Canada is a tinderbox for populism. The 2019 election could spark it.

Frank Graves and Michael Valpy focus on the shifting views of millennial men, visible minorities as well as not visible minority, towards populism and the right. The 2019 election will provide a test of their thesis but certainly the Conservatives seem to mining this resentment in much of their messaging:

As Canadians, we sit atop the continent, watching as our neighbours slide into cultural civil war. It has become easy to just be appalled as America becomes riven, with social media and antagonistic rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum erasing the middle ground. There are two Americas, incommensurably separated on the fundamental issues of the day: climate change, the economy, social issues like health and education, employment, the media, immigration in particular, and globalization and free trade.

We’ve learned more and more about the populism that has fuelled this complicated moment as the fracture in America races like wildfire throughout Western democracies. It is the biggest force reshaping democracy, our economies and public institutions. It is the product of economic despair, inequality, and yes, racism and xenophobia. It is an institutional blind spot, largely denied or ridiculed by the media, and by the more comfortable and educated portions of society.

It is very much alive in Canada. In fact, our populist explosion has already had its first bangs and is likely to have a major impact on next year’s federal election.

The shifts in the democratic world order over the last decade have increasingly prompted social scientists to discard the left-right political spectrum in favour of an “open-ordered axis,” or what The Economist calls drawbridge-down vs drawbridge-up thinking. The former are cosmopolitan-minded people, in favour of diversity, immigration, trade, and globalization, and who are optimistic about the future; they’re guided by reason and evidence-based policy, and believe that climate change is a dominant priority. Drawbridge-up people, with an “ordered” worldview, are largely parochial, and they have reservations about diversity, are deeply pessimistic about the economic future, believe more in moral certainty than reason and evidence, are disdainful of media, government and of scientific expertise, and are convinced that climate change is trumped by the economy and their own survival. It’s ordered thinking that is metastasizing in Western societies, including Canada’s, especially among the political right. EKOS research from 2017 suggests about 30 to 40 per cent of adult Canadians are drawn to it.

Meanwhile, research over the last 10 years has found that Canada, like the United States, is turning into a society fissured along fault lines of education, class and gender. These are social chasms defined by the concentration of wealth at the top of society and, for everyone else, by economic pessimism and stagnation; by a comfortable feeling on one end of the societal teeter-totter, and a fear on the other end that a subscription to the middle-class dream might no longer be available.

Although there has been a recent uptick for the first time in 15 years, the portion of Canadians who self-identify as middle class since the turn of the century has declined from 70 per cent to 45 per cent, a stark number that mirrors America’s—signalling that Canadians have a deeply pessimistic view of their personal economic outlook. Only one in eight Canadians thinks they’re better off than a year ago. Only one in eight thinks the next generation will enjoy a better life. And EKOS finds that, by a margin of two to one, Canadians believe that if present trends with inequality continue, the country — this country! — will see violent class conflicts.

Ordered populism has already become an illusive, misunderstood theme in provincial elections in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario. Indeed, Doug Ford and his Ontario Progressive Conservatives won thanks to a preponderance of working-class, male electoral support—but a closer examination of the vote shows that male millennials, against expectation, supported Ford in significant numbers and had a high turnout. Millennial women, meanwhile, preferred the New Democratic Party by a margin of 25 points, and the millennial women who didn’t vote NDP largely stayed home. Millennial men split their votes between the NDP and Progressive Conservatives, and they led females millennials by 10 points in turning out to cast ballots.

Survey evidence strongly suggests that these are young men angered by the economic realities they face, and they are hit the hardest by what is happening in Ontario’s economy. A joint study by United Way Toronto and York Region and Hamilton’s McMaster University on poverty and employment precarity in southern Ontario reports that only 44 per cent of millennials in the region — the heartbeat of Canada’s economy — have full-time, permanent jobs, that the majority have not found work that provides extended health benefits, pension plans, or employer-funded training, and that formerly high-paying blue-collar jobs there are rapidly vanishing. The lack of good jobs, coupled with the social catastrophe of affordable housing and the resulting need to delay family formation, is resulting in anxiety and depression that disproportionately affects millennial men—making them ideal targets for the appeals of ordered populism.

What is happening challenges the conventional view that the youngest adults of Canadian society—the millennials, now Canada’s largest electoral demographic—operate with roughly similar, progressive views and values.

