Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson starts the 2011 municipal campaign with a comfortable lead, but could end up heading a divided council that could stall the agenda of his Vision Vancouver party, a new poll suggests.
Mr. Robertson was the preferred choice for two out of every three people in a poll done during the first two weeks of October, while only 32 per cent opted for challenger Suzanne Anton of the Non-Partisan Association.
Ms. Anton's approval rating has barely budged since the last poll, also done by Justason Market Intelligence in late July.
That's even though she started campaigning early and has maintained a steady attack on the mayor, criticizing him for everything from the Stanley Cup riot to, this week, his failure to shut down the Occupy Vancouver protest or account for the costs to police it.
Although Ms. Anton's efforts are not paying off for her own popularity, the poll indicated that voters were much more divided about which party they will support. The entry of a Green candidate into the race has had a noticeable impact.
Those polled still opt for Vision Vancouver and the NPA at about the same level they did in July – 37 and 29 per cent respectively.
But the Green Party now gets support from 19 per cent of those polled, while the Coalition Of Progressive Electors, the left-wing party that is working co-operatively with Vision Vancouver in the election, has dropped to 11 from 24.
"A Vision majority on council is not a sure thing," said Barb Justason, president of the polling firm. "Our poll doesn't translate into the council seat distribution, but I would be floored if they got another majority. It's more likely to be the Vision mayor, Gregor Robertson, and a council represented by Vision, NPA, Green and COPE."
Right now, Vision Vancouver easily rules council because it has eight of the 11 seats, with the mayor and seven councillors. COPE has two seats and the NPA has one.
Vision Vancouver director Ian Baillie acknowledged that Vision has always seen this election as a tough one, not necessarily for the mayor, but for councillors.
"I think it's going to end up as a mix again, but it is a race," he said. In the past, sometimes only a few hundred votes have divided candidates who make it to council in the eighth, ninth or 10th positions and those who lose, placing 11th, 12th and 13th.
Vision's concern about the council races has been visible in recent announcements. The mayor's main message is that he needs a full team so that he and Vision can keep "moving forward" on their ambitious agenda or block a future casino expansion.
Mr. Baillie, however, discounted the likelihood that Green candidate Adriane Carr will be elected, as did COPE organizer Nathan Allen.
Mr. Allen said COPE has a strong organization that can get its vote out, which the Green Party doesn't. The Green Party has polled high in the weeks leading up to other elections, but fizzled out by the end.
The NPA's campaign organizer, Norman Stowe, agreed that poll results don't translate into election results.
"Saying something on the phone and doing something at the ballot box can be very, very different."
Poll results are always especially difficult to interpret in municipal elections, because turnout is rarely over 35 per cent. So the election often depends on which party's supporters are most likely to vote.
"Robertson and Vision support is skewed younger and NPA and Anton appeals to traditional voters, 45 and older," said Ms. Justason. Younger voters are less likely to turn out, giving an edge to the NPA.
Another factor is that, since Vision and COPE are supporting each other and their supporters are likely to vote for each others' council candidates, the two parties had combined support of 48 per cent in the recent poll.
Special to The Globe and Mail