The day after Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said the force had a copy of the much-talked-about video featuring Mayor Rob Ford, a poll was released that surprised many. Mr. Ford's support had gone...up?
Calls for his resignation have come from all corners, but Mr. Ford says he is staying put. Amazingly, so have his approval ratings. However, strong top-line approval numbers may mask deeper weaknesses, as polls suggest that, among those members of the so-called 'Ford Nation,' his support has taken a significant hit – and this before Tuesday's bombshell admission that he had smoked crack cocaine.
So counter-intuitive is the uptick in approval that it has been cited by numerous foreign news organizations. Polls by Forum Research (the only firm regularly publishing polling data on municipal affairs in Toronto; to read more about their methodology see our piece on IVR polling from earlier this year) have shown that Mr. Ford's approval rating actually increased after Chief Blair laid out the investigation into the mayor's activities and those of a close associate.
Why did Ford's approval go up?
In actual fact, Mr. Ford's approval ratings only increased from a significant drop in a poll published just before the new allegations were made. Mr. Ford had approval ratings of between 44 and 49 per cent over the summer before registering 39 per cent on the eve of Chief Blair's report. His approval ratings have since corrected themselves to 44 and 43 per cent in polls conducted on Oct. 31 and Nov. 4, respectively. It seems more likely, then, that the 39 per cent poll was a bit of an outlier, and that his approval ratings actually took a modest tumble in the immediate aftermath.
But interestingly, those most recent numbers are identical to the two polls Forum published prior to the initial May report by Gawker and the Toronto star on the existence of a video allegedly showing the mayor smoking crack cocaine. This suggests that Mr. Ford's approval rating had not been adversely affected by either the initial allegations or Chief Blair's confirmation of them. Where they will go now that the mayor has admitted to smoking the drug remains to be seen.
In any case, as the chart below shows, Mr. Ford's approval ratings had decreased among those Torontonians who have supported him in the past, despite his approval ratings have held steady overall.
The groups identified as making up Ford Nation in the chart above are those that showed significantly higher levels of support for the mayor in the polls taken just before the initial video reports.
Support among middle-aged Torontonians, those between the ages of 45 and 64, dropped between five and 7.5 points, while support remained constant among the entire population. Mr. Ford's approval dropped by two points in North York, but plummeted from 60 per cent to 54.5 per cent in Scarborough. In households with an income of between $20,000 and $40,000 per year, his approval ratings dropped to 46.5 per cent from 52 per cent, while among those who drive to work it fell to 48.5 per cent from 55 per cent before the video allegations arose. Among those with a high school education or less, support dropped from 69 per cent to 51.5 per cent.
And most significantly, among Torontonians who voted for Rob Ford in 2010 his approval rating dropped more than five points from 81.5 per cent to 76 per cent.
There was an insignificant uptick in support among the poorest Torontonians, and a larger gain among those with some post-secondary education (but no diploma).
But it seems that the word of Chief Blair did the most damage to Mr. Ford's standing among his supporters, rather than the scandal as a whole. In polls done over the summer, Mr. Ford's approval rating was little different: it averaged 44.5 per cent. But again the mayor suffered a hit in support among those members of Ford Nation. During the summer, his approval rating averaged 82.4 per cent among those who voted for him in 2010, and was generally similar to his pre-Gawker numbers among those groups identified above. Put simply, the hit to his support among Ford Nation took place after Chief Blair's report, not after the initial allegations surrounding the video from the media in the spring. If Ford Nation has lost enthusiasm for their mayor, Mr. Ford's re-election hopes should diminish considerably. Undoubtedly, Tuesday's admission will not help matters.
But if Mr. Ford's approval rating sunk among those who have supported him in the past, while his overall rating remained constant, it follows that his approval ratings increased among those who are not members of Ford Nation. Why this is so is difficult to figure. Considering that a large portion of this antagonistic voting bloc is made up of Toronto hipsters, perhaps they are being ironic.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.