Canadian public opinion on immigration and refugees

The latest Focus Canada results on immigration. No major change:

The 43rd Canadian Federal Election just concluded was a tightly-contested campaign in which the incumbent Liberal Government led by Justin Trudeau found itself in a tough fight for reelection just a few years after it took office on a promise of “sunny ways” and broad political support. Many anticipated that immigration might emerge as a major election issue that would be used by some if not all parties as a wedge to energize their base or peel away support from competitors. The recent influx of asylum seekers at the southern border in Quebec and Manitoba, the emergence of a new populist party staking a position against “mass immigration”, and increasing animosity toward migrants in the US and elsewhere has fed concerns that Canadians were becoming more anxious about current immigration policies and the flow of newcomers into their communities.

It did not happen. Apart from a few anti-immigrant billboards popping up, immigration and refugees did not feature prominently in the election campaign, and the Peoples Party of Canada attracted less than two percent of the votes, failing to elect a single MP to Parliament. Why these issues did not materialize can be explained by the results of the most recent Environics Institute Focus Canada survey, which was conducted in the final weeks of the campaign. This research reveals that Canadians as a whole continue to be more positive than negative about the number of immigrants arriving in Canada and the benefits they bring to the country’s economy. Moreover, public concerns about such contentious issues as whether newcomers are adequately embracing Canadian values and the legitimacy of refugee claimants have not increased over the past year; if anything they have moderated. Immigration was not a top of mind issue for the vast majority of Canadian voters from any political party.

As on past surveys, attitudes about immigration and refugees differ across the population. Positive sentiments are most prevalent among younger Canadians and those with a university education. Negative views are most evident in Alberta, among Canadians ages 60 and older, and those without a high school diploma. In Quebec, despite the recent controversy over its new legislation banning religious dress, public opinion about immigrants is as positive if not more so than in other parts of the country.

The largest divergence continues to be along partisan political lines, primarily between supporters of the Liberal Party, NDP and Green Party, who are the most positive about immigration and refugees, in sharp contrast with those who would vote for the Conservative Party. This gap in sentiment notwithstanding, immigration is not an issue that strongly divides Canadians (as the recent election demonstrated), and this stands in sharp contrast to the current electoral divisions in other western countries.

Chris Selley: Evidence of a nationwide immigrant backlash is flimsy at best

Good piece by Selley on the narrative.

I tend to place more weight on the Focus Canada long-term polling on attitudes towards immigration (key findings above), given their methodological soundness (not just because I am a fellow of the Environics Institute):

When Canadian media get hold of a bone, it can be awfully difficult to pry our jaws loose. The ongoing narrative that Canada is in the midst of a historic turn of public opinion against immigration, driven by malign political forces both at home and abroad, is a perfect example.

Readers likely caught wind of an Ekos poll released in April, which featured one genuinely remarkable finding: that 69 per cent of Conservative-supporting respondents felt too many visible minorities were immigrating to Canada. That was up from 47 per cent in 2013, whereas among Liberal supporters the number had fallen from 34 to 15 per cent.

Most reports included at least some of the important caveats: The total sample size of this poll was 507; the 2013 sample was six times larger. The number of Conservative supporters polled was just 180, with an attached margin of error of 7.3 per cent. But it certainly suggested public opinion may be polarizing on a specific immigration-related question.

Many reports went further, though. Huffington Post noted that as many respondents felt there were too many visible minority immigrants as felt there were too many immigrants overall. “That is something new,” it reported — “a pretty clear measure of racial discrimination,” Ekos pollster Frank Graves suggested, and perhaps evidence of “some contagion effect from the Trump show.”

Except it’s not new at all. The gap between “too many immigrants” and “too many visible-minority immigrants” in 2013 was all of three per cent, with a margin of error of 1.8 per cent; six years later it was one percent, with a margin of error of 4.2 per cent.

