The Incumbent Advantage

Running for mayor is never easy, but it's a heck of a lot easier if you're the incumbent.

The research is clear: incumbency is a leading predictor of success in municipal elections. Incumbents have many home field advantages including stronger name recognition, a history of service with constituents, a greater depth of knowledge on policy files, established media and community relationships, and experience with campaigning and governing.

In municipal elections, where voter turnout tends to be lower and voters are often less familiar with their candidates, the incumbent advantage can be particularly powerful.

This is good news if you're a mayor running for re-election. It's not good news if you're someone who likes to think of elections as taking place on an even playing field for candidates, because - let's face it - it's not.

Seven of Canada's provinces and territories will have municipal elections this fall. Several high profile Canadian mayors such as Toronto's John Tory and Winnipeg's Brian Bowman are seeking second terms. Although there are growing lists of strong candidates in both Toronto and Winnipeg, they face steeply uphill battles. Not impossible battles, but harder battles. Unless the tides of public support have turned strongly against these mayors, they begin the race with a healthy lead.

Perhaps the more interesting races to watch will be in cities where the incumbent mayor has chosen not to run. An open mayoral seat tends to attract a more interesting mix of candidates - and more importantly, it shifts the narrative of the race. Rather than challengers running to take down the current mayor, candidates must run on ideas. Instead of necessarily campaigning against someone, they have an opportunity to run for something. And what this 'something' is tells us a lot about the candidate, and what is happening in their city at a particular point in time.

This is why mayoral elections without an incumbent are so interesting to watch. We have more than a few such battles coming up this fall, including in Vancouver, Yellowknife, London, Surrey, Charlottetown and dozens of other cities. Following mayoral campaigns in these places will yield insight on the current political climate in Canada's cities - what issues are most important, how those issues are framed, what ideas draw public support.

This website includes a brief summary of declared candidates in these races. The content will grow over time, including more detailed reviews of candidate platforms as we get closer to election day. If you have insights or local knowledge to share, or know of a race we should be watching, please contact us.

Running for mayor is never easy, and we owe great thanks to all those who do it - incumbents and new candidates alike. Let's learn about cities and leadership by keeping a close eye on these races in the months ahead.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

connect