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In Vancouver, the race is Robertson's to lose

With just days to go before Vancouver's civic election, Mayor Gregor Robertson would appear to be heading towards victory. That is, unless he is in the process of fumbling away one of the surest wins in the city's electoral history.

No one is quite sure which scenario will ultimately play out.

All of the polls released in the last few days put the mayor in front of his challenger, Suzanne Anton of the Non-Partisan Association. Depending on the survey, Mr. Robertson maintains a comfortable lead over Ms. Anton or is in danger of being caught and overtaken by a hard-charging opponent.

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Two of the polls gave Mr. Robertson a six-point lead over Ms. Anton with a week to go in the campaign. That is a much narrower gap than existed before the election battle began in earnest and many polls gave the mayor leads of 20 points or more.

A new Angus Reid poll released Monday, however, is arguably the most comprehensive that has been conducted on the race and the issues surrounding it. It gives Mr. Robertson a 20-point lead over Ms. Anton on the question of who those surveyed would prefer in the mayor's seat. It also shows that 26 per cent are undecided.

In polling connected to municipal elections, the veracity of results is often questioned. That's because voter turnout is usually extremely low – often 30 per cent or less. That means, of the 10 people a pollster asks for whom they intend to vote, seven aren't likely to cast a ballot.

Still, the online survey of 402 randomly selected Vancouverites who are Angus Reid Forum panelists (which produces a result with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 per cent) could provide some important clues about the likely outcome of Saturday's vote.

For instance, the pollster asked its panelists about Occupy Vancouver and whether they supported the protest encampment on the lawns of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The survey indicated that 64 per cent of Vancouverites now had an unfavourable opinion of the protest, compared to 29 per cent who viewed the group in a favourable light.

The poll also showed that only 35 per cent of respondents felt Mr. Robertson's Vision Vancouver government had done a good job of dealing with the Occupy camp.

This result would appear to buttress the theory that Ms. Anton – who has taken a harder-line approach to the occupiers than Mr. Robertson – has benefited politically from the issue. But as Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid, points out, the poll also shows that Occupy is not as important an issue to voters as good sanitation services, public safety, protecting quality of life, the environment, homelessness and poverty and even implementing policies to help small business. And on many of these issues, Mr. Robertson scores quite well.

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In other words, Ms. Anton's position on Occupy may have helped motivate and solidify her right-of-centre base, but it may not have helped gain her new votes.

"So, I would say Occupy is an issue, but not the most important issue for voters or the top issue of the campaign," Mr. Canseco said. "It seems be sitting in the middle of the pack in terms of issues that are most important to people in the city."

Likewise, two of the policies that Ms. Anton and the NPA have hammered the mayor and his party hardest over – dedicated bike lanes and a bylaw that allows people to keep hens in backyard coops – ranked lowest among the 12 issues that Angus Reid asked its panelists to place in importance.

Still, Mr. Robertson is in no position to take anything for granted. Young people and women are among his biggest supporters. And according to Mr. Canseco, these are also demographic cohorts that usually stay home on election day. The NPA's core supporters – who are older, more conservative – are more inclined to make their way to the polling station.

"Like it is in most elections, it will come down to who gets their vote out," Mr. Canseco said. "If Vision gets theirs out, then it will be very hard for the NPA and Ms. Anton to win. But, of course with municipal elections sometimes you never know."

In other words, Mr. Robertson has this one in the bag – unless he doesn't.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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