On talk radio and social media, in conversations and comment sections, Ford Nation continues to speak up for the mayor—despite last week’s allegations of a police investigation, crack use, public drunkenness, public urination and lies.
Here are three takes on who Ford Nation is and what makes them tick.
Haters gonna hate
As Rob Ford news unfolds, the “I hate the war on Mayor Ford” Facebook page updates its nearly 1,000 fans while maintaining a staunch defence of Ford and offering harsh words for his “haters”—especially the media and Liberals.
Neil Flagg, one of the page’s administrators, said while its authors and followers support Ford, they’re primarily rallying together on Facebook against “the media obsession with his personal life and the details of his style and looks.”
(Flagg asked my name and spent a few moments checking how fair Metro’s reporting is before agreeing to an interview.)
Flagg said he doesn’t see the so-called war on Ford in terms of left and right, but one of influence.
“I think it’s more establishment versus anti-establishment, big guy vs. little guy, the City Hall connected and politically connected versus small and independent business,” said Flagg.
Flagg said he likes Ford’s budgets, stance on subways and success in contracting out of garbage collection, but he acknowledges that Ford is flawed.
“We don’t like that he’s got a temper and drinks too much and eats too much, but people everywhere are a mixed bag. If we happen to like his politics, if he’s a mixed bag as a person, people can accept that,” he said.
Taking it personally
Dennis M. Pilon, a political science professor at York University, said what Ford Nation really likes about Ford is that he “doesn’t appear to play by the political rules.”
“You’ve got a mindset out there of people who who are alienated by what they see as the elite culture and elite politics—what they identify with about Rob Ford is he’s a plain-speaking guy,” he said.
Pilon argues that when Ford misspeaks and makes mistakes it actually endears him to Ford Nation, which he compares to American support of George W. Bush.
“The more that George Bush’s critics made fun of his lack of knowledge about certain things, the more that reinforced his support among the kind of voters who also felt they didn’t really know all the answers,” he said.
Pilon said there’s an irony that, like Bush, Ford is seen as a defender of “the little guy,” when both are sons of politicians who come from privilege.
When negative news about Ford breaks, some people take it personally and react emotionally, Pilon said.
“They feel like that’s what happens to them—that they’ve been attacked unfairly by their boss or by their friends—and they basically personalize it,” he said. “What that means is you can never, ever convince them differently.”
However, Pilon doesn’t believe all people who support Ford are this type of “Ford Nation” voter. Instead, they support Ford for his policies, as the most viable right-wing politician, and would gravitate to another candidate who championed their views.
By the numbers
Ford’s approval rating is at 44 per cent, according to a Forum Research poll conducted on Thursday evening after Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced police had recovered the alleged crack video.
Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research, said he believes about 35 per cent of voters make up the Ford Nation bedrock and have an emotional connection with Ford that stems from his roots in the suburbs.
“He’s the guy from the suburbs who did well, succeeded, became mayor and successfully went downtown,” he said. Ford is seen as taking power away from the previous administration’s downtown elites.
Bozinoff said Ford’s detractors don’t understand Ford Nation, just as Ford Nation doesn’t understand them. Where Ford’s detractors see evidence mounting that Ford needs to resign, Ford Nation sees evidence of a campaign of harassment of Ford — who hasn’t been charged with anything.
“We’re all looking at the same sequence of events,” Bozinoff said. “But there’s two lenses now in the city, the downtown lens and the suburban lens, or the Ford Nation lens and non-Ford Nation lens, and we’re seeing these events differently.”
Forum cross-references support for Ford with demographic information, which shows there are some groups among whom Ford support is higher: those who live in the suburbs; drive rather than take the TTC; have a household income in the $40,000 to $60,000 range; have some college or university education but no post-secondary degree; are Christian but not protestant and have a “non-European” ethnicity.
While living in the suburbs is one of the strongest indicators of Ford support, it doesn’t define Ford Nation absolutely. In the last Forum poll, 29 per cent of people who live in old Toronto or East York approved of Ford, versus 54 per cent of people who live in Scarborough, 52 per cent of people who live in North York and 44 per cent of people who live in Etobicoke.