Turmoil in Toronto's City Hall has grabbed the headlines in Canada and throughout the world and has arguably made Toronto ungovernable. But while staffers may be fleeing the mayor's office, Rob Ford's supporters have held firm.
Considering that it has been one thing after another for Toronto's mayor, it is remarkable that Mr. Ford's approval ratings have been relatively stable going back to September 2011. After an initial honeymoon in the months following his election victory in October 2010, Mr. Ford's approval rating has hardly wavered from around 43 per cent in polling by Forum Research.
The latest survey by Forum Research, taken after the allegations concerning a certain video emerged, still put Mr. Ford's approval rating at 42 per cent.
Though that is on the lower end of the scale in polling conducted over the last eight months, he had about the same level of support in November 2012 and even scored worse in a March 2013 poll. His approval rating has only slipped one or two points compared to polls done in April and early May.
Until more polls are conducted, the only thing that can be concluded is that his approval rating has taken no major hit whatsoever.
How the polls are conducted
This is based only on the IVR polling that has been done by Forum Research. Having more polls from which to triangulate Mr. Ford's approval rating would be preferable, but Forum is the only firm that has consistently released political numbers for Toronto. Isolated polls from Angus-Reid and Ipsos-Reid measuring Mr. Ford's approval rating have come out from time to time, but they have not shown any consistency with Forum's numbers. At the time of an Angus-Reid poll in early 2012, Forum had Mr. Ford's approval rating seven to 11 points higher, while compared to polling from Ipsos-Reid in late 2011, Forum had his approval rating as 20 points lower. And in mid-2012, Forum was reporting numbers four to seven points lower than Ipsos-Reid.
While all three of these firms were active during the 2010 municipal election (in which Mr. Ford took 47 per cent of the vote to 36 per cent for George Smitherman and 12 per cent for Joe Pantalone), none released a poll in the last week of the campaign.
Nevertheless, there is some useful information that has been recorded by firms other than Forum. Measurements by Ipsos-Reid, Angus-Reid, and Nanos Research have shown that between 28 and 34 per cent of decided Torontonians would re-elect Mr. Ford. Those numbers have held steady both before and after the recent trouble, suggesting that while Mr. Ford's approval ratings may be solid re-election is by no means assured.
Rob Ford vs. Olivia Chow?
Indeed, in head-to-head polls conducted by Forum, Mr. Ford has consistently trailed the hypothetical candidature of Olivia Chow, a Toronto-area NDP MP. When stacked against Ms. Chow, Mr. Ford has managed between 33 and 40 per cent support, compared to between 49 and 60 per cent for Ms. Chow. Interestingly, however, when a third candidate has been added – in particular councilor Adam Vaughan – Ms. Chow's margin over Mr. Ford shrinks to only a handful of points.
Her lead is especially marked in the former City of Toronto, where Mr. Ford was beaten by Mr. Smitherman in the 2010 vote. Mr. Ford has averaged only 29 per cent approval in old Toronto during his time as mayor, a stark contrast to how he is seen in the rest of the city.
But there are not any real differences between how Mr. Ford is perceived in the suburbs. Since the first polling was done in early 2011 by Forum, Mr. Ford has averaged about 50 per cent approval in the former municipalities of Etobicoke (48 per cent), North York (50 per cent), and Scarborough (51 per cent). After his initial honeymoon wore off, approval of Mr. Ford remained steady in these three neighbourhoods, while support for Mr. Ford in the former City of Toronto has inched down incrementally. But even the recent scandals have not changed things dramatically.
The latest poll by Ipsos-Reid tells a slightly different story, however. While the proportion of people who say they would re-elect Mr. Ford is no different than the number who approve of him in old Toronto in Forum's polling, voters in Etobicoke and North York were more pro-Ford than those in Scarborough. This may hint at a chink in Mr. Ford's suburban armour, but the polling by Forum has shown no marked difference between Scarborough and the other amalgamated former municipalities.
There seems to be a solid core of some 30 to 40 per cent of Torontonians who approve of the mayor's performance and would vote for Rob Ford again. Any sign that the recent allegations and the disorder in City Hall have hurt Mr. Ford's support has yet to conclusively emerge. Perhaps after everything else that has been thrown at the Toronto mayor over the last few years, his supporters have grown immune to new allegations. Unless that immunity is broken down, Rob Ford remains a potent electoral force in Canada's most populous city.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com .