The results of an Oraclepoll Research poll showing Brian Bigger leading the city's mayoral race shows us a couple of important things about how Greater Sudbury voters are feeling about their choices on Oct. 27.
Beyond the bread-and-butter concerns about roads and taxes — which never really change election to election — we can see which mayoral candidates and issues are striking a chord with voters. And so far, it appears Bigger is the candidate benefiting the most from voters fed up with the soap opera at Tom Davies Square over the last four years.
Bigger, though, has been undeniably short on detailed policy statements. Still, voters so far have indicated they trust him to bring the change they desperately wanted four years ago. Public perception that he's a bulldog at city hall — facing down opposition to his audits from city council and staff — is serving him well.
And while new to politics, his reputation as someone who knows where the skeletons are buried is proving valuable just weeks before the vote. So when he promises to freeze taxes in his first year without cutting services, people seem willing to believe him, even without hearing details of just how he would achieve that.
As an accountant, he would seem to have both the financial savvy and the detective skills to root out savings and control budgets.
He's also aligned with André Marin, the popular Ontario Ombudsman fired by our tone-deaf city council in 2013. And along with eight years of headlines regarding the Sudbury Transit scandal and the Elton John ticket debacle, to name a few, public unhappiness with elected officials and with city staff has come to a head just in time for the election.
This is an obstacle to candidates like John Rodriguez — who has the experience but also the baggage of a previous term — and Dan Melanson, who lacks Rodriguez's baggage, but also his experience.
And don't discount the influence of Melanson's mustache, a factor he mentioned with a slight chuckle when told of the poll results. Mustaches are particularly unpopular among some women, an area where Melanson is trailing Bigger by a wide margin. His time with the Greater Sudbury Taxpayers Association — which has a perception among some voters as pulling the strings of Mayor Marianne Matichuk — can't be discounted either.
Perhaps the most telling result from the poll is the number of voters still undecided — 24.9 per cent still did not know who they were going to support.
With all the debates still to come — as well as one-on-one live studio interviews NorthernLife.ca is holding with the frontrunners beginning this week — it will be fascinating to see how Bigger holds up as a frontrunner.
How will his experience confronting city hall translate when he's facing political opponents in a debate?
In the realm of public opinion, three weeks can be a lifetime. The challenge for Melanson will be where he can pick up support. Does he take a negative tone to try and reclaim his title as the change candidate? Or does he try and reach out to the Rodriguez supporters who may be more receptive to a comparatively moderate candidate in contrast to Bigger? Does he shave his trademark handle-bar mustache?
The numbers are challenging for Rodriguez, too, who may hope Ron Dupuis quits the race and brings his seven- to nine-per-cent support to the only other major candidate with ties to labour. But the question is where else he can grow, especially when Bigger benefits from the anger at city hall Rodriguez embodies for many voters.
It will be no small task to overtake Bigger, who has solid support in Sudbury and in the outlying communities, as well as among men and women. Melanson is polling strong in Sudbury, but weak outside the city and among women. Rodriguez polls strong in outlying communities, but is particularly weak in the city. His support is a solid third among both males and females.
Editorial writers always hope elections will be about ideas and that the candidates with the best platform will win. But elections are about more than ideas, they are about personalities. And voters vote as much with emotion as they do with reason.
If Bigger can withstand the scrutiny of being the frontrunner, and if he can add more detail to his policy announcements, we may be in for – dare we say it? – a Bigger surprise on Oct. 27.