Why is Toronto's crack-smoking Mayor Rob Ford so popular?
Despite a months-long drug scandal, Ford's poll numbers haven't gone up in smoke
After months of denials, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally came clean on Tuesday: He has smoked crack after all.
Ford admitted to hitting the rock, but blamed it on the fact that he was "probably in one of my drunken stupors."
Ok, everyone? Rob Ford has smoked crack, but only because he was so thoroughly loaded that crack sounded like a reasonable nightcap at the time.
A quick recap: In May, Gawker and the Toronto Star reported that Ford had been caught on video smoking crack with alleged drug dealers. Ford denied the allegations, and clung to power even as members of his staff resigned or were forced out.
With the scandal bubbling for so long, you would expect Ford's approval rating to be in hot water. Except the opposite is actually true: Ford's approval rating has gone up.
A Forum Research poll last week found Ford's approval rating had climbed five points, to 44 percent, after Toronto police announced they were in possession of the alleged tape. Another recent survey pegged his approval rating even higher, at 49 percent.
What gives? Are the good citizens of Toronto — pardon the expression — smoking crack?
Probably not, or at least not all of them. But they may see enough of themselves in Ford and his bumbling, everyman shtick that they're willing to overlook a little illegal drug use.
Remember, this isn't the first time Ford has run afoul of the law or done something seemingly unbecoming of the leader of Canada's largest city. He has had numerous drunken escapades during his political career, and was once tossed from a Maple Leafs game for being that guy and screaming at fans. Yet voters still stuck by him, suggesting there may be a "groundswell of hardworking, beer-drinking people rallying around an ordinary guy," as Toronto Life's Marci McDonald put it to the BBC.
Ford's political capital comes from the steadfast support of a slice of Toronto suburbanites who are distrustful of government and who have embraced his push for fiscal austerity. These supporters, often dubbed "Ford Nation," view the city as "the enemy, always reaching deeper into their pockets, intruding into their lives," says the Toronto Star's Christopher Hume.
Ford, on the other hand, is on their side. He's honest, understands their gripes, and returns their calls. Because he's not too bright, badly turned out, and poorly raised, he couldn't even try to be anything but exactly what he is. Ford Nation likes that about him. His every outrage draws him a little closer to his supporters. Supporters see him as someone like themselves, not terribly articulate but on their side and well aware of all the wrongs going on at City Hall. [Toronto Star]
And indeed, polls have shown Ford Nation standing firmly behind their man during the scandal.
It's likely that Toronto's improving economy is also giving Ford a lift. The city's unemployment rate dropped almost three percentage points in the past year alone, to 7.1 percent in August.
"I was elected on a promise to create jobs, and that's exactly what I've done," Ford said at the time.
That's why Ford is considered to be in good shape to win re-election next year, regardless of his crack-smoking.
"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 political science 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."
So to Ford's critics: Put that in your pipe and smoke it.