Poll: Majority of Canadians would consider voting for a Sikh, transgender or unilingual prime minister

Jagmeet Singh, the NDP MPP representing Bramalea - Gore -Malton, in June 2013. Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Is Canada ready for a prime minister who covers his or her head for religious reasons?

Just barely, says a new poll published today by the Angus Reid Institute.

The poll is likely to become an immediate point of discussion in the NDP leadership race where Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh who wears a turban, is considered among the leaders.

But the poll, which probes the willingness of both Canadian and American voters to imagine a government leader who might be gay or from a religious minority, also suggests that Canadians are, by and large, more open to a non-traditional leader than voters south of the border.

For example, more than two-thirds of Canadians polled believe that Canada is likely to have a gay prime minister within the next 25 years (the country currently has two gay premiers, in Ontario and in P.E.I.) But only about one-third of American voters can envision a gay president in the next 25 years.

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And while 68 per cent of Canadians have no problem considering a prime minister who is an atheist, just 37 per cent of American voters believe voters there will elect a president who does not believe in God.

Source: Angus Reid Institute.

As for the Singh issue, Angus Reid did not use the names of any politicians in its polls but it did ask Canadians if they could vote for a man who wears a religious head-covering. Just 56 per cent of respondents said yes. That said, 63 per cent of respondents said they could vote for a party whose leader was a Sikh.

Those who voted Liberal in 2015 are more inclined to consider voting for a Sikh (73 per cent). About two-thirds of those who voted NDP in 2015 would could consider voting for a party led by a Sikh, while just 52 per cent of Conservative voters would do so.

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As it turns out, Canadians elected a record-high number of Sikhs in 2015 and Trudeau appointed four Sikhs to his cabinet: Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, both who wear the turban, Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi , who does not wear the turban, and Government House Leader Bardish Chagger.

The poll also asked Canadians if they would vote for a party led by a Muslim and 58 per cent of respondents said yes. Trudeau also has two Muslims in his cabinet: Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen and Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef.

Source: Angus Reid Institute.

But when Americans are asked if they would vote for a Muslim President, just 47 per cent said yes. When those who voted for Donald Trump last fall were asked if they would consider voting for a Muslim president, just 25 per cent said yes. Meanwhile, 68 per cent of those who voted for Hillary Clinton would consider voting for a Muslim president — yet another illustration of the deep divide in contemporary American political life.

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Angus Reid also asked Canadians if the prime minister could be unilingual. In Quebec, just 30 per cent thought that would be acceptable compared to 80 per cent of Albertans, Manitobans, and Atlantic Canadians who were fine with a unilingual PM. In BC, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, three in four respondents were not troubled by the idea of a unilingual prime minister.

Source: Angus Reid Institute.

The online survey of 1,533 Canadian adults was conducted from May 24-28. And while a margin-of-error cannot be calculated from this online survey, the pollster says that had the participants been drawn at random, the margin-of-error would be 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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