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Toronto 2014

Strategic Voting in Toronto 2014


Strategic (or tactical) voting, often a hot topic among voters and pundits during close election campaigns, is also a fertile topic in political science literature.  The three candidate race in the 2014 Toronto Mayoral contest was seemingly an ideal context for strategic voting to occur.  The candidate polling in second place (Doug Ford), was highly polarizing, and there was much discussion in the media about how Chow supporters might abandon her in favour of Tory, in order to prevent a Ford victory. Perhaps surprisingly, Toronto Election Study (TES) data reveal that rates of strategic voting were relatively low in this election, and such behaviour did not have a decisive impact upon the election outcome.  We suggest that the low rate of strategic voting is largely due to the fact that Chow supporters had unrealistic expectations about her chances of victory.

The Theory

A strategic vote is a vote for a party or candidate that is not one’s favourite, cast in the hope of affecting the outcome of an election (Blais et al., 2001).  More specifically, the goal of a strategic voter is to use his/her vote to prevent a party/candidate that is disliked from winning.  Such voters believe that their most preferred party/candidate has little or no chance of victory (so voting sincerely would have no effect on the outcome), and support the party/candidate that has the best chance of defeating their least preferred competitive option.

Strategic voting has been studied extensively at the federal and provincial levels in Canada and elsewhere.  One setting in which strategic voting has gone more or less unconsidered, however, is municipal elections, specifically those not contested by parties.  This is despite the large number of municipalities in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere in which political parties do not officially participate in elections. One might expect rates of strategic voting to be different in a setting where voters are not weighed down by the anchors of party loyalty and the knowledge of previous contests between parties.

The 2014 Toronto mayoral election furnishes an excellent opportunity to study this phenomenon. The performance of Toronto’s controversial and deeply-polarizing incumbent mayor, Rob Ford, may have prompted anti-Ford voters to consider carefully the prospect of voting strategically for the candidate that has the best chance of defeat his brother, Doug.

In this post, we calculate the rate of strategic voting in the 2014 Toronto mayoral contest. In line with the classic approach to identifying strategic voters, we use what Blais et al. (2005) refer to as the “direct” method of measurement, which employs measures of candidate rankings, perceived competitiveness, and vote choice. Voters are categorized as strategic if they meet two criteria. First, their most preferred candidate must be seen as least competitive of the three major candidates. Second, these individuals must vote for their second preferred candidate.

We then consider whether the rate of strategic voting was sufficient to overcome John Tory’s margin of victory. Tory won 40.3% of the popular vote, Doug Ford received the support of 33.7% of voters, while Olivia Chow came in third, with 23.2% support. Tory’s margin of victory was therefore 6.6%, meaning that at least that much strategic voting must have occurred in order for it to have impacted the outcome of the election.

The Data

Most polls in the days and weeks leading up to election showed Tory and Ford as the clear front-runners, and much of the discussion in the media was about how Chow supporters might abandon her in favour of Tory, to prevent a Ford victory.  TES data suggest that this discussion may have been warranted. In the pre-election wave of the TES, respondents were asked to estimate the chances of each candidate winning the election, as well as to rate each candidate (both on a scale from 0 to 100).  The following figure shows the average values for responses to these questions for each candidate, among voters.

 Candidate Ratings and Evaluations of Competitiveness


On the whole, voters saw Chow as the least competitive of the three major candidates, giving her a 34.8% chance of winning the election. Tory was seen as the most competitive, with a 69.1% chance of victory, while Ford was in the middle, at 42.1%. Not surprisingly, the candidate seen as most competitive also received the highest rating from voters; Tory had an average rating of 60.4. However, though Chow was seen as the least likely to win the election, she did not receive the lowest rating (47.2). This distinction belongs to Ford, who received a an average score of only 35.5. TES data therefore confirm media speculation that this election was a case where one might expect to see strategic voting, particularly among Chow supporters. Though Chow was the second most popular, she was also seen as the least competitive. If voters did indeed see Tory as the best option for defeating Ford, Chow supporters might reasonably have decided to opt to support him, instead of their most preferred candidate.

Despite the fact that this election seems ripe for strategic voting, the estimated rate of such behaviour, according to the procedure outlined above, is a mere 1.3%.  This value is considerably lower than estimates calculated for federal and provincial elections (according to Blais (2002, 445), rates of strategic voting in such settings are “typically around 5 percent”). Nonetheless, John Tory was, as expected, the largest beneficiary of strategic voting, receiving 81.1% of such votes. Ford and Chow received some support from strategic voters, but captured only 15.9% and 3.2% of strategic votes, respectively.

The 1.3% of ballots cast strategically were obviously not enough to overcome Tory’s 6.6 point margin of victory. Strategic voting therefore did not have an effect upon the outcome of the election.

So why was strategic voting so uncommon? The reason appears to stem from the fact that many survey respondents had a poor understanding of how competitive their most preferred candidates were.  A mere 5.2% of voters saw their preferred candidate as the least competitive. Blais (2002) has identified a misunderstanding of competitive circumstances as an important reason why rates of strategic voting are not higher in national elections, and we find the same pattern in Toronto 2014. The following table shows how competitive each candidate was perceived to be by those voters who ranked them as first, second or third preferences.

