My personal prediction about Rob Ford and the Toronto Mayoralty race

Rob FordIt now looks probable to me that Rob Ford will be re-elected Mayor of Toronto.

Obviously, this is my own personal opinion, and has no connection with Deloitte, or Tech/Media/Telecom at all. Except that the techniques I use when writing a TMT prediction turn out to be useful in this kind of prediction too. Every year I help produce a list of predictions: it isn’t a list of what I want to happen, but instead of list of what I think will happen. It isn’t composed of things that I do, or even that my friends do. It is based on data, even on data that conflicts with my own preferences and biases, or that refutes my initial hypothesis. It uses all information publicly available, and uses insights about data reporting and collection (such as biases in public opinion data,) historical examples forgotten by most people, and is combined with trying to look at topics in different ways.

Let’s start with this week’s poll results: from a low of 22% back in June, Rob Ford is now at 31% in a large sample survey, trailing leader John Tory by only 3%, or 5% if it were a three way race. Five percent is a pretty big lead for Tory: why am I saying that Mayor Ford is “probable” to get re-elected on October 27?

Rob polls low. For some fairly obvious reasons, many people are embarrassed to say they are willing to vote for Ford. It might be the drugs, the racism/homophobia, or the public ridicule. But once in the privacy of the voting booth, your vote becomes truly anonymous. This happened last election: most polls held in the week before voting day said the race was too close to call. In fact, Ford beat Smitherman by 11.5%. We don’t have enough data to establish by how much Rob polls low…but 5-10% is almost certainly about right. Which means that the 5 points by which Ford trails Tory in the latest poll is likely to be illusory.

The trend is his friend. Olivia Chow has shed 16% of support in a few months. Tory has picked up some of that, but from a higher base. The sense of Rob Ford momentum is much stronger: JT is up 20% since June 6, and RoFo is up 41%. Bandwagons matter in politics.

A weird kind of Teflon. Normally, someone who was predicting that a candidate was probable to be elected would need to add some caveat. “Bob Smith looks like our next Mayor…unless a video of him emerges smoking crack, consorting with gang members, and saying sexist, racist and homophobic things.” That ship has sailed for Rob Ford. I have a pretty good imagination, and not counting an actual arrest for something, I cannot even think of anything Rob could do or say that would significantly impair his chances in October. (Please note I am not saying this is a good thing, or that I understand why those who vote for Ford are so willing to excuse him. I am just pointing out that it will be pretty tough for him to harm his prospects.)

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Mayor McCheese. I am confident that many of those who will vote for Rob would not do so if he were running for Prime Minister. Municipal mayors are a kind of weird exception in politics. This isn’t just Toronto: please remember Washington DC re-elected Marion Barry after he was CONVICTED of buying crack. The job of mayor is very high profile, but has remarkably little real power. This is a huge asset for the Ford campaign: all sorts of people who wouldn’t trust the man to park their car or walk their dog will end up casting a vote for him for their own complicated reasons. [Edited to add: It occurred to me after writing this post that some might think I am making fun (or even referring to) Rob’s weight. Not at all – his physical attributes are irrelevant in my view. My point was that Mayor McCheese is the Mayor of McDonaldland in those 1970s TV ads. It ought to have been a position of power, but he was almost purely a figurehead. To quote Wikipedia: “He was portrayed as a giggly, bumbling, and somewhat incompetent mayor.]

It was the end of the world as we knew it. “We can’t elect Rob: the city would become a laughingstock and Lake Ontario would start boiling. Plus the plague of frogs.” Nope. It hasn’t happened. Toronto real estate is at all-time highs, the economy is doing well, and the garbage is still getting picked up. He has been mayor since 2010, and if the wheels didn’t fall off during that time frame, then “Ford more years” isn’t likely to be apocalyptic either, and the threat of it won’t deter many potential supporters.

Anybody but Rob. It seems unlikely Tory would drop out: he’s in the ostensible lead. And even if he did, there is no way of knowing where his supporters would go. Given Olivia’s plummeting support, she could pull out of the race, in order to save-the-city kind of thing. And it seems unlikely that many of the 26% of voters that say they would vote for her would switch to Ford. But 1) you never know. And 2) “Anybody but X” campaigns make for HORRIBLE dynamics. They are purely negative, and often provoke a swell of support for the perceived victim or underdog. And that fits right into Rob’s playbook: “The elites are ganging up to keep me out.”

We still have nearly two months to go. And please note my language: I said that I think it is “probable”, not “highly probable.” Meaning 50-60% likely, not over 90% likely.

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