About EKOS Politics

We launched this website in order to showcase our election research, and our suite of polling technologies including Probit and IVR. We will be updating this site frequently with new polls, analysis and insight into Canadian politics. EKOS's experience, knowledge and sophisticated research designs have contributed positively to many previous elections.

Other EKOS Products

In addition to current political analysis, EKOS also makes available to the public general research of interest, including research in evaluation, general public domain research, as well as a full history of EKOS press releases.

Media Inquires

For media inquires, please contact: Frank Graves President EKOS Research Associates t: 613.235-7215 [email protected]



[Ottawa – April 19, 2010] – This report is part of an ongoing program to test how Canadians are arrayed on a dimension of social conservatism versus progressive attitudes. Our research is aimed at not only trying to understand where Canadians stand today, but how things are evolving. This research is an attempt to provide a more formal assessment of some of the theses recently put forward by Preston Manning that Canadian society was drifting to the right.

This week, we examined the issue of how people view the ultimate goal of the criminal justice system. As with our four previous tests, we are comparing the same indicator to one taken 10 years ago. The four choices provided were punishment, prevention, rehabilitation, and deterrence. These categories were randomized in order to eliminate an order effect.

The argument is that the notion that the system is designed to punish is the more socially conservative response.  The other responses are less moralistic and more progressive. As in many of these tests, there is some blurring and ambivalence about which dimension is more desirable. It is important to recognize that many small “l” liberals see punishment as a legitimate goal of the criminal justice system and many small “c” conservatives see prevention as legitimate. Nonetheless, the overall patterns are revealing and shed further light on this important debate.

It is prevention – not punishment – which is seen as the principal goal of the justice by a modest plurality (36%) of Canadians. This is particularly true among women, university educated, and Liberal supporters. Second rank is assigned to punishment, but this is by far the most popular choice amongst Conservative supporters and lower and middle educated. The two trailing choices are rehabilitation (18%), which is more popular among youth and Liberal and NDP supporters, and deterrence (16%), which lines up with a similar constituency as punishment. Overall, we see a slight advantage for progressive views of the justice system, but Canadian society is fairly evenly divided across these choices.

The trajectory is also interesting. Relatively speaking, there has been a slight but significant drift to the more socially conservative position of punishment, which is up 8 points from the beginning of the decade. Rehabilitation also increased slightly over this period.  These findings are consistent with other research that suggests that in terms of attitudes to crime and justice, Canadians may indeed be more socially conservative today than in the past. The progressive views still lead slightly but in this test, we find some modest support for the thesis of a conservative shift. Notably, the conservative views are not the most dominant and these results clash with clear evidence of rising progressive attitudes in areas such as decriminalisation of marijuana and same-sex marriage. In the case of capital punishment, the evidence also leans in the progressive direction, but less clearly. Finally, in the area of abortion, Canadians lean decisively to a pro-choice orientation, but these attitudes appear to have been stable over the past decade.

The question of what constitutes the centre of our values is an extremely important one. After five formal tests, we are seeing some mixed evidence, but the overall results so far would lead us to question the thesis of a blueing center as an accurate summary of the trajectory of value change in Canadian society. In fact, it appears that while these values are highly polarized, the clear overall lean is to a more progressive orientation and the trajectory is either flat or towards a more progressive potion.

Our basic social reasoning about the criminal justice system does not seem to follow that pattern with a highly divided population more likely to support the harder, socially conservative view today than they did a decade ago. Whether this is simply a product of an aging population or other factors, it is a pattern which explains the resonance of the “tough on crime” political message despite the declining rates of violent crime over this same period.

Click here for the full report: full_report_april_19

1 comment to A HARDER OUTLOOK ON CRIME – April 19, 2010

  • Dulcieo

    So, in essence, we have roughly the same breakdown with this issue as we have with party preference:

    Conservatives: 33%
    Other: 67%

    Punishment: 25%
    Other: 75%

    I find these numbers encouraging as they will ensure that Harper’s party will NEVER have an elecyion majority and that their “tough on crime” will probably never make it to the senate.