Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is Ford back in the race?

Yesterday, rumours were swirling on Twitter that the next poll from Forum Research would show Rob Ford in the lead in the Toronto mayoral race. The rumours were half-right, at least according to the tea leaves of the poll published by the Toronto Star this morning.

Apparently, in Forum's two nights of polls on August 25 and 26, Ford was in a "statistical tie" with John Tory on the first night. Combine that with the rumours, and that probably means Ford was ahead on that first night. 

Note: the averages here remove undecideds from the equation, so that is why the results and the recent-highs/lows are somewhat different from what Forum has reported. Forum has not removed undecideds from its polls.

I took a look at this poll in detail for The Huffington Post Canada. Because of the waves the poll is likely to make today, I thought it worthwhile to highlight the piece here rather than post about a different topic entirely. I found a few issues with the results of the poll that might lead one to think we're looking at a blip that will be reset with the next poll. Regression to the mean and all that.

Now, one might accuse me of setting out to find reasons to doubt the poll. Those accusations would be completely accurate.

Whenever a new poll emerges that shows something unexpected or at odds with what other surveys have shown, those of us who look at these things have a responsibility to investigate whether the poll itself is the reason rather than to look for explanations in the real world first. Are these results terribly unusual? Not exactly - Ford is up four points among all voters, five points among decided voters. Significant but not unworldly. While Tory has led in the last few polls now, he hasn't run away with it, and Olivia Chow appears to be dropping. This is also the first poll since Karen Stintz withdrew from the race. It is perfectly rational that a candidate might make a move in these circumstances.

But Ford is not the candidate of rational politics. I can say with confidence that Canada has never seen a political figure like him before - at least one that actually stands a chance to be re-elected to high office. We all know what he has been alleged to have done, denied having done, was confirmed that he had done, has apologized for what he has done, and what he has done again to restart the whole cycle. That he could win is counter-intuitive, so we must investigate reasons for a surge in support in the poll itself before assuming enough Torontonians are willing to give him another chance.

The next polls will determine whether Ford has indeed put himself back into a position to potentially be re-elected. For now, we should proceed with caution.