will at least be able to get enough support from Council to get some of his agenda passed.

          • Exactly what people should be doing – showing why Ford has not done his job well and asking how he would govern if given a second term. The fascination of focusing instead on how “ridiculous” he acts will in the end ensure his re-election, especially in a crowded field of candidates. Macleans is repeating the mistake that brought Ford in, to begin with – underestimating him and ignoring the facts. No, the polling is not a mirage – it shows that a sizeable underclass in Toronto sees him as their champion. Saying that his support will somehow evaporate is wishful thinking and not serious journalism.

          • Ford is not the only announced candidate. Richard Underhill has announced his candidacy as has David Soknacki.

        • I would agree with Cawm’s strategy, only I see Tory as highly vulnerable and absolutely the wrong candidate to challenge Ford. A left of centre candidate with a strong public image (not necessarily a municipal politician) would be a much better choice.

      • Indeed, drug-ford and sober-ford running against each other is the hope of many a middle-of-the-roader in Toronto.

        • Yeah, that should work.
          Just keep making fun of Ford and run Olivia Chow against him next Fall. I don`t see any problem there. She should win easily.

          • ITA on Chow, she’s probably the one left of centre candidate who would actually increase Ford’s numbers.

  2. 1) What exactly did Kathleen Wynne and Norm Kelly do to help Toronto? Norm Kelly was in Florida for the worst part of the storm. All Wynne’s done so far is bribe Ontarians with gift-cards well after the crisis was over. Not helpful, but it might buy some votes from people who were too stupid to figure out how to keep their food cold when ice was literally falling from the sky.

    2) When did Chris Christie run for President? I’ll help: he didn’t.

    3) Yes, the next election is a ways away. I hardly see that as any indication that his polling numbers will necessarily go down. If he is in fact sober as he says he is, he could very well do a lot of good in Toronto and see his polling numbers go up. But of course considering that option would require the author not be steadfastly in the anti-Ford camp.

    4) The lampooning Toronto receives from late night comedians has more to do with those comedians politics than anything else. If anybody really wants to make fun of Toronto you don’t need to look any further than how the city reacted to the recent ice storm, or the cold of the last few days. The people of Toronto are just plain sissies who can’t seem to do anything without the governments aid. That’s what’s truly laughable about Toronto.

    • Re #4: I see you’re still on your anti-Ontario horse.
      Here’s the thing, Dickie: People without power (and therefore heat) in the dead of winter anywhere in Canada are going to suffer. And there were a lot of such folk, for an extended period of time.
      People in other parts of the country may be better prepared (generators; alternate heat sources) because it is a more common problem there. People prepare for the commonplace – not the seldom-in-a-lifetime event. Your statement would be the equivalent of Ontarians calling Albertans wimps for being unprepared for this summer’s flood.
      What’s truly laughable on this thread is your idiocy.

      • Imagine a world where people from Ontario demean people from Alberta. Unfathomable!

        • It happens in both directions, and usually over politics. Politics and regionalism are one thing; wishing ill or mocking those suffering the effects of natural calamities (I’m not talking overreactions like Mel Lastman’s; that was worthy of a mocking) – regardless of where they live – merely proves the writer to be a callous moron.

  3. LOL. Maclean’s if you’re that desperate to pour cold water on a poll that shows Rob Ford doing well all you had to say was that it was from Forum.

  4. This is exactly the kind of BS that so-called journalists were writing before Ford got elected the first time. You take some good polling numbers for Ford, then you think of imaginative reasons to discredit the numbers. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Why don’t you just write that the numbers are wrong because hey, we all know Ford is a crackhead. Ford is a crackhead when it snows, he is a crackhead when it rains, when it’s cloudy, when it’s sunny, he is a crackhead in the morning, and in the evening. Therefore the numbers are either wrong or they will change, because hey, he’s a crackhead, crackhead, crackhead.

  5. Heck, I just got a great new idea for you guys. Why don’t you run an edition of Maclean’s that has the phrase “Ford is a crackhead” repeated over and over from the beginning to the end of the magazine, and nothing else?

    Ford is a crackhead, Ford is a crackhead…

    That way, you don’t even need to invent complete abject stupidity like “Rob Ford’s electability rides on disapproval, not approval, numbers.” Sentences like that are truly embarassing. Just write:

    Ford is a crackhead, Ford is a crackhead, Ford is a crackhead…

  6. Popular psychology should really take a look at the phenomenon of polling and its effects on journalists and the public. It is such an inexact science and so open to manipulation and yet we cannot get enough of dissecting them. How pray tell do we decide which polls are suspect and which are accurate when so many have failed so spectacularly in their predictions?

  7. I don’t know if the polling is dependable, but it doesn’t take into account the possibility of future scandal in Ford’s life. For one thing, there could still be more embarrassment or fallout from the police investigations and upcoming court proceedings involving Lisi. It’s also possible, if a Ford truly is an alcoholic, and I believe he is, that he will fall off the wagon. I’m sorry to say I think it’s an inevitability, and I think a fresh round of drunken stupors would be the nails in his political coffin. Finally, I have to hope that no self-respecting woman would ever vote for him after his “I’ve got plenty to eat at home” comment.

  8. The interesting thing about this poll is that it was not commented on in the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, or the National Post, or the CBC. It was reported by Sun News, CTV, and a lot of smaller media outlets. We all know that several polls have been taken. It is after a politicized ice storm for crying out loud. Where are they all of a sudden. The silence is deafening. No contradicting polls to challenge this poll. Implicitly this tells us that this “published” poll is accurate.

  9. I would like the pollisters to include one question to those that dissaprove of Ford. That seems to be their first question…do you approve of the job Ford has done. In that subgroup (50-60%) next ask if they would vote for the frontrunner whoever that may be to ensure his defeat? That would be an interesting statistic to report.
    I always get the question. In a 3 way race with blah blah and Ford who would you vote for? Or in a four way race with blah blah blah and Ford who would you vote for?