Matt Gurney: We know who the PPC voters are. Here’s what they believe

Interesting polling data on PPC supporters:

Poll after poll has shown that the People’s Party of Canada, led by former Conservative Maxime Bernier, is surging in popular support. The party, which captured only 1.6 per cent of the vote in 2019, electing zero candidates, is now polling at closer to five or six per cent, or higher. These gains have not come at any obvious loss to any major party (the hapless Green party may be an exception, but there were only so many Green voters in the first place). While there is no doubt that some voters are bolting to the PPC from traditional parties, it seems certain — and polling suggests — that they are also drawing support from the nine million Canadians who were eligible to vote in 2019 but did not. 

This is, to put it very mildly, worth watching. In a recent column here, drawing on polling information provided by John Wright, the executive vice president of Maru Public Opinion, we tried to establish what we could about a PPC supporter. They are not particularly remarkable; as noted last week, a typical PPC voter is a typical Canadian. They are fairly evenly distributed across all demographic segments and found in generally similar numbers in the various provinces. The earlier numbers were based on a fairly small sample size — the PPC’s low support on a national level has limited their numbers in any typical national-level poll. Last week, I said that more polling was necessary, to firm up the profile of who a PPC voter is and where they live. Wright has been doing that polling — the sample sizes are still modest, but a representative profile is beginning to emerge …  not just of who a PPC voter is, but what they believe.

There is a degree of background context that must be established before we can move onto the numbers. When he presented me with his latest results on Tuesday, Wright noted that polling PPC voters is a particular challenge for his industry. The very concept of “the typical PPC voter” is rapidly shifting. The PPC base of even five weeks ago was a small fringe of grumpy people loosely assembled around a handful of vaguely libertarian policies, some anti-immigration blather and a disillusionment with the political status quo. (A typical PPC billboard encapsulates this unfocused dissatisfaction: “The Other Options Suck.”) Many polling companies track the attitudes of partisans of various affiliations by creating a panel of those partisans and then polling them over and over. Polling companies trying to track the PPC’s sudden rise, if they rely on such an identified panel of PPC voters that will be repeatedly surveyed, are capturing the PPC as it existed before the mid-August influx of new supporters. This is undoubtedly skewing our understanding of what the PPC voter, as they exist right now, believes. Wright has done four waves of polling in the last 10 days to update, as best as possible, our understanding of what the PPC voter believes today. He will continue to poll several times a week for the foreseeable future. 

As to that August surge, as discussed in my column here last week, the best way to explain it is to look for something that recently changed — and something has: there are millions of Canadians who are adamantly anti-vax and anti-vaccine mandate/passport. The PPC surge began at the precise moment that vaccine mandates became a major issue in the federal campaign, and provinces began discussing their plans for certificates to verify vaccination status for domestic purposes. Pollsters needed a few weeks to notice the surge and verify it was real. 

Back to the numbers.

First, let’s briefly deal with the “who” of the PPC: the latest numbers with the larger survey generally conform with what I reported last week and is being reported elsewhere. PPC support is fairly uniform across the country, in the mid-to-high single digits; the only notable outlier is Quebec, which is below the national average of six, with four per cent. PPC support is generally stable across income groups and, in one of the only notable divergences from the earlier, smaller sample, fairly uniform across the genders, as well. PPC support is roughly double among those under age 55 relative to those over 55. The party is about half as popular among those with a university degree compared to those without. This profile is generally similar to what other pollsters are seeing in their own data 

Now let’s look at what they believe.

Wright had previously run an attitudinal survey of the Canadian electorate, polling their level of agreement with a variety of statements. The PPC voters gave answers that were wildly offside with the rest of the electorate. Wright has now run that survey again with a much larger sample of PPC voters (and will run it again for a yet larger sample) and the numbers didn’t change much. Other pollsters have been able to report in general terms the kinds of things a PPC voter might believe, or at least what they believed six weeks ago, but we can now put some actual meat on the bones of what they believe now, after the surge in support. And folks, it’s pretty eye-opening stuff.

Take immigration, something the PPC openly spoken against. The typical Canadian has about an even chance of thinking Canada is letting in too many immigrants — 47 per cent of the country feels that way, and that includes three in five Conservatives, half of Bloc voters, a third of Liberal and NPD voters — but a whopping 83 per cent of PPC voters. PPC voters are way more likely than the rest to favour a very hands-off approach to gun control and regulation; the typical Conservative is a lot closer to a Liberal or NDP voter on this issue than they are a PPC voter. 

But that’s about what you’d expect for a vaguely libertarian party that has been publicly critical of immigration. It gets weirder from here.

