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Politics Ford’s support shows he is who voters expected him to be

After the events of the last two weeks, many people are shocked to find that Mayor Rob Ford's polling numbers have not moved.

They believe that voters will pull the veil from their eyes and see his warts. But many of Mr. Ford's supporters see his warts and stand by their man. How can this be?

Allow me to mount an explanation of Mr. Ford and his relationship to the aspirational class using that most elite of tools: the academic paper.

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According to an article in Political Psychology, Bill Clinton survived impeachment because his supporters had low expectations for his moral behaviour but high standards for his economic performance. Clinton met his economic expectations and voters clearly signalled that they wanted him sanctioned but not impeached.

In contract, voters were disappointed with Richard Nixon because he promised moral character and failed. They were also highly dissatisfied with his economic performance. Nixon resigned to avoid an impeachment that the public supported.

Voters set expectations for a government leader when they vote him or her in. One of Barack Obama's challenges is that he set expectations too high in the 2008 election. In contrast, Jean Chretien was a genius at managing voter expectations of him.

No one in Toronto expected Rob Ford's mayoralty to be a genteel garden party, especially his core supporters.

They cast their ballots for someone already revealed as a bull in a china shop at best. The drunk-at-the-hockey-game story was out there, as was the marijuana bust, the episode of promising to buy someone Oxycontin, and the "Orientals work like dogs" line.

The bizarre accusations over the last two weeks would demolish a Stephen Harper or a Kathleen Wynne, because their supporters hold very different expectations. But these revelations are a straight-line from the facts voters had about Ford before the election.

In the fall of 2010, pollster Michael Marzolini conducted a focus group for the Smitherman campaign. One woman said "she was overlooking Ford's personal issues, as long as he didn't waste her taxes."

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Some Ford voters in effect "priced in" scandal to their Ford vote. So long as he respected taxpayers, they were prepared to accept questionable personal issues.

This isn't to say the challenges of the past two years haven't done damage. The current 36 per cent support is well below the 47 per cent of the vote the Mayor received in the election.

But a covenant was made between Ford and his voters that he would respect taxpayers, and they would overlook his other shortcomings. This covenant allows Ford tremendous slack from some of them on everything except attacking spending and lowering taxes.

Andrew Steele is a Toronto social entrepreneur.

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