Candidate Ranking and Perceived Competitiveness

Most preferred candidate
Ford Chow Tory
Chances of winning Ford 71.5% 32.1% 32.4%
Chow 26.7% 53.5% 31.9%
Tory 57.1% 60.7% 78.6%
N 344 300 747

These data provide compelling evidence that candidate preference was strongly related to perceived competitiveness. While Chow supporters did not see her as having the best chance of winning, on average, they did believe that she was more likely to win than Ford (despite the fact that polls had indicated as much for the last several months of the election campaign). Similarly, Ford supporters believed that he was the most competitive of the three candidates. Voters cannot be expected to abandon their first preference for strategic reasons if they do not believe that candidate is uncompetitive, and the failure of Chow supporters to recognize this, in particular, seems to have contributed to a very low rate of strategic voting in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election.

Economic Influence: Perception vs. Reality


We have shown previously that Torontonians factored economic evaluations into their vote choice in the 2014 Mayoral election.  Those individuals who believed the city’s economy had improved in the year prior to the election seemingly were willing to reward Doug Ford for his brother’s performance.  The question such a finding raises, however, is WHY the city’s economy mattered for decisions in the mayor race.  Municipal governments and politicians have far less influence over the economy than do their federal or provincial counterparts.  As such, the question considered in this post is whether citizens differentiate between the impacts of different orders of government on economic conditions.  Are they aware of the relatively economic impotence of municipal governments?

The Theory

Canada’s federal and provincial governments have constitutionally entrenched and clearly specified scopes of authority over a variety of economic policies.  Both levels of government have available to them a great number of levers that provide the potential to influence economic conditions.  Such levers include the ability to set tax rates (corporate, personal and sales taxes), go into deficit to spend and potentially stimulate the economy, and the ability to borrow money from both domestic and international sources.  At both levels, then, governments typically have significant and tangible authority to impact the economic conditions of their geographic area.

Do local governments, and specifically the City of Toronto, have an independent ability to influence economic conditions?  Municipal governments in Canada have far less independent authority than do their federal and provincial counterparts. Comparatively speaking, the financial tools available to municipalities are severely limited, and their power is highly constrained by the provincial governments that create and ultimately control them. For most municipalities, the property tax is the only major economic lever they have the authority to set. While property tax and other minor sole source municipal revenues, such as user fees, are useful for funding basic municipal services (e.g. snow removal, garbage collection, water) they do little to allow municipalities to implement, on their own, policies that could directly influence their local economy.

The economic influence of municipal governments is further limited by provincial laws that restrict municipal capital debt and prevent municipalities from running an operating deficit. Provincial and federal governments are able to spend and run deficits to help boost the economy during recessions.  Canadian municipalities, like their American counterparts, do implement economic development policies. For instance, many large cities have development corporations responsible for the development of city-owned land. While some of these corporations focus solely on the development of said land (e.g. Build Toronto), others are also tasked with stimulating development in declining areas of the city (e.g. CentreVenture in Winnipeg). However, there is little evidence, even in the United States where municipalities have a greater variety of tools at their disposal, that local economic development policies have an effect upon macro-level economic outcomes.  Municipalities in Canada, therefore, have little, if any, ability to stimulate their own economy, and most certainly their influence is dwarfed by both the federal and provincial orders of government.

The Data

As noted above, Canada’s federal structure and the fact that municipalities have no constitutional standing and relatively little policy setting power suggest that the decisions of municipal governments should have little effect upon the economy, and certainly less of an impact than either the federal or provincial governments.  It is unknown, however, whether citizens perceive the municipal government’s power (or lack thereof) in such a manner.  The 2014 Toronto Election Study includes questions that ask respondents whether they believe each government has had a positive or negative effect upon the economy, or no effect at all, allowing us to evaluate this proposition.

The following table shows the perceived impact of each level of government upon the economy, based upon the following question:  “Have the policies of the [municipal/provincial/federal] government made Toronto’s economy better, worse, or not made much of a difference?”  N = 2890.

Municipal Government Provincial Government Federal Government
Negative impact 25.7% 31.7% 28.3%
Neutral impact 43.0% 40.9% 43.0%
Positive impact 18.0% 13.2% 13.6%
Don't know 13.3% 14.3% 15.2%

The most immediately striking feature of the table is how little variation there is between the perceived impact of each level of government.  Values in the ‘neutral’ and ‘don’t know’ rows are remarkably consistent for each level of government.  The share of respondents who believe each government has had an impact, either positive or negative, is also very similar.  43.7% of respondents thought the municipal government had influenced Toronto’s economy, compared to 44.9% and 41.9% for the provincial and federal governments, respectively.  Perhaps surprisingly, fewer respondents believe that the federal government had an impact upon the city’s economy (either negative or positive) compared to the municipal or provincial governments.  Given the vastly different fiscal and policy setting power of the various levels of government, such a pattern is quite unexpected. 

So what might account for our potentially surprising finding?  One possibility is that political rhetoric may be such that voters are led to make incorrect links between the economy and the government effect.  In other words, it may be the perception of a politician’s economic impact, rather than the objective truth, that matters for vote choice.  The side that does the best job of arguing its economic impact stands to benefit from an issue that should likely not factor into mayoral election outcomes.  Indeed, Rob Ford claimed in the months leading up to the election that “I have transformed Toronto into an economic powerhouse.”  Such specious claims are hardly beneficial for political accountability through realistic economic voting, and they may be damaging the ability of voters to correctly gauge the impact of the municipal government upon Toronto’s economy.