The Canadian Press, meanwhile, reported that “the share of people who think there are too many visible minorities in Canada is up ‘significantly.’” The poll showed nothing of the kind. The percentage expressing that opinion was actually down a point from a 2015 survey, long before Donald Trump threw American politics into chaos. Moreover, according to the Ekos data, the number of people who think there are too many immigrants, and the number who think there are too many visible-minority immigrants specifically, have plummeted in tandem since the pollster began reporting in the mid-90s.

In short, to the extent there’s anything historically new and negative here when it comes to tolerance for visible minorities, it seems to be confined within Conservative supporters and based on a single poll with a small sample size. And it’s certainly not unprecedented in recent times: An Angus Reid analysis released last year notes that the current public opinion environment looks much like it did in 1995, “the year that Jean Chrétien announced a ‘landing fee’ for new immigrants and a plan from the federal government to reduce in immigration overall.” No federal party leader save Maxime Bernier is promising anything of the sort.

There was nothing wrong with Graves’ poll; people were just overenthusiastic in interpreting it. Over the weekend, though, Léger Marketing and Canadian Press teamed up for a master class in how not to report public opinion. The headline finding, per CP: “63 per cent of respondents … said the government should prioritize limiting immigration levels because the country might be reaching a limit in its ability to integrate them. Just 37 per cent said the priority should be on growing immigration to meet the demands of Canada’s expanding economy.”

Bernier and other anti-immigration types turned cartwheels on social media. Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen blamed Conservative leader Andrew Scheer for “taking a stance that is rooted in misinformation and conspiracy theories” — one that risked “a corrosive effect on our social fabric.”

A few problems, though: Léger’s respondents weren’t offered a chance to say they think immigration levels are just about right, which is always the most or second-most popular option. Nor were they allowed to support hiking immigration for reasons other than economic, or to support lowering it for reasons other than integration concerns. And anyway, it’s hardly controversial to “limit immigration” lest it exceed Canadian communities’ capacities. There’s a housing crisis on, in case you hadn’t noticed. Indeed, presumably that’s one of the reasons Hussen himself is “limiting immigration,” just like every other immigration minister does.

None of this is meant to rubbish the idea that an immigrant backlash could take hold in Canada. It certainly could. In recent years the Conservatives have pushed some new rhetorical boundaries, notably on “barbaric cultural practices” and the UN Global Migration Compact — and Bernier is miles further out there than that. Canadians have stayed remarkably calm while watching tens of thousands of people stream unchallenged across the U.S. border, and being called racist for expressing misgivings, but that mightn’t last forever. Anti-immigrant sentiment often correlates with economic downturns, and Alberta is in the midst of a whopper. Quebec has been on a nativist bender for more than a decade.

As yet, though, there simply isn’t the data to back up the claim of a backlash. And the last thing Canada needs, as Hussen and his fellow Liberal Cabinet ministers will ever-so-earnestly tell you, is a fact-free discussion about immigration.

Source: Chris Selley: Evidence of a nationwide immigrant backlash is flimsy at best

Canadian public’s opinion of US at unprecedented low: Adams

Not surprising but revealing:

It’s rare for pollsters to be able to use the word “unprecedented” to describe survey results unless they’re releasing their first poll – or giving in to the temptation to use hyperbole to get attention. But a recent Environics Institute survey has indeed revealed some unprecedented results. We’ve been fielding our Focus Canada tracking survey since November 1976, and one of the trends we’ve kept an eye on for much of that time has been Canadian attitudes toward America and its president. We first measured these attitudes after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

When our measurements began, a substantial majority of Canadians – more than 7 in 10 – admired our southern neighbour. This feeling reached its apex in 1983, when 83 percent of Canadians expressed admiration for America. Nearly 6 in 10 (58 percent) admired President Reagan.

Notably, admiration for the country at large cut across party lines. In the 1983 Focus Canada survey, Conservatives felt the most positive (87 percent), but solid majorities of Liberals (82 percent) and New Democrats (71 percent) also admired the US. America in 1983 gave the world “Billie Jean” and TheReturn of the Jedi. It also declared a national holiday to recognize the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today, just 37 percent of Canadians admire the United States (figure 1). Not coincidentally, only 13 percent of us approve of President Donald Trump (figure 2). These are lows we’ve never seen before. (Unfortunately, we don’t have polling going back to the War of 1812; the proportions admiring the US and its leaders might have been lower then.)

