Friday, July 4, 2014

Chow still leads, Ford drops to third

A new poll from Forum Research for the Toronto Star shows that Olivia Chow still holds the lead in the race for the Toronto mayoralty, and that the spike in support recorded in Forum's previous survey for Rob Ford seems not to have been the start of a new trend. He is now back in third behind John Tory.

Chow was up two points from Forum's last poll conducted on June 23, and now leads with 36% support among all respondents. Tory was up three points to 27%, while Ford dropped one point to 26%. David Soknacki, down two points to 4%, and Karen Stintz, unchanged at 3%, were well behind. Another 4% of respondents were undecided.

If we remove those undecideds, Chow improves to 38%, followed by Tory at 28% and Ford at 27%. 

None of these shifts in support appear to be statistically significant, and if we look at the chart above it is clear that the candidates are mostly just wobbling to and fro within the margin of error. Chow, for instance, has been between 35% and 40% since she officially launched her bid, and Tory has been between 25% and 30% since Ford's support cratered in April. 

Ford's numbers, just like the man, have been a bit more erratic, but are mostly hovering around the 25% mark.

So it would appear that Torontonians have mostly settled into their voting intentions, at least for the time being. That is good news for Olivia Chow, who holds a comfortable lead. But while it is possible to see a road to victory for Tory, it is not possible to see the same thing for Ford.

Ford's approval rating is down to 31% among all Torontonians, putting him just one point up on Soknacki (who is penalized mostly for not being well known). If Stintz and Soknacki drop out of the race, Ford's numbers only improve to 28% against Chow and Tory, still too low to be in a position to win. And when asked directly whether they will vote for Ford, 69% of Torontonians said no. It is not possible for Ford to win with the remaining 31% (some of whom were undecided, rather than willing to vote for Ford) unless Chow and Tory split the vote almost evenly, and Soknacki and Stintz up their support levels.

It is difficult to imagine how such a scenario could come about. If something like that happens in the last weeks of the campaign and the polls record it, we are unlikely to still see a large portion of the electorate voting for candidates who have no hope of beating Ford. Instead, either Chow or Tory would likely get a surge from being the consensus anti-Ford candidate.

Even Ford's 'rehab' won't save him. Asked again if Torontonians would vote for Ford if he stays clean and sober (which only 26% think he will over the next three months), still 67% will not vote for him. He has alienated two-thirds of the electorate, and that will sink him. Ford may have his fans, but his boosters do not love him as much as the rest of the city is sick of him.

But what about Tory? Ford is the biggest obstacle to him winning the job. When Ford is dropped from the race, Tory moves into a two-point lead over Chow (38% to 36% among all voters, 46% to 44% among decideds). He retains that two point edge if Soknacki and Stintz also drop out. This is the first time Tory has led Chow in these hypothetical scenarios since February.

Tory's approval ratings are also the highest at 63% among decided voters, or 60% among all voters (an increase of four points since June 23). Chow is not far behind at 56% approval among all voters, but it suggests that Tory has the higher ceiling of the two. If this race was not dominated by the Ford circus, Tory would have a very good shot at becoming Toronto's next mayor.

But Chow is still a force on her own, since the narrow lead Forum gives Tory in a non-Ford contest is well within the margin of error. Tory may have an ace up his sleeve, however, in that he is much more competitive among older voters. While the edge over all is worth nine points for Chow, that shrinks to one to four points among voters aged 35 to 54 and over 65, while Tory has a three-point edge among voters aged 55 to 64. The Ford factor is likely to encourage high turnout among younger voters, but if primarily older people vote the margin between Tory and Chow could shrink considerably.

That is as competitive as the race is likely to get. At best, the contest is two-headed with Chow holding a healthy advantage. Ford is merely taking some 25% of the vote off the table and may play the spoiler, but he no longer has the support to put him in a position where he can actually win. As long as they don't do something crazy like, say, smoke crack on video, slur racial, homophobic, and sexist comments while on a bender, or associate with known criminals, either Tory or Chow will win. How sad that pointing something like this out in the past would have been a joke.