The Economy and Vote Choice in the 2014 Toronto Municipal Election


The direction of the economy is generally one of the best predictors of vote choice in Federal and Provincial elections.  Little is known, however, about the the impact of this variable at the municipal level.  Toronto Election Study (TES) data reveal that economic evaluations had a significant impact upon mayoral vote choice, but no effect upon ward races, in the 2014 Toronto Municipal election.  Such a finding is perhaps surprising given Toronto’s ‘weak mayor' system and the limited capacity for Canadian municipalities to influence the economy. 

The Theory

Economic conditions are known to influence electoral outcomes, in that incumbents are more likely to win re-election when the economy is doing well.  The state of the economy is consistently one of the best predictors of vote choice, and the literature on economic voting at the national and provincial levels in Canada is both broad and deep.  However, few scholars have examined the relationship between perceptions of economic conditions and electoral choice at the municipal level.  Do voters hold incumbent mayors or councillors responsible for the direction of a city’s economy? 

The TES allows us to consider this question in the case of the 2014 Toronto election.  The survey included the following question:  Over the last year, has Toronto’s economy gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed about the same?  We can compare the responses to this question to respondents’ vote choice to determine if voters held incumbents responsible for the direction of the economy.

There is good reason to expect voters not to attributed responsibility for the economy to municipal politicians.  Municipal governments have far less independent authority than the Federal and Provincial governments. Comparatively speaking, the financial tools available to local government are severely limited, and their power is highly constrained by the provincial governments that create and ultimately control them.  Municipalities therefore have little, if any, ability to stimulate their own economy, and most certainly their influence is dwarfed by both the federal and provincial orders of government.

One might also reason that the structure of Toronto’s government should make it unlikely that voters will attribute responsibility for the economy to the mayor. Toronto’s mayor is institutionally weak when compared to many American cities and some Canadian ones (e.g. Vancouver, Montreal, and Winnipeg), and certainly compared to provincial premiers or the prime minister. While elected at large, the mayor counts as only one vote on City Council, and is constantly at the mercy of ever-fluid coalitions of ward councillors.  Although the mayor is the only elected official in the city that can claim to represent the city as whole, in practice City Council holds most of the authority in Toronto.

This ‘weak mayor’ system, coupled with the limited policy making capacity of municipalities, suggests that voters Toronto might be expected assign little responsibility for economic conditions to an incumbent mayor.  The situation is similar for individual councillors.  Each councillor has but one vote on a 45-member council (44 councillors plus the mayor, under the 2014 ward boundary scheme), and without political parties that might structure voting blocs, it is difficult to attribute responsibility for decisions without undertaking a full review of each vote cast. As a result, the institutional structure in Toronto may be undermining the impact of economic conditions on voting for incumbents (mayoral or council).

The Data

Before describing our findings, we should note that retrospective economic evaluations are theoretically only relevant if an incumbent candidate or party is present, and it is our position that Doug Ford (who replaced his ailing brother on the ballot on the date of the nomination deadline) can be viewed as a de factoincumbent.  Respondents were asked how similar they believed Doug’s policies were to those of Rob, 85.6% thought the brothers’ policies were ‘all’ or ‘mostly’ the same, 10.6% did not know, while only 3.8% were of the opinion that the platforms of the two brothers were either mostly or all different.  We omit those respondents who believed the policies of the brothers were either mostly or all different and those answered “don’t know” from our analysis of mayoral vote choice and assume that, for all remaining respondents, Doug can be considered the de facto incumbent.  At the ward level we have no such issue, as incumbents were present in 37 of 44 wards; we limit this part of our analysis to these wards only.

So what do TES data say?  Our analysis reveals, perhaps surprisingly, that economic voting was indeed a factor in the 2014 Toronto election, though only at the mayoral level.  At the ward level, we find no evidence that the economy had a significant effect upon incumbent support for incumbent councillors.  In the mayoral election, however, Doug Ford received a boost of 5 percentage points if voters believed the city’s economy had improved in the last year, as compared to those individuals who believed the economy had worsened.  Despite the good reasons to expect economic voting to not be present in the Toronto municipal election, therefore, perceptions of the direction of the economy did affect support for Doug Ford.

So what might account for this potentially surprising finding?  We can see two potential explanations.  First, Toronto’s non-partisan system may lead voters to search for alternative informational cues to simplify their vote decisions.  They may turn to the economy as a shortcut, despite the many reasons why economic considerations should not factor into municipal vote decisions.  Alternatively, it could be that political rhetoric is such that voters are led to make incorrect links between the economy and the government/mayor’s effect.  In other words, it may be the perception of a politician’s economic impact, rather than the objective truth, that matters for vote choice.  The side that does the best job of arguing its economic impact stands to benefit from an issue that should arguably not factor into mayoral election outcomes.  Indeed, Rob Ford claimed in the months leading up to the election that he “transformed Toronto into an economic powerhouse” (Gee, 2013).  Such specious claims are hardly beneficial for political accountability through realistic economic voting.

Incumbency and the Importance of Campaigns


In many settings, incumbents have a significant, almost insurmountable advantage at election time. While there is a sizable amount of research on the sources of incumbency advantage, little is known about how the presence of an incumbent affects voters during the campaign period.  2014 Toronto Election Study data reveal that when incumbent councillors contest a race, voters are less attentive to ward elections.  Additionally, voters in wards with incumbents tend to make their decisions much earlier, and their preferences remain relatively stable during the campaign period.  These findings suggest that the importance of campaigns depends heavily upon the presence of an incumbent.