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Historian Jack Granatstein has often argued that anti-Americanism is bred in the bone of people north of the 49th parallel. If so, the intensity of that sentiment has waxed and waned. It certainly softened in the period starting with the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt and running through that of John F. Kennedy. Canadians admired FDR’s leadership during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Feelings of loyalty and solidarity remained strong through the Cold War.

For many of us baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1966), John F. Kennedy represented a far more dashing figure than the dour John Diefenbaker, our prime minister in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Kennedy and his brother Bobby seemed to embody the vitality and idealism of America while Diefenbaker was the lumbering avatar of our relatively drab dominion.

In this exceptional period, America was much more than the leader of the free world. It offered many of the things average Canadians aspired to (partly because they’d been told to aspire to them by American advertisers): a house in the suburbs, a new car every few years, modern appliances, a martini after a hard day’s work. When Americans moved on to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, Canadians wanted those things, too. America’s status as the materialistic and hedonistic capital of the world is durable; millions of would-be migrants around the globe still long for a piece of the rags-to-riches, log-cabin-to-the-White-House American Dream.

America has given us a lot since “Billie Jean.” Its cultural and technology leaders continue to shape our worlds. We snap up Apple products, binge on Netflix and use “Uber” as a verb for getting from A to B. But even with our admiration for things American and our dependence on America’s power and its huge market for our exports, Canadians’ attitudes toward the country indicate that they are troubled by the face their neighbours are now showing to the world.

The US president with his bullyish style and America-first policies is one factor. The nightmarish mixing of guns and bigotry (Charleston, Orlando, Pittsburgh) is another. (Canada has had its own recent hate-fuelled mass murders with the Quebec City mosque shooting and the Toronto van attack.) Some Canadians would still like to see their country be more, not less, like the United States. Some might even argue that gun violence, inequality vastly greater than our own and other obvious negatives are simply the price of a society that is on the whole richer, freer and more dynamic. But a majority of Canadians seem to feel that America’s advertisements for itself are not what they used to be.

Source: Canadian public’s opinion of US at unprecedented low

Canadian exceptionalism in attitudes toward immigration

More on Focus Canada 2018 findings from Michael Adams and Keith Neuman:

Xenophobic retrenchment has been evident in many societies lately. Anti-immigrant parties have made or consolidated gains in countries such as Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands and, most recently, Italy. Resentment of immigration helped to motivate at least some British voters who supported Brexit. And of course, President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about immigrants to his country has been hostile — whether they come from Mexico, Muslim-majority countries or African countries.

Many commentators have speculated that Canada may take a similar turn. Certainly, Canada is not immune to bigotry. In addition to forms of discrimination that reveal themselves in economic data and survey findings, this country experienced a singularly violent attack on Canadian Muslims last year: a hate-motivated mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque that killed six people.

Are Canadians souring on their country’s traditionally high levels of immigration? Are they becoming more likely to support political candidates who channel ethnic and nationalist resentments? Are immigrants themselves souring on life in Canada?

Remarkably, recent survey findings suggest the opposite. New research by the Environics Instituteindicates two important and hopeful findings. First, Canadian attitudes toward immigrants remain open and positive. This pattern, which has been in evidence since the early 1990s, has not reversed in recent years. Second, Canada stands out internationally in the happiness that immigrants themselves report, and in the general public’s positive attitudes toward their foreign-born compatriots. (One driver of these mutually positive feelings may be that around 4 in 10 Canadians are themselves immigrants or the children of immigrants — meaning that immigrants’ attitudes are public attitudes to a significant extent.)

In spite of high and growing levels of immigration into Canada (around 300,000 in 2017), 6 in 10 Canadians recently  surveyed by Environics disagree that immigration levels are too high, compared with 35 percent who agree. Eighty percent believe the economic impact of immigration is positive, a conviction that goes a long way in explaining the success of the Canadian model.

