Friday, September 12, 2014

Doug replaces Rob - what now?

A quick analysis on the news out of Toronto this afternoon. With Rob Ford out of the race to be Toronto's mayor due to health problems, the campaign has changed radically. But with Doug Ford taking his place, and undoubtedly set to run a campaign based on the premise that a vote for Doug Ford is a vote for Rob Ford, will the support levels so far recorded in the race change dramatically as well?

There are two competing factors at play. The first is that Doug Ford is not his brother. Rob Ford has managed to maintain a degree of sympathy with a segment of the population despite all of the issues of the last year. Doug Ford, on the other hand, has no such well of sympathy. 

There have not been many polls conducted related to the possibility of a Doug Ford candidacy. But a few polls have asked about him. The most recent survey, a poll conducted by Forum Research in May, put Doug Ford at only 20% if he replaced his brother. This was at a time when Rob Ford was polling at 24%.

Rob Ford's approval rating at the time was 32%, one of the lowest levels he has ever recorded. Doug Ford's approval rating in the same poll was 30%. 

In a poll conducted by Forum in November 2013, Doug Ford was similarly polling below his brother.

And in an Ipsos Reid poll from the same month, 34% of respondents said they trusted Rob Ford whereas only 30% said the same about Doug Ford. To be fair, however, Doug Ford's approval rating in that poll was two points higher than Rob's (42% to 40%).

So this suggests that we might expect, all things being equal, that Doug Ford would poll below his brother's level of support, which is currently averaging 29%.

The second factor at play, however, is that Doug Ford will not be replacing his brother in a vacuum. Though Rob Ford has withdrawn from the mayoral race, he has put his name on the ballot to be a councilor. Doug's candidacy, then, is almost as a proxy for Rob. This is the Ford family running for the job, rather than Doug alone. Some voters who liked Rob but not his brother may still vote for Doug Ford because of this. Add the extra sympathy that Rob Ford's health problems might give him, and it has the potential to boost the kind of numbers Doug Ford would have had on his own.

So perhaps the next set of polls will show little difference, with Doug merely being slotted in for Rob. But there are seven weeks left to go in the campaign, and Doug is not the campaigner his brother is and has had testy exchanges with the media in the past. He will have debates to attend as well. If he manages to maintain Rob Ford's support out of sympathy at first, he may have difficulty holding on to it through to October 27.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wide Tory lead confirmed in new Toronto poll

The polls are starting to converge in the Toronto mayoral race, as the Toronto Star published the latest numbers from Forum Research this morning. The results of the poll are virtually identical to the last set of numbers that were released by Nanos Research. And that means John Tory's comfortable lead over Rob Ford and Olivia Chow looks confirmed.

The poll, conducted the day before David Soknacki's withdrawal from the race, gave Tory 40% support among all respondents, a gain of six points over Forum's previous poll of August 25-26. Ford was down three points to 28%, while Chow was down two points to 21%. Soknacki scored 6% in this his final poll of the campaign.

If we remove the undecideds, Tory's lead would increase to 13 points, with 42% to 29% for Ford and 22% for Chow.

This is the strongest result that Tory has managed in any Forum poll, and the lowest number we have seen from Chow. But for Ford, who appeared to be potentially making a comeback in Forum's last poll, this is just a return to the numbers he was putting up between the end of June and early August. In the end, his surge was indeed a fluke.

One thing noted by the Star was Chow's drop of 10 points in Scarborough, where she has just 9% support. That seems like an unusual and unlikely result, but at the same time she gained 11 points in Etobicoke-York, where she is now apparently almost as competitive as she is downtown. So the two oddities probably cancel each other out.

If we iron out the Nanos poll from early July, the trends have been pretty clear and consistent. Chow has been dropping across the board since mid-June, and it has been Tory who has benefited. Ford's numbers appear to have rebounded slightly (he seems more likely to end up closer to 30% than the 20% that seemed probable in the spring) but it is Tory who has taken command of the race.

Will Soknacki's departure change much? He wasn't taking many votes off the table. At 6% in this poll, he was polling as high as he ever has.

Forum did ask how people would vote if Soknacki was off the ballot. The overall results were little different, with Tory being boosted to 41%, Ford to 30%, and Chow to 24%, with 5% either undecided or casting their vote for another candidate.

If we remove the undecideds, we see that Chow may be the candidate who could benefit the most. Of the six points that become available, she would get three of them, boosting her to 25% support. Ford gets two of those points, and the last goes to minor candidates.

It will not transform the race, but it could give Chow a much-needed morale boost. If she does manage to pick up three of the available six points, the next poll will cast her as a candidate on the upswing. If Soknacki did not withdraw, there would have been the possibility that Chow would have dropped further, taking a lot of wind out of her campaign's sails. It gives her more time.

Perhaps Soknacki pulled out prematurely. Yes, he was still at just 6%. But his approval and recognition ratings jumped remarkably in this last poll. From an approval rating of 35% among the entire sample at the end of August, Soknacki jumped to 47%, with those not recognizing him falling to just 19%. That was the biggest move of any of the candidates.

Ford took the biggest hit, with his approval rating dropping five points to 34%. Tory's approval rating increased by three points to 63% among the entire sample (65% among those who recognize him) while Chow's was up two points to 49% (or 50% among those who recognize her).

Tory's approval rating is very high, and has been for some time. It puts him in a good position since he seems unlikely to leak support to other candidates. For the first time, this poll also put Tory ahead of Ford on the question of who could best handle the city's budget.

