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Increased Polarization on Attitudes to Immigration Reshaping the Political Landscape in Canada

[Ottawa – April 15, 2019] In Canada, attitudes to immigration have never been a critical ballot booth issue. Unlike in America or Europe, where they have been deeply divisive the differences in Canada have been more moderate and there has been a political agreement on a broadly open policy on immigration. There have been significant differences across partisan boundaries, but they have not shaped election outcomes in a significant manner. This may be changing in important ways that reflect broader shifts in public outlook.

Our research is examining the evolution of what we have called ordered or authoritarian populism. This is a fairly recent and powerful force redefining the nature of politics in much of the advanced western world. The issue of immigration is receiving increased public salience and is at the forefront of much of the authoritarian populist movements. We intend to connect shifting attitudes to these broader forces and the survey we have just completed includes several indicators designed to measure that outlook. We will be presenting these in the coming weeks but our purpose here is to focus on attitudes to immigration in general, and attitudes to immigration shaped on race.

These attitudes are very much entangled in the broader ordered populist outlook and that outlook strongly predicts these attitudes. It also increasingly predicts voter preferences and it represents a very different dynamic than what we have seen in the past. The traditional left-right axis has been transformed into a new contest about the future. The desire to restrict immigration and, in particular, immigration of non-whites, is an expression of this authoritarian reflex which has produced increased hostility to outgroups and a vocal desire to curtail immigration, particularly non-white immigration.

What is extremely important is to note that opposition to immigration in general – and visible minority immigration in particular – is not up dramatically. What is dramatic is the level of ideological and partisan polarization on this issue. This also connects to similar irreconcilable differences on a range of other key policy issues that will be at the core of the coming election. Immigration attitude have become much more polarized and our research suggests that they are sorting voter choices in ways that we have never seen before in Canada.

The two questions on immigration are part of a long-term tracking program that we have conducted for about 25 years. A couple of critical points are evident in the chart below. First, opposition to immigration in general is up somewhat, but lower than in the mid-90s. What is up more significantly is opposition to the incidence of immigrants who are members of visible minorities. Recognizing the difficulties associated with the term visible minority, we retain the term in order to not disrupt the long-term tracking. We also note that in our experimental testing the term ‘non-white’ produces the same results as visible minority.

While general opposition to immigration is not that different over the past several years, the incidence of those thinking there are too many visible minorities is up significantly and no longer trails opposition to general immigration (as it has historically). Racial discrimination is now an equally important factor in views about immigration than the broader issue of immigration. We pointedly asked the second question independently of the levels issue. It asked respondents to consider the incidence of those who were coming who weren’t white. The broader concerns about job competition, pressure on social programs, etc., are not as much a factor at play in this test.

While these shifts are interesting and significant it is the heightened polarization which is the more important finding.

The next graph shows the tracking of answers to this question by party support. We can see that things are vividly different today than in the recent past. Whereas there were modest but significant differences in the past between Conservative and other voters, these have increased dramatically. The biggest gap is the yawning divide across Liberal and Conservative voters; from a fairly modest 47/34 in 2013 to a huge 69/15 in the most recent poll. This massive divide is also sorting voter choices in our related analyses in ways that it never did in the past.

We believe that these shifts are a reflection of a wider shift which has seen an ordered populism emerging in Canada, as it has in many other advanced western societies. This has been seen as a ‘cultural backlash’ by Norris and Inglehart or the resurgence of an authoritarian outlook noted by Stenner and Haidt and several other important academics. The key drivers are economic stagnation and the burgeoning acceleration of inequality at the top of the economic pyramid, a sense of loss of privilege and identity status and a magnified sense that the external world is newly threatening. This view gives precedence to obedience over creativity (when raising a child), morality over reason, good behaviour over questioning authority. It is linked to stronger support for increasing police powers to deal with security, anti-globalization sentiments and a general desire to pull up the drawbridge and return to a ‘greater’ more secure past.

It also very strongly linked to deep reservations to immigration, particularly non-white immigration. It is quite different from traditional status quo conservatism or small government, free market conservatism. It is an extremely emotionally powerful force and it is clearly at work in Canada as it is in other western countries.

Understanding these forces and the correct public policy responses is a central challenge. So far, this has been a puzzle which has eluded most of the societies where it is unfolding.

Methodology:

This survey 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 cellphone, as well as cellphone-only households and landline-only households.

The field dates for this survey are April 3-11, 2019. In total, a random sample of 1,045 Canadians aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 3.0 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, gender, age, education). All the data have been statistically weighted by age, gender, and region to ensure the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to Census data.

Please click here for the full report.

6 comments to Increased Polarization on Attitudes to Immigration Reshaping the Political Landscape in Canada

  • Terry Brennan

    We are accepting into Canada too many people of the types we do not need, mostly as refugees, people who say they are in danger in their home country, etc., and those that just show up. We have a process to allow for immigration into Canada of the types of people we need. Much of the vocalized demand to increase immigration by any and all methods comes from recent immigrants who 1 to 2 years after thy arrive want to bring 2 sets of moms and dads, 4 sets of grandparents (if they are still living) then come nieces and nephews as international students and very quickly, we (born Canadians) are over swamped by the exploding new immigrants, refugees, etc. Grandma and grandpa take over the jobs in the retail and resturant shops that our college and high school students traditionally had, they take the spaces at the universities and colleges that our children used to have access to. It is a growing mess. It has to stop. A 5 year moratorium. Send back grandma and grandpa. They are draining our health care system, pay no taxes at all, get free bus and transit passes, free access to recreation facilities, and are only baby sitting their grandchildren so their children (the original family immigrant) can hold down 2 jobs each (A TOTAL OF 4 JOBS FOR THAT FAMILY). A day job and then usually a janitorial or retail outlet evening job (usually working for someone else from their own country. Go to a Tim Hortons or a MacDonalds and listen to see what language the staff are speaking. Generally it is not English. The managers hire only their own. It has to change.

  • Brian Graff

    I think that the question on visible minorities is confusing and ambiguous.

    A better question would be “should our immigration policy discriminate to reduce the number of visible minorities?

    The issue here is that visible minorities tend to come from countries with cultures, religions etc. that are quite different from Canada’s traditional European based immigration.

    A lot of fear is not about race but about cultural change and referring to someone as a visible minority is quite different from the specifics of their country of origin.

    And another issue here is the long run – nobody want to be in the minority, and those who grew up here see this country as it is and tend to resist change. Predictions are that in 100 years only 20% of Canadians will be “white” and to many that doesn’t seem like the Canada we know. I highly suggest reading “Whiteshift” by Ben Kaufman, a British based professor who is actually a Canadian of mixed ethnic ancestry himself.

  • My Grandparent came to North America just before World War 2. They wanted a better life but also believed in what Canada and the United States had to offer. I don’t think anyone is against immigration, people are against others who won’t contribute or don’t have the same mindset or values to make this place better, or at least not worse than they found it. Just my two cents.

  • As a new Canadian, this is an article that is near and dear to my heart. I left my country to make a better life in Canada as I saw it as a land of opportunity. I am a very proud Canadian and I hope that people feel good about allowing immigration to happen as every immigrant I know loves living here and works hard.

  • Great insight and report. We would like to have Frank come out and give this presentation on Populism and pre-election what can we do as Public Servants to promote inclusiveness and diversity.

  • GS Ruddin

    Racism is coming from scared uneducated whites. As a visible minority, I worry abot immigration too. I look at the white and Christian fascism rising in Europe, Australia and US and hope they don’t come here. Seriously, too many angry racist white people here already. Do we need Neonazis from there too? No thanks.

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