Which candidate do we prefer? And why?

Why do we prefer one candidate over any other? Are we influenced by the polls, our friends and colleagues, our personal interests, our sensitivities and biases, our own perception of the available candidates, or by the positions taken by the political movement that most closely mirrors our own political opinions?

How many of us vote for the candidate we dislike the least because we want to vote but can’t find any candidate we really like?

Or do we end up in the tactic of strategic voting (“Anyone but X”), in order to ensure the defeat of the candidate we judge the greatest threat to our interests?

Let us start with the polls. Do we have any more reliable option for getting a sense of voters’ preferences? Do we understand that a poll may only reflect the current state of the game, not necessarily the likely result on election day?

The unfortunate fact is that, because of faulty methodology, the polls can be very unreliable and in recent times they have failed us miserably. In this year’s provincial elections in Ontario and Quebec, the polls did not reflect the likelihood of the decisive triumph of the Liberals that eventually resulted in majority governments.

And yet, in this semi-final stage with less than five weeks left, the polls have become the driving force in the mayoral contest. They are having a powerful effect on the voters and especially on the candidates themselves.The polls are causing us to see John Tory as the runaway winner poised to lead our City Council in the new term; Olivia Chow as the least likely to rebound to her earlier poll ratings as our first choice; and Doug Ford as the second-placed dark horse who may upset the applecart by pole-vaulting beyond his 25-30% of voter support.

On the other hand, for those of us who are not particularly attracted to any of the candidates, who is the candidate we dislike the least? It is to be borne in mind that the final outcome of the race may be decided by the undecided voters, estimated to range from 17% to 25% of the electorate.

In spite of the many publicly expressed opinions to the contrary, it appears that Chow may still be the least disliked candidate. The reason for this controversial but modestly positive ranking is that she is the one who would normally have the largest base of voters who traditionally “belong” to the political movement and the political orientation which she calls home: the “progressive” camp. And one dare not deny the degree to which this ranking is controversial.

Forgetting the often dubious reliability of the principle that city elections and city politics are officially non-party, why are so many high profile Liberals supporting Tory and not Chow who as a leading NDP’er should be their natural ally and fellow progressive?

What will happen in the future if voters at all three levels of politics (municipal, provincial and federal) draw the conclusion that the Liberals are not really progressives but rather so centrist that the Conservatives and the Liberals are merely two sides of the same coin?

Similarly, can Chow still count on the majority support of the trade unionists, any Liberals who do not want to vote for Tory and even the majority of her “own” NDP’ers? How will the strategic voters cast their ballots on Oct. 27?

Contrary to the prevailing view, the race is still open. And now we know why.