Monday, 18 June 2012

EKOS Survey & the ideology of the Canadian prairies

Extremely complicated attempt at
representing a three-dimensional political
spectrum.

Image Source: Civicaus.org
In March EKOS unveiled quite a treat of a poll. The March 16, 2012 release was entitled "The Return of Ideology? A Starkly Divided Canada". Rather than just looking at partisan affiliation and voting intentions -  as so many other opinion polls and survey's (even those discussing left-right ideology) do - this survey actually asked respondents to ideologically self-identity themselves. This is a staple of opinion polling in the US, but hasn't been used much in Canada - which is such a shame. Ideology is more stable and deeper than the ever-changing platforms of political parties. Party affiliation can be more a function of un-ideological machine politics than citizens aligning with organizations that share their core values. Ideological surveys, thus, hold a lot more promise in getting to peoples' core principles (even if they have flaws as well).

EKOS found some interesting results, both relating to political parties and the overall political landscape.      
For some time, Canadians were relatively unique in the advanced western world by virtue of their aversion to ideological compartmentalization. In an essay in the lead up to the NDP leadership convention and the government’s imminent budget, we will be looking at these longer term trends and their implications for the state of politics and democracy in Canada.

We note that the single most powerful predictor of the constellation of values which one adheres to is one’s self identified ideological orientation. Therefore, the tracking of this indicator can be a useful proxy for the broader question of values shifts. Are we indeed blueing as some have claimed? Is the traditional, non-ideological centre of Canada shrinking and what does that mean in terms of political opportunities and risks? We will attempt to answer those questions early next week, but here we will lay out the basic empirical ingredients.
... 
The NDP constituency, not the Liberal’s, now tends to be the mirror image of the Conservative Party in terms of both ideology and in terms of demographics and social class. While the Conservatives (at 35 per cent) draw strength from older, male Canada and do very well with upper income and faith based voters, the NDP draws its strength in the more economically vulnerable portions of Canadian society, youth, seculars singles, and the university educated. The Conservative strength is Alberta (even more so than usual) is overwhelming but the NDP are doing very well in Quebec and British Columbia and perhaps showing some strength in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (though the smaller sample suggests caution here). The Conservative Party is showing no real sign of immediate weakness in light of recent controversies and the Liberals seem to be stuck at levels near the last election. 
... 
The most liberal parts of Canada appear to be Quebeckers, British Columbians, women, those under the age of 45, university graduates, those who are unmarried or come from non-traditional households, visible minorities, social media aficionados, the upper-middle class (but not the upper class itself), and those holding valid passports. The small-c conservative camp, meanwhile, is made up of Albertans, Saskatchewanians, Manitobans, men, those over the age of 45, the high school and college educated, those who are married, religious service attendees, and the parochial non-passport holders. Those who haven’t yet been dragged into the left-right discord include Green, Bloc, and undecided voters (suggesting a certain level of disillusionment with mainstream politics), seniors, and those of low social economic status.

("The Return of Ideology?".EKOS. March 16, 2012)

Former Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas,
under a billboard for his democratic socialist
CCF party.

Image Source: Canadian Encyclopedia 
Now, others have commented on how goofy it is to have "liberal" and "conservative" as party-independent ideological categories in a country with Liberal and Conservative parties. I personally would've preferred they adopt a left-right scale like I did for this blog's online poll, especially since EKOS seems to regard "liberal" and "conservative" as equivalent to "left" and "right" in their press release anyway. Personally, I've considered myself centre-left for quite some time but have never identified as "liberal" - preferring "social democrat", "progressive", or "centre-left" as labels.

If they'd done that, "liberal" Liberals could identify with the centre-right, centre, or centre-left, "liberal" New Democrats could identify with the "left", "centre-left", and perhaps even a few with the "centre", and "conservative" Conservatives could identify with the "centre-right" and "right". While there was a greater absolute number of "liberal" New Democrats than "liberal" Liberals, the percentage of "liberals" in the NDP (60.6%) was less than the percentage of "liberals" in the Liberal Party (72%). Party name obviously has something to do with it.

But what particularly interests me is the ideological survey results for Manitoba and Saskatchewan (which I'll also call "the prairies" or "the Canadian prairies"). The numbers obtained show that a greater percentage of prairie Canadians are small-c conservative than Albertans!

EKOS self-reported ideology survey results
for MB/SK. Margin of Error (MOE) was high for the
Prairie Provinces due to a poor sample size.
The MOE was plus or minus 9.7.
The effects of the MOE, in the upward and downward
directions, on each ideological group are shown. 
The sample size was small and the margin of error high, but the results seem rather unusual given that Manitoba re-elected an NDP government at the provincial level (an unwaveringly moderate one, but an NDP government nonetheless) and Saskatchewan serves as the birthplace of the NDP. Autonomy for All has also noted the staunchly conservative results, attesting that he could see a rightwing shift in Saskatchewan but not Manitoba.

Now, what can we read from this data?


  • Perhaps our Province and Saskatchewan really are ideologically more rightwing than Alberta, which would explain difficulty the NDP's had gaining traction in Saskatchewan the last few election cycles and it's falling federal fortunes in Manitoba. Maybe people are swayed to vote for the Manitoba NDP by non-ideological issues. 
  • Perhaps the sample size was so ridiculously small that the results really don't hold.

  • Perhaps prairie politics are unusually polarized, but the evenness of this polarization is hidden by the "Neither" category. Many "Neither" responders may be aligned with left-leaning groups like "progressive", "social democrat", and even "socialist", but have a particular distaste for identifying as "liberal" given the existence of a centrist large-L Liberal Party in Canada and at the provincial levels. In Saskatchewan, a few Liberal MLAs in the 1990s joined with various anti-NDP, centre-right, forces to form the Saskatchewan Party - this would certainly diminish the brand for left-wingers in the province. In Manitoba, given the more progressive stanches of the Manitoba Liberals, the brand may be less diminished but more than a few left-leaning NDP members would chose "Neither". The portion of obtained "Neithers" in the Canadian prairies is smaller (21.1%) than nation-wide (25.5%), but that's within the upward MOE. 

Osborne Village during Canada Day 2010.

Osborne Village is a Winnipeg neighbourhood with
many groups (the unmarried,  

social media aficionados,
 people from 
untraditional households, and 
- given he high property values for some homes 
- some people in the upper middle class,
 particularly 
 young professionals and professors) that 
tend to be ideologically "liberal", 
according to the EKOS survey.

Last provincial election, 51% of voters in the  Fort Rouge

 riding (which contains Osborne Village) voted NDP.

Image Source: CBC
All in all, I'd definitely encourage local pollsters to get into the ideological affiliation survey gig, as I think they're more skilled at getting appropriate samples from this province. If they are listening to this blog, I'd also suggest they scrape the "liberal, neither, conservative" system and replace it with a scale from left to right, perhaps tacking on a "Neither" or "Other" category as well.  

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