Another assumption in need of challenging is the idea that Canada’s ordered populism, like its American counterpart, is a besieged white citadel. In fact, our northern brand is as much the choice of multicultural new Canadians as of white native-born Canada. A significant chunk of new Canadians, many of them non-white, indicate they will vote Conservative in next year’s federal election — even though 65 per cent of Conservative supporters told EKOS this year that Canada admits too many non-white immigrants. And while a majority of Canadians are open to immigration, the intensity of the opposition is red-hot, including in other parties: 20 per cent of New Democratic Party supporters and 13 per cent of Liberal supporters also believe too many non-white immigrants are entering the country..

There are two possible explanations for this: First, new Canadians may bring with them into the country strains of social conservatism that make them hostile to issues like same-sex marriage and what they see as immoral, too-liberal sex education, an inflammatory issue in Ontario over the past couple of years. Thus, what they see as an assault on their values may be more important than a party trying to appeal to voters who want fewer of them in the country.

Second, where neighbourhoods are ethnically homogeneous as many are around the core of Canadian cities—white, brown or otherwise—populism holds appeal. Where there’s more diversity, it doesn’t. As social scientists have discovered, communities which have the least contact with with minority groups are the most hostile to them.

The looming federal election could be a spark for all the populist tinder largely being ignored in Canada. In the 2015 federal election, voting differences by gender for all age groups were flat. Now the federal Conservatives hold a 17-point advantage among men from all age groups other than seniors —a huge change in three years. Federal Conservatives also hold an advantage over Liberals and New Democrats with voters who self-identify as working class, and the party has overwhelming support from non-university-educated Canadians, the group most likely to feel left behind by the disappearance of blue-collar industries.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper led a party supported by the economically comfortable. His successor, Andrew Scheer, leads a party of the economically unhappy, of the new economy’s losers, a base increasingly comfortable with raising the drawbridge even as the Liberal government announces Canada will admit an additional 40,000 immigrants by 2021, bringing the annual number of new, mostly non-white arrivals to 350,000. Any campaign rhetoric that confuses this new support with its old party will only exacerbate the anger—and for the angry to find comfort in populism’s temptations.

What we do know is that Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, with its populist strains and its vague campaign promises, is what many angry young men voted for. Maybe they didn’t vote for its policies; maybe, in their anger, they just voted to burn the house down, even if the history of populist movements show they’ve rarely worked out.

We can try to understand why it’s happening. We can insist that governments tackle inequality and affordable housing. We can build a future that preserves progress for all of us but addresses the real injuries of those who have embraced populism, while also refusing to bend to their fear, anger and ignorance. But letting populism burn the house down benefits nobody—and we can’t just ignore the smell of gasoline in the air.

Source: Canada is a tinderbox for populism. The 2019 election could spark it.

The cautionary tale of Kellie Leitch: Stephen Maher on populism

Good reporting and analysis by Maher:

Still, there is no reason to be complacent.

Pollster Frank Graves, who recently completed a polling project for the Canadian Press to explore the prospects for northern populism, sees a shift in Canadian attitudes about the economy, immigration and trade that could provide an opening for someone like Leitch.

“I think Kouvalis was likely onto something in that this was a more resonant strategy,” Graves said Wednesday. “I think Kellie Leitch was mining a vein of this new ordered-populist outlook, which is expressing itself in the United Kingdom with Brexit and with Trump in the United States.”

Graves polled thousands of Canadians, putting them on a spectrum from open—pro-trade, with positive views on immigration—to ordered. He found a growing group of Canadians—particularly in southern Ontario—who are anxious about their economic prospects, hostile to the elite policy consensus, anxious about immigration and skeptical about the benefits of trade.

The highest scores were in Oshawa, Barrie, London, Hamilton and Windsor, places where many workers have had to leave traditional industrial jobs, much like the rust-belt voters who made Trump president.

The trend has reversed somewhat since 2015, when Justin Trudeau was elected, but Graves believes there is a significant constituency for a populist message, based mostly on economic pessimism. “It begins with economic despair but then mutates into fear of others, nativism, racism,” he says.

In 2002, 68 per cent of Canadians described themselves as middle class. By 2017, it had fallen as low as 43 per cent. Many people feel they are losing ground, and they are not convinced that the elites are looking out for their best interests.
“They say, quite rightly, this didn’t work for us,” says Graves. “We’re pissed off.”

But I don’t think that this means we can expect a Trump-style figure to arise in Canada. It’s hard to put together an anti-trade message that works in a country as dependent on exports as Canada is, and we are likely better at smoothly managing immigration than any other country in the world.

Ford, the most successful populist in recent Canadian history, was politically incorrect but he succeeded politically because he connected with non-white voters.