The Theory

Incumbency has been long recognized as a major predictor of candidate success in US federal and state elections, though its effect is noticeably weaker in Canadian federal and provincial contests.  In both countries, however, the incumbency advantage tends to be particularly strong at the municipal level, to the extent that many studies have shown that incumbency is the strongest predictor of candidate success in local elections.  The results of council races in the 2014 Toronto Municipal election would seem to confirm this - voters returned 36 of the 37 incumbent councillors (97.3 percent) who sought re-election. 67.6 percent of victorious incumbents won with a majority of the vote, and their average vote share was 59.8 percent.

Incumbents have a significant edge in election campaigns—they have name recognition, track records to tout, prestige, and all of the trappings of office when setting out to court voters.  While there is a significant amount of research on the sources of incumbency advantage, little is known about how the presence of an incumbent affects voters.  Do voters in wards with an incumbent assume that the race is uncompetitive and simply tune out during a campaign?  In elections that many see as having low stakes and with limited availability of information, do voters simply choose the ‘devil that they know,’ saving themselves from the effort involved in paying attention during a campaign?  Does such a pattern lead to early vote decisions, and stable vote preference when an incumbent is present? 

The 2014 TES allows us to examine the effect of incumbency upon the importance of campaigns in two ways.  First, we compare voters in wards with an incumbent candidate to those without to test whether the presence of an incumbent leads to lower levels of attentiveness on the part of voters.  Second, we examine whether the presence of an incumbent influences the timing of vote decisions.  Early decisions indicate that the campaign had no influence on vote choice, and could also be taken as a sign of disengagement—all other things equal, voters who know long before an election for whom they will vote have less of a need to be attentive during the campaign than do undecided voters.  By considering how the presence of an incumbent affects campaign attentiveness and the timing of vote decisions, we address the effect of incumbency upon the importance of campaigns themselves.  

The Data

The first question we consider is whether the presence of an incumbent affects attentiveness. TES data do indeed reveal that voters are less attentive during the campaign period under such circumstances. Voters in wards without an incumbent reported an average attentiveness score of 6.2 (on a scale from 0 to 10). In wards with an incumbent the average attentiveness score was 5.8 (the difference is significant at p < 0.05). As a point of comparison, attention to the mayoral campaign, which is unlikely to be affected by a City Council incumbent, is not significantly different when an incumbent is present (average scores for this variable are 8.1 in wards without an incumbent and 8.0 with an incumbent). Assuming that incumbency influences attentiveness, rather than the reverse, these findings suggest that voters are more likely to tune out from council races if they live in a ward with an incumbent candidate.

We can also consider whether the presence of an incumbent leads to early vote decisions. More specifically, we are interested in determining whether there is evidence that, when there is no incumbent, voters wait to make their decisions until they have more campaign information. We do so by comparing voter preferences at the time of the TES pre-election interview (T1) to post-election vote recall (T2), and categorizing individuals as either early deciders (those who express the same preference in both survey waves), switchers (those who express different preferences in the two waves) and late deciders (those voters who express no preference in the pre-election survey). The results of this analysis are shown in the table below.

Wards without incumbent Wards with incumbent Difference
Stable preference from T1 to T2 (early decider) 46.3% 60.7% 14.4%
Change in preference from T1 to T2 (unstable) 13.9% 12.2% -1.7%
Undecided at T1 (late decider) 39.8% 27.1% -12.7%
N 231 1122

TES data reveal two findings of note. For starters, voters in incumbent wards are relatively likely to be early deciders. 60.7% of voters in these wards displayed a stable vote preference from T1 to T2, while the value is only 46.3% in wards without incumbents (this difference of 14.4 points is significant at p < 0.01).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, a sizable majority (64.4%) of early deciders in wards with incumbents voted their current councillor.  The second finding of note here is that voters in wards without incumbents are relatively likely to be late deciders. That is, nearly 4 in 10 voters in wards without an incumbent are undecided at T1, while this value is just 27% when an incumbent is present (this difference of 12.7 points is significant at p < 0.05).  The presence of an incumbent is therefore associated with early, stable vote decisions.

So what does all of this mean for the incumbency advantage?  In low information settings such as council races, voters in wards with an incumbent pay less attention during the campaign period, make earlier vote decisions, and tend to support the incumbent. Campaigns therefore seem to matter less in these scenarios, meaning that it is particularly difficult for challengers to attract the attention and support of voters necessary to unseat an incumbent.  Such a finding adds further evidence of the advantages that incumbency brings. 

We conclude here with a caveat. Given the recent and high-profile changes to Toronto’s ward system, the applicability of these findings to Toronto in 2018 is questionable. Still, there is no reason to expect that these patterns would not hold in other cities, where ward boundaries have not changed, including most of the cities included in the Canadian Municipal Election Study. Indeed, the CMES offers an invaluable opportunity to replicate the analysis above and to continue to improve our understanding of the power of incumbency in municipal elections.

Partisanship and Ideology in a Non-Partisan Election


In this post we examine if, and to what extent, Torontonians viewed the 2014 mayoral contest in ideological and partisan terms.  Both ideology and party labels are known to be significant drivers of political behavior, but in this officially non-partisan race, it is uncertain whether voters associated candidates with ideologies or parties.  Toronto Election Study data reveal that, despite the non-partisan nature of the race, voters saw clear ideological differences between the candidates, and most associated the candidates with the major federal or provincial parties.

