Ford's popularity has 'taken a hit' in 2nd wave of pandemic, poll finds

A new online poll suggests Ontario Premier Doug Ford's popularity has dropped in the last three months, along with his government's approval rating, and a market research firm attributes the decline to the province's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier still Ontario's most popular leader but 'a lot of the fundamentals' slipping

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is pictured here after he was given a tour of a digital intensive care unit room at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital in Vaughan on Monday. The new hospital will take patients from other hospitals that are strained by COVID-19. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

A new poll suggests Ontario Premier Doug Ford's popularity has dropped in the last three months, along with his government's approval rating, and a market research firm attributes the decline to the province's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ford, however, continues to be Ontario's most popular party leader and his popularity is still higher than it was before the pandemic knocked the province off course, according to the survey released Tuesday.

In an online poll entitled "A New Year Brings Old Politics to Ontario," Abacus Data has found that only 39 per cent of respondents have a positive view of the premier, while 35 per cent have a negative view. 

Ford's personal popularity has plummeted seven per cent over the past three months, according to the survey.

When it comes to the Ontario government, 10 per cent strongly approve of it and 34 per cent mostly approve, while 21 per cent mostly disapprove and 10 per cent strongly disapprove. Twenty four per cent feel neither way.

There has been a decline of eight percentage points in the government's approval rating over the past three months, the poll suggests.

Pollster David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data, told CBC Toronto this week that he believes the decline in numbers can be attributed to the government's handling of the pandemic's second wave. He said the numbers are clearly trending in the wrong direction for Ford and his Progressive Conservative government.

"The overall picture that we're seeing in this poll suggests that over the last few months, both the government's approval rating and views of the premier have taken a hit, I think largely because of some mistakes or decisions that the government has made, specifically around COVID-19," Coletto said.

Coletto noted that Ford is still viewed more positively than negatively and continues to have more people approving than disapproving of him.

"But I think the longer this pandemic has gone on and the more challenging it actually has become to manage this crisis and deal with the second wave, the more toll it has taken to how people feel about this government and the premier specifically," he said.

Ford's approval still higher than before pandemic

The PC party, however, can take some solace in the finding that Ford is still getting higher approval numbers than he did before the pandemic, he said. In late 2019 and early 2020, more than 60 per cent of Ontarians had a negative view of the premier.

Coletto added that Ford's rivals are not reaping benefits from the decline in his popularity. Feelings about NDP Leader Andrea Horwath are mixed, with 27 per cent having a positive view, 27 per cent having a neutral view and 28 per cent having a negative view.

Thirty-eight per cent don't know enough about Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca to have an opinion of him.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford looks at freezers ahead of COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Toronto on Dec. 8, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

According to the poll, if a provincial election were called today, 34 per cent of Ontario residents would vote for Ford and the PC party, 29 per cent would vote Liberal, while 25 per cent would vote for the NDP.

Colletto said he thinks the downward trend in numbers for Ford and his government are tied directly to what the public thinks of the government's pandemic approach.

37% think government in control of situation

Only 37 per cent believe the Ontario government is in control of the situation right now, a drop of 25 percentage points since October.

"The belief that the province has a clear plan, is providing consistent advice and guidance and is generally making the right decisions have all dropped significantly in the last few months," the poll suggests.

Sixty-one per cent of Ontario residents, for example, continue to believe the government is making public health "the priority." Twenty-seven per cent believe the premier has done a bad job and made crucial mistakes, an increase of 10 percentage points since October.

"I think the reason that, despite the numbers softening, the premier remains more popular today than he was prior, is because at the core, far more people believe that the premier's intentions remain sound, that despite some mistakes that have been made, most people believe that he's either doing a really good job or there's some mistakes, but at the end of the day, he's doing the best that he can," Coletto said. 

"And that is what gives him, I think, some latitude with the public to make mistakes, to change course here and there, but at the end of the day, people have a good sense that he's doing what he can in a very challenging situation."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott watch as a health-care worker administers the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to personal support worker Anita Quidangen, the first person in Ontario to receive both doses in Toronto on Jan, 4. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

As for the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, Ontario residents give the premier a little more slack. Twenty-two per cent believe Ford has done a good job, while 53 per cent believe he has made mistakes but has done as well as can be expected, while 25 per cent believe he has done a bad job and made crucial mistakes that could have been avoided.

According to the survey, 43 per cent say vaccine distribution is going either well enough or very well, while 57 per cent say it is going poorly or very poorly.

75% say holiday trips 'completely unacceptable'

Not surprisingly, the poll suggests 75 per cent of residents believe that holiday trips taken outside of Canada by politicians and health-care leaders are "completely unacceptable."

Nine in 10 residents have heard about the Caribbean vacation taken by Rod Phillips, former finance minister. Of those aware, only 37 per cent believe the premier handled the situation well, while 49 per cent believe he handled it poorly, with 14 per cent suggesting it was largely out of his hands.

Coletto said he was not surprised by the "overwhelming anger and disappointment" over the trip and the general reaction that it was unacceptable. But he said it has had less of an impact on the government than pundits might expect, although it might have weakened trust in elected officials.

Former finance minister Rod Phillips tweeted a video on Dec. 24, 2020, in which he is seen sitting by a fireplace. In the video, he thanked people for what they are doing to protect the most vulnerable. It turned out that he had taken a vacation outside the country. (Rod Phillips/Twitter)

"It hasn't cratered support for the government or approval rating for the premier," Coletto said. 

"And that, I think, continues to remind me and us that the people are looking at government today and all the actors in government through the lens of COVID and how they are trying to make people's lives better and protect people from this virus." 

Nearly 900 residents surveyed in January

The poll concludes that "a lot of the fundamentals" are declining for the Ford government.

"His personal reputation, assessments of his government's leadership, and assessments of his handling of COVID-19 have all been in a steady decline over the past few months. However, vote dynamics are largely unchanged," the poll says.

Abacus conducted the poll in which 793 Ontario residents were recruited online from Jan. 8 to 12, 2021. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.48 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

With files from Mike Crawley and Muriel Draaisma


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