The Reform Party, which once flirted with anti-immigrant messages, abandoned those ideas and, after merging with the Progressive Conservatives, sent Jason Kenney around the country to connect with ethnic Canadians, a key part of their winning election strategy.

Conservatives who watched the party lose in 2015 after playing with divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric, do not think it is a winner at the ballot box. “For every vote you win that way, how many do you lose?” said one strategist.

There may come a day when anti-immigrant messages help someone like Leitch get ahead in Canadian politics, but her political career is a cautionary tale that ambitious would-be Trumps will ignore at their peril. In that sense, we should be grateful to her for her public service.

Source: The cautionary tale of Kellie Leitch

Canadians favour openness, but isolationism brews, [Ekos] poll finds

More polling data on the risks of populism in Canada:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to Washington Tuesday to further strengthen the ties between Canada and the U.S. just as a new poll suggests Canadians don’t want this country heading down the same path as its southern neighbour.

But the results of the Ekos-Canadian Press survey don’t necessarily mean Canadians’ points of view are completely at odds with those who voted U.S. President Donald Trump into office, said Ekos president Frank Graves.

Ekos and the Canadian Press surveyed 4,839 Canadians via telephone between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1 as part of an ongoing effort to understand whether the same drivers exist in Canada as those behind populist movements supporting a more isolationist viewpoint around the world.

The results suggest Canada favours a more open approach – 60 per cent of those asked don’t want a “Canada First” foreign policy that mirrors the “America First” rallying cry that put Trump in office. Eighty per cent of those surveyed also disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job, and 52 per cent want to see Canada become less like the U.S.

“Canada is clearly pivoting open, you can make the case with some of the data on that,” said Graves.

“But if you look at more of the data, I’m not so sure. It’s not that clear.”

The data also suggests 22 per cent of those surveyed think Canada ought to become more isolated, a marked increase after years of the number remaining relatively flat.

Also, among those surveyed 37 per cent think Canada’s immigration policy admits too many visible minorities. Twenty-nine per cent said they’ve experienced an incident of racism in the last month, and 33 per cent said they believe racism is becoming more common.

Ekos conducted the survey between Sept. 15 and Oct. 1, and the survey of the entire sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Different sample sizes were polled for each question to increase the number of questions researchers were able to ask.

Ekos has been tracking attitudes towards visible minority immigration for 25 years because it serves as a way to test levels of racial intolerance in Canada, said Graves.

The question of whether it is too high was put to 1,154 people during the recent survey, and the margin of error for those findings was 2.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Forty-two per cent believe the right amount are being let in and 15 per cent say too few.

Graves said the incidence of those believing it’s too high peaked before the last federal election and seems to be on the decline. It’s still lower than it was in the 1990s, he said.

The survey also probed for people’s perceptions of their economic future, and the results suggest Canadians are pretty pessimistic about the way things are going, despite economic indicators to the contrary.

That, coupled with the responses on how open this country ought to be, suggests the door can’t be closed on the argument that the same economic and social frustration that’s fuelled populism elsewhere doesn’t exist here, Graves said.

“There’s clearly a significant portion of Canada that’s not going to be convinced by the whole notion that an open welcoming Canada is the right answer to the problems that they see in their lives and the country.”

What that might mean for Canada’s political landscape remains to be seen. Sixty-four per cent of those who say Canada is letting in too many visible minorities identify as Conservative supporters; 62 per cent of those who think the number is just right are Liberal.

But Graves noted that studies done in the U.S. before and after that election revealed that people who were exhibiting racial intolerance and who voted for Trump said they would have voted Democrat if that party had put forward a more progressive platform.

Maintaining support for immigration ranks high on the Liberals’ list of priorities; in the coming weeks, they’re poised to unveil how many newcomers Canada will admit in 2018.

The Liberals are keen on immigration to foster economic growth, but complicating the issue is the ongoing arrival of asylum seekers at the border prompting criticism the government has lost control of the system.

In Britain, a survey after the surprising yes vote in a referendum on leaving the EU found that nearly 73 per cent of those who voted to leave were worried about immigration levels being too high.

The Ekos survey found 41 per cent feel too many immigrants are currently being let in overall. 

Source: Canadians favour openness, but isolationism brews, poll finds – Macleans.ca

ICYMI: Pollsters starting to see uptick in government work

Back to “committing sociology:”

The Trudeau government is reinvesting in public opinion research after it was virtually abandoned in the final years of the last Conservative government, though spending remains far below historical averages, according to veteran pollster Frank Graves.

“They’ve committed to doing more and more work…but it’s certainly nowhere near the levels it was historically both with the early stages of the Conservative government, certainly the Liberal government before that, and the Mulroney government before that,” he told The Hill Times.