The Theory

It is well established that parties have a significant impact upon the way that citizens view and participate in the political process.  According to Dalton (2002), political parties “define the choices available to voters” and “shape the content of election campaigns.”  Indeed, how voters relate to parties is a central component of our understanding of voting behavior.  Many voters form a long-standing, psychological attachment to parties, known as ‘partisanship.’ For partisans, their attachment to a party can act as an anchor, providing a default preference over candidates, issues and policy positions.  Not surprisingly, the majority of research on voting behaviour considers voter predispositions toward parties when attempting to explain the way they behave politically. 

For the most part, however, political parties do not contest municipal elections in Canada, and such is the case in Toronto.  Without parties, do voters understand municipal contests in ideological terms, simply without party labels and “teams?”  Even in the absence of formal party labels, do voters associate candidates with parties?  The logic of the spatial voting model (Downs 1957) predicts that, when ideological positions are known, voters will prefer parties or candidates that are closer to them in ideological space.  If voters do not view candidates in ideological terms, however, it makes little sense to expect them to be drawn to candidates closest to them on a traditional left-right ideological scale.  Similarly, the Michigan Model of vote choice, with its emphasis on long-standing partisan loyalties, assumes that voters use party labels as a heuristic, or shortcut, when making their vote choices.  If candidates are not associated with a party, however, such a cue cannot be employed.

The Data

To begin our analysis, we start with assessing the degree to which voters differentiate the candidates in terms of their ideological positions. We draw on a question from the TES which asks respondents to position the three major candidates on a scale from 0 (left) to 10 (right).  For comparison, we perform the same analysis using data from recent federal and provincial elections.  We can therefore compare the perceived ideological positions of the candidates to those of the three major parties from recent partisan elections.  Federal estimates are based upon Canadian Election Study data from 2011. For provincial estimates we draw on data from the 2011 Ontario election collected by the Making Electoral Democracy Work project.  The following table includes the results of this analysis, and shows the mean and standard deviation values for the perceived ideology of the Toronto mayoral candidates and the federal and provincial parties.

Table 1:  Perceived Candidate and Party Ideology

Mean Std. Dev.
N = 2033
Chow 2.96 2033
Tory 6.53 2.17
Ford 7.38 2.72
N = 1337
NDP 3.41 2.06
Liberal 5.02 1.98
Progressive Conservative 7.19 2.52
N = 1025
NDP 3.06 2.22
Liberal 4.60 2.18
Conservative 7.03 2.39

The above table shows clearly that Torontonians differentiated between the mayoral candidates in terms of ideology.  Chow was perceived as being on the left, while both Tory and Ford were both placed on the right.  Importantly, Ford was seen to be to the right of Tory.  Interestingly, the ideological placements of two of the mayoral candidates were, in fact, quite similar to those of two of the parties at the federal and provincial levels.  Estimates of Ford’s ideology were similar to those of the provincial Progressive Conservative and federal Conservative parties – all had values above 7.  On the other side of the spectrum, Chow was clearly closest to the NDP, both provincially and federally.  John Tory was the sole outlier.  Respondents placed him at 6.53 on the scale, closer to the federal Conservative and provincial PC parties than the centrist Liberals, but further from the right-wing parties than Ford. 

Did these ideological perceptions translate into partisan associations?  Although the election was officially non-partisan, some of the candidates had party ties and many voters associated the candidates with parties.  Table 2 shows the responses to the following TES question: Which political party, if any, would you associate with (Doug Ford/Olivia Chow/John Tory)?  Note that entries report column percentages. N = 2850.

Table 2:  Perceived Candidate Party Ties

Olivia Chow Doug Ford John Tory
None 5.6% 14.7% 6.8%
Conservative 2.4% 46.2% 55.8%
Liberal 4.8% 10.1% 15.5%
NDP 68.5% 2.0% 1.2%
Green 3.2% 1.8% 1.7%
Other 0.6% 1.9% 0.9%
Don't know 14.9% 23.3% 18.2%

The results of our second table reveal an intriguing association with the ideological observations from the first.  Most voters (68.5%) associated Chow with the NDP, which is unsurprising given her past ties with the party, but also because she had a similar ideological placement to both the provincial and federal parties in Table 1.  The Conservative Party was the modal response for both of the other candidates, though fewer people (46.2%) associated Ford with the Party than Tory (55.5%) (likely due to Tory’s former affiliation with the provincial PCs).  Few voters associated any of the candidates with the Liberal party, though Tory was perceived as a Liberal by more respondents than Ford. 

On the whole, therefore, ideological placements line up well with partisan perceptions.  It appears that many voters understood the 2014 Toronto Election in much the same way as any other partisan contest.  The left wing candidate was associated with the leftist NDP, and the right-wing candidates were associated with the right-leaning Conservatives.  What seemingly makes this election different from those at the federal and provincial level, however, is that partisan perceptions were far from uniform in Toronto.  Only a minority of respondents associated Ford with the Conservative Party, and almost a quarter of voters did not associate him with any party.  Even Olivia Chow, who resigned as an NDP MP in early 2014 in order to run in the mayoral contest, was only associated with the NDP by fewer than 70% of voters.  While there were clear patterns to partisan perceptions, party information was uneven, and in some cases, nonexistent.

Unfortunately, we were unable to carry out the same type of analysis for the hundreds of council candidates that ran in the election. Given the significant lack of information about council candidates and campaigns relative to the high profile mayoral race, it’s likely that party information for candidates would be even more uneven, or entirely absent, except for high profile candidates, especially those with former ties to parties at the provincial and federal levels, and incumbents.

