Not any more

Toronto mayoral race is Rob Ford’s to lose: poll

In Canada on September 19, 2010 at 20:18

Rob Ford has taken a stunning 24-point lead in the race for mayor, according to a new poll that finds the Etobicoke councillor has picked up the support of most of the voters who’ve made up their minds since June.

With only five weeks to go until election day, Mr. Ford has the backing of 45.8 per cent of decided voters, while former front-runner George Smitherman has the support of 21.3 per cent of decided voters. Joe Pantalone (16.8 per cent), Rocco Rossi (9.7 per cent) and Sarah Thomson (6.4 per cent) round out the top five contenders, according to a Nanos Research telephone poll of 1,021 Torontonians conducted between Sept. 14 and Sept. 16.

“As of today, this election is about Rob Ford and whether he has what it takes to be mayor,” said Nik Nanos, the president and chief executive officer of Nanos Research.

“This changes the dynamic significantly.”

The number of undecided voters has dropped sharply since Nanos conducted its last poll for The Globe and Mail/CTV/CP24 in June, down from 38.9 per cent to 25 per cent. But even if undecided voters are factored in, Mr. Ford still has more than twice the support of Mr. Smitherman – 34.4 per cent to 16 per cent.

That’s a dramatic change from June, when Mr. Ford’s lead over Mr. Smitherman was within the poll’s margin of error.

Meanwhile, the four candidates trailing Mr. Ford have barely seen their numbers budge. With undecided voters included, Mr. Smitherman was at 15.9-per-cent support in June. He’s at 16 per cent now.

Mr. Pantalone, the deputy mayor, has inched up two points, from 10.1 per cent in June to 12.6 per cent now. Mr. Rossi was at 9 per cent and is now at 7.2 per cent. Ms. Thomson’s support has dropped slightly, from 5.8 per cent in June to 4.8 per cent. (All figures including undecided voters.)

The upshot: Most newly decided voters are backing Mr. Ford. “They trust me. That’s what it comes down to,” Mr. Ford said. “People come up to me and say, ‘I trust you with my money.’”

Mr. Ford has widened his lead despite making just one policy announcement since the high season of campaigning kicked off on Labour Day. While he unveiled a transit plan – on YouTube – that was roundly panned as unrealistic and unaffordable, Mr. Smitherman and Mr. Rossi put their campaigns into overdrive, holding news conferences daily.

Mr. Smitherman, for instance, promised on the day after Labour Day to freeze property taxes and hiring for his first year in office and to ban new spending while he led a 100-day, line-by-line review of the budget. He declared a “war on waste,” and pledged to put city hall’s “big spenders on a diet” – rhetoric strikingly similar to Mr. Ford’s.

“It was too late,” Mr. Nanos said of Mr. Smitherman’s lunge to the right. “Back when he [Mr. Smitherman] was the focus of the race, that was the time to roll this out.”

Mr. Smitherman called the poll’s findings “humbling.” He said he intends to devote the rest of the campaign to making clear the “stark” contrast in values between himself and the front-runner.

“Toronto’s motto is diversity our strength,” he said. “If Rob Ford is elected mayor, we’d have to change our motto. I think that’s pretty startling.”

The former deputy premier insisted he is the only candidate capable of building a coalition that could challenge Mr. Ford.

“I am the only candidate who can stop Rob Ford,” he said. However, Mr. Pantalone is the only candidate other than Mr. Ford who saw his share of the vote increase since June, albeit within the poll’s 3.1-percentage-point margin of error.

“Clearly Smitherman isn’t up to the job of taking on Ford,” said John Laschinger, Mr. Pantalone’s campaign manager. “I think there’s probably two people happy about this poll. Rob Ford is one and Joe Pantalone is the other.”

Mr. Rossi’s campaign manager insisted his candidate is also well positioned to take on Mr. Ford. “The greatest potential is for Rocco Rossi because – according to the tracking we’ve done – he’s everybody’s second choice,” said Bernie Morton, who has drastically overhauled Mr. Rossi’s campaign since taking the helm in August.

On the day after Mr. Smitherman declared his war on waste, Mr. Rossi promised to slice council in half and add a four-person board of control, a pledge nearly identical to one Mr. Ford made the day he entered the race.

Then Mr. Rossi, the former Liberal fundraiser and chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, grabbed headlines by promising to study an 8-kilometre subterranean highway connecting the Allen and Gardiner expressways.

Although the telephone poll began the day after Mr. Rossi unveiled his tunnel proposal, his support has actually dropped two points since June.

All this means that Mr. Ford will be mayor on Oct. 25 unless two things happen: He self-implodes and a clear second choice pulls away from the rest of the pack, Mr. Nanos said.

“Otherwise, Ford will have the conservative and the non-aligned universes locked up and the rest will be fighting for political table scraps.”

For the full results of the poll, including which candidate is leading downtown and who traditional Liberal and NDP voters are supporting, see Monday’s Globe and Mail.

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