Turnout in the 2010 Toronto election

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  • February 23, 2011

Turnout in 2010 was by any measure considerably higher than in recent elections in the City of Toronto — at 49.7%, about 29% higher than each of the previous three elections. Turnout was 39% in 2006, when incumbent David Miller trounced councillor Jane Pitfield. In 2003, the most recent election without an incumbent mayoral candidate, it was 38%. Turnout was about the same as in 1997, the hotly contested first election in the amalgamated City of Toronto. More votes were cast than ever before — over 810,000, 60,000 more than the previous peak in 1997, and 200,000 more than in 2000 and 2006.

Figure 12: Turnout and votes cast, 1997–2010


Citywide turnout

About two-thirds of Toronto’s residents — 1.6 million out of 2.5 million — are citizens eligible to vote. Of these, about half voted. Since the number of voters on the list is less than the total number of potential voters — all eligible citizens — turnout as a proportion of registered voters is higher: 49.7%. Table 4 provides a general idea of overall voter turnout relative to the total population and eligible Canadian citizen population as captured by the 2006 Census, as well as the total number of voters registered as of election day.

Table 4: Citywide turnout


% of total

% of citizens
over 18

% of registered voters

Total population (Census 2006)



Citizens over 18 (Census 2006)




Registered voters (e-day 2010)





Votes cast (2010)





Turnout statistics may not be accurate

Turnout numbers are calculated as a proportion of registered voters — that is, residents on the official voters’ list. This list is initially derived from property assessment records.[1]

Published turnout numbers are inevitably inaccurate for several reasons.

First, residential and commercial property owners are eligible to vote in municipal elections in Ontario even if they do not live in the municipality. There are no public statistics on how many votes were case by business owners and non-resident property owners as opposed to individual resident citizens.

Second, significant additions to the list occur on election day — the City’s election reports show that the over 10% of votes cast in 2003 and 2006 were by people added to the list on election day. In 2010, the list of electors grew by 17% between June and election day.

Even then it will not be accurate, as voters’ lists across the province are known to contain “ghost” names which are not deleted, such residents who have moved away or are deceased.

Turnout by ward

Turnout varied by considerably by ward.[2] Figure 13 shows the degree to which turnout was above or below the city average. (Ward-level data includes advance polls.) Turnout was generally higher in central wards and lower in outer wards, and appears to have been elevated by tight council races. (See Figure 14.) Turnout was highest in Ward 4, where Gloria Lindsay Luby defeated John Campbell by a margin of only 1%; Ward 13, which featured a tight battle between incumbent Bill Saundercook and Sarah Doucette, who was ultimately elected; Ward 26, won by incumbent John Parker in a tight three-way race; and Ward 32, where incumbent Sandra Bussin was defeated by Mary-Margaret McMahon. Turnout was also above average in Ward 27, which corresponds to part of Smitherman’s former provincial riding and where departing councillor Kyle Rae’s seat was fiercely contested and Ward 29, where Mary Fragedakis prevailed over two strong opponents. A tight race between winner Peter Milczin and challenger Justin Di Ciano may have boosted turnout in Ward 5.

There are also a number of wards for which competitive races did not translate into higher turnout. For example, Wards 1, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 44 featured tight races with margins of less than five points and below-average turnout.

Figure 13: Turnout above and below the city average, by ward (2010 election)


A similar core-suburb split was less evident in the 2006 election. (See Figure 15.). Turnout was significantly higher than the average in Ward 13, mayor David Miller’s former ward; Ward 21, which featured a contest between incumbent Joe Mihevc and former mayor John Sewell, who had allied himself with opponents to the St. Clair streetcar project; and Ward 26, represented prior to the election by mayoral candidate Jane Pitfield.

Figure 14: Incumbency and competitiveness of ward races (2010 election)


Figure 15: Turnout above and below the city average, by ward (2006 election)


Another way to interpret the turnout figures is to map the increase in turnout from 2006 to 2010. (See Figure 16.) Citywide, turnout was 29% higher in 2010 than it was in 2006. The largest increases were located in the more central wards carried by Smitherman. Significant increases are also apparent in parts of Etobicoke, East York, and central North York. Turnout increased the least in western Scarborough, York, and western North York — all areas carried by Ford.

Ford also received significant support in precisely the core areas where turnout is the highest. While we cannot know how much support or opposition to his candidacy motivated turnout in the former City of Toronto, it is likely that with higher turnout came votes he might not have otherwise received.

Figure 16: Increase in turnout between 2006 and 2010, by ward


Did higher turnout benefit any particular candidate?

One explanation advanced in the media for Ford’s success is that his campaign organization was more effective at pulling the vote, or that his voters were more motivated to go to the polls. This does not seem to be true. As Table 5 shows, turnout was six percentage points lower in VSDs carried by Ford than those carried by Smitherman. VSDs won by Smitherman had a turnout rate of almost 49%, while those won by Ford had a turnout rate of 43%. These rates were virtually identical in VSDs where each candidate won an absolute majority of the vote.

Table 5: Election-day turnout in VSDs won by each major candidate

VSD won by:

VSDs (n)

VSDs (%)

Votes cast

Reg. voters




















Ford-Smitherman tie





All candidates





a. It is important to note that the Ford and Smitherman VSD turnout figures divide the number of votes cast on election day by the total number of registered voters — they do not include votes cast in advance polls. If it were possible to include advance votes at the VSD level, the turnout rates would be a few points higher in each case.

One possible interpretation is that, compared to Ford, Smitherman’s voters were more enthusiastic, or his campaign was effective at pulling the vote on election day, or both. The lower turnout in areas won by Ford may also be indicative of suburban disengagement with Toronto city politics, although in every ward turnout was higher in 2010 versus 2006. Regardless, Ford won despite low turnout in his suburban home base; had turnout been the same everywhere in the city, he would have won by a much larger margin.


[1] The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) prepares a preliminary voters list for the City. The City asks individual voters to check with MPAC to determine if they are on the list between March 1 and May 31 of the election year. The City Clerk posts the corrected voters list on September 1. Eligible voters are instructed to call the City to see if they are on the list. Between September 7 and 10, people may apply to have another elector’s name removed from the list — if, for example, they are deceased, ineligible, or have moved to another address. Between September 7 and October 25, eligible electors may apply to be added to the list. They can also do so at advance and election day polling places.

[2] Turnout by VSD cannot be calculated or mapped because advance voting occurred only at the ward and district levels.

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