No, Rob Ford’s re-election isn’t certain. It’s not even likely.

Since the court verdict that vacated Mayor Rob Ford’s seat came down on Monday, Toronto’s been thrust into an election campaign of sorts: people have started speculating about candidates, cutting ads, and wondering about who will come out on top. All this, despite the fact that there may not even be an election. (I’m betting there will be, but the Divisional Court could prove me wrong.)

One of the common refrains we’re hearing already is: Rob Ford won once, he could do it again. His base will be energized by this scandal.

For example, Steve Paikin:

If Ford Nation was becoming at all blasé because of the mayor’s travails, that will almost certainly come to an end. Ford Nation will be energized as never before at what it perceives as the “vast left wing conspiracy’s” attempt to remove Ford from office. They don’t see a man who broke the law. They see the elites ganging up on their guy.

And from Saturday’s Globe and Mail, an article by Adrian Morrow:

An Angus Reid poll released Friday, meanwhile, suggested three out of five people who voted for the mayor in 2010 would back him again in a by-election.

“A lot of people are surprised that he’s held the support that he has. It surprises me at times how resilient it is,” said Nick Kouvalis, the strategist who engineered Mr. Ford’s 2010 victory.

The consistent point being that, hey, don’t count him out.

Well, campaigns matter (especially at the municipal level where “fundamentals” are fuzzier to define) so Ford certainly “could”, in a mathematical sense, win re-election. But I think even a cursory view at the polls shows it’s unlikely, and a longer view at the last two years’ worth of polling shows that it’s difficult to imagine how Ford could do it.

Let’s start with the numbers from the Angus Reid poll. Some basic math shows us the depth of Rob Ford’s electoral hole. Angus Reid’s poll is online here, and it’s true that Ford has clung to 60% of his 2010 totals. But the remaining 40%, per Angus Reid, aren’t looking like potential Ford supporters:

Yes, Rob Ford currently hold 60% of his 2010 support. But of the 40% of his supporters he’s lost, 90% don’t intend to vote for him again. Which is why I’m putting in Angus Reid’s city-wide numbers as well, since it will be all of Toronto voters who go to the polls, not just Ford’s supporters.

And I don’t know how you look at a poll where the candidate has a 27% re-elect number and say “he could still win!” Actually, 27% is a significant number for political junkies: it’s the number of people who voted for Alan Keyes versus Barack Obama in the 2004 Illinois Senate race. As John Rogers immortally wrote in 2005:

Keyes was from out of state, so you can eliminate any established political base; both candidates were black, so you can factor out racism; and Keyes was plainly, obviously, completely crazy. Batshit crazy. Head-trauma crazy. But 27% of the population of Illinois voted for him. They put party identification, personal prejudice, whatever ahead of rational judgement. Hell, even like 5% of Democrats voted for him. That’s crazy behaviour. I think you have to assume a 27% Crazification Factor in any population.

Rob Ford’s political support, in at least one poll, has reached the Crazification Factor that Keyes did, and eventually George W. Bush did as well. It is not a place you want to be in when running for re-election.

Finally, there’s no evidence yet of a counterreaction to Justice Hackland’s decision. According to the Angus Reid poll, 40% of Rob Ford’s 2010 supporters agree with Hackland’s decision, and a massive 69% of voters city-wide do.

Forum Research has been polling more regularly than Angus Reid, and their results, while slightly more favourable for Ford, don’t give any evidence to pin hopes of a Ford groundswell on, either. We’ve got a good series of polls going back a year, but frankly the data hasn’t shown much change in that time so we might as well go with the most recent. (You’ll have to register for that PDF link, I think.)

Do voters oppose the judge’s ruling? Nope, city-wide the approval is 58-38. According to Forum’s poll, 27% of Ford’s 2010 supporters agree with the decision. When given a number of alternative punishments to choose from, exactly half still say he should lose his job (plenty of Ford critics who have no intention of voting for him reasonably enough disagree with the severity of the law.)

But if you go through the Forum polls, the preponderance of data suggests their IVR polling finds a hard core of Ford support of about 35%. Angus Reid pins it at 27%. I’ve seen no poll that suggests support for Ford in even the low 40s on a consistent basis. (As I hope you’ve gathered by now, I try to pay attention to this stuff.)

And this is the important part: Ford Nation is not a winning electoral coalition. 35% gets you a teary concession speech on election night. (Ask George Smitherman.) The 47% of the vote that Rob Ford legitimately won in 2010 (pending the conclusion of his campaign finance audit) is not all made up of “Ford Nation”. Rather, Ford Nation is somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of Toronto’s electorate and Ford managed to attract sufficient additional voters, in the unique circumstances of the 2010 election, to push him over the top.

Ah, you say, but what of the Toronto Left’s limitless capacity for electoral self-harm? What happens if Shelley Carroll, Adam Vaughan, Olivia Chow, and a bunch of other candidates step in to the race and split the vote? Indeed, backers of Olivia Chow are already using this scenario in order to arrogantly instruct sitting councillors to sit out the by-election.

We should never underestimate the left’s ability to step on a rake in this town, but it’s worth remembering the 2003 election: in a serious contest between serious candidates, the electorate did the choosing, with 81% of the vote coalescing behind either David Miller or John Tory, and no other candidate breaking double digits.

The vote-splitting on the left in 2010 was not because there were too many candidates (despite what Smitherman supporters would like to believe.) Some polling at the time suggested half of Joe Pantalone’s vote would have gone to Rob Ford, so if this had become a two-person race the only result would have been Ford having an outright majority, not the plurality he got.

