Why Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Can Admit To Smoking Crack And Still Win Reelection

CREDIT: Shutterstock


CREDIT: Shutterstock

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted it: he smoked rock. “Yes I have smoked crack cocaine,” Ford told reporters on Tuesday, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.”

You might think admitting to an offense that could be punished with up to seven years in prison might doom the Mayor’s political career. You would be wrong.

Ford’s latest admission only codifies what everyone already knew. Last Thursday, Toronto police told the press they had tape “consistent” with allegations that Ford had smoked crack. Reports of Ford’s rocky behavior dated back to May.

Yet two polls released since police confirmed the crack news have shown, if anything, an increase in Ford’s support. One, taken day-of the news, found a five point increase in his approval rating (from 39 to 44). A Forum Research survey, put out just before Ford’s recent admission, found that Ford’s approval has held steady at 43 since the police press conference.

These numbers are good enough to win. “A number of political strategists and public relations specialists say,” according to Andre Mayer at flagship Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “that the beleaguered, scandal-prone mayor has a good chance of winning a second term in 2014.”

Two things are happening here. First, Ford is refusing to resign even though majorities of Torontonians say he should in virtually every poll. He’s banking on holding onto his hard core of support and turning them out on election day. That’s the second thing: despite coming across a massive buffoon, Ford has brilliantly exploited Toronto’s class divides to build up a hardcore group of supporters commonly known as “Ford Nation.”

Ford Nation’s citizens reside in Toronto suburbs, where the Forum Research poll shows his approval to be strongest. Toronto’s suburbanites are middle class, and feel about the city core the same way that Tea Partiers feel about Washington.

“To them the city is the enemy, always reaching deeper into their pockets, intruding into their lives and demanding we care about the poor, the young, the old, the environment, whatever,” writes Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume. “Ford supporters want none of that. They want to be left alone. They want government off their back.”

Ford’s conservative, at times racially offensive politics appeal to this group. He promises them lower taxes and smaller government and an expanded subway, which suburbanites strongly support, seeing it as a car-friendly alternative to the above-ground light rail system that’s part of perceived “war on cars” being waged by Toronto urbanites.

“The attitude of a lot of people is that, ‘Look, I didn’t elect this guy because he doesn’t sleep around or he doesn’t do crack cocaine,” University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman told the CBC. “I elected him because I think there’s a gravy train at City Hall, and that’s what I care about.”

What does Wiseman think about Ford’s political future? “He could easily get re-elected,” crack or no crack.