Supporters of public faith in Canada are young, educated, Liberal, and ‘quite dug in’: pollster

Interesting findings but note the methodology used is not random selection, and thus likely cannot be considered a reliable reflection of the population:

Proponents of religious faith in public life in Canada tend to be younger, more highly educated, and more likely to have voted Liberal, according to a new survey.

The counter-intuitive discovery puts the lie to the common impression that support for public religiosity in areas like health care, social services and education is driven by evangelical church goers and deeply observant, older, conservative “holy rollers,” said Angus Reid, chairman of Angus Reid Institute.

“What we find is exactly the opposite,” Reid said.

He said there is a “mythology” on the political left that says declining church attendance goes hand in hand with support for what he calls “uber-secularization” of society, or the “extinguishment of faith and religion from any portion of the public square.”

Not so, according to the report, Faith in the Public Square, done in partnership with Cardus, which describes itself as a non-partisan, faith-based think tank and registered charity dedicated to promoting a flourishing society.”

“The largest segment of Canadian society (at 37%), quite independent of whether they have any religious views or not, sees an important role for religious and faith groups across many dimensions of Canadian society. They strongly support religious freedom. They see religious and faith groups playing an important role in health, in social services, social justice issues. They believe that faith and religion are critical for the formation of citizenship and strong values,” Reid said in an interview. “There is a very significant segment that is alive and well and quite dug in, in many respects, on this question.”

When asked about how faith operates in their own lives, Canadians tend to break down roughly like this: 20% are atheist, 20% are religiously committed, 30% are privately faithful, and 30% are spiritually uncertain.

But the pie chart looks different when the emphasis shifts to the role faith should play in public life, this survey suggests. It found that there are more proponents of faith in the public square (at 37%) than there are opponents (32%) or those who are uncertain (32%).

The survey describes these groups using what it calls a Public Faith Index, based on responses to 17 questions.

Public faith is a topic of frequent and intense public debate, from niqabs and religious symbols in the public services in Quebec, to the funding of religious schools and the appropriateness of Christian prayers at local council meetings. In the past, it has coloured political debate on everything from abortion access to whether Canada should participate in war.

This survey sought to measure opinion on, for example, whether faith is good for citizenship, whether the tenets of various faiths should be taught in high schools, and whether politicians ought to be conversant in the basics of the various religions in Canada.

It found, for example, that 38% of Canadians thought religious and faith communities were making a positive contribution to health care, while 15% felt the contribution was negative. There were similar results for social justice causes, such as poverty and overseas development. But in social services, fully 51% thought the contribution was positive, and just 11% felt it was negative. In education, the numbers were more evenly split, 28% positive and 25% negative.

It also found deep divisions between the three segments. For example, 93% of public faith proponents agree that religious and faith communities strengthen Canadian values such as equality and human rights. But 81% of public faith opponents disagree with this proposition.

In education, a solid majority, 57%, of opponents thought the beliefs of the world’s major religions should not be taught public high schools, while 36% thought just the basics should be taught.

Another curious finding is that fully 25% of public faith proponents say they have never read a religious text.

A key caveat to the general conclusion about a strong segment of young, educated, Liberal proponents of public faith is the province of Quebec. For example, if you exclude Quebec, the percentage of Canadians who are proponents of public faith rises to 42%.

“Quebec, on any issue associated with religion or faith, is a totally distinct society,” Reid said.

The survey of 2,200 Canadians was conducted in early November, via the Angus Reid Forum, an online community in which people can participate in surveys in exchange for reward points and prizes. Because they were not randomly selected, a true margin of error cannot be calculated, but a randomized poll of similar size would have a margin of error of 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Source: Supporters of public faith in Canada are young, educated, Liberal, and ‘quite dug in’: pollster

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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