A prediction: There are no more scandals, gaffes or blunders that can hurt Mayor Rob Ford’s appeal with his core supporters. The Ford administration has hit peak scandal.
This became clear last week when we started to get word that the mayor allegedly used his influence to get roadwork done on the street outside Deco Labels, the Ford family business, in advance of a planned anniversary party. It’s an important story to tell, especially as we later learned that city staff had denied Ford’s involvement in the roadwork request when asked about it earlier this summer. That contradiction raises a lot of questions.
But I couldn’t bring myself to get too worked up about the story, as much as I hate the suggestion that the mayor can get roadwork done faster than the average person. At this point in the long, strange Rob Ford saga, this latest controversy is just another item for the very lengthy list of reasons why this mayor isn’t the right person to run this city.
And that list is long enough. We’ve hit scandal fatigue. Ford’s remaining supporters aren’t going to be swayed by more allegations and gaffes. They’re in too deep. The reverse is probably true too—there’s not a lot Ford can do to recapture the support he lost.
Polling data bears this out. Ford’s approval rating, as measured by the pollsters at Forum Research, has essentially flatlined. Setting aside a couple of likely outliers, he’s been mired in the same range for more than a year now. Nothing has moved him much below or much above a 42 per cent approval rating.
It almost defies logic. Ford’s team secures a deal with the unions and his numbers hold at about 42 per cent. He totally botches an attempt to move forward with his ideas for building underground transit, and his numbers hold at around 42 per cent. He shows up at an LGBT event, but then skips Pride Week, and his numbers hold at about 42 per cent. He’s mired in conflict-of-interest allegations and his numbers hold at 42 per cent. He spends a week on talk radio floating an unworkable idea that all criminals should be exiled from Toronto and his numbers hold at—you guessed it—about 42 per cent.
Spelled out, the Mayor Rob Ford story is a complex tale of twists and turns, clashing personalities and a slow decline into a kind of political irrelevance. But the poll numbers tell a simpler story, of a mayor who came into power with a ton of popularity, lost a third of it almost immediately, and ever since has relied exclusively on bedrock support from a core group.
With Forum’s last poll going out on Sept. 10, we don’t have recent numbers—which would take into account all those allegations about the mayor’s football team and his enthusiastic war on the media. The football story could hurt his popularity a tad, because it makes him look hypocritical in a way that most of his other gaffes have not. On the other hand, painting himself as the victim of a vast media conspiracy could resonate with his base.
Either way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his approval numbers once again at or around 42 per cent. As long as Rob Ford sits in the mayor’s chair, this song will remain the same.
Postscript: Can Rob Ford win with a 42 per cent approval rating?
He could win with an even lower approval rating, but it won’t be easy. He’s got a tough road ahead.
Ford scored 47 per cent of the popular vote in 2010, but it’s bad analysis to suggest that a 42% per cent approval rating means he would get the same percentage of the vote in a forthcoming election. Approval numbers don’t translate neatly into votes. In fact, when Forum Research has polled hypothetical candidates against Rob Ford, they’ve found that anywhere between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of those that say they approve of the mayor would actually vote against him.
Even supposed enemies of Ford Nation would draw support from those who approve of Ford. In a hypothetical three-way race, Olivia Chow took 13 per cent of Ford’s support while Councillor Adam Vaughan grabbed five per cent. In a hypothetical one-on-one, even defeated rival George Smitherman pulled 15 per cent of the Ford Nation vote.
If you adjust for that, Ford can count on maybe 35 per cent of the vote. Enough to win in a tough multi-person race, but nowhere near enough to score a victory in a one-on-one scenario. As a point of comparison, ex-Coun. Jane Pitfield got 32 per cent as Mayor David Miller’s chief competition in 2006. She lost in a landslide.