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How the Yawning Chasm across Conservative and Progressive Canada Masks the Real Prospects for Harper’s Conservatives


[Ottawa – September 11, 2015] Over the past week there has been an outpouring of reactions to the Syrian refugee crisis that run from concern to horror. The searing image of the drowned three year old pushed the issue to the centre of media attention at a critical time – in the midst of a federal election campaign. The ensuing reaction to this has been a pretty broad sense that Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were emphatically on the wrong side of this and that it would have a catastrophic impact on their election chances. Subsequent polls and changes to the top of the Conservative campaign have fed the notion that the Harper government had made a potentially fatal political error in misunderstanding the Canadian public.


The apparently heartless response to this crisis and the continued insistence on the importance of bombing – rather than refocusing a humanitarian response – were seen as irredeemably in conflict with Canadian values. Humanitarianism and support for human rights have always been the pantheon of traditional Canadian foreign policy values and yet they seem so at odds with the current government. Our data shows that the values of the Canadian majority do indeed clash with those of the Conservative base; however, the assumption that the Conservatives have somehow made a mistake in reading these values is almost certainly not true.

Older, less educated and male Canada are much more attracted to the Conservative position than the residual majority. On this particular issue, a clear majority believe that more needs to be done with helping refugees and shifting attention from the military focus. Yet, in Conservative Canada, the reverse is true. Conservatives are more hawkish on the preferred focus of the ISIS mission (69 versus 26 per cent in favour of focusing on military efforts) whereas we see the exact opposite for centre-left supporters (72-25 in favour of humanitarian aid).

Also note the shocking difference between parties in terms of the incidences of those saying there are too few Syrian refuges. Conservatives are roughly four times less likely to agree that there are too few refugees coming from Syria. Only 12 per cent think that increases are the right thing, which is consistent with our past research that shows how Conservative supporters are consistently more likely to say that we are admitting both too many immigrants and too many visible minorities.


Syrian crisis helping Conservative Party

It would appear that debate over Canada’s response to the crisis in Syria has not hurt – but rather helped – Mr. Harper. This may end up not being true, but to this point in time we see that Mr. Harper has consolidated – and possibly grown – his base. At the current numbers, the Conservatives could easily win a minority despite being at 32 points. Reading media accounts and media polling, this would seem to be paradoxical. However, both give a flawed impression of Conservative prospects. The party has serious challenges but they are more than hanging in. Students of electoral history should note from the graph below that the Conservatives are now just a few points from where they were in 2011 at this stage of the campaign, which resulted in a (surprising) majority victory.




Furthermore, the Conservatives are now showing the highest levels of engagement of all parts of the political spectrum (which was not the case a few weeks ago). Conservative voters are much less likely to say they might change their mind (although seven per cent say it’s likely). There are no notable differences across other supporters. Overall, the ‘firmest’ votes are in the Prairie provinces while the most fluid are in Quebec.


So the Earl Cowans of the Conservative base are angry and emotionally charged (the Jihadist threat needs more bombing – not wussy increases to Islamic refugees!). As this debate has gone on the base has grown and become more committed (just wait until Lynton Crosby applies full dog whistle coding!).

Partisan divide on fiscal issues further highlights differences between progressive and conservative Canada

Further cuts to public services are seen as far less attractive than running a deficit. Fully 76 per cent of Liberal supporters and 72 per cent of NDP supporters say modest deficits to invest in infrastructure make sense. These results may explain why some NDP supporters have shifted Liberal in recent weeks. Justin Trudeau has helped himself with his proposed deficit-funded infrastructure spending program while Thomas Mulcair has hurt himself with his promise of a balanced budget, since Canadians are leery of focusing on fiscal rectitude in an economy where middle class workers haven’t seen a real wage increase in years.


Once again, however, we see that conservative Canada sits on the opposing side of the spectrum. While investment-over-balanced budgets may seem like a no-brainer to the centre-left, a clear majority of Conservative supporters feel that balancing the budget should be a top priority.

So how is it that Stephen Harper can stake out positions on issues such as the budget and the Syrian crisis that seem so diametrically contrary to the wishes of the majority of Canadians and still lead in the polls? This apparent paradox is at the heart of a continued failure of the progressive (or perhaps moderate) majority to understand that there really are two Canadas now and that they are largely incommensurable at the level of values.

It is a fundamental mistake for those people on the progressive side of the equation to assume that issues that are so clear to them – e.g., investments over balanced budgets (now), humanitarian aid over military intervention – are equally clear to conservatives. Indeed, these results suggest that these stances are completely alien in the Conservative camp. More generally, value shifts in Canadian society are moving away from small-c conservative values.

There is a dangerous delusion among progressives that Mr. Harper has politically damaged himself by staking positions that are clearly in conflict with the views of the majority of Canadians. In fact, the opposite is true; he has re-invigorated his base by alloying the values of his supporters, even when this runs contrary to what two-thirds of Canadians believe. So Earl is really angry and then the younger, more educated, cosmopolitan Zoës (one of Patrick Muttart’s progressive types) is at first horrified and then most likely discouraged at the policy failure (and then stays home on Election Day).

