2014 was a watershed year for municipal voter turnout in Toronto. After a disastrous four years of Rob Ford as mayor, 54.7 percent of all eligible voters went to the polls, electing John Tory. That was the highest voter turnout in decades, even higher than 1997, when Torontonians elected Mel Lastman to lead a newly amalgamated City of Toronto. In 2010, when Rob Ford was elected mayor, turnout was 50.4 percent, compared to 39.3 percent in 2006 and 38.3 percent in 2000.
Four years ago, the mayoral race was especially competitive. Progressive Olivia Chow was the initial front-runner against Ford, but Tory (who previously ran for mayor in 2003) pulled ahead as Chow’s campaign floundered. Late in the campaign, Rob Ford dropped out due to health concerns, so his brother Doug took his place. Among the three frontrunners, Tory got 40.3 percent of the vote, while Doug Ford took 33.7 percent. Chow only got 23.1 percent. Voters also elected seven new councillors that year, and returned Rob Ford to Ward 2.
After two elections in which over half the number of eligible voters took part, in 2018 voter turnout fell to just 40.9 percent. This was hardly surprising. John Tory cruised to victory despite a challenge by former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, while a sudden reduction in the number of wards confused voters and crushed the hopes of many council hopefuls and their supporters.
Though 769,000 electors voted in this mess of an election, voter turnout varied across the city. In Ward 23, Scarborough North, only 34.1 percent of eligible voters turned out to the polls. In Ward 7, Humber River-Black Creek, just 34.6 percent of electors voted. Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, had the third worst turnout, with just 34.8 percent.
Areas with the highest voter turnout were Midtown and east end Toronto. Ward 14, Toronto-Danforth had the highest turnout, where 49.2 percent of electors cast a vote. It was followed by Ward 15 and Ward 12 (both of which had 48.5 percent turnout) and Ward 19, where 48.4 percent of electors went to the polls.
Wards 12, 14, 15, and 19 had interesting and competitive council races. In Ward 14, the race featured two progressive incumbents, while Ward 19 was one of just two races in which an established city councillor was not running for re-election. Wards 12 and 15 also had competitive races. However, in Ward 4, Gord Perks won re-election easily.
Yet Ward 23 had an open council race in which no incumbent was running. And Ward 7 was one of the most interesting and important races of 2018; this is where Giorgio Mammoliti was finally defeated after years of campaign violations, buffoonery, and embarrassments.
2018 voter turnout by ward (alternate version available here)
Voter turnout has consistently been low in Toronto’s northwest and northeast corners. In 2014, Ward 8 and Ward 41 (which made up parts of new Wards 7 and 23) had the lowest numbers of electors casting a vote. Turnout was highest in more affluent neighbourhoods, especially in places like Midtown Toronto, the Kingsway neighbourhood in Etobicoke, and in Toronto’s East End. What surprised me mostly was the poor turnout in Ward 10 in 2018.
2014 voter turnout by ward (alternate version available here)
The difference in voter turnout across the city is more apparent at the neighbourhood level. With the poll-level results available through Toronto’s Open Data Catalogue, I allocated the poll results to each of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods, while adjusting the numbers based on the number of votes cast in the advance polls in each ward. The map below shows voter turnout at the neighbourhood level in 2018.
2018 voter turnout by neighbourhood (alternate version available here)
What is immediately apparent is that voter turnout is highest in many neighbourhoods surrounding Toronto’s downtown core, while turnout is lowest in the former City of York, in northwestern Toronto and parts of Scarborough. Areas of high voter turnout tend to be affluent neighbourhoods with high levels of home ownership. These neighbourhoods include the Kingsway, Lawrence Park, Leaside, Cabbagetown, Rosedale, Forest Hill, Swansea, the Beaches, and Leaside. Many of these areas also have active residents’ associations. With Ryerson professor Myer Siemiatycki, I looked at the results of previous municipal election voter turnouts in a report published by the Maytree Foundation.
Downtown, areas with major condominium developments also have lower turnout, especially in places like the Waterfront, CityPlace, Liberty Village, and the Bay Street corridor. These areas are more likely to have younger residents and many renters. Engaging voters both in downtown condos and those living in the inner suburbs remains a challenge. While voter turnout was much higher in 2014 across the city, the same basic patterns are evident.
2014 voter turnout by neighbourhood (alternate version available here)