Roughly a third of Canadians (35 per cent) agree that the government is stripping away personal liberties; with Conservative and Green voters answering in the affirmative more often than NDP and Liberals. By comparison, 89 per cent of PPC voters believe the government is stripping away their liberty. Almost 90 per cent of PPC voters further agree that their governments are creating “tyranny” over the population. To put that in context, only about 40 per cent of Conservatives feel that way, with the other major parties way behind.

Oh, and here’s a cheerful one to chew over: Wright asked Canadians if they’d agree that “we are on the verge of a revolution in our society to take our freedom back from governments who are limiting it.” That question received 32 per cent support nationally — but an incredible 84 per cent from PPC supporters.

This sounds like the kind of thing we maybe ought to be paying attention to, eh?

It’s the attitudes on vaccination and measures to promote vaccination that show the wildest disparities between PPCers and the rest, though. Wright asked if Canadians would agree that “regardless of what society says, I will not be vaccinated.” Only 16 per cent of his national respondents agreed; this number is generally similar to what other pollsters have been tracking as their “anti-vax” hard core. 

About 20 per cent of Greens are hardcore anti-vaxxers. The mainstream parties are all within the margin of error with each other, and in the very low double or high single digits. But 60 per cent of PPCers say they will not be vaccinated.

Wright also polled party supporters on this question: “I am against vaccine passports because they exclude people from participating in society.” That view was held by only 29 per cent of Canadians. But 88 per cent of PPC voters agreed. 

This is big: fully half of PPC voters fear they will lose their jobs due to opposition to vaccines. That’s significantly greater than the national average: only a fifth of Canadians claimed to have this worry. 

There are limits to the available polling. I can’t tell you what issues PPC voters agree with the majority on. There undoubtedly are some — remember, the typical PPC voter is a fairly typical Canadian. These people are your friends, co-workers and neighbours. I also can’t tell you much about their ethnic composition — there is an assumption among many pundits that they’ll be lopsidedly white, and I confess that wouldn’t shock me, but the PPC’s age profile skewing younger rather than older might complicate that. 

The PPC vote is vastly more alarmed at the prospect of tyranny and an erosion of liberty and personal freedom than most Canadians, and that PPC supporters are wildly divergent from the typical Canadian on all issues around vaccination and efforts to boost vaccination rates. Also, the stereotype of the typical PPC voter simply being a the looniest subsection of the Conservatives doesn’t really seem to hold up. For all the criticism Erin O’Toole has faced over vaccination and related issues, Conservative voters are actually quite closely aligned with the majority; indeed, the average Conservative voter is less adamantly opposed to vaccination than the average Canadian. Tyler Dawson @tylerrdawsonMaxime Bernier has arrived at Borden Park, and a spontaneous singing of O Canada has broken out. Unsurprisingly, they’ve used the old lyrics. September 11th 20214 Retweets24 Likes

If any party other than the PPC is weirdly offside the consensus on the vaccine-related questions, it’s the Greens. Anyone who’s ever met a Green voter probably isn’t shocked by that, the party was always populated by a strange mix of genuinely smart policy wonks and cranks. The cranks have another option now.

None of this is predictive. PPC support might evaporate on election day. Broader societal support doesn’t automatically confer upon it a meaningful electoral ground game and functional get-out-the-vote effort. I believe that the polls showing surging PPC support are capturing something real, but a bunch of typically non-voting citizens falling in with a proto-party with no real organizational strength will almost certainly result in said proto-party underperforming its polling at the ballot box. 

As noted in my last column, though, the PPC surge began right as talk about vaccine passports and mandates heated up. It’s heated up more since. Half of PPC voters fear their livelihoods are in danger. Ninety per cent of them believe they’re having tyranny imposed upon them. The more vaccine mandates and passports are advocated by the major political parties and loudly and aggressively championed by prominent voices in the mainstream, the more juiced up this contingent is likely to become. Remember: Wright has PPC support at six per cent nationally, but almost a fifth of Canadians fear they’ll lose their job for opposing vaccines. The gap between those numbers is Bernier’s pool of accessible new supporters. It’s a big pool.

You don’t have to agree with the PPC and its supporters. This doubly-vaxed writer certainly does not. But these polls just aren’t another dataset for the horserace number crunchers. These are warning signs of what could possibly be a very real, persistent problem to Canadian social and political stability. Anyone who thinks that alarmist should imagine how alarmist they’d sound trying to explain the last five years to their younger selves, circa 2016. 

More polls to come. Stay tuned.


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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