Attitudes toward the legitimacy of refugee claims has grown more positive than they have been in the past three decades. More Canadians disagree (45 percent) than agree (38 percent) with the statement: “Most people claiming to be refugees and not real refugees” — and that disagreement has more than tripled since 1987.

Canadians do express concern about the speed with which they think immigrants adopt “Canadian values.” Today half of us (51 percent) do not think immigrants adopt Canadian values quickly enough, but rather than surging in recent years, the proportion of Canadians who hold this attitude has actually declined from 72 percent in 1993. Such concern is now at the lowest level in the 25 years over which this survey question has been put to Canadians.

Canadians stand out internationally in the way they think about immigration and diversity in their society.

Gallup’s Migrant Acceptance Index is a composite score for a society’s openness toward immigrants, made up of responses to three questions about whether it is a good thing or a bad thing that immigrants live in their country, become their neighbours, and marry a close relative. The survey covered 140 countries, and Canada ranked fourth overall in its acceptance of migrants. Among those in the OECD, Canada ranks third and the United States ranks tenth, while major European countries like Germany, the UK, Italy and France are farther down the list, followed by those in Eastern Europe.

What about immigrants themselves? Do they feel at ease in Canada? The just-released 2018 World Happiness Report finds Canadian immigrants’ assessment of their “subjective well-being” is among the most positive in the world: ranking seventh out of those of 156 countries. Immigrants’ happiness in Canada is fairly consistent regardless of where they’ve come from and where they’ve settled in Canada. Their self-reported well-being is also more similar to that of other Canadians than it is to people in their countries of origin.

The World Happiness Report’s authors note that newcomers tend to arrive in their new societies full of optimism, but in societies that prove unwelcoming, happiness declines over time, meaning that settled migrants end up less happy than new arrivals. Among more accepting countries, newcomers’ optimism is affirmed by experience, and happiness remains high among settled migrants. The data show this is clearly the case in Canada.

It’s not unreasonable to think that an accepting society and happy, optimistic immigrants create a virtuous cycle over time — with most people doing their best to be fair and friendly and to give others the benefit of the doubt. It’s worth noting that, as immigrants become more numerous — and, increasingly, spread beyond the traditional catchment areas of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal — the proportions of Canadians who report direct experiences with immigrants and various groups different from their own is on the rise. Generally speaking, personal experience with difference breeds good feeling (and probably helps to inoculate people against fear-mongering in the media or online).

Still, large majorities of Canadians acknowledge the reality of racism and discrimination. For instance, 84 percent of Canadians believe Canadian Muslims face discrimination often (50 percent) or occasionally (34 percent). Large majorities also believe immigrants from the Middle East, Indigenous people and Black people face discrimination at least occasionally. These findings indicate that most of us recognize there’s still much work to be done to live up to some of our rhetoric about diversity and inclusion, but acknowledgement of society’s shortcomings is a better place to start from than denial.

For now, it’s worth bearing in mind that, even amid gloomy headlines from both here and abroad, millions of people are quietly getting along in Canadian communities every day. Moreover, things can and do change for the better; people have a record of changing their minds in our imperfect country. According to a 2016 Environics survey, little more than 20 years ago only 35 percent of Canadians felt that two people of the same sex who live together should be regarded as being the same as a married couple. In 2016, the proportion was 73 percent.  (Some of this change is intergenerational: tolerant young people replacing older traditionalists. But many Canadians (including many older people) have changed their minds on same-sex marriage.

As some other societies retrench, Canadians — those born here and those born elsewhere — appear to be continuing their evolution toward greater mutual acceptance and greater acknowledgement of where their society falls short on equity. These recent findings suggest that Canada has a strong foundation from which to work toward a country where even more of us can report happiness, well-being and optimism for the future.

via Canadian exceptionalism in attitudes toward immigration

ICYMI: Canadian attitudes toward immigrants, refugees remain positive – Environics Focus Canada 2018

The latest Focus Canada 2018 data, overall ongoing positive trends:

The arrival of Syrian refugees, as well as thousands of asylum seekers over the United States border, along with the global growth in anti-immigrant sentiment have barely moved the positive attitude most Canadians have toward new arrivals, a study has found.

