Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Pretty much any candidate could pose serious threat to Mayor Rob Ford in by-election

By: Matt Elliott Metro, Metro Canada Published on Fri Dec 21 2012

The headlines this week made a bold statement, declaring that only one candidate — NDP MP Olivia Chow — could really pose a “serious threat” to Mayor Rob Ford in a by-election that could potentially follow the decision in the mayor's conflict-of-interest case.

But I don't buy it. In the right scenario, virtually every candidate poses a serious threat to Rob Ford.

Here's why: despite the pervasive narratives surrounding Ford — teflon mayor! Ford Nation! — every single piece of polling we've seen since soon after the 2010 municipal election has painted this mayor as unpopular. He's got no momentum, and the groundswell of support that carried him to almost 50 per cent of the popular vote two years ago has dried up.

As proof, check out this set of polling data from Forum Research. They recently released all the results of the one-one-one mayoral polling they conducted over the last year.

Some of these polls are fairly old, but it's unlikely the numbers would have changed in Ford's favour since they were conducted. His approval rating, after all, hasn't budged from the same low level it's been at for the last 18 months.

The pattern should be fairly obvious. Despite a significant chunk of voters still identifying as undecideds, challengers from both the left and right of the political spectrum have huge leads over Ford. In most races, non-Ford candidates are within spitting distance of holding an outright majority of the electorate.

Even George Smitherman, who tanked in the polls against Ford in 2010, now polls nine points better than the guy who trounced him.

Ford's best one-on-one result in the last year came against Coun. Shelley Carroll, who has struggled with name recognition. But even then, Ford only managed a tie. (Ford also secured a tie in a hypothetical race with former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant, but I didn't include that in the chart.)

So what's with the headlines declaring that Chow is the only real threat to Ford? Some of it is just that Forum Research, the agency most often doing public polling on these issues, insists on surveying bizarre hypothetical races in which several candidates face off in four- or five-way campaigns. For a lot of reasons, I don't think it's likely that we'll see that kind of scenario in a by-election. There might be some early sabre-rattling from long shot candidates, but expect things to congeal into a race with, at most, three major candidates.

The other reason for the no-serious-threat headlines, of course, is that our current first-past-the-post electoral system kind of sucks, allowing for the real possibility that someone with Ford's popularity numbers could still sail to reelection if the popular vote is evenly split between his challengers. From that angle, the problem isn't that potential foes don't pose a serious threat to Ford, it's that they also happen to pose a serious threat to each other.

This post was originally published at on 2012-12-21T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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