Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Canada: 40% liberal, 30% conservative

One thing I've found difficult to find for Canada is polling on the underlying ideological beliefs of Canadians, as opposed to party preference.  Our pollsters just don't seem to ask the question very often, perhaps because it's probably viewed as a confusing mess to voters where our traditional two big-tent parties are named after the very ideologies they're supposed to represent.  I don't have empirical data to back it, but based on the confusion over the subject I see online every day, I don't think many people have a clear understanding of the distinction between ideology and party preference.  In Canada-ese we say "small l liberal" and "small c conservative" when we're talking about the ideology, but even that really only makes the distinction clear to people who are clear about the disctinction.

Hell, even highly politically active people have very deep differences of understanding over the meaning of the term "ideology" - just go back to the silly claims of many of the strongest Obama supporters shortly after his election about Obama lacking an ideology and instead being about "what works" as if pragmatism isn't itself a question of ideology. 

Still, any oasis in the polling desert so I'm glad to see pollster Ekos ran a poll on the subject of Canadian ideology not so long ago.  Top line results are that 40% of Canadians self-identify as liberal, 30% as conservative, 26% as neither and 5% as don't know or refused.  Ekos calls this "starkly divided" but I'd call it a clear lead for liberalism.  I'm really glad they resisted providing "moderate" as an option too, though I think I would have preferred to ask on a 7 point scale to reflect on strength of belief. 

Further, if you look at page 6 of the PDF, this is a high for liberalism as far back as the graph goes, to 1997, and the gains clearly come from the "neither" group which has declined to third place for its first time. 

The chart on page 11 with some demographic break downs is also fascinating:
  • Saskatchwan/Manitoba (combined probably for sample size reasons) are more conservative at 54% than Alberta at 41%
  • Men are barely more liberal than conservative (within MOE) but women are almost 2:1 (42% to 23%) more liberal
  • The only age group that is more conservative than liberal are over 65's and it's fairly modest (and within that subsample's margin of error)
  • the effect of university appears profound with 53% of university educated identifying as liberal
  • Liberal party supporters are more liberal than NDP party supporters 72% vs 61% (more on this below)
  • Green supporters are barely more liberal than conservative and the only party to have their leading group be the "neithers" at 38%
  • 11% of Conservative party supporters identify as liberal, which really has to be an appealing target for NDP and Liberal strategists:  These should be highly persuadable voters.
liberal Liberals versus liberal New Democrats

On the higher number of liberals supporting the Liberals than the NDP, there's lots of ways to interpret that.  One possibility is that NDP supporters dislike the term "liberal" for its association with the party of that name, even if they are left-of-centre ideologically and hold views most would identify as being mainline liberal/progressive as usually understood in Canada and the US.  Or they may be people who feel they are left of liberalism itself, bona fide socialists or even communists.  Another aspect is the NDP's roots in the praries as the predecessor party, the CCF and its relatively greater strength in places like Northern Ontario where voters may support the NDP but somehow not consider themselves liberal or even left-wing.  It's unfortunate that the poll's regional breakdown combined Manitoba and Saskatchewan because I can buy a right shift in Saskatchewan, but Manitiba's provincial NDP government has been going strong for a very long time.  I realize the provincial NDP in Manitoba are closer to the Liberals federally, but hard to believe they would appeal much to conservatives even then. 

On the Liberal party supporters specifically, the very low number of "neithers" and conservatives tells me that fears of a Liberal collapse entailing half the party's remaining supporters going to Harper are unlikely to come to fruition.  Basically the blue Liberals have mostly left already and what's left are people who are genuinely left-of-centre and just have issues supporting the NDP or abandoning the party of Laurier, Trudeau and Pearson. 


The Green numbers really back my suspicion that the Green party is a protest vote for a lot of disaffected voters of other parties.  Having "neithers" as their top group seems likely to be akin to the situation in the US where self-identified moderates and "independents" tend to be the least politically aware/informed and most prone to decide "they're all crooks!" and so a party like the Greens becomes an attractive place to park your vote.  I'm somewhat surprised at the high number of conservatives supporting the Greens.  I know the NDP line on the Greens I often hear is that they're a "crypto" conservative party.  There's some truth to that in their policies and platform, but I don't think that matters a whit to most voters, for whom the Green party is literally about the association to environmentalism.  It may be that this is where conservatives who accept the reality of climate change go, since they just can't stand the NDP or Liberals and yet want to register their support for some kind of market friendly action to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

It also tells me it's probably not worth the NDP or Liberals' time trying to woo Green voters.  Numerically there's just not that many liberals there and they're probably pretty dedicated environmentalists who have real issues with the Liberals and NDP.  I'm doubtful the neithers supporting the Greens are easy to reach either.  If the left-of-centre vote does solidify on the NDP, and some of the existing liberal support for the Conservatives can be pulled back, the NDP can forge a winning coalition.  Chretien managed to find majority coalitions (over 40% support in '93 and 2000) even with the NDP and BQ taking substantial numbers of votes in the 90s and early 2000s.  Even after the right wing parties merged, a badly scandal wounded Martin did eke out a minority in 2004 all the same. 

Canada may just be liberal enough to put a left-of-centre party into government even with four of them vying for that pool of votes.  In fact, if the NDP dominance of the BQ in Quebec continues, we're back down to three effective parties, which isn't much different from the Chretien/Martin days.

1 comment:

  1. Using "small-l liberal" as an ideological label in a country with a Liberal Party is foolish. EKOS should've used a rating scale from 1 - 7, with 1 being ultra-left and 7 being ultra-right. That would've made more sense.