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.

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

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: 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)