Six-in-10 Canadians chose “disagree” when asked the question “Are immigration levels too high?” in the February survey by the Environics Institute for Survey Research – a finding that has remained relatively stable for a decade. Eight-in-10 said immigrants have a positive economic impact. Compared with last year’s survey, more respondents believed that immigrants adopt Canadian values. Most of the national results extended a steady 30-year trend toward greater acceptance of immigrants.

“I think some people felt retrenchment was happening, or at least feared it was happening, but since last year the change is pretty small and is still more positive than negative,” said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute that conducted the survey of 2,000 Canadians.

Canadians also inched away from the polarization over immigration issues seen in Europe and in the United States under Donald Trump. Canadians were less likely to strongly agree or disagree with several poll questions and more likely to express uncertainty and doubt, according to Dr. Neuman. “It’s not a big change, but it’s enough to say opinions are a little less polarized than last year,” he said. “It’s dangerous to assume what’s happening in the United States or elsewhere is also happening here. ”

The trends, however, are not universally positive toward immigration. Albertans and, to a lesser extent, Quebeckers, expressed more doubt about the legitimacy of refugee claims than in the previous survey, lowering the national score slightly. Respondents in both provinces also expressed more doubt about whether immigrants are adopting Canadian values.

“It’s Alberta rather than Quebec that has the hardest attitudes toward immigrants and refugees, which is not what we tend to assume,” Dr. Neuman said. “But it’s too early to say it’s a trend.”

Some 49,775 people claimed asylum in Canada in 2017, including 20,593 who came in at irregular crossings, mostly in Quebec. About 300,000 landed in other immigrant categories.

The irregular crossings received enormous attention in Quebec, including a lot of commentary expressing doubts about the legitimacy of the asylum claims. The province also saw the rise in profile of small, far-right fringe groups hostile to immigration, but the phenomenon seems to have limited reach.

The poll showed 42 per cent of Quebeckers agreed with the statement “Many people claiming to be refugees are not real refugees.” That number is up three percentage points from last year. Forty-three per cent disagreed, down six points. Nationally, 38 per cent agreed, while 48 per cent disagreed.

In Alberta, 48 per cent said they agree that many refugee claimants are not real refugees, an increase of three percentage points, while 35 per cent disagreed, a drop of nine points. Sixty-two per cent of Albertans said too many immigrants don’t adopt Canadian values compared with the national score of 51 per cent.

Even before the results were shared with him, Fariborz Birjandian, chief executive of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, anticipated the Alberta difference.

Once he heard the numbers, Mr. Birjandian said the higher level of negative attitudes captured in the poll disguise an Alberta paradox: Some Albertans donate and volunteer to help settle refugees more than most Canadians while others express suspicion or hostility toward them.

“My conclusion is this: Albertans have stronger opinions on immigration. Those who support it support it wholeheartedly and those who have questions have stronger opinions, too. Albertans are more opinionated,” Mr. Birjandian said.

Alberta’s economy has also been in bad shape with the collapse of oil prices. Economic uncertainty often increases negative feelings about immigration, said Sarah Aimes, director of the immigrant-services department at Lethbridge Family Services. But, she said, positive sentiment about the Syrian refugees has tempered the negatives.

The Environics Institute poll of 2,000 Canadians, conducted by telephone between Feb. 5 and Feb. 17, has asked the same questions for three decades. It has a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, in 19 out of 20 samples.

On a global scale, Canada still stands out for the public’s positive attitudes toward new comers and in the happiness that immigrants themselves report. When asked about their well-being, Canadian immigrants were ranked seventh-happiest out of 140 countries.

via Canadian attitudes toward immigrants, refugees remain positive: study – The Globe and Mail

Canadians still pro-immigration, but souring on United States: Environics survey 

Useful and encouraging post-Trump update of Focus Canada’s annual survey:

As debates rage through much of the developed world over whether to close doors to newcomers, Canadian attitudes toward immigration remain positive.