What if the 2014 Toronto mayoral election had employed a ranked ballot electoral system?


Municipalities in Ontario have recently been granted the authority to abandon the existing first-past-the-post electoral system in favour of ranked balloting. In this post we speculate as to the outcome of the 2014 mayoral election had a ranked ballot electoral system been in place. In such a system, voters are able to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first place votes, then the second preferences of those voters who supported minor candidates are counted. This process continues until a candidate breaches the 50% threshold and is declared the winner.

Toronto Election Study (TES) data reveal that John Tory would have won the election under a ranked ballot electoral system, defeating Doug Ford in the last round of counting by a large margin.


In June 2016, the Government of Ontario granted municipalities the authority to use ranked ballots in future elections, permitting voters to select as many as their top three options on a single ballot. The Province was responding to a grass-roots movement to reform voting at the local level (which was accompanied by a high-profile national debate on the issue of electoral reform). Ranked ballots are used in municipal elections in several American cities, including San Francisco (and a number other cities in California), Minneapolis, and Portland, Maine. The decision to adopt the system at the municipal level in Ontario is thus not without precedent. This is the same system widely believed to be supported by the Federal Liberal Party prior to the abandonment of their promise to reform the electoral system in 2017. This is also the electoral system used by all of Canada’s major federal parties for selecting leaders.

Organizations such as Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto (RaBIT) have argued that ranked ballots would prevent mayoral and council candidates from winning elections with less than a majority of the vote, eliminate vote splitting, and reduce strategic voting at the municipal level ( Proponents of the change hoped to address such issues as low voter turnout and a sense among voters that their vote would not count if they did support the winning candidate. The putative motivation for this movement is the sense that current electoral system is unable to translate residents’ sentiment and preferences into an elected body that accurately represents their interests.

Despite the fact that all municipalities in Ontario were given the option to adopt ranked ballots for the 2018 election cycle, only one, London, did so in advance of the provincial deadline of May 1, 2017. For its part, the City of Toronto did originally support the adoption of ranked ballots; in 2013, city council was at the forefront of the battle for ranked balloting, having petitioned the province to allow for ranked ballots at the local level (provincial permission is required for such a change). However, council reversed its decision in 2016, in a 25-18 vote led by rookie city councillor Justin Di Ciano, who argued that a ranked ballot voting system is too costly, overly complex, and that there is limited public support for the system. Ranked ballots are not, therefore, being employed in 2018 in Toronto.

A debate over the merits of various electoral systems aside, it is interesting to consider if and how election outcomes might have changed under different electoral systems. To that end, we consider here how the 2014 Toronto Mayoral election would have unfolded under a ranked ballot electoral system.


The 2014 Toronto Election Study includes a question that allows us to speculate as to the outcome of the election had ranked balloting been in place. In the campaign period questionnaire, respondents were informed that the province had passed legislation that would allow the city to used ranked ballots in future elections, and ranked balloting was described to them. They were then asked to rank the mayoral candidates as they would if ranked balloting were currently in place. Table 1 shows the results of this question, showing how many first, second and third place votes each mayoral candidate would have received. We consider the three major candidates for mayor, as well as an ‘other’ category to capture all minor candidates simultaneously.

Table 1: Ranking of Mayoral Candidates

Ranking Candidate
Ford Chow Tory Others
First 31.4% 20.6% 45.1% 2.9%
Second 14.5% 35.9% 34.0% 15.6%
Third 17.1% 23.8% 14.8% 44.3%
Fourth 37.0% 19.7% 6.1% 37.3%

N = 1,385

Not surprisingly, the first place rankings in Table 1 fairly closely mirror the actual election outcome. Tory, who received 40.3% of the vote on election-day, was ranked highest among 45.1% of survey respondents. Ford was ranked first by a further 31.4% of respondents, which closely matches the 33.7% of votes he actually received. For her part, Chow was the most preferred candidate of 20.6% of Torontonians, and received 23.2% of the actual vote.

Another striking observation from Table 1 is that, among those who did not rank him first, Doug Ford performed extremely poorly. In fact, the brother of the outgoing mayor was ranked last (fourth) by many more respondents than were Chow and Tory combined. He was also the recipient of relatively few ‘second place’ rankings. Fewer than one in six voters who preferred a candidate other than Ford listed him as their second choice. In contrast, both Chow and Tory were the recipients of greater than one-third of second place votes. These patterns suggest strongly that Ford would not have fared well had the 2014 election been fought under a ranked ballot system.

So how would the result of the election have unfolded under ranked balloting?  Based upon the information from the same survey question used to create Table 1, we can speculate as to what the election result would have been.

Under ranked balloting, several rounds of counting may be necessary, depending on the system of ranked balloting employed for the election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round, the candidate who receives the fewest first place votes is removed from the candidate pool, and the second choice votes of those who ranked them first are counted. This process continues until a candidate reaches 50% + 1 vote. Table 2 shows the result of this process in the case of the 2014 mayoral election.

Table 2: Ranked Balloting Results by Round

Ford Chow Tory Others
Voting Round Round 1 31.4% 20.6% 45.1% 2.9%
Round 2 31.6% 22.3% 46.1%
Round 3 34.7% 65.3%

N = 1,385

In this instance, multiple rounds of counting would be required, as no single candidate received greater than 50% support in the first round. After round 1 of counting, the ‘other’ category would be dropped, and the second place preferences of those voters would be reallocated to the other candidates. Note that we pool all ‘other’ candidates here, thus only require one round of counting to ‘drop’ them all. In reality, many more rounds of counting would be necessary to drop these candidates, as the 2014 contest included 65 contenders.

