A new poll suggests that Rob Ford has moved definitively into second place in the Toronto mayoral race, outpacing Olivia Chow by a wide margin and closing the gap on the leading John Tory. Is it for real?
The survey, conducted by Forum Research on August 25-26 and interviewing 1,945 Torontonians via interactive voice response, was published by the Toronto Star Thursday. It shows that 34 per cent of respondents would vote for Tory, with 31 per cent supporting Ford, 23 per cent backing Chow, and four per cent behind David Soknacki. Another six per cent were undecided.
That represents a big jump for Ford. It is a gain of four points, outside of the margin of error, since the last poll of August 5-6. All of the other candidates dropped slightly, with the number of undecideds also increasing by four points. Among decided voters, Ford was up five points.
While Ford's approval rating remains the lowest of the candidates at 39 per cent, it has increased from 35 per cent. Tory’s is the best at 63 per cent of those who have heard of him (60 per cent among the entire population), but that is a drop of four points. Chow’s approval rating, at 49 per cent (or 47 per cent among all Torontonians) is also down.
Is Ford making his move in the race? This is certainly a significant increase for him, but his numbers have generally been wobbling back and forth since the spring. It could be a blip that will reset itself when Forum next enters the field. There are reasons to believe that could be the case.
Firstly, when Forum conducted its polling over the two days, the first day of polling had put Tory and Ford in statistical tie. On the second day of polling, the results apparently boosted Tory.
It is not unusual for smaller daily samples to show this kind of variation, but less so for larger samples of almost 1,000 respondents per night. It suggests that there might have been something wonky with the first day of polling that was only partially corrected on the second day.
Secondly, Ford's most important gain occurred among voters aged 18 to 34, where he led with 37 per cent support. That was a gain of 10 points, the largest among any age group. But the cohort of 18- to 34-year-olds is the smallest sample in the poll at just 136, carrying a margin of error of over eight points. Has Ford really moved ahead among these voters, or are we seeing a statistical anomaly? In any case, these voters are the least likely to bother to cast a ballot. Among voters over the age of 55, Tory enjoys a wide lead.
Thirdly, most of the gains Ford made took place in one area: Etobicoke. Has something occurred in the last three weeks to explain the surge in Etobicoke, or was there something unusual about the sample there?
One possible explanation for all of this could be the departure of Karen Stintz. But the Forum poll does not suggest that her withdrawal from the race had a game-changing effect. The three main contenders all divvied up Stinz's support virtually equally — 30 per cent for Ford, 27 per cent for Tory, and 24 per cent for Chow.
But the poll also suggested that as many as 10 per cent of Torontonians had been planning to vote for Stintz. And this is despite Stintz never garnering more than six per cent support in any poll in the last six months. She had just four per cent in the last poll before her withdrawal.
There is always the possibility that these issues are not issues whatsoever, and the results of the poll are completely reflective of the current state of the race. Tory and Chow are not perfect candidates by any stretch of the imagination, but they do not carry the baggage of Ford. That he could surge ahead in the polls and be in a position for re-election invites skepticism. The city will have to remain in a state of anticipation until the next poll confirms or refutes these results.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: