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Directional Outlook and Public Response to Growing Iran-U.S. Tensions

[Ottawa – January 16, 2020] It has been a turbulent beginning to 2020. In particular, the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran have escalated dramatically, resulting in the tragic loss of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 and the deaths of 176 people, including 57 Canadians. In the first instalment of a broader poll looking at public outlook on key issues, we will look at the public response to this crisis.

Despite the very tense context, there is evidence that Canadians are actually feeling more comfortable with both the direction of the country and Justin Trudeau’s performance as Prime Minister in this new minority government.

Mr. Trudeau has seen a significant 12-point boost in his approval rating since our last sounding; however, this newfound favour does not extend to Conservative supporters. The President of the United States, in contrast, casts a long shadow over recent events and it is notable that his approval has continued to descend to a new nadir of 14 points. If we exclude Conservative supporters, his approval rating would be in the two-per-cent range.

The public are separating accountability for rising U.S.-Iran tensions and the Flight 752 tragedy. In terms of responsibility for the heightened tensions between the two countries, the lion’s share of the blame is assigned to Donald Trump. These critical views of Mr. Trump are significantly more pronounced outside of Conservative supporters. Notably, Canadians are quite alarmed about the consequences for peace and safety around the world, with a clear majority believing it will have a clear impact on global security.

Turning to the question of who is at fault for the downing of Flight 752, the public assign principal blame to Iran, which has subsequently accepted responsibility for the disaster. Once again, Conservative supporters almost exclusively blame Iran, whereas among the rest of the public, accountability is more evenly divided.

In terms of preferred response, it is notable that the response from our government and Mr. Trudeau broadly correspond to public preferences, which may explain – in part – his elevated approval rating. Canadians show a clear preference for pursuing an apology and compensation, as well as focusing on de-escalating the situation with Iran. More aggressive economic responses are not favoured and a military response has only a small group of subscribers. It is instructive that support for a more strenuous response is much more concentrated among Conservative supporters, who are also more likely to assign exclusive responsibility to Iran for this problem.

Some have claimed that having no embassy in Iran has hindered our government’s ability to deal with this situation. The public, however, hold mixed views on the position. We asked Canadians whether the Tehran mission should be re-opened and there is no clear public preference on the matter. Interestingly, support for re-opening the embassy is lowest among Conservative supporters.


This survey was conducted using EKOS’ unique, hybrid online/telephone research panel, Probit. Our panel offers exhaustive coverage of the Canadian population (i.e., Internet, phone, cell phone), random recruitment (in other words, participants are recruited randomly, they do not opt themselves into our panel), and equal probability sampling. All respondents to our panel are recruited by telephone using random digit dialling and are confirmed by live interviewers. Unlike opt-in online panels, Probit supports margin of error estimates. We believe this to be the only probability-based online panel in Canada

While panellists are randomly recruited, this survey was conducted online only, meaning that it excludes the roughly one in six Canadians who either can not or will not respond to surveys online. Results should therefore be considered representative of Canada’s online population. The field dates for this survey are January 10-14, 2020. In total, a random sample of 1,196 Canadian adults aged 18 and over responded to the survey. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 2.8 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, 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.

Please click here for a copy of the questionnaire that was used for this survey.

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