A new focus group reveals that Rob Ford voters believe our mayor shares many charismatic qualities with the late NDP leader.
I’ve written a lot about Rob Ford in the past year or so. And much of what I have written has focussed on trying to understand his appeal to the people who voted for him. In a democracy, after all, the people who vote are the judges of the debate—come election day, it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, it matters if the voters trust that you are right. I actually started to try to understand Rob Ford’s appeal way before he became mayor, and continued trying to understand and explain his appeal right after his election. And recently, I tried to frame my criticisms of him as advice—both because it seemed less boring than another list of complaints and to emphasize my understanding of what he would do if he actually was the politician his supporters thought he was during the last election.
Anyhow, I’ve taken some abuse for this approach from readers—those who hate Ford, mostly—who think I am being a wimp. As they see it, there is no distinction between Ford himself and the people who voted for him. They think that Ford voters are hardline ideological conservatives and any attempt to understand their motivations or hear their concerns is a form of capitulation in some larger ideological war. Any time spent trying to convince those voters that they were mistaken about Ford and the state of the city is just wasted breath.
My response is that, a) in a democracy, the only way to win is to convert voters who oppose you, since “beating” the voters is not an option, and b) the people I know who voted for Ford are not ideological conservatives at all, they are not rich or powerful, and they have been mostly misinformed about the state of the city and about Rob Ford.
In that context, it was interesting to read the results of a focus group made up of 60 Ford voters conducted by Environics:
When they talked about Rob Ford, they often spoke in appreciative, glowing terms – in the same way they spoke about another well-loved politician, Jack Layton. In the focus group discussions, they saw little ideological divide between Jack Layton and Rob Ford. Rather, they felt the two men had in common a sincere drive to take on the struggle of the people despite great odds.
Some still hold out hope Ford will live up to the promise.
The promise has been encapsulated in the now well-worn phrase gravy train. But in our focus groups it became clear the gravy train wasn’t a political meal ticket to just anywhere.
In our focus groups, the gravy train was considered a symbol for city finances in need of restraint, for people at the top of the city hall food chain abusing power – the ones they read about in the newspaper, who earn six figure salaries, expense lavish dinners, or ‘have chauffeurs’. Whether it’s real or not, the perception is that such abuses exist, and Rob Ford was just the man to put an end to them.
Many of the people in our focus groups are still in the phase of wanting to believe that they did the right thing in voting for Rob Ford. When he cancelled the Vehicle Registration Tax, they saw it as a sign that he would make good on his promises. Few associate the cost of that tax cut with the city’s budget woes today. Most believe Rob Ford inherited a deficit, when in reality, David Miller handed over a surplus budget.
In terms of job cuts, their expectation is that Ford would go after the people ‘at the top’ of the scale. They were much less supportive of cutting the jobs of people at the bottom.
The question I can hear many City Hall watchers asking is, “Are these people stupid?” Perhaps. They are certainly misinformed, and likely they do not pay particularly close attention to city politics or to politics of any kind. But they are voters, and their misinformed votes are what elected Rob Ford. Anyone hoping to beat him could spend a bit of time understanding why he won.
The whole Environics post is interesting reading. (Thanks to Andrea Addario for pointing me to it.)