As the race to be Toronto's mayor hits the home stretch, John Tory is opening up his lead with a 14-point advantage in a campaign dominated by transit and gridlock, new polling numbers show.
Mr. Tory has the support of 42 per cent of decided voters if the election were held today, followed by Rob Ford at 28 per cent and Olivia Chow at 26 per cent – a statistical tie – finds a Nanos Research poll of 1,000 Torontonians conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV News.
No other issue matters more to Toronto voters than solving the city's transportation woes, with almost half of respondents identifying transit/gridlock as the most important issue, without prompting. Just 19 per cent cited transportation as the leading issue during a similar poll taken during the 2010 campaign.
Transit plans – and how to pay for them – have dominated the platforms of all the major candidates, with Mr. Ford set to release his subway plans Wednesday morning. Transit will be a key issue at a debate being hosted this week by The Globe and the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
Pollster Nik Nanos predicts transit proposals alone will not be enough to win an election, but they could lose one. "It can be a fail politically if you don't do a good job on transit," he said.
If the election for mayor of Toronto were held today, who would you vote for?
Mr. Tory was identified by 38 per cent of respondents as having "the best vision for urban transit," followed by Mr. Ford at 24 per cent and Ms. Chow at 22 per cent.
Mr. Tory has spent much of his campaign touting his SmartTrack plan to add TTC commuter lines in existing GO corridors, while Ms. Chow has focused on improving TTC service, including adding buses. She wants to keep light rail plans for Scarborough, while Mr. Tory and Mr. Ford support a subway extension to replace the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit line.
The poll found Mr. Tory's support is strongest in the former City of Toronto, but he is leading the mayor in all areas of the city except Mr. Ford's Etobicoke home base, where the mayor edges him out with support from 35 per cent of voters, compared with 34 per cent for Mr. Tory.
The survey found 17 per cent of respondents were "unsure" of whom they would vote for as mayor. When those undecided voters are added to the mix, Mr. Tory still leads with 35 per cent support; Mr. Ford has 23 per cent and Ms. Chow 21 per cent.
Mr. Ford's standing by several measures, including voter support, is lagging behind his showing at this point in the campaign four years ago, the surveys show. Mr. Ford does have the most loyal block of followers, with 77 per cent indicating their support is firm, compared to 69 per cent for Mr. Tory and 59 per cent for Ms. Chow.
"He has a base that he can count on. Now the challenge for Rob Ford is to recapture the coalition that propelled him to office in 2010," Mr. Nanos said.
The poll, taken between August 27 and 31, sampled residents who said they were "very likely" to cast a ballot in the October election. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
While the numbers show Mr. Tory is the "clear leader" at this point," Mr. Nanos said his camp should be nervous about guarding their lead and holding on to volunteers and financial support with almost two months before voters go to the polls.
Mr. Nanos predicted both Ms. Chow and Mr. Ford will make Mr. Tory the focus of their attacks as they battle to distinguish themselves as his main challenger. Although they represent opposite sides of the political spectrum, both Ms. Chow and Mr. Ford could benefit from a drop in support for Mr. Tory, the pollster said – a unique feature of this Toronto race.
Fourth-placed candidate David Soknacki's support remains in the single digits, with 3 per cent among decided voters, but he is the second choice of 14 per cent, the poll finds. Sarah Thomson has the support of 1 per cent of decided voters.
The new numbers come as the stage is being set for the home stretch of the months-long campaign. At an all-candidates meeting hosted by the Greenwood community in the city's east end Tuesday night, Ms. Chow, who is revamping her campaign after slipping from an early lead, said she's not concerned about recent polls so far from the Oct. 27 election. "I've been an underdog before [and] I've won 10 elections," she said.
On Tuesday night, Mr. Tory said he not changing his strategy in response to his front-runner status. "I always campaign like I'm five points behind, always have and will continue to do so. These polls they come and they go; there may be another one that's different. I just pay no attention to them."
Mr. Ford skipped the all-candidates meeting to canvass homes in North York instead. The mayor shrugged off the new numbers. "I don't listen to polls, he said. "There is one poll and that's the taxpayers' poll."
Some other interesting findings:
– When asked who the most trustworthy candidate is, 42 per cent of respondents said Mr. Tory; 29 per cent said Ms. Chow; 19 per cent said Mr. Ford; and 10 per cent were unsure. In a similar poll in 2010, 28.6 per cent of those surveyed said Mr. Ford was the most trustworthy; ahead of 13.6 per cent for George Smitherman and 12.9 per cent for Joe Pantalone.
– The most competent candidate identified in the recent survey was Mr. Tory, with 51 per cent support. Ms Chow had 22 per cent support and Mr. Ford 18 per cent (8 per cent were unsure). In the 2010 poll, Mr. Ford was seen to be the most competent with 29.6 per cent support. Mr. Smitherman had 16.1 per cent.
– The candidate most likely to control spending in the 2014 Nanos survey was John Tory at 41 per cent. Rob Ford was the choice of 34 per cent of the respondents, while Olivia Chow was the choice of 15 per cent (10 per cent were unsure).
– When asked whom they would describe as most likely to keep campaign promises, 36 per cent of respondents said Mr. Tory. Mr. Ford and Ms. Chow tied with 24 per cent each, while 15 per cent were unsure.
With reports from Ann Hui, Marcus Gee and Kat Sieniuc