A majority of Canadians believe the factors driving recent political upheaval in other Western countries are on the rise here too, a new poll suggests.
But The Canadian Press/EKOS Politics survey indicates those who support challenges to the status quo here are somewhat different than those behind it elsewhere, suggesting a version of “northern populism” could be brewing in Canada.
“Most of the ‘elites’ will tell you it’s not really happening here, we’re pretty immune to this sort of thing,” said Frank Graves, president of EKOS.
“But when we ask Canadians, there’s room, and perhaps fuel, for populism in other parts of society.”
Populism is the term most-often used to describe the political movement that led to outsider Donald Trump’s ascendance all the way to the U.S. presidency, and Britain’s shocking referendum in support of exiting the European Union.
In The Populism Project, The Canadian Press has been exploring whether the factors that led to those events exist in Canada, and how politics here could be changing as a result.
Pinpointing those factors isn’t an exact science. To see where Canadians stand, the survey pulled together common themes to fashion a definition: opposition to trade and globalization, support for more restrictive immigration policies, and distrust of those considered to be elite.
The question was then put to 5,568 Canadians between June 1 and June 19: Many people talk about the rise of these factors in the U.S. and Europe. What do you think about it? And is it happening here?
Seventy-one per cent said they believe it is, and is on the rise to either a moderate or high degree.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.3 percentage points, 19 times out 20.
Of those surveyed, only 33 per cent thought populism was a bad thing, 42 per cent were on the fence, and 20 per cent thought it as positive.
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Digging into those numbers reveals some differences between who supports populism in Canada, compared with who was understood to be driving it around the world.
Take free trade.
Both Trump’s upset victory in the U.S. election, and Britain’s referendum in favour of exiting the EU were campaigns won in part on a rejection of trade liberalization.
Among Trump’s key campaign pledges – ripping up the North American Free Trade deal.
Only about 50 per cent of Americans surveyed last month by Pew Research were in support of NAFTA, and exit polls from the U.S. election suggested 65 per cent of Trump supporters believed free trade took away jobs.
But the CP/EKOS survey suggests that 81 per cent of Canadians support trilateral trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
Trump’s largest base of support was among Americans who defined themselves as white, while in the U.K., data suggests areas with the lowest percentage of foreign-born residents voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU.
In Canada, of those polled, 22 per cent of people who weren’t born here thought populism was a good thing, compared to 18.5 per cent of those whose parents were both born here.
“If Trump populism is rooted in the white working class, that explicitly does not appear to be the case in Canada,” the survey said.
How Canadians view the economy and the future appears to be shaping their views on populist themes.
The poll suggests Canadians’ outlook is gloomy – 29 per cent of those surveyed think their lives will improve over the next five years, 35 per cent think it will stay the same and 33 per cent think it will get worse.
Of those who describe themselves of having fallen behind the last five years, 25 per cent support populism.
More people who define themselves as working class or poor also see populism as a good thing than do those who are upper or middle class, the poll indicates.
“Overall, we see quite a different political landscape where continued economic stagnation and decline are fuelling a uniquely Canadian expression of populism that is less ‘white’ and less closed than the expressions in Europe and the United States,” the report said.
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“It is more rooted in a new class conflict across the diminished middle class and the burgeoning working class.”
What that may mean for Canadians politics could be seen in the educational backgrounds of those who support populism and which political party they support.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began his mandate, he enjoyed uniform support across the educational spectrum.
But the poll suggests that support is becoming increasingly confined to those with a university degree. Forty-two per cent of university degree holders think populism is a bad thing.
Meanwhile, the poll indicates those with a high school or college education are going back to the Conservatives. Twenty-six per cent of those with a high school diploma told pollsters populism is bad, as did 30 per cent of those with a college education.
“We have effectively divided ourselves into two Canadas,” the poll said.
“Those relatively comfortable with national and federal direction (i.e., ‘progressive’ Canada) and conservative Canada, who are decidedly unhappy with where we are headed.”