Mr. Graves, founder and president of Ekos Research, said in an interview that the federal government has contracted more public opinion research work from his company since the election last fall. He linked this to the Liberals’ push to what they see as a return to evidence-based decision-making.

It pales in comparison, however, to what was seen in even the early stages of the Conservative government, he said.

The Harper government spent $31.2 million polling Canadians in the 2006-07 fiscal year before cutting back to $4.9-million in 2013-14, The Hill Times reported.

This stretch of scarce funding represented a “very unusual period,” Mr. Graves said, with the government conducting “virtually no research” of any significance during this span.

A 2003 auditor general’s report clocks in federal spending on public opinion research in 2002-03, under a previous Liberal government, at $23.7 million and $26.2 million the year before.

Mr. Graves partly attributed lagging “rust” in the bureaucratic channels in preventing the Liberals from revving up polling efforts back to previous levels.

“[It’s] going to take awhile for the bureaucracy to catch up and for the resource envelope [to expand] to do this in levels which would be more commensurate with the need and demand and express priority provided to this approach,” Mr. Graves said, noting that civil servants would also need to catch up with technological advancements in the field.

When reached, the Treasury Board Secretariat said it did not have up-to-date figures on spending on public opinion research or consultations specifically.

….Pollsters optimistic after lean decade

Stephen Kiar, CEO and founder of Ottawa-based public opinion and market research firm Phoenix SPI, said his company has also started to see an increase in public opinion research work in the last month or so.

After the election, the Liberals proceeded “cautiously and deliberately,” as new ministers learned their departments, relevant issues, mandates, and staff, among other considerations, he said.

As a result, Phoenix didn’t see any increase in work before the government’s fiscal year ended on March 31, though things picked up afterwards, Mr. Kiar said, as departments began putting together their research plans for the coming year, and seeking the necessary approvals.

“It appears that many departments have finished that planning process and are starting to engage research firms like ours for their projects,” he explained.

Mr. Kiar said it’s too early to compare spending to the previous Conservative government, which he argued “savaged” the public opinion research budget, while dramatically increasing the media monitoring budget.

Under the Trudeau Liberals, mandate letters to cabinet ministers noted a need for Canadians to see the government’s “willingness to listen” and for the government’s work to “be informed by performance measurement, evidence, and feedback from Canadians.”

Mr. Graves framed the period under the Conservatives that saw a “real paucity” of public opinion research as an “anomaly,” and partly blamed the scarcity of polling on what he saw as the government’s indifferent, sometimes “hostile” approach to empirical research.

Critics accused the Harper government of gutting funding for research and muzzling federal scientists. The Conservatives axed the mandatory long-form census in 2011, drawing strong criticism from a wide range of groups worried about the consequences the decision would have on the reliability on the vital data gleaned from the sweeping survey of Canadians.

The Liberals reinstated the long-form census as mandatory shortly after assuming office last November.

Kara Mitchelmore, CEO of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, an industry advocacy group, says numbers on polling activity for 2016 won’t be known until the end of the year, though she cited the re-establishment of the mandatory long-form census as leading to an increase in work.

“I can say anecdotally that with the re-instalment of the long form census, which MRIA strongly supports, there is an obvious noticeable increase in data collection roles,” she said in an emailed statement, noting that this will “trickle down” into more analyst roles, which is “great news” for the industry.

Mr. Graves said he expects funding for polling to eventually be restored to previous heights, though predicted it would only reach a quarter of the historic average this year.

That’s still “a lot better” than what we saw in the late stages of the previous government, he noted.

Source: The Hill Times

Trudeau’s Liberals more in line with Canadians’ fundamental values: Ekos Poll

Not surprising, as most polling during the election showed Conservative over-reach was off-side general Canadian values:

Graves said his polling found that after 10 years in power, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were facing “growing tension” between what they stood for and the basic values espoused by Canadians.

“I really believe that the election shifted from being an important election about the economy to a historic election about values.”

His conclusion is supported by another poll EKOS conducted Oct. 8-12. Canadians were asked to identify the “most important factor” that would determine their vote.

Forty-seven per cent said it would be the choice that best reflects their values; 33 per cent said it would be a party platform or ideas; 10 per cent said it would be the party leader; and eight per cent said it would be the local candidate.

Canadians were asked about the “choices” that best describe their “vision” of Canada. Sixty four per cent cited humanitarianism and development versus 23 per cent who opted for defence.

Sixty-three per cent favoured active federal government, while 23 per cent supported “minimal government.”

