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Immigration, Diversity, and the Political Landscape – April 19, 2013


[Ottawa – April 19, 2013] The two largest demographic forces in Canadian society are aging and immigration. Both of these are profoundly altering the political landscape and both of these forces have been favoured CPC fortunes in recent years. Here we will focus on how immigration is altering political fortunes of different parties and speculate as to how this augurs for the future. We will also look at attitudes to immigration itself, how this is evolving in Canada and how this links to party preference (and other factors).

Canada is a rapidly pluralizing society and for the most part it seems to be managing that transition to much greater heterogeneity very well.. The huge tensions over immigration evident in both America and Europe are much more muted in Canada. Opposition to relatively much lower levels of opposition in America is more than twice as high as it is in Canada. In both America and Europe immigration and multiculturalism are hot button issues with real ballot booth consequences. Immigration is not a significant voting booth issue in Canada. Canadians also recognize diversity as a positive value (it rates high in Canada and higher than in the United States). In fact, when we asked Canadians to identify Canada’s greatest achievement over the past twenty years, diversity was tied as the second most popular choice as our greatest achievement (in fact, it was the most popular among some groups).

The longer term tracking of attitudes to immigration is revealing. In the mid-nineties, more than half of Canadians thought there were ‘too many” immigrants coming to Canada. This deep anxiety and allergy to immigration was a product of both economic and cultural insecurity. We see that those fear subsided substantially and that after a spike upward following the September 11th attacks, the opposition levels continued downward (though they continued to rise dramatically in the US). Using an interactive voice response (IVR) method, we resumed tracking in 2011 and those results show that opposition to immigration may be on the rise again. We do believe that a large part of this apparent rise is due to more candid responses to the robot than the more socially desirable answers provided to a live interviewer.

The other tracking item asks the respondent to forget about the levels of immigration and tell us whether too many immigrants are visible minorities. While this may not necessarily be expression of racial intolerance (indeed, it may only reflect a sense of apprehension around unfamiliar cultures), it is, at least, an expression of some level of discomfort with those who are not of European descent.

The tracking on this measure is closely linked to the overall attitudes to immigration, which suggests that part of the resistance to immigration is rooted in xenophobia or even intolerance. It has always operated at a lower level than the attitude to immigration levels question. The most recent readings show that our self-congratulatory notion of ourselves as a tolerant society which celebrates diversity may be a bit premature. The overall evidence is that hard racial intolerance has dropped dramatically over the last fifty years in upper North America. This evidence suggests that some forms of intolerance continue to persist, albeit in more benign forms than in the past.

Our two most recent readings show another finding. The gap between general immigration and visible minority immigration has largely disappeared. This may be the reflection of the shift in composition of immigration to a much greater concentration of visible minorities than in the past, or it may signal other social changes. It bears monitoring and further investigation.

Let us turn to the patterns of who feels most strongly that there are too many immigrants in general and too many of those who are visible minorities. Two groups stand out as particularly opposed to visible minority immigration. The first group – Albertans – comes as mildly puzzling given their economic need for greater immigration for labour market shortages and the election of a gay Muslim mayor in Calgary. It may be a reflection of the same phenomenon that we saw in Toronto earlier in the nineties where rapid immigration produced short term very strong opposition which subsequently has largely disappeared. The fact that 56 per cent of Conservative supporters think there are too many visible minority immigrants shows an internal contradiction between the party outreach strategy and the leanings of most of its constituents.

In the nineties, one of the key concerns from critics of multicultural immigration policies was that it would produce ethnic ghettoization. A related concern would be that national unity and identity would be threatened by a fragmentation of ethnic identities and the different value systems connected those identities.

We can compare levels of attachment to both ethnic group/national ancestries from the late nineties to the present. Notably this period a large influx of new immigration raising Canada’s overall diversity by a large margin and to its highest ever levels. It is therefore highly instructive to note the large drop in ethnic identification (from 61 in 1998 to 43 per cent in 2012) and the continued strength of Canadian identity (79 per cent to 74 per cent). This suggests that far contrary to fears of critics of multiculturalism, high levels of immigration produced a broad lowering of overall ethnic and source country identification while national attachment stayed much stronger.

The rapid rise in immigrant and visible minority populations is not just sociologically interesting; it poses very real challenges to political parties. The political arithmetic of political parties failing to do well with this burgeoning segment of Canadian electorate is obvious. The traditional Liberal advantage with these groups evaporated as the Liberal fortunes fell and the Conservative Party specifically engaged in concerted outreach to these groups. The Conservatives’ success was highly evident in the last election, particularly in some of the ethnically rich suburban ridings surrounding Toronto. The exact proportions of this success aren’t clear but clearly there was a marked improvement in Conservatives fortunes with non-Canadian born. This success has been seen as an ingredient of future success in recent work by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson . The argument that this shift in the immigrant vote is part of a game change which sets the stage for continued Conservative success in the 21st century is less clear.

Tracking reveals that the Liberal Party has actually been recovering very well with the non-Canadian born (same pattern with the visible minority question). The Conservative Party, meanwhile, has surrendered its lead with this group and the NDP is falling back as well. Obviously these shifts mirror the general trends in the electorate but in comparing to the same period with the Canadian born we can see some significant differences in the patterns. Most significantly, the Liberal rise has been sharper – even dramatic – in the immigrant voter population. The Conservatives still have a slight lead with the Canadian-born, but they now are significantly behind with the immigrant vote. It is not clear how this will evolve from here, but it is clear that the current patterns suggest this part of the big shift is currently going the other way.

The Conservatives have been wise to explicitly try and bring the non-Canadian born into their constituency. In the United States, this growing portion of the population has been decisively moving to the Democrats to the point where Stanley Greenberg has called the Republican Party and its focus on the white working class, a ‘dying cult’. Clearly, the Conservative Party has taken this challenge seriously and it has worked to their advantage and it reinforces the Canadian advantage in the postmodern world and the attendant clash of civilizations that threatens that world. Canadians seem to have largely inoculated themselves from the extreme forms of this disease, ironically, through the very (non-official) multiculturalism which is seen with growing disdain in some elite quarters today.

As the earlier figures on the continued presence of racial discriminatory attitudes to visible minority immigration showed earlier, our success on a more tolerant and diverse society remains a work in progress. The Conservative Party should be applauded for their outreach to immigrant vote and continued open immigration policies. They may, however, want to deal with the unusually high incidence of opposition to visible minority immigrants held by their supporters.

Finally, the societal shift to an extremely diverse, open and cosmopolitan citizenry can be the singular Canadian advantage in this century. But the greatest source of this diversity is in younger Canada who are increasingly on the sidelines both politically and economically. This needs to be corrected.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (April 19, 2013)

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