Nanos Number: Can embattled Rob Ford keep his support?

Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC News Network's Power & Politics to get to the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives. This week: What does it take to shake a political party's base?
Is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's support base, also known as Ford Nation, still strong? Nik Nanos breaks down the numbers 7:35

Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC News Network's Power & Politics to get at the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: What does it take to shake a political party's base?

The number:


 Percentage of the popular vote Rob Ford won in the last mayoral election.

Source: City of Toronto Elections

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is maintaining it's business as usual at Toronto city hall, despite allegations there is a video of him smoking crack cocaine.

Gawker, one of the two media organizations that have allegedly seen the cellphone video, now says it's gone. But is the damage already done?

Ford won the last mayoral election by more that 10 percentage points, with 47 per cent of the popular vote. Former Ontario health minister George Smitherman was second with 35.6 per cent and Councillor Joe Pantalone was third with 11.7 per cent.

Ford chalked up his win to support from his "Ford Nation," but will it stick with him?

"From my perspective there is no such thing as Ford Nation, because he was a vehicle for punishing city hall and for shaking things up," Nanos said.

Ford won with a wide margin in 2010 because Torontonians got on board with that sentiment, Nanos said.

Nanos Research did polling during the 2010 campaign, and Nanos said the polls showed that Torontonians were angry at city hall and used Ford as punishment.

Even with Ford's controversial past and previous brushes with the law, "people were so angry that they knew this guy was a controversial figure but they still voted for him because he was a vehicle for punishing city hall... and that's the key thing here," Nanos said.

Mayor Rob Ford continues to thank his base and supporters as the controversy unfolds, but what will it take to shake his core supporters?

Ford's base is suburban, Nanos said. "The suburban-urban divide continues to be one of the key battlegrounds, not just in Toronto but also federally."

That being said, you have to feed the base, Nanos warned.

"What they want to know is what has Rob Ford delivered for them in terms of taxes, city services, changing things in city hall. This is the trap for Ford right now, that embattled as he is, he cannot deliver on what voters who supported him in the past wanted, which is control of spending, shaking up city hall," Nanos said.

If he can't deliver, that will be a problem in the next election, Nanos said.

Ford vs Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also had a rough few weeks, with the controversy involving his former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, giving Senator Mike Duffy $90,000 to pay off inappropriate expenses and the Senate expense scandal itself.

The scandal could affect Harper's base, which Nanos said is holding right now but is very vulnerable.

"Research that has been done shows that only about 13 per cent of Canadians believe the prime minister in terms of his explanation on what he knew and what he said related to the controversial Senate expenses," Nanos said.

That's lower than Conservative support right now in the polls, and that means a lot of Conservative supporters are probably looking at their options and are waiting to hear from the prime minister in order to reassure their support, Nanos warned.

The worry is that the Conservative base will stay home during the next election. It's happened to other parties.

When Stéphane Dion ran as Liberal Leader in 2008, Liberal support went down not because Liberals voted for other parties, but because they stayed home, Nanos said.

The next election will be all about bases.

Can the NDP solidify the expanded base it built in 2011, can the Liberals encourage their base to get out and vote and can the Conservatives hang on to supporters who have been with them over the last few elections?

Nanos said the one early indicator to get a sense of the strength of a party's base is fundraising.

"We're not going to know for a few more months whether the Conservatives are able to maintain their level of fundraising that they've had in the past. If you see that number go south that means big trouble."

Recognized as one of Canada's top research experts, Nik Nanos provides numbers-driven counsel to senior executives and major organizations. He leads the analyst team at Nanos, is a fellow of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, a research associate professor with SUNY (Buffalo) and a 2013 public policy scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC.