Not all is­sues un­der the bus

Hot-but­ton BRT far from the only thing on Lon­don vot­ers’ minds, poll finds – and that could spell op­por­tu­nity for can­di­dates with 9 days to go

The London Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - ME­GAN STACEY

Bus rapid tran­sit is suck­ing up a lot of the oxy­gen on the Lon­don elec­tion trail, but it’s far from the only is­sue — or even the top one — on vot­ers’ minds as the cam­paign en­ters its fi­nal frame.

Vot­ers are di­vided on the top is­sues, with no sin­gle is­sue dom­i­nat­ing, a Lon­don Free Press-Fo­rum Re­search poll sug­gests.

For can­di­dates look­ing to make hay in the nine days left in the cam­paign, those com­pet­ing is­sues could be fuel for gains at the polls, ex­perts say.

In an elec­tion cy­cle punc­tu­ated by squab­bles over the con­tentious $500-mil­lion bus rapid tran­sit (BRT) pro­ject, 22 per cent of Lon­don­ers sur­veyed ranked pub­lic tran­sit as the most im­por­tant elec­tion is­sue.

But lead­er­ship, jobs and the econ­omy — even in a city fir­ing on many cylin­ders, with an un­em­ploy­ment rate about as low as it gets — home­less­ness and affordable hous­ing, all ri­val pub­lic tran­sit as key is­sues for vot­ers, with roughly one in five vot­ers rank­ing one of those as a top con­cern.

An­other 10 per cent cite drug abuse and ad­dic­tion, not tra­di­tion­ally a civic elec­tion is­sue but one whose pro­file has surged in On­tario in the face of a deadly opi­oid cri­sis stalk­ing the streets of many cities, in­clud­ing Lon­don.

The sur­vey con­ducted for The Free Press has a three-per­cent­age-point mar­gin of er­ror.

“There’s no one is­sue that kind of wins out among the elec­torate in Lon­don, which could make a good pool to cam­paign for these can­di­dates,” said poll­ster Wil­liam Schat­ten, Fo­rum Re­search’s vice pres­i­dent of re­search and an­a­lyt­ics.

“I think the key to suc­cess here is broad strokes, and as much as you can, mass ap­peal.”

the sur­vey of 883 ran­domly se­lected vot­ing-age Lon­don­ers was con­ducted oct. 4 to 7 by phone. re­sults are con­sid­ered ac­cu­rate to within plus or mi­nus 3.01 per­cent­age points, 19 times out of 20.

That’s a tall or­der for the four lead­ing may­oral can­di­dates, three of whom — you can read the story at lf­press.com — are locked in a tight race, The Free Press-Fo­rum poll in­di­cates. It puts Paul Cheng, Ed Holder and Tanya Park only two per­cent­age points apart among de­cided and lean­ing vot­ers, with Paul Pao­latto run­ning six points be­hind.

On the is­sues, de­mo­graph­ics — age, in­come and ed­u­ca­tion — mat­ter a lot when it comes to turn­ing con­cerns into bal­lot sup­port.

Asked “which of the fol­low­ing, if any, is the most im­por­tant is­sue in this elec­tion?” 20 per cent of re­spon­dents cited lead­er­ship, for ex­am­ple, but only three per cent of peo­ple younger than 25 pegged that as their No. 1 is­sue.

Stage of life is a big in­di­ca­tor of vot­ers’ pri­or­i­ties, one vet­eran Lon­don po­lit­i­cal ob­server said.

“If I’m a 30-year-old per­son start­ing out with a young fam­ily, affordable hous­ing is go­ing to be much more im­por­tant for me than whether there’s the BRT or not,“said po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist An­drew Sanc­ton.

Peo­ple aged 45 to 54 were most con­cerned with jobs and the econ­omy, with 29 per cent sug­gest­ing it’s the big­gest elec­tion is­sue, de­spite the fact that civic coun­cils have lit­tle abil­ity to gen­er­ate new jobs.

That’s to be ex­pected, Sanc­ton said. “Peo­ple don’t dis­tin­guish, when they’re asked about im­por­tant is­sues, things that mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils can ac­tu­ally do.”

That same age group cared least about drug abuse and ad­dic­tion: Only five per cent said it’s the most im­por­tant is­sue.

Lon­don is await­ing fed­eral ap­proval for two su­per­vised in­jec­tion sites, where users can con­sume drugs un­der med­i­cal su­per­vi­sion, to re­place a tem­po­rary one that’s had more than 7,000 vis­its since it opened in Fe­bru­ary.

While city coun­cil has zon­ing au­thor­ity over where such sites can go, se­nior gov­ern­ments ul­ti­mately call the shots on whether those cen­tres go ahead.

Still, can­di­dates need to be re­spon­sive to the elec­torate’s con­cerns even if vot­ers don’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate those dif­fer­ences, and usu­ally base their strat­egy on what they hear on the ground, said Western Univer­sity’s Zachary Tay­lor.

“They don’t have a wealth of real-time in­for­ma­tion about what is­sues are hit­ting and not hit­ting. Their best source of in­for­ma­tion is just talk­ing to peo­ple,” said Tay­lor, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence.

Civic elec­tions are known for low voter turnout. Lon­don’s was 43 per cent in the last elec­tion.

But while is­sues may strike vot­ers dif­fer­ently, the key is which ones drive them to the bal­lot box.

“If you’re fol­low­ing the elec­tion closely, my sug­ges­tion is that you’d see the BRT and tran­sit gen­er­ally as a stronger is­sue,“said Sanc­ton.

MIKE HENSEN/the LoN­doN Free Press

in your opin­ion, which of the fol­low­ing, if any, is the most im­por­tant is­sue in this elec­tion? There are plenty of is­sues of con­cern to Lon­don vot­ers, not just BRT, an ex­clu­sive Free Press-Fo­rum Re­search poll finds as the race to the Oct. 22 mu­nic­i­pal vote en­ters the home stretch.

MIKE HENSEN/THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

The Rich­mond and Dun­das streets area is a mess of fences, con­struc­tion and lane re­duc­tions as “flex street” work con­tin­ues. The econ­omy and jobs are among sev­eral key voter con­cerns in the civic elec­tion race, ex­clu­sive poll finds.

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