Who is Ford Nation and is Two Fords Too Many?

What a difference two months has made to the Toronto municipal election.  In mid-August, five leading mayoral candidates were competing for votes. Rob Ford had returned from his stint in rehab and began his bid to win back the hearts and minds of Torontonians (or enough hearts and minds to be re-elected as mayor, anyway). Now, the number of front-runners in the mayoral campaign has been reduced to three. And while Torontonians will still have the option to vote for a Ford, that Ford is not Rob, but his older brother Doug. Clearly, the Ford brothers have not conceded defeat in this campaign. With the election date looming, however, the question remains: will Rob’s Ford Nation shift its allegiance to Doug, or is two Fords too many?

To date, the Toronto Election Study has surveyed over 2800 Torontonians, asking them about their attitudes towards mayoral candidates, the most important issues in the election, and their political beliefs, among other things.  While our data collection is ongoing, we can provide some preliminary results from the information we have gathered so far.  More specifically, our data provides us with insight into who makes up Ford Nation, and if voters see Doug as a substitute for Rob.

In our sample, just over a quarter (26%) of respondents indicate they would support Rob if he were running for mayor (more than 10% indicate they don’t know).  Using this value as a benchmark, we can examine the demographics of Ford Nation. We find that Rob has stronger support among Torontonians not born in Canada (34%), men (29%), individuals that attended technical or community college (32%), and those who didn’t vote in the last municipal election (30%). 

In terms of policy, Rob Ford’s hypothetical support varies widely according to which issues voters believe to be the most important.  Rob performs best among individuals who believe property taxes or the city’s finances are the key election issue (41 and 33%).  Conversely, his support is relatively weak among citizens who view public transit or traffic and congestion as most important (20 and 22%).  Individuals who believe that taxes and government spending should be cut are also more likely to support Rob (44%).

But will Rob’s supporters switch their allegiance to his brother Doug? If Rob’s supporters were voting solely on the basis of policy, it seems likely that they would shift their support to his brother.  We asked respondents how similar the policies of the two brothers are and over 85% thought they were all or mostly the same. But what if policies are not the lone cause of the voting decision? Past polls have suggested that voters like Rob better than Doug, a fact that could negatively affect the older Ford. We find, however, that in terms of personal appeal, voters rate the two brothers similarly.  On a scale of zero to one hundred, where zero means the respondents really dislike a candidate and a hundred means they really like him, Rob Ford and Doug Ford’s support is identical at 35. 

So what do these results tell us?  The Toronto voting public thinks the policies of Rob and Doug Ford are similar and citizens have similar attitudes towards the two brothers.  Although we’re still weeks away from election-day, the basis of (Rob) Ford nation gives us some idea of where Doug Ford’s support may come from.  Come election time, Doug Ford’s success or failure may be determined largely by the turnout of certain groups of Toronto voters that support his brother.  Come election might, we will find out if the Fords have tapped in to the right demographic to win.