Canada’s two cultures are irreconcilable in many respects (e.g., you can’t balance a budget and make large investments in infrastructure) and even through the progressive camp vastly outnumbers its conservative counterparts, the country may continue proceeding down a path that reflects the values and interests of a minority of its citizens (a sclerotic gerontocracy?) unless progressive voters can find a way to re-arrange the political calculus of this country and elevate their emotional attachment to their more dominant values.

Regional and demographic results




Emotional resonance




This study was conducted using High Definition Interactive Voice Response (HD-IVR™) technology, which allows respondents to enter their preferences by punching the keypad on their phone, rather than telling them to an operator. In an effort to reduce the coverage bias of landline only RDD, we created a dual landline/cell phone RDD sampling frame for this research. As a result, we are able to reach those with a landline and cell phone, as well as cell phone only households and landline only households.

The field dates for this survey are September 2-8, 2015. In total, a random sample of 2,677 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Please note that the margin of error increases when the results are sub-divided (i.e., error margins for sub-groups such as region, sex, age, education). All the data have been statistically weighted by age, gender, region, and educational attainment to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to Census data.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (September 11, 2015)

20 comments to How the Yawning Chasm across Conservative and Progressive Canada Masks the Real Prospects for Harper’s Conservatives

  • Ian

    Mr. Graves delivers the best, and most trustworthy, polls.By not affiliating himself with a major news source such as the G&M, the CBC, the Star, the NP, the Sun, etc. I feel I have a more neutral view, as there is no pressure of pushing a certain political victory.

    I find it a little strange that he refers to Conservative supporters as ‘Earls’ and ‘angry’, and progressives as ‘younger, more educated, cosmopolitan Zoës.’ While I am not denying the gender and age divide between progressives and conservatives, it is certainly not to the same degree that Mr. Graves habitually pushes.

    Conservatives have 27% amond 18-34, and still in second place, is hardly enough to be able to classify that stereotype as true. Considering that voters are more likely to get conservative as they get older anyways, the situation barely seems noteworthy to me.

    Anyways, I would think it interesting to see results of age and gender demographics from say, 1971, or at any time in modern history, and see how it compares. I attempted to find older demographics, but alas, no dice. Just a thought.

  • John Malthouse

    Interesting. Anxious to seethese ratings in a month.

  • Erik Swanson

    I felt physically sick to the stomach when I saw this polls. Us progressives have got to get our act together.

    • Ian

      Wow, doesn’t that seem a little bit of a harsh reaction for a poll? Might you have Harper Derangement Syndrome?

      • Cristoph

        “Harper Derangement Syndrome” is used to silence any kind of criticism against Stephen Harper and his Conservatives. It basically implies that if you disagree with the Conservatives that there is psychologically something wrong with you and therefore your opinions can be dismissed.

        I have seen many posts where Right Wingers will post something similar about being physically ill when they talk about Trudeau or Mulcair.

        • Ian

          Well physically feeling sick to the stomach is a little strange, its not a criticism of Harper this poor sap just seems to have a condition where he hates Harper.

          I’ve never seen any right wingers say they’re physically sick from Trudeau / Mulcair but if they did I would think that they were acting nonsensically too.

    • Jay

      Wow, physically sick. Now, that is a little over-reacting.

    • Chris

      Rather unlikely outcome, if history is any judge.

  • Chris

    Interesting piece. Seems to me that Liberals and progs (and their shills in the MSM),STILL keep underestimating Mr. Harper. And the intelligence of the Canadian electorate. If it wasn’t so funny it would simply be sad.

  • Ray Lindsrom

    I recall that 1971 Trudeaumania era. Demographics from that era would show a real, but tempory, smoke and mirror immage. I one wantd to go back, try pre-Trudeau or post honeymoon, like 1974. My friend that has the illness problem, this poll really reflects the fact that it is not media driven, and thus not designed to fit a political agenda. Thank for publishing this poll.

  • Anne

    physically sick at the conservatives doing better in the polls? funny that is how I have been feeling this past while with Whiny Shiny Pony and Angry Mulkook were beating Mr Harper. the idea of either of those two running this country when clearly neither of them understands anything about economics is truly horrifying. would you really hire someone to build a house for you that had never done carpentry in their life? you people truly are out to lunch idiots, have to call a spade a spade. you dont want a slimy lawyer running the country, you want an economist. and that is Mr Harper. those two would raise the cost of everything no matter what their promises. I dont know how anyone could make those promises WITHOUT raising taxes. all their measures are anti business, both of them. they are both anti oil and anti pipeline and like it or not that is the life blood of our economy, certainly one of them. the thing those two dont get is that the economy does not run like a top if you impose anti business measures and they both promise to. look at Alberta that is all I can say. Nut ley has discouraged all business development at this time, think that is good for an economy? get a brain, truly. maybe you can have Justins, he doesnt seem to be using it.

