Polls are for dogs, the bored sophisticates will tell you. But trust me: even the smartypants snapped their heads around this morning at a survey suggesting Doug Ford has drawn within a neck of John Tory in the Toronto mayoralty race.
It comes via Forum Research, a firm that has been charting this endless campaign from its launch, and it pegs Ford’s support at 37 per cent to Tory’s 39, with Olivia Chow getting a modest boost to 22 per cent.
Forum did its voice-response phone survey of 1,218 voters on Monday evening. Even the firm’s boss, Lorne Bozinoff, sounded jangled by its findings: “This is a shocking upset indeed.”
Of course, no one will have upset anyone until the ballots are cast in 20 days—unless you count the candidates batting around accusations of racism over the last couple of days.
Still, the poll is stirring chatter. For one, it looks and acts like an outlier, suggesting Ford has struck some positive chord with voters worth nine points since Forum took its last reading a week ago, when in truth he’s done little to gain attention since joining the race on Sept. 12. The alternative scenario—that Tory stepped on some unseen landmine—seems equally implausible. The frontrunner’s handlers have grown so risk averse they have him tucking his shirt into his underwear.
What’s more, the new result also runs counter to one published just a day earlier indicating that Tory retained a commanding lead over second-place Ford with 42 per cent support. That poll—another voice-interactive job, where respondents speak to a phone-bot—featured a much bigger sample size and had Ford stuck at 28 per cent while Chow languished at 19.
So let the methodology wars begin. Already, some informed skeptics are chiming in.
Let’s look at Forum poll in context. Recent Tory numbers: 40-41-38-43-39. Recent Ford numbers 34-31-33-37. Trend or wobble? I’d say wobble.
— Éric Grenier (@308dotcom) October 7, 2014
Let’s assume, though, that this is not an outlier. Just what could have turned the tide in Doug’s favour?
If I’m working in the Tory camp, I’m looking hard at the candidate’s talking points on SmartTrack, Tory’s proposed surface rail line intended to take pressure off Toronto’s overloaded subway system. Tory has been forced to admit the line has serious right-of-way issues. When pressed, he brushes off concerns with the sort of platitudinous assurances so often heard from career politicians. The kind you don’t get from either Ford brother.
I’d also worry about the inspirational public appearances Rob Ford was making before he returned to hospital for his latest round of chemotherapy, his voice raspy but his resolve to battle taxes and the gravy bogeyman apparently intact.
Doug might be a less appealing stand-in, perpetually angry during debates and devoid of his brother’s bonhomie. And Tory might have his own intangibles. But there’s no discounting the insanely compelling draw of the Rob Ford saga—a drama within which everyone else in this election is still a mere player.