Based upon TES data, we can conclude with a high degree of certainty that John Tory would have won the 2014 Toronto mayoral election had the contest been fought under a ranked ballot electoral system. In the second round of counting all three minor candidates would receive a modest boost in support, as the second place votes of those who supported ‘other’ candidates are counted. No candidate would reach the 50% threshold, however. When Chow is eliminated in round three, however, Tory leaps past the 50% mark, receiving the support of 65.3% of electors, as compared to 34.7% for Ford.[1]

Though one can certainly imagine instances where election outcomes might hinge on the type of electoral system in place, the 2014 Toronto election is not such a case. It is hard to imagine an electoral system under which John Tory would not have won the 2014 Toronto election. His margin of victory, however, is even greater under ranked balloting than it was first-past-the-post system. Such a finding may help to explain the mayor’s apparent dissatisfaction with council’s decision to abandon ranked balloting in advance of the 2018 election.


[1] Counting in the second round is straightforward, as we simply need to consider the second place votes among ‘other’ supporters. Round three calculations are somewhat more complex, however. In this round, the third place preferences of those who ranked ‘other’ first and Chow second would need to be counted (among this group, 13.6% ranked Ford third, while the remaining 86.4% assigned Tory a third place ranking).  The third place preferences of those who ranked Chow first and an ‘other’ candidate second must also be counted (in this instance 82.0% and 18.0% ranked Tory and Ford third, respectively.

Toronto 2014 - Looking back


In anticipation of this year's election, the Canadian Municipal Election Study will be posting some results from our research on the 2014 Toronto election, based upon data from the Toronto Election Study.

In this space we will cover issues such as strategic voting, the role of partisanship in a non-partisan setting, economic voting, the incumbency advantage, ranked balloting and campaign effects (the subject of our first post, below).

Check back regularly for updates!

Campaign Effects in the Post-Nomination Period


It is well established that campaigns have significant potential to affect the attitudes and behaviour of electors. The 2014 Toronto mayoral campaign, a marathon compared to federal and provincial contests, lasted nearly 10 months, from January 2nd to Oct. 27th. The purpose of this post is to test for the presence of campaign effects during the final weeks of the campaign. That is, we test for changes in public opinion, under the assumption that such changes must be driven by campaign period stimuli. We do so using Toronto Election Study (TES) data, collected during the final 38 days of the campaign period (after the candidate nomination deadline of September 2). In doing so, we find little, if any, evidence of campaign effects. In short, the outcome of the election does not appear to have been affected by the last several weeks of the campaign.

The Theory

The scholarly consensus on whether and how campaigns affect voters has evolved significantly in past decades. Early studies of voting behaviour (Lazarsfeld et al., 1948; Campbell et al., 1960) contended that campaigns have ‘minimal effects’. That is, scholars widely believed that campaigns were rarely able to overcome knowledge and prejudices held by voters at the start of the election period. In more recent times, however, this view has been challenged to the point that it is now widely accepted that campaigns, and new information which voters might be exposed to during the course of campaigns, have the potential to significantly affect voters (Jacobson 1983; Fournier 2004). 

Research has shown that Canadian federal campaigns can indeed have significant effects upon attitudes and behaviours (Johnston et al 1992, Blais et al. 2003). To date, however, there has been little attention paid to local campaign effects in this country. If effects are to be observed at the municipal level, one might expect them to be particularly noticeable in the case of Toronto. Though municipal politics tend to receive significantly less attention than do other orders of government, the 2014 Toronto election was one of the most high profile municipal contests in Canadian history. Electors were bombarded with images and stories about the contest for months leading up to election day, and each one of these messages had the potential to affect voters and influence attitudes. Given the exceptional publicity afforded the race, therefore, if campaign effects are to be observed in a municipal setting, all other things equal, we might expect to see them in this case.

Alternatively, an argument can be made that we should expect relatively little in the way of attitudinal change during the campaign, at least in the weeks leading up to election-day. The fact that the official campaign was so lengthy (nearly 10 months), and because the election and its candidates were extremely high-profile, attitudes towards the candidates may have been relatively well anchored long before election day. Zaller’s (1992) Receive-Accept-Sample (RAS) model of decision making suggests that attitudes are formed as a result of the summation of considerations, or beliefs or pieces of knowledge relevant to some decision (such as vote choice). During a campaign, new considerations are combined with existing ones.  All else equal, the more considerations are present, the more strongly anchored a belief may be, and the less likely it is that new considerations will change one’s opinion. In the context of a lengthy, high-profile campaign, such as the 2014 Toronto race, it stands to reason that many voters will already have a great number of existing considerations by the nomination deadline. In such a scenario, attitude change may be particularly unlikely in the later stages of a campaign. In short, the substantial length of the 2014 Toronto campaign may very well mean that voter attitudes and preferences will solidify well in advance of election day. Campaign effects in the final weeks before election day may therefore be muted in Toronto, as compared to federal and provincial contests.

It is between these two possibilities that we adjudicate. To do so, we employ TES data to map several attitudinal measures during the course of the final weeks of the campaign (a period comparable in length to federal and provincial campaigns). Did the campaign affect voter attitudes and preferences in the final weeks of the 2014 Toronto Municipal Election or were opinions and knowledge levels relatively stable during this time?  

