With the municipal campaign coming into the home stretch, the Toronto Election Study (TES) has collected information from nearly 3,000 respondents and principal investigators are now in a position to draw some conclusions about the policy preferences of Torontonians, and what they could mean for the outcome of the election.
In terms of issue importance, voters are clearly prioritizing issues related to their daily commute. Public transit ranks first, while traffic and congestion ranks a close second. Other important issues include property taxes, managing the city’s finances and housing affordability.
TES data show that policy priorities differ according to the ideology of respondents. Investigators asked interviewees to position themselves on a left-right scale, from 0 (left) to 10 (right), and for individuals on the left, the priorities are transit (42 per cent), traffic and congestion (23 per cent) and housing affordability (13 per cent). For those on the right, however, priorities are somewhat different. For these voters, traffic and congestion is most important (25 per cent), ahead of transit (23 per cent), and property taxes (20 per cent). Not only is transit much more important for voters on the right than it is for those on the left, but these groups disagree on the relative importance of housing affordability versus property taxes.
Based upon the platforms of the major candidates, TES investigator Mike McGregor, an assistant professor in Political and International Studies at Bishop’s University, can comment on which candidate’s positions are most popular.
“We asked survey respondents for their preferences over the positions of each candidate on a number of issues, but did not provide the candidate names,” explains McGregor. “Of note, we have found that Doug Ford’s positions seem to be more popular than those of his rivals.”
In terms of transit, Ford’s plan to build subways instead of the planned light rail on Sheppard and Finch is considerably more popular (44 per cent) than Olivia Chow’s plan to expand the use of light rail (28 per cent). John Tory’s SmartTrack plan, which would electrify GO transit routes, adding more stops along the way and increasing frequency, is far less popular, at 17 per cent. As far as traffic and congestion are concerned, Chow’s idea to create 200km of new bike lanes is the preferred option for 28 per cent of survey respondents, while 50 per cent favour the position shared by Tory and Ford: To oppose any new policies that will negatively affect drivers.
Ford’s positions on property taxes (keeping them below inflation) are similarly more popular than those of his rivals. The only area where Tory seems to have an advantage is on the issue of housing affordability, though this is the most important issue for a small minority of voters.
If polls, which show Ford running a distant second to Tory, are correct, this suggests that either voters are unaware of the policy positions of candidates, or they are basing their decisions upon something else. Factors such as personality or likeability, or Ford’s association with his scandal-plagued brother, may be influencing the decisions of Torontonians.
“Our data provide some support for this in that fewer than 5 per cent of respondents list shared political beliefs as the most important characteristic for municipal politicians,” says TES investigator Laura Stephenson, an associate professor in Political Science at Western University. “One thing is clear however. Voters’ policy preferences are not translating into candidate support as directly as one might expect.”
Commentary reflects the perspective and scholarly interest of Western faculty members and is not an articulation of official university policy on issues being addressed.
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