7 in 10 Canadians would be A-OK with voting for a party led by a Sikh: survey

New NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks at the NDP's Leadership Showcase in Hamilton, Ont. on Sunday September 17 , 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Seven out of 10 Canadians would vote for a party led by a Sikh, said a recent survey by the independent research firm the Angus Reid Institute.

However, half of respondents said that “most” or “some” of their friends and family could not vote for someone who has Jagmeet Singh’s demographic profile, the institute added.

The survey came after Singh’s victory in the race to become the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP).

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The survey showed that Quebecers were particularly hesitant to vote for a party led by an observant Sikh man like Singh — and that could present difficulties for the NDP in Quebec, as the party held several seats in the province after the 2011 federal election, though they later lost a number of them to the Liberals.

Sixty-nine per cent of Quebecers agreed with the statement that Singh’s religion would hurt the NDP’s electoral chances.

Younger voters were more likely than older ones to say they could vote for a party leader who wore a turban and carried a kirpan.

Seventy-seven per cent of 18- to 34-year-old respondents said they would consider voting for such a candidate if they liked their policies, compared to 61 per cent of people aged 55 and over.

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Those who voted for the Conservative Party in the last federal election were also less likely to support such a candidate compared to other parties.

“The latter group is unlikely to be of particular concern to Singh and his team, given their position on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Rather, New Democrats may worry about the one-in-four past Liberal voters and the nearly as many past NDP voters who rule out supporting a party led by someone like Singh in the future,” said the study.

The survey also asked participants whether their family and friends would vote for a practicing Sikh candidate.

Fifty per cent said some or most of their friends and family would be likely to say they couldn’t vote for a party led by an observant Sikh man.

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Despite a high-profile run, the survey showed that a large portion of Canadians are still unfamiliar with Singh.

About one-third of respondents said they hadn’t heard of him before the Angus Reid survey, while 36 per cent said they knew his name but nothing else about the politician.

Nevertheless, Singh had stronger name recognition than Andrew Scheer did after he was elected as leader of the Conservative Party.

Over 40 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t heard of Scheer when they were asked earlier this year.

“Of those who know something about him other than his name, some six-in-ten (61%) say that they have a ‘very’ or ‘moderately’ favourable view of the new NDP leader.”

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Canadians also largely approved of what Singh represents.

Seventy-seven per cent of respondents agreed with the statement, “ultimately, a politician’s religious or cultural identity shouldn’t matter – only their policies should.”

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Singh may still have an uphill battle ahead of him — the survey said that the level of support for the NDP is weaker than what’s enjoyed by the other two parties.

In general, however, women and those who live in urban areas were more likely to support the party.

As for the party, the Angus Reid Institute said that two statements about the NDP found agreement among a majority of Canadians.

One was that the NDP “stands up for ordinary Canadians,” the other was that it should “remain committed to its principles, even if that means not getting elected.”

Canadians were more divided on other matters, such as whether the party had made major contributions to what Canada is today, or whether it shared respondents’ values about the kind of society that Canada should be.

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People were less convinced that the party would form the next Government of Canada.

Only five per cent of respondents said the NDP would beat the Liberals in the next election, though more (11 per cent) said the party could do it in 2023.

Thirty-seven per cent were unsure about when the NDP would be most likely to form government.

The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from October 2 – 4, 2017 among a representative randomized sample of 1,477 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI. Detailed tables are found at the end of this release.

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