Rather, the vote splitting on the left was because there were no good candidates to the left of Rob Ford. I have things to say about Carroll, Vaughan, and Chow, but I’m confident none of them would end up being the mediocrities that Smitherman and Pantalone were.

There’s also the fact that Adam Vaughan has repeatedly indicated that his priority is removing Ford, not being mayor himself. Given the polling numbers in place today, Vaughan is the only candidate with a serious chance of digging in to Chow’s support to any dangerous degree, and even that is minimal. If Vaughan sits this one out and lets Chow take the lead, I don’t see any possibility of substantial vote-splitting.

Now, the disclaimer: obviously, circumstances could change. If Olivia Chow pushes out all contenders and then collapses due to scandal or something, Ford could win again. But that’s not the argument that’s being made today. We’re seeing pundits and Ford supporters claim that there’s a groundswell of Ford support just waiting to happen in a by-election, a claim for which there is zero evidence. I suspect that Ford will just about keep his 35% in the Forum Polls on the yet-to-be-decided election day. But that’s not what victories are made of.

With all the evidence we have today, Ford is likely to lose. And it’s not going to be particularly close.

8 thoughts on “No, Rob Ford’s re-election isn’t certain. It’s not even likely.

  1. Excellent. It’s worth considering that it was one thing to vote for Councillor Ford as the guy who might be able to “clean house” and whatever, now Ford has 2 years of bitter acrimony, bungling, and a regular parade of idiotic behaviour that can only detract from any perception of competence he may have had. Not least of which is effectively legally tying his own shoelaces and then falling on his face, forcing a judge to throw him out of office out of sheer hubris.

  2. Given how easily RoFo got Adam Vaughan to anger by holding a couple of his items at Council, it doesn’t bode well for a full-on election campaign with Campaign Research carpetbombing the city with robocalls. Chow is likely to have the opposite problem: playing the victim every time the Tories poke will get old fast. The question is whether Carroll can present a vision for the City or some sort of technocratic nibbling around the edges – that didn’t get Smitherman far notwithstanding his other negative perceptions.

  3. That’s so true about there were no credible opponents to Ford – the other two were so terribly bad news for Toronto – if Smitherman got in we would have had a slowed up version of Rob Ford’s conservatism and he’s too smart to make scandals out of 3,000 bucks. Ornge and eHealth would have been hard to equal, but I have faith he’d rise to the occassion…and Pantalone….was never meant to be.

  4. I supported Ford last election and will support him again in the next. Much has been made of the circus at city hall, but few have put most of the blame where it belongs, with Vaughn, Fletcher, Carroll, Perks, Davis, McConnell and company who have shown outright disrespect for the man since day one. He has accomplished an amazing amount in his two years given the constant bullying tactics of the left. They didn’t think he would win and were outraged when he did, and have acted like spoiled brats since. They refuse to accept the people of Toronto are tired of their spend, spend, tax, tax ways. Want the circus to end? People should vote out the clowns above.

    • Why do people continue to fall back on the mythical talking point that Ford has “accomplished so much?” With the possible exception of successful labour negotiations he has accomplished roughly zero. In fact, his heel-dragging on transit issues, his war on cycling infrastructure, and his stupid focus on nickel and dime council office budgets instead of billion dollar city finances have likely set Toronto back two years. Please stop saying the left is “bullying” him. The man is incompetent and those who give a shit about the city want to see him gone.

    • Being against “taxing and spending” as a concept is ludicrous. Running and expanding a city costs money. There are only two things that matter: What do you need the city to do? Is the city using its funds efficiently? Ford’s inability to find any significant amount of “gravy” means the answer to the second question is yes. If the city is doing what we need and spends its money efficiently, then any complaint about taxes is childish whining. And if the city is NOT doing what it should be then you should be complaining about that, not the fact that they are taxing and spending.

    • Bullying tactics of the left? It sounded to me like they’re trying to beat the Ford camp at their own game, they’ve been bullying everyone since the day he was elected.

      People like that have shown outright disrespect for Ford because Ford has shown outright disrespect for the rules of council, for procedure, for the entire left in general.

      We need to quit electing people who are incapable of uniting the city. It isn’t a hard-left or hard-right candidate who’s going to balance the wants of the budget and the wants of the people. If we keep going for these hard-left or hard-right candidates then we’ll just end up swinging back and forth between heavy support for downtown and heavy support for the former suburbs.

      An overwhelming amount of people don’t support Ford because he isn’t cleaning house, he’s finding quick fixes that will make it look like he’s doing a great job. Our budget is pretty good this year, it cost us a 10% cut to every city service including the police and fire departments. How is it fiscally “responsible” to trade saving lives to balance a budget?

      Ford’s camp has shown outright contempt for what he sees as the “left-wing agenda”. Unfortunately, “left-wing” to him is synonymous with “spending money on anything”, which is why he’s willing to cut money from anything, even the things that matter.

  5. Good analysis, but I still worry what will happen if two or three stubborn candidates on the left all run in the election. What I’m really hoping for (and I can’t believe I’m actually writing this) is that Mammoliti throws his hat into the ring. He’s sure to siphon votes away from Ford, as might John Tory (the perennial candidate) or perhaps Karen Stintz (who might actually not be a bad choice).

    However, we can never discount the possibility of a candidate running up the middle; Stephane Dion’s surprise win at the Liberal leadership conference a few years ago is a perfect example of what can happen when multiple flawed candidates spilt the moderate voters in unexpected ways.

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