Apr 17, 2018

One Nation Under Ford?

Authored by:

Ihor Korbabicz

Ihor Korbabicz

The “Ford Nation” label has been slapped on many packages: the suburban voter coalition of the late Rob Ford, a Sun News Network talk show, and now, used to describe the province-wide voting constituency behind Doug Ford, the upstart Progressive Conservative Party leader presently vying to become next Premier of Ontario.

To some this term connotes the dignity of common sense and decency in a world poisoned with smooth talking elites, out for the little guy.

To others, it conjures Trump boosters and racists.

The truth, as so often is the case, is found in neither belief particularly, and perhaps a little bit in each.

Let’s explore.

Ford Nation

In the inaugural wave of the ONPulse poll, a survey interviewing 4,177 Ontarians on their views about the upcoming provincial election, we asked Ontarians if they would describe themselves as members of “Ford Nation”, which we identified as a term sometimes used to describe supporters of Doug & the late Rob Ford, or their approach to politics.

We find 5% of Ontarians would explicitly label themselves as members of Ford Nation. 

An additional 25% are non-identifying fans of Ford Nation, while 51% rejected the label. In total, then, 30% of Ontario either labels itself as part of Ford Nation or is sympathetic to it.

Consisting of a mere 5% of the population, Ford Nation voters comprise 10% of the current PC vote (40%), while 54% of the PC vote either self-ID or identify as fans.

While it would be tempting to over state the differences, “Ford Nation” (self-ID & fans) exists among all demographics and across the province.

  • Ford Nation skews male and older, with few women under 30 identifying with the label.
  • Past PC voters and voters who self identify being on the right of the political spectrum are more likely to be part of “Ford Nation” than others.
  • A greater proportion of Toronto and GTA residents fall into “Ford Nation” than those from other regions, but this group spans the province. Within Toronto, Etobicoke, Scarborough, and York hold the highest proportion of those identifying with Ford Nation, while those closer to the downtown core are least likely to identify support for Ford Nation.

What concerns Ford Nation?

Much as we found no one issue unites voters of different political stripes, no issue in particular seems to exceptionally jump out for Ford Nation. Their top issues are consistent with those of most voters: health care, housing, jobs and the economy. On issues where they differ from Ontarians, they tend to be more similar to PC voters: they prioritize taxes, the provincial debt, and honesty and accountability in government.

If not demographics, geography or cause, what makes this group distinct?

A unifying feature of Ford Nation is their exceptionally positive view of Doug Ford. Even compared to PC voters, “Ford Nation” are defined by very strong enthusiasm for the current PC leader, with double the enthusiasm of all those saying they would vote PC.

Another is they are highly engaged: Ford Nation voters are twice as likely to be following news about the Ontario election very closely (39%) as those who reject the label (20%).

They have a sense that Doug Ford fights for people like them,  and doesn’t speak down but rather speaks for them.

Another thread of commonality can be found in their unique outlook on power dynamics in society. Ford Nation sees public sector unions, the mainstream media, and environmentalists holding far too much influence. This is in stark contrast to other Ontarians, who are ironically most concerned about the amount of influence Ford Nation has in society.

  • Curiously, Ford Nation does not disproportionately feel Toronto downtown professionals and the business community have too much power. They are about as likely as other Ontarians to believe they have more influence than they should. Antipathy towards downtown elites is often and primarily used by Doug as a rhetorical device, but its is a message resonates far beyond Doug Ford’s base.

Is Doug Ford the next Donald Trump?

In the age of low institutional trust, political disruption, and the rise of successful populist candidates, "Donald Trump North” is an easy narrative to run with.  

And to be sure, there are some similarities to cherry pick from to make that case. Members of “Ford Nation” have a heightened sensitivity to “political correctness”.

They are even far more likely to have a positive impression of Trump than other Ontarians – 26% view him positively.

But the key ingredients aren’t there.

The phenomenon of Donald Trump was said to emerge from economic anxiety, cultural alienation, and a sense of personal decline. Our data suggests that while greater pessimism for the future of the economy exists among “Ford Nation” voters, these Ontarians have comfortable financial situations, incomes  that align with provincial norms, are as just as likely to be saving comfortably as to be indebted.

So why Doug Ford?

More than anything what members of Ford Nation seem to have in common is an extraordinary affinity for Doug Ford. He connects with these Ontarians more than any other politician, and they are enthusiastic to be his tribe. They feel he fights for them, speaks their language, and doesn't talk down to them.

Though they do not suffer from the pronounced economic anxiety of the Trump voter, they are nonetheless a group with some similarities – a disinclination for elites, mainstream media, and the "scourge" of political correctness.

These are a motivated and highly engaged base group that Doug Ford will likely be able to rely on come election day. They seem most likely to stay in his court regardless of what happens in the election campaign.

Their similarities to other Ontario voters, and their general normalcy from a demographic and even psychographic perspective, speaks to the potency of Doug Ford’s message and the possible reach of his appeal as he continues to build support among Ontarians, preaching against downtown Toronto elites and standing up for every day people. Yesterday's promise to eliminate provincial income tax for minimum wage earners is evidence of this. 

Follow us here as we continue to track the evolving viewpoints of Ontarians as the election wears on. And stay tuned for more releases on data, analysis and punditry from our friends at Summa Strategies and Spark Advocacy.    

About the survey

The survey was conducted online with 4,177 Ontarians aged 18 and over, from March 29 to April 8, 2018. A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys.   The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 1.55%, 19 times out of 20. 

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Ontario’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding

Miss any past posts? Catch up now:

The Undecideds: Could they make the difference in the Ontario election?

5 Takeaways from the 2018 Ontario Budget

The 42nd Ontario general election – it’s anyone’s game.

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