And 57 per cent favoured “reason and evidence” over the 24 per cent who stood by “moral certainty.”

“I think people got fed up,” Graves said of voters.

“They were really resentful to not only this indifference, but hostility, to science and to reason. It was a very strident anti-intellectualism and it didn’t fit well. It’s not where Canadians were.”

Source: Trudeau’s Liberals more in line with Canadians’ fundamental values: Poll | Ottawa Citizen

Harper’s ‘old-stock Canadians’ line is part deliberate strategy: pollster (Ekos)

More on the intent behind ‘old-stock Canadians:’

Conservative leader Stephen Harper’s line about “old-stock Canadians” during  the Thursday leaders’ debate was a deliberate move to energize the Conservative base on an emotional topic, a pollster says.

Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research, says that kind of divisional tactic has been used successfully in the past.

“It’s part of the deliberate strategy to sort Harper’s constituency from the rest of the electorate,” Graves told CBC Montreal’s Daybreak. “It creates a sense of us versus others.”

Graves describes Harper’s comment as a “dog whistle”: something meant to be heard by a target audience, but misheard or ignored by the rest.

Harper made the comment while addressing health care for immigrants and refugees.

Source: Harper’s ‘old-stock Canadians’ line is part deliberate strategy: pollster – Montreal – CBC News

The contrary view is expressed by Andrew Coyne (Andrew Coyne: Harper’s ‘old stock’ faux pas was little more than that) and Lysiane Gagnon (In Quebec, old stock is just a fact of life) who maintain that it simply used in a descriptive sense. But words matter, and are chosen for both explicit and implicit messaging, with ‘old-stock’ having an implicit message in the political context.

The EKOS poll: Are Canadians getting more racist?

Interesting contrast with annual CIC tracking survey which continues to show stable support for current levels of immigration as per chart below:

CIC_Tracking_Survey

Questions of race and religious dress have rarely been ballot box issues in Canada. Now, however, they appear to be the key factors behind major shifts in the voter landscape.

Visible minorities and Immigration - Ekos

Canada has absorbed a large number of visible minority immigrants over the past twenty years, turning us from a largely white society with ancestry drawn from Britain and France to an extremely heterogeneous one. Initial deep reservations about immigration dropped consistently over that period as we became more diverse. The public embraced the ideal of multiculturalism; dire warnings about ethnic enclaves and a fading national identity never came true. Our research over that period shows national attachment remained very high in Canada, while ethnic identifications actually dropped.

It’s useful to remember how far apart public opinion in Canada and the United States was following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In both countries there was a sharp, immediate rise in opposition to immigration. In Canada, however, that trend soon dissipated, reaching an all-time low around 2005 — when only 25 per cent of us said there were too many immigrants and less than one in five said that too many immigrants were visible-minority. In the U.S., the level of opposition to immigration was nearly three times higher. Canada remained a nation open to the world: pro trade, pro-immigration and pro-diversity. This seemed to confer both social and economic advantages.

Recent polling shows opposition to immigration has nearly doubled since 2005 and is threatening to crack the 53 per cent level we saw in 1993. Not only is opposition to immigration in general scaling heights not seen in twenty years but the number of Canadians saying we admit too many visible minorities has just cracked the 40-point ceiling for the first time ever.

…When we look at how attitudes on immigration and race spread out among the main federal parties, a pattern emerges. Liberals and New Democrats have no cause to be smug; fully one-third of their supporters think too many of those coming to Canada are visible minorities.

But it’s the Conservative party — which owes much of its current success to wooing votes from new Canadians — that seems to have the problem. Jason Kenney, to his credit, wants new Canadians in his party’s corner. But half of the people who support his party would prefer to see fewer non-white immigrants.

Frank Graves of EKOS polling has some startling new numbers

The EKOS poll: Fear fades — values endure

Ekos - Law Enforcement and TerrorismFrank Graves of Ekos on public opinion regarding the threat of terrorism:

  • Virtually all responses made by Western governments to the threat of terrorism in the 21st century have been deemed failures in hindsight. Almost universally, the public sees these past interventions as having yielded nothing but a more dangerous world.
  • Overwhelmingly, Canadians want to see their leaders re-think their reliance on military and security-oriented approaches to the terrorist threat, in favour of approaches more in keeping with our core values as a nation.
  • Canadians have lost faith in the security agenda which says the problem can solved by restricting civil liberties even further, and want to see our leaders place more emphasis on the traditional tools of diplomacy and development.

The EKOS poll: Fear fades — values endure (pay wall)