So Tory is the favourite as we enter this last stage of the campaign. Is it a slam dunk? Not at all. This municipal campaign is very long by Canadian standards. With almost seven weeks to go before the vote, a normal provincial or federal campaign would not have even started yet. That might lead us to believe that abrupt and significant change could still be in store. But longer campaigns mean opinions can solidify earlier. To win, Tory merely needs to avoid error. Ford likely cannot grow out of his base. That leaves Chow to make a move, and time is slowly running out.

Monday, September 8, 2014

August 2014 federal polling averages

The surge in Liberal support that was recorded by the polls in July was sustained into August, as four pollsters interviewing 5,424 Canadians were in the field last month. But the Conservative slump that was also recorded in July appears to have been erased, as the party is back polling to where it was in June.

The Liberals led in the polls in August for the 17th consecutive month, with 38% support. That was down slightly from 38.7% in July, but together July-August was the best two-month period the Liberals have managed since before 2009.

The Conservatives were up 2.6 points to 30.7% in August, while the New Democrats were down one point to 20.7%. That is their lowest level of support since March 2011, before their breakthrough in the subsequent election campaign.

The Greens were down 0.3 points to 5.2%, while the Bloc Québécois was down 0.1 points to 4.4%. Support for other parties stood at 1%.

The Liberals held onto the lead in British Columbia, picking up 1.5 points to reach 34.5% support. The Conservatives were up 3.2 points to 30.9%, while the NDP was down 4.3 points to 23.5% support. The Greens were unchanged at 10.3%.

In Alberta, the Conservatives held steady at 51.3%, with the Liberals down 1.9 points to 27.4%. The NDP was third with 14.7%, a gain of 3.6 points. The Greens dropped for the third consecutive month, by one point to 4.5%.

The Conservatives were up 1.2 points in the Prairies, leading with 36.2%. The Liberals were down 2.2 points to 31.2%, while the NDP was up 1.6 points to 25.7%. That was their best result since January. The Greens were down 0.5 points to 5.5%.

In Ontario, the Liberals dropped 3.4 points to 41.1%. But here again, this is their best two-month period since before 2009. The Conservative wobble that has been in place since the end of 2013 continued, as the party rebounded 4.4 points to 35.3%. The NDP was down 0.3 points to 17.4%, their lowest level of support in Ontario since February 2011. With the exception of a small uptick in June, the NDP has fallen in five consecutive months in the province. The Greens were up, however, by 0.3 points to 6%.

The Liberals also led in Quebec with 37.2%, a gain of 1.8 points and their highest level of support since January 2014. They have made gains in each of the last three months. The NDP was up 0.9 points to 28.8%, the party's best result in the country, while the Bloc Québécois was down 2.4 points to 16%. That is the lowest the Bloc has managed since before 2009, and most likely since before the 1993 election. The Conservatives were down 0.4 points to 14%, where they have been in five of the last six months, and the Greens were up 0.3 points to 3.2%.

Though it may not be fair to lay the blame completely at Mario Beaulieu's feet (the Bloc has been dropping since April, when the Parti Québécois was dealt a stinging defeat), it is hard not to find a correlation between the departure of two MPs and the departure of a whole swathe of voters. At the very least, Beaulieu accelerated the Bloc's slide.

So far, though, the NDP has not been the prime beneficiaries, as they were from the Bloc's original fall in 2011. Instead, the Liberals have taken advantage. Before Beaulieu came along, the Bloc was at 21% support in Quebec. It has since decreased by five points. The Liberals have increased their support by seven points since then, while the NDP has dropped by one. Of course, voters can move all along the line of scrimmage (Bloc supporters moving to the NDP, replacing NDP voters who went to the Liberals, etc.) but the end result of the shifts has been a significant improvement in the Liberals' position in Quebec.

The party is also well-positioned in Atlantic Canada, as it has registered majority support since throughout 2014. The Liberals were up 1.9 points in August to lead with 52.4%, the highest support any party has in any region in the country. The Conservatives were up 1.8 points to 22.7%, while the NDP was down 5.8 points to 17.7%. The Greens were up 2.8 points to 6.5%.

With these levels of support, the Liberals would likely win around 147 seats. That is a drop of 12 seats since July's projection, and 22 short of a majority.

The Conservatives were up 19 seats to 120, while the NDP was down six seats to 68. The Greens would likely win two seats (unchanged) while the Bloc could hold onto one (down one).

The Liberals did make gains in Quebec (two seats) and British Columbia (one seat), but were down one seat apiece in Alberta and Atlantic Canada, two in the Prairies, and 11 in Ontario.

The Conservatives were up 12 seats in Ontario, four in British Columbia, and one each in Alberta, the Prairies, and Atlantic Canada.

The New Democrats were down one seat in both Ontario and Quebec, and five in B.C., but were up one in the Prairies.

As the spring turned into the summer, it appeared that the Liberals were losing steam. From 36% and an eight-point lead in January, the party had fallen to 33% and a two-point edge in June. But the last two months have put the Liberals back in front with support they have not seen since Justin Trudeau's honeymoon just after his leadership victory.

While it puts the pressure on the Conservatives to regain that lost ground, it also puts the spotlight on the NDP. The party that forms the Official Opposition is heading towards the kind of numbers it put up when it was just the 'conscience of Parliament'. That needs to be reversed, and soon, if Thomas Mulcair wants a shot at 24 Sussex.