The Data

Readers will recall that the 2014 mayoral election was won by John Tory, who received 40.3% of the vote. His primary opponents were Doug Ford (33.7% and Olivia Chow (23.2%).  The Toronto Election Study asked roughly 3,000 eligible voters in Toronto about a variety of their opinions and actions towards the election and the candidates. Respondents were surveyed both before and after election-day.

The first (pre-election) wave of the TES survey was designed to employ a rolling cross-sectional design, meaning that surveys were conducted in such a manner than they are staggered throughout the weeks leading up to the election, with a portion of the sample being collected each week.[1] This repeated cross-sectional approach means that new respondents were interviewed each week. In essence, this is what pollsters do when they collect new samples every few days to measure and track public opinion. For our purposes, such a design allows us to monitor potential opinion changes during the final month-and-a-half of the campaign.

In the figures below, we map four different types of attitudes to test for the presence of campaign effects, including perceptions of the competitiveness of candidates, candidate ratings (‘feeling thermometer’ questions), responses to a question which asked whether there was a candidate for whom respondents would not consider voting, and finally, vote intention. Note that whiskers indicate 95% confidence intervals.

Changes across time with respect to any of these attitudes could suggest the presence of campaign effects.

Campaign effects.png

The figures above reveal several noteworthy findings.  For example, though Olivia Chow came in third place in the election, she had the second highest rating among the three major candidates.  Additionally, though Ford came in second in the race, there were more voters who would never consider voting for him than is the case for the other two candidates combined. Finally, the graphs above show that Tory dominated through the entirety of the period under consideration here. He was consistently the highest rated, had the greatest support among voters and was perceived all along as the front runner.

For the purpose of this post, however, the most important finding from above is that there is little, if any, evidence of campaign effects during this period. Competitive perceptions were fairly constant from mid-September until election-day. Aside from the divergence of Chow and Ford after Sept. 18, there is little observable change to report.

The feeling thermometer scores also tell a story of consistency over time. Throughout this entire period Tory is rated most highly of the three candidates, followed by Chow, and then Ford. At no point do the candidates change positions with one another.

Responses to the question of whether there is a candidate one would not consider voting for are also remarkably consistent. Candidate ordering remains constant throughout the weeks leading up to election day, and there is little change over time in the share of the population that holds negative sentiments towards each contender. Anti-Ford sentiment is constant throughout this period (with no statistically significant change). Anti-Chow and anti-Tory attitudes see a modest decrease and increase, respectively, in the period from October 13th to 19th, though both changes are temporary and return to previous levels in the week before the election.

The flip side of anti-candidate views, and indeed the most important variable in the field of voting behaviour, is vote choice. For the most part, vote intentions largely mirror the consistency of candidate ratings and anti-candidate sentiment. The exception is the period from October 13th to 19th, where we see a temporary dip and jump in support for Tory and Chow, respectively. However, Tory is consistently ahead of the other two candidates for the entirety of the final weeks of the campaign, and the level of support pledged for each candidate is statistically indistinguishable from the first and last time period considered in the figure.

Explaining the Absence of Effects

The story of the last weeks of the 2014 Toronto mayoral race is that this part of the campaign had little, if any discernible effect upon either voter attitudes or the outcome of the election. All indications are that the outcome of the election would have been the same had the election been held on any of the dates covered by this survey.

The absence of campaign effects in the last weeks of the contest is noteworthy, and bears some consideration. Indeed, the period covered by TES data is of a similar length to federal and provincial contests, during which there are often major swings in public support. We suggest that the most likely source for this relative inactivity during the late stages of the campaign is the length of the official campaign period. At nearly 10 months, the official campaign dwarfs those of other levels of government. During the eight months prior to the nomination deadline, electors had ample opportunity to learn about the candidates and their policies, and likely had fairly well formed attitudes of the candidates by the time the nomination deadline rolled around. In terms of Zaller’s (1992) RAS model (discussed above), voters had two-thirds of a year to collect and store considerations. Any new information obtained during the final weeks of the campaign that might be inconsistent with existing beliefs (and thus which may affect attitudes) thus had to compete with a tremendous number of other, older considerations.

That said, it is doubtful that that the length of the campaign is entirely responsible for the absence of late-campaign effects. In municipalities with lower profile elections, voters may receive relatively little information on local politics. In Toronto, however, the attention paid by the media to the 2014 campaign was nothing short of unprecedented; the highly publicized antics of outgoing mayor Rob Ford put the politics of Toronto in the spotlight like never before. Though the data are unavailable to test this contention, it thus stands to reason that Torontonians were relatively enlightened with respect to municipal politics, relative to their counterparts in many other cities. In sum, we suspect that it is this high level of existing knowledge, combined with the great length of the mayoral campaign, that contributed to the absence of late-campaign effects in Toronto in 2014. 

[1] Note that there is some variation in the number of respondents interviewed during each week of the campaign. These differences, however, should have no effect upon the patterns observed here, as the figures presented here indicate confidence intervals, which are a function of sample size. The sample sizes are as follows: Sept. 19-28 = 1,000, Sept. 29-Oct. 5 = 598, Oct. 6-12 = 529, Oct. 13-19 = 392, Oct. 20-26 = 480. Note also that all data have been weighted to population average for age, gender and education for each week/group represented in all figures, to maximize representativeness of the sample and comparability between groups.