Politics·Analysis

Ford Nation looks a lot like a Common Sense Revolution 2.0

Doug Ford could become the next premier of Ontario thanks to the same coalition of voters that won the PCs the 1995 election.

If the Ontario PCs win in June, it will be due to the same voter coalition that won in 1995

If Doug Ford wins the June provincial election, his "Ford Nation" could look a lot like the electoral coalition that brought Mike Harris to power. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Much has been made of the so-called Ford Nation and its potential to storm Ontario's legislature in the upcoming provincial election. But the coalition that could deliver victory to Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives in June looks less like a new political movement — and more like a Common Sense Revolution 2.0.

The "Common Sense Revolution" platform that helped vault the PCs from opposition to the premier's office in 1995, with its focus on lower taxes and smaller government, has a lot in common with Ford's pitch in 2018.

Some of Ford's rhetoric echoes what Ontario heard from his predecessor Mike Harris 23 years ago. Polls suggest his supporters look much the same as well — as does the electoral map that would make Ford the province's next premier.

After a decade in opposition, the PCs won the 1995 election with 45 per cent of the vote and 82 of the 130 seats that were in the legislature at the time (there are 124 now).

That's similar to where the PCs stand in the polls today. The CBC's Ontario Poll Tracker pegs the PCs' support at 43 per cent, enough to deliver them about 90 seats.

With only so many seats to go around, the PCs' winning electoral map today looks a lot like it did in 1995. If an election were held today, the PCs would sweep much of rural southern Ontario. The party also would win most of the seats in urban centres in the southwestern part of the province (with the exception of Windsor) and across the Greater Toronto Area, as well as a few seats in Toronto itself.

That was the path Harris followed in 1995 — which included wins in Etobicoke and Scarborough, inner suburbs of Toronto that Ford Nation is supposed to help deliver to the PCs in 2018.

But outside of Toronto, Ford has the potential to improve on Harris's score — in part due to the increase in the number of GTA seats and his better prospects in northern and eastern Ontario.

Ford is also aided by the division of support between the Liberals and New Democrats. In 1995, the Liberals under Lyn McLeod finished 10 percentage points ahead of Bob Rae's NDP. The gap between the two parties today is little more than three points.

PC voters still older, wealthier and male

The demographic make-up of PC voters today is also nearly identical to the coalition that elected Harris in 1995.

Polling by the Angus Reid Group conducted in late 1996 and early 1997, when support for the Harris PCs was similar to where it was on election night in 1995, shows that PC voters at the time were disproportionately male, older and wealthier.

Support for the PCs among men was an average of 13 points higher than it was among women. It was 11 points higher among voters with an annual income of over $60,000 than it was among those making less than $30,000, and was 16.5 points higher among Ontarians over the age of 55 than it was among voters 34 or under.

Mike Harris was brought to power in 1995 on his "Common Sense Revolution" platform. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

An average 13-point gap between levels of PC support among men and women remains in the polling conducted by Forum Research, Global News Ipsos, Abacus Data, EKOS Research and Mainstreet Research over the last few weeks.

In addition, Ford's supporters remain disproportionately older and wealthier by margins that are similar to ones recorded in 1995 for Harris.

This suggests that Ford is not necessarily tapping into a new pool of voters, but is instead appealing to the same demographics PCs have had to woo in the past in order to win — demographics that perhaps have shifted somewhat to reflect Ontario's changing voter profile over the last two decades.

Just a political slogan?

Does this make "Ford Nation" little more than an effective political slogan, much like the Common Sense Revolution of 1995?

Polling by Abacus Data suggests that might be the case. It found that just five per cent of Ontarians consider themselves members of Ford Nation, while another 25 per cent say they do not identify as such but are a "fan." Even among PC voters, just 10 per cent said they considered themselves members of Ford Nation and just over a quarter said they did not identify as a member, nor did they consider themselves fans.

Ford might be a unique politician in the Canadian context. His style is certainly more combative and brash than the comparatively understated Harris. But his voters aren't that different from the ones who have elected past PC governments in Ontario.

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.

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