Monday, October 25, 2010

Google data show Rob Ford to be leading Smitherman

This has been one of the most spirited mayoral races in the past two decades in Toronto. Rob Ford, a suburbanite who wants to cut wasteful spending at the City Hall is pitted against George Smitherman, a former provincial health minister, who has not done enough to distinguish himself from the left-leaning incumbent mayor of Toronto, David Miller, or from Joe Pantalone, who is running a similar left-leaning campaign.

To suburban voters, who are 70% of the population, Rob Ford seems to be the guy who has promised to get rid of the real estate transaction taxes and other taxes imposed on motorists. Smitherman has presented a well thought-out financial plan, which unfortunately lacks any attention grabbing attribute.

It appears that the central city voters, representing 25% of the population, are likely to vote for Smitherman. Younger voters (who can, but seldom vote), the  intellectual elite in Toronto as well as those who are pro-environment and pro-public transit may vote for Smitherman.

Rob Ford is likely to be favoured by those who’ve been incensed by the land transfer tax (i.e., wealthy home owners) and by the City’s anti-car policies of the last 10 years, which  have made commuting difficult without offering any efficient public transit alternatives. Furthermore, Asian immigrants and religiously conservative voters are also likely to vote for Rob Ford.

Joe Pantalone, the third most popular candidate, is also competing on the platform to continue with the outgoing mayor’s policies of more rail transit, bicycle lanes and the like. He is likely to be the spoiler for Smitherman by splitting votes on the left.

I see Rob Ford being the leading candidate not just because the current demographics in the 2.5-million strong Toronto favour him more than Smitherman, or that Joe Pentalone is likely to split the vote on the left and essentially play the same role that Ralph Nader played in the fateful election in which Al Gore lost to George W. Bush. I also see Rob Ford ahead in the cyber world, leading me to conclude that he may very well be the next mayor of Toronto.

Based on the internet searches conducted on Google in Ontario, especially in Toronto, I see Rob Ford leading Smitherman as of June 2010.  The blue line in the graph below represents Rob Ford, red line represents George Smitherman, and the orange line represents Joe Pantalone in the Internet popularity over time on a scale of 0 (less popular) to 100 (more popular). While one may have hoped to see Smitherman’s campaign (being more tech-savvy) to generate more interest on the Web, the Google data however are showing Rob Ford in a significant lead that has widened over time.

If the Internet-based interest in the candidates be taken as a proxy for voter preference, Rob Ford could be seen leading Smitherman by a huge margin, which is likely to be much more than what the opinion polls have revealed in the past week.

If Ford ends up leading Smitherman by a margin much greater than what has been revealed by the opinion polls, Google data may emerge as a predictive tool for political outcomes. If Smitherman wins tonight, one would conclude not to read too much into Internet searches.

The network traffic to the websites of the three leading candidates was not available from Google.

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