Friday, 2 November 2012

First Nations and Party Politics

Kevin Chief, MLA for Point Douglas-
a provincial riding with a large aboriginal
population- was featured in APTN's "The
politics of being Aboriginal".
Chief, a man of First Nations
descent, has roots in the area -
growing up in a poor, single-father
household in Point
Douglas .

Image Source:

University of Winnipeg,
Kevin Chief Bio
 Probe Research's has done some fascinating research on the voting behaviour and party preferences (both Federal and Provincial) of aboriginal peoples in Manitoba. It's been covered in a documentary, "The politics of being Aboriginal", on APTN.

Various politicians, such as NDP MLA Kevin Chief and CON MP Rod Bruinooge, were interviewed and gave their subjective, personal takes on the issue. Chief spoke about his humble upbringing in a North End, single-father household and the comfort he felt at NDP events. Bruinooge, by contrast, spoke about his entrepreneurial value system and the enterprising spirit of the Metis people. He also gave some standard bromides against the NDP (and centre-left parties more generally) along the lines of the evils of social engineering and equality of outcome. 

What's amazing, from the statistical data side of things, is just how little research there is on the party politics of aboriginal Canadians according to the documentary. There's been some research on "broader issues" like low voter turnout, yet the actual way First Nations people vote hasn't really been studied.

This contrasts significantly with the case in the United States, where the voting behaviours and party preferences of historically disadvantaged ethnic groups (like African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans) is heavily studied by pollsters in service of micro-targeting campaigns. This is done either to mobilize their votes (if the group leans in favour of your party) or to suppress it (if the group leans against your party - just see the US Republican voter photo ID drive). 

In the US, research indicates that historically marginalized ethnic groups tend to support the relatively more left-leaning party, and the data for Manitoba is much the same. About 60% of First Nations people vote NDP provincially, whereas the case is split federally due to a more competitive Federal Liberal Party (36% of First Nations supported the Liberals whereas 40% supported the NDP while only 18% backed the CONs). The case was different for Metis Canadians, who were evenly split between the NDP and CONs federally (35% each) with 23% backing the Liberals. 

According to a Probe Research pollