Canadians are feeling worried and conflicted as they head toward the fall federal election, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News.
The survey finds high levels of anxiety caused by both personal and global factors — with the costs of basics like food and gas and the impact of climate change ranking highly on a list of what keeps Canadians up at night.
But the poll also shows Canadians holding conflicting and contradictory views — taking pride in the country’s tolerance while also worrying that the country is changing too much, for example, or believing that voting is both a duty and (for a significant minority) a waste of time.
Conducted by Public Square Research and Maru/Blue for CBC News, the poll ran between May 31 and June 10 and saw 4,500 Canadians interviewed online. The survey includes a sample of 3,000 eligible voters and additional samples of 500 respondents from each of three targeted demographics: first-time voters, new Canadians and Indigenous people.
Cost of living tops voters’ anxieties
The poll finds that Canadians are concerned about the future for themselves and their families, with 72 per cent saying they are worried or somewhat worried. Just six per cent report feeling optimistic, while 22 per cent are somewhat optimistic.
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That optimism was higher among new Canadians; just under half of them said they were optimistic or somewhat optimistic.
Asked what was worrying them most, 32 per cent of all respondents said it was the cost of living — a concern that was highest in British Columbia and among those between the ages of 25 and 44.
An overwhelming 83 per cent who said they were concerned about the cost of living pointed to the cost of basics, like groceries, electricity or gas, while just over half said they were worried about the cost of housing or whether they would have enough to retire.
Second on the list of concerns was climate change, at 19 per cent. Anxiety about climate change was highest in Atlantic Canada, B.C. and Quebec, and among more educated and younger respondents.
The cost of living and climate change ranked as the top two causes of worry in every region of the country, though the cost of living outpaced climate change by margins of more than two-to-one in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Among new Canadians, however, finding a job ranked second behind the cost of living — while among respondents now old enough to vote for the first time, climate change ranked ahead of the cost of living as the biggest worry.
Voters disillusioned with politics
Canadians don’t seem to believe that the political parties vying for their votes in October have their best interests at heart — and those who are worried about the future report greater disillusionment with politics.
Fully 88 per cent of those polled said they feel that politicians care more about staying in power than doing what’s right, while 47 per cent said that no party represents what they care about most.
This was not a strongly-held view among first-time voters, however. Instead, it was those between the ages of 25 and 65 who were most likely to say that no party aligned with their views.
A feeling of distance between those who run the country and everyone else seems to be a contributing factor in this disillusionment; 78 per cent say they believe that the country is divided between “ordinary people” and “elites.”
Still, Canadians say they think exercising their democratic rights is important. The vast majority of respondents (95 per cent) said they strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that voting is an important duty, with 75 per cent strongly agreeing. This unanimity existed across regions and demographic groups — including among Indigenous and first-time voters, two cohorts with traditionally lower voter turnout.
But even though virtually everyone polled saw voting as an important duty, just over one-third said that their vote still won’t make a difference. And one-quarter said they didn’t have enough information to cast an informed vote, a figure that rises to 56 per cent among first-time voters.
Conflicted views on tolerance and immigration
That wasn’t the only instance in the poll of Canadians reporting conflicting views. Climate change was another one: nearly two-thirds ranked it as a top priority, while half of those polled would not pay more than $100 per year in taxes to prevent it.
The poll also suggests Canadians are conflicted on diversity and immigration.
On the one hand, 77 per cent said they are “proud of how tolerant Canada is as a country” and 85 per cent said they were LGBTQ-friendly. New Canadians were especially proud of Canada’s tolerance (86 per cent), though they also reported lower rates of tolerance of LGBTQ people (64 per cent).
On the other hand, 65 per cent of all Canadians said they agreed with the statement “we have gone too far in accommodating every group in society” — a view held most strongly in Alberta and Quebec.
There was a serious age divide on this statement, with just 40 per cent of 18-to-24 year olds agreeing, compared to 73 per cent of those over the age of 45.
Fifty-six per cent said they “worried that accepting too many immigrants would change Canada.” That view also was held by just under half of new Canadians (47 per cent).
Still, the CBC News poll suggests there is an openness to immigration, with 76 per cent saying they believe more should be done to encourage skilled labour to come to Canada. And while 60 per cent said they did not care about the ethnic make-up of immigrants, only 24 per cent said that too many immigrants come from visible minorities (visible minorities themselves were just as likely to share this view as other Canadians).
Regardless of how Canadians as a whole view immigrants, four-fifths of new Canadians said they feel like a respected part of the country.
Indigenous Canadians feeling disrespected
That was not the case for Indigenous Canadians: two-thirds of them told the poll that they did not feel like a respected part of the country, or that the government respects their community or identity.
The poll found significant disillusionment among Indigenous Canadians, with 86 per cent saying that the country needs to do more for them (59 per cent agreed strongly). That was significantly higher than the 69 per cent of Canadians overall who believe the country should be doing more for Indigenous Canadians.
There was a similar degree of difference in dissatisfaction with the track record of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While 52 per cent of Canadians said that Trudeau was doing not very well, or not well at all, at improving the welfare and conditions of Indigenous Canadians, that increased to 69 per cent among Indigenous respondents themselves.
Indigenous Canadians were more likely than the Canadian population as a whole to say that the country is on the wrong track (62 per cent against 56 per cent), that they are not getting by financially (22 per cent against 13 per cent) or that they don’t trust the government to do the right thing (60 per cent to 53 per cent).
It’s unlikely that the issues most important to Indigenous Canadians will be a major part of the national election campaign, as just nine per cent of Canadians listed the quality of life in Indigenous communities as one of their top three election issues. Canadians were more than four times as likely to cite climate change, health care or the cost of living as the factor that will decide their vote in October.
Commissioned by CBC News, the Public Square Research and Maru/Blue survey was conducted between May 31 and June 10, 2019, interviewing 4,500 eligible voters. Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have registered to participate in the Maru Voice panel. The data have been weighted to reflect the demographic composition of Canada, according to Statistics Canada. Because the sample is based on those who initially self-selected for participation in the Maru Voice panel rather than a probability sample, no estimates of sampling error can be calculated. However, a comparable probabilistic national sample of 3,000 voters would have a margin of error of +/- 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while samples of 500 voters have a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The poll results referenced in this article came from the following questions, with answer options in brackets:
“When you think of you and your family, are you worried or optimistic about the future?” (Worried, somewhat worried, somewhat optimistic, optimistic)
“What, if anything, are you most worried about?” (My health/health of a family member, cost of living, climate change, crime and public safety, terrorism, my job/finding a job, immigration, international relations/trade agreements, truth in the media, racism, social inequality, none of these issues worry me)
“You mentioned ‘cost of living’, what specifically concerns you about the cost of living?” (Cost of basics e.g. groceries, electricity or gas, having enough money to retire, housing (not owning, paying rent, losing your home), employment (not having or keeping my job), credit card/personal debt, other)
“Please read the following statements about democracy/immigration/the environment/voting/issues in Canadian politics and indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each: Politicians care more about staying in power than doing what’s right. There is no political party that represents the things I care about. My country is divided between ordinary people and elites. Voting is an important duty. My vote won’t make a difference. I don’t know enough to vote. I am proud of how tolerant Canada is as a country. I am LGBTQ-friendly. We have gone too far in accommodating every group in society. I’m worried that accepting too many immigrants will change Canada. Canada should be doing more to encourage skilled labour to immigrate to Canada. Canada needs to do more for Indigenous people in Canada. In the end, I trust the Canadian government to do what’s right.” (Agree strongly, agree somewhat, disagree somewhat, disagree strongly)
“If you had to say, how serious a problem is climate change?” (Our survival depends on addressing it, it’s a top priority, it’s important, but not a top priority, it’s not a priority, but we should do something to protect the environment, I don’t believe in climate change)
“How much annually would you be willing to pay in taxes to help prevent climate change?” (Up 10 $100, between $100 to $500, between $500 to $1000, between $1000 to $2000, more than $2000, nothing at all, don’t know)
“Of the immigrants that are coming to Canada, would you say:” (too many immgrants are visible minorities, about the right number of immigrants are visible minorities, not enough immigrants are visible minorities, I don’t care about the ethnic makeup of immigrants)
“As a new Canadian, do you feel like a respected part of Canada? (Yes, No)
“As an Indigenous person, do you feel like a respected part of Canada?” (Yes, No)
“As an Indigenous person, on balance, do you feel that the federal governments respects your community and identity?” (Yes, No)
“How well do you think the Prime Minister is doing on the following issues? Improving the welfare and conditions of Indigenous Canadians.” (Very well, fairly well, not very well, not well at all, don’t know)
“In general, do you think Canada is on the right track or on the wrong track?” (Right track, wrong track)
“When it comes to getting by financially, which statement is most like you and your family?” (I don’t have to worry about money, I have to think about how I spend money now, but am getting by, I am not getting by financially)
“Thinking about the upcoming federal election in October specifically, which issues are most concerning to you?” (Health care, climate change, cost of living, jobs/the economy, housing affordability, home ownership, government mismanagement, deficit spending, gun control, nobody to vote for, immigration, terrorism, trade negotiations, rascism, the quality of life in Indigenous communities, women’s equality)