Analysis

With a week to go, John Tory is still on track for re-election

John Tory is on track to add Doug Ford's 2014 supporters to those who voted for him four years ago.

Tory has a wide lead over Jennifer Keesmaat, especially among those most likely to vote in Monday's election

Incumbent mayoral candidate John Tory enjoys a low disapproval rating and a wide lead in the polls heading into Monday's municipal election in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

With a week to go before Monday's municipal vote in Toronto, John Tory's re-election odds are looking very good.

The incumbent mayor holds a wide and steady lead over his rivals, enjoys strong support among the older Torontonians most likely to cast a ballot and appears set to add the suburbs that voted for Doug Ford four years ago to the downtown core and parts of the city along Yonge Street that put him in the mayor's office in 2014.

Though the last poll conducted in Toronto dates from over a week ago, there is little volatility in the numbers that would suggest the last days of the campaign are likely to overturn the trends that have held firm since Labour Day.

The most recent survey was conducted by Forum Research between Oct. 3 and 5, surveying 987 eligible voters via interactive voice response. The poll found Tory sitting at 56 per cent support, unchanged from where Forum pegged Tory in two earlier soundings in September.

Jennifer Keesmaat came up well behind with 29 per cent while 15 per cent of respondents said they would vote for another candidate. Both of those numbers are virtually unchanged from Forum's surveys last month.

The results echo those of Mainstreet Research, which last polled 966 Torontonians between Sept. 24 and 25. That poll gave Tory 64 per cent to Keesmaat's 31 per cent, while other candidates combined for six per cent support.

Though Mainstreet is showing a more comfortable edge for Tory than Forum — largely at the expense of other candidates — the trend line is the same. Mainstreet conducted three polls throughout September with little significant variation in support for either Tory or Keesmaat from one poll to the next.

2014 Tory + 2014 Ford = 2018 Tory

If Tory is able to hold on to his advantage over Keesmaat and secure re-election next week, he looks likely to do it by winning over many of the voters who backed then-candidate, now-Premier Doug Ford in 2014.

Both Forum and Mainstreet give Tory his widest leads in the suburbs that Ford won in the last mayoral election. Forum gives Tory a lead of 30 percentage points or more in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York, while Mainstreet gives him roughly two-thirds of the vote or more in these boroughs. 

But unlike the Ford brothers in 2010 and 2014, Tory does not appear to be the choice of just suburban voters. Mainstreet put Tory ahead of Keesmaat by 12 points in downtown Toronto, while Forum put him ahead by seven.

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat has her strongest support among younger voters and in downtown Toronto. (John Rieti/CBC)

The downtown core is where Keesmaat's support is strongest — but even if she is able to win some of the wards in that part of the city, it would not be enough to overcome Tory's significant advantage in the rest of Toronto. Even a best case scenario for Keesmaat might produce an electoral map that looks like 2010's, but with Keesmaat in the role of the defeated George Smitherman rather than the victorious Rob Ford.

Tory's disapproval lower than four years ago

Keesmaat has not shown any momentum throughout this campaign — and time is quickly running out. In 2014, polls taken at the end of September and in early October showed Tory with the kind of lead he would eventually secure on election day.

The scope for a shift in voting intentions might also be lower this time because there isn't any widespread dissatisfaction with Tory. The polling by Forum shows him with an approval rating of 56 per cent and a disapproval rating of just 30 per cent. That latter number might be too low to put Tory at risk of losing on Monday.

His disapproval score is also lower than what it was in the run-up to the 2014 vote. This suggests that Tory's lead in the polls might be because he is more popular today than he was four years ago rather than due to a lack of enthusiasm for the alternative options on the ballot in 2018.

Low turnout might help Tory

Without a polarizing, high-profile candidate to oppose the incumbent mayor — who is himself hardly a polarizing figure — it is not surprising that turnout in the advance voting this year is lower than it was in 2014. According to the City of Toronto, about 124,000 voters cast a ballot in the advance poll held over the past weekend. That is down from 161,000 last time. 

There was one more day of advance voting in 2014, but that alone isn't enough to account for the decrease in turnout — especially in a city whose population has grown over the last four years. 

Low turnout is generally — though not always — good news for an incumbent. But the demographic profile of Tory's support also suggests that low turnout is likely to work in his favour. Both Forum and Mainstreet show that Keesmaat's support is highest among younger Torontonians, though Tory might still get more of their votes.

Toronto Mayor John Tory accompanies his mother Elizabeth Tory to vote at an advanced polling election station in Toronto on Wednesday, October 10, 2018. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

But older voters, who turn out in greater numbers, say they will support Tory over Keesmaat by a crushing margin. Forum puts Tory's lead at 37 points or more among voters over the age of 45 — extending to 53 points among seniors — while Mainstreet puts Tory's edge at over 44 points among voters over the age of 50.

A different dynamic in 2018

The mayoral campaigns in 2010 and 2014 stand out by the candidacies of the controversial Ford brothers. But they also differed in the political allegiance of the combatants. Both campaigns had a major candidate on the right, one in the centre and one on the left of the political spectrum.

They were three-horse races, whereas in 2018 the polls suggest no third candidate will come close to breaking double-digits.

A more explicitly right vs. left campaign might have divided the city more evenly, but while Keesmaat is largely getting support from the orange-tinged left of the city's political establishment, Tory can boast of endorsements from both Liberals in the centre and Conservatives on the right. It gives the former Ontario PC leader a wider playing field with the electorate than Keesmaat, setting him up to potentially get the highest share of the vote by any mayoral candidate since David Miller's 57 per cent in 2006.

A year ago, Tory looked to be in a strong position to win re-election in a re-match with Doug Ford. Some 51 weeks later, with Ford in the premier's office and Tory's challenger coming from the left rather than the right, much has changed. But his chances of success remain the same.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.