John Tory is on track for re-election in 2018 — but a year is a (very) long time

Toronto Mayor John Tory is posting strong numbers in the polls but should not take re-election in 2018 for granted.

Toronto mayor has a high approval rating and leads some potential 2018 rivals in the polls

A majority of Torontonians tell pollsters they approve of Mayor John Tory's performance. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

A year from now, voters in Toronto will select their mayor. According to polls, the current holder of that title, John Tory, is in a strong position to keep his job. 

But if a week is a long time in politics, a year is so long that it's unmeasurable.

That doesn't mean there is nothing the polls today can tell us about Tory's chances in next year's mayoral election. He is doing better with 12 months to go before the next vote than his two predecessors were at the same point in time. But his strong numbers today are far from a guarantee that Tory will prevail in October 2018. 

Two recent surveys by Forum Research and Campaign Research have given Tory an approval rating of 53 and 59 per cent, respectively.

With a year to go before the 2014 mayoral election, Rob Ford had an approval rating in the low-40s. Granted, that was still relatively high considering it was at the height of his drug-related scandals. But his approval rating went down from there, dropping to the low-to-mid 30s by the spring of 2014. 

Though Ford dropped out of the campaign and was replaced by his brother Doug — who says he will be running again in 2018 — he was on track for defeat at the moment of his withdrawal.

A year before David Miller won re-election in 2006, the then-mayor had an approval rating of 69 per cent. But a year before the 2010 mayoral election, Miller posted an approval rating of just 29 per cent in an Ipsos Reid poll. A few weeks later, he announced he would not be running for a third term.

By these measures, Tory's numbers bode well for his re-election campaign. His chances, however, will depend in part on who is running against him.

Tory leads potential challengers

A handful of polls have been conducted in the last month, showing Tory leading all likely challengers he was tested against. In head-to-head match-ups with Doug Ford, Tory led by an average of 36 points. With city councillor Mike Layton thrown into the mix, Tory's lead dropped to about 22 points over Ford.

Those are comfortable numbers and suggest that Ford has a ceiling not much higher than the 34 per cent of the vote he took in the 2014 election. His approval rating now, according to Campaign Research, is just 30 per cent.

But the expectations gap is even worse. In that same poll, only 14 per cent of respondents thought Ford would win in 2018. A solid majority thought Tory would win re-election.

A year out, it was Olivia Chow's to lose

Expectations, of course, can turn out to be wrong.

In polls conducted between August and November 2013, about a year before the 2014 vote, former NDP MP Olivia Chow was the favourite. In a then-hypothetical contest between her, Tory and Rob Ford, Chow enjoyed an average lead of nine points. 

Olivia Chow was the favourite to win the 2014 mayoral election one year before the vote. (David Donnelly/CBC)

At the time, it appeared that Tory had a better chance of finishing third than first. Over the next 12 months, voting intentions shifted until Tory moved ahead of Chow. She ultimately finished in third place instead.

What remained solid, however, was Rob Ford's chunk of about one-third of the vote, which was then transferred to his brother. This suggests that while Tory can't take for granted that his support will stick with him over the next year, Doug Ford has his work cut out for him to improve upon his losing score in 2014.

Whither the progressive vote?

If the rest of the vote is split, however, Doug Ford could still have a chance. There was a brief moment in early 2014 when Chow, Tory and Rob Ford were in a tight three-way race — the only plausible scenario in that campaign that would have re-elected Ford.

The emergence of a strong third candidate could do the same thing in 2018. Polls that test a ballot with only Tory and Doug Ford give the incumbent mayor a huge advantage. Those that include a candidate from the progressive flank — a Layton or a Joe Cressy, two individuals who, like Chow, have links with the New Democratic Party — drop Tory's support as these candidates can attract anywhere from 10 to 30 per cent of the vote.

After finishing second in 2014's mayor election, former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford says he will run again in 2018. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

But they have little effect on Doug Ford's potential support. Ford Nation is nowhere near as formidable as it once was, but it still represents a solid voting bloc. Tory's support base is less attached, but it is still larger than Ford's — and currently includes Toronto's progressives.

Tory has the advantages of incumbency and a good approval rating working in his favour. At the moment, Torontonians do not believe the city needs a change in government.

Will they still feel the same way in one year?


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

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


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