Elections such as the UK “Brexit” referendum, Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency, and the growth of the Alternative for Germany party in Germany have led to concerns about the viability of liberal democratic institutions. Voters appear increasingly drawn to populists. However, before Brexit, and before Trump, there was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Known equally for bizarre personal antics and outsider status, Ford is a classic case of a right-wing populist politician. We examine this relatively early manifestation of a populist by taking into account various factors. One dominant theoretical explanation is based on economic anxieties amidst increasing inequality and polarizing labor markets. A second, and perhaps more dominant theory, emphasizes working class xenophobia and racism. Results from an analysis of a 2014 survey suggest support can be explained by many factors, such as ideology, partisanship, social conservatism, education, financial stress, suburban residency, among others. Sometimes, factors show a direct link to support for Ford. In other cases, particularly as it relates to financial stress, the relationship is more complex. Also, analysis shows that visible minorities were more likely than non-visible minorities to support Ford, contrary to the general anti-immigrant and sometimes racist appeals of populists elsewhere.

Type of Publication: Journal Article
2019, Journal of Urban Affairs,