  • Sharon

    I really ‘feel’ that the hysteria around this issue is being driven by the media and its wrong. Refugee policy like immigration policy is important. And even though I am just a ‘stupid’ con, I can ‘feel’ what I think is good for Canada. We need immigration. I believe 2.5 million immigrants have come to Canada over the past 10 years. Unlike many on-line commentators I’m okay with the Chinese too. We have brought in 240,000 refugees over the past 10 years, per year 24,000. Really, what would either Trudeau or Mulcair do differently in terms of numbers? Nothing.

  • John Roesch

    There is indeed two Canada’s, a conservative Canada and a liberal-socialist Canada. This is also true of all the other countries in Western Civilization, from Canada to Argentina, from Europe to Australia and New Zealand. Contemporary progressives are defacto atheists, utterly corrupt secular liberals whose ideology combines an hyper individualism with extensive state-ism in in support of hyper egalitarianism. This is an unstable synthesis since radical individualism and radical egalitarianism are at odds with each other and it combination is rooted in emotion not logic. Many people have written about, most notably the late Robert Bork in his book “Sloughing towards Gomorrah” and William Gardiner in his book the “The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree’. For conservatism in the context of Western Civilization is rooted in Christianity. In fact many political scientists have pointed out the conservatism in Anglo-American, Iberian-American, and in Continental European politics is actually a secular version of tradition Catholic political thought.

  • John Roesch

    Please note what is wrong with the following statement taken from the analysis:

    “While investment-over-balanced budgets may seem like a no-brainer to the centre-left, a clear majority of Conservative supporters feel that balancing the budget should be a top priority.”

    The term investment as used by the left-wing is false. It is actually spending through government programs. True investment is in financial and capital assets for an anticipated financial return at a specified rate of return. This does not happen with government spending on the production of public goods and services.

    Also tax cuts to people is not spending of government monies as often stated by “progressives” a.k.a. liberal-socialists. The reason for this is that the money earned by a citizen belongs to the citizen not the government! If taxes are cut the citizen has more of his or her own money to save, spend or invest as they see fit.It is dishonest and disingenuous for either the NDP or the Liberal Party to use these terminology along with EKOS Politics.

  • keith goudge

    It has been very interesting to read the comments posted by the right wing faction of our country. It is time to remind all that approx. 2/3 of the voting public have soundly rejected the Conservatives and can’t wait to see them go.

    I have been around long enough to realize that the Canada I grew up in has been systematically destroyed by the ignorance of the Harper crowd. It is going to take years to reclaim many of the values that 2/3 of us hold dear. One example is that of our much diminished status in world affairs, where we once had status among the world’s leading powers, but now have been reduced to a petulant child that is ignored. The same is, unfortunately, true in the scientific community. Once regarded as a world leader in research of many fields; now we are ignored as the conservative 1/3 of the population has removed anyone, especially in the field of environment research, that did not agree with them. The rest were kept from reporting by their political masters. And the list goes on

    • John Roesch

      Dear Keith Goudge, Canada was destroyed years ago by the liberal-socialists a.k.a. “progressives” long ago, which is why William Gardiner wrote his popular best seller “The Trouble with Canada”. First they took away our true flag the Red Ensign and gave us the Maple Leaf. Then they thrust us on our path of destruction under Pierre Eliot Trudeau to a liberal-socialist state where our Christian, British and French Heritage was subverted by moral relativism and multi-cultural-ism. The Canada you remember is that of Pierre Eliot Trudeau, but that Canada is not the true Canada that was!

  • Mark

    Keith my friend be patient and wait for the election results on election night. Just take a look at the outcome of the election in Greece the polls were all wrong. But since you seem to be a poll kind a guy Harper continues to rise in the polls an Ekos poll last week had him at 32 and Nanos today has him at 31.

    I like so many other Canadians am undecided but don’t under estimate the Canadian electorate we’re a lot smarter that you think and can see clearly through partisan crap especially when one party is trying to score political points at the expense of the other.

    Kudos to Ekos for their impartial data great work.


  • Dean

    For the most part this poll reflected what i have felt for some time now.. Harper is running the campaign and out flanking the larger , but less experienced, left wing governments army. Why,? straight up consistency , Harper has pieced together a picture that we can understand… Each day he snaps in another piece of the puzzle making clearer and clearer the picture he has of Canada and our future… Properous, solid, respected, secure and admired… He answers EVERY attack and shows proof of his successes. He has shown us the truth about his deficits during the depression and it makes the other parties look like liars.. When the opposition cries foul concerning his view on security threats he simply offers the proof {right here in canada}..i often wonder if the gunman had broken thru a door in the parliment building, during his attack, and shot a member of parliment or one of the leaders, would they think differently.. When they attack his economics, we see the rest of the world doesn’t agree with them… We’re no old fashioned, we’re not being duped, we’re not stupid we are, after careful consideration, just making the most honest and best choice we can make. After all elections ALL come down to best choices, don’t they? Ask y’rself, what has Justin done, name one single thing, for Canada what does he bring to the table, other then wishful thinking, emotional rhetoric, hopeful guesses and feeling? …. the answer is Nothing, not a single attribute that would endear him to , or prove to us he could be our Prime Minister and run a 3 Trillion dollar budget. IMHO… i’ve said enough..but again thank you for this honest poll.

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