Canadians’ sentiment towards immigration hasn’t wavered in the past six months, with eight in 10 people still agreeing that immigrants benefit the economy, a national survey released exclusively to The Globe and Mail shows.

“Public opinion about immigration among Canadians generally has either remained stable or become even more positive” in the past half year, said Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute for Survey Research, which released the results publicly on Monday.

The survey was conducted last month as a follow up to a similar set of questions in October. It sought to gauge whether public sentiments have shifted since the election of Donald Trump in the United States, and amid intensifying public debate in the United States and Europe over whether to tighten immigration rules. It comes as France’s defeated presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, campaigned on an anti-immigrant, anti-EU platform, and as Britain preps for Brexit while Mr. Trump remains intent on deportations and building a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Some views in Canada have shifted, markedly. Attitudes towards the United States have soured, with fewer than half of Canadians now holding a favourable view of the United States – the lowest level since the survey started tracking this in 1982.

In opinions about the United States, “there’s been a dramatic change,” said Mr. Neuman. Nearly a fifth of respondents said they have already changed their travel plans for visiting the United States this year due to the current political climate there, and another 8 per cent are thinking about doing so.

On immigration, Canadians appear still supportive. When asked if there is too much immigration in Canada, more than six in 10 people disagreed, the highest level in nine years.

Nearly eight in 10 respondents said immigration has a positive impact on the economy, little changed from the previous survey and over the past 15 years. Young people are more likely to agree that immigration boosts the economy, along with those in Toronto, people born outside of Canada and those with higher levels of education and income.

Several reasons may explain why Canadians have not jumped on the nationalist, anti-immigrant bandwagon. Immigration is an integral part of this country’s recent history and most Canadians are themselves newcomers or children of immigrants; Canada does not have to contend with mass migration at its borders; and it “doesn’t have the same strong national identity as in many European countries,” Mr. Neuman said.

Canada’s “not perfect. We do have racism, and there are lots of challenges in terms of finding jobs – it’s hardly utopia. But compared to those other countries, it has been relatively smooth,” he said.

Census numbers last week show the pace of aging in Canada’s population is accelerating, with the share of the working-age shrinking. That demographic shift will put more fiscal pressure on governments and, some experts say, underscores the need for Canada to maintain or increase its immigration levels.

The numbers come as Canada has accepted 40,100 Syrian refugees since November, 2015, about half of whom are government assisted and 14,000 of whom are privately sponsored. In recent months, more asylum seekers have crossed the border from the United States to claim refugee status.

The survey showed a growing share of people now disagree that refugee claimants are not legitimate. In fact, disagreement with this statement is at its highest level since 1987.

Opinions are split on whether too many immigrants are not adopting Canadian values. Just over half of respondents agree with that statement, a level that’s unchanged from October, though still the lowest level recorded in more than two decades.

Respondents in Alberta were more cautious on immigration. The province “stands out as the one part of the country where attitudes have become more negative,” since October, the survey noted. This could stem from economic concerns and more vulnerability in the jobs market – Calgary continues to have the highest jobless rate in Canada, at 9.3 per cent.

Respondents are divided on whether anti-government populism, underway elsewhere, could happen in Canada, with nearly half saying it is somewhat or very likely in the next few years.

Attitudes towards immigration differ according to party lines. A separate online survey by Abacus Data, conducted last month of 1,500 Canadians, shows Liberal voters tend to see immigration as helping Canada’s future economic prospects; Conservatives see it as negative while New Democrats are evenly split. Those more likely to see immigration as beneficial are millennials and higher-income earners, it found. Its survey suggests a more divided opinion on immigration, with 53 per cent per cent saying it will help the economy and 47 per cent saying it is harmful.

The Environics survey is based on telephone interviews conducted with 2,002 Canadians between Apr. 3 and Apr. 15, and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 2.2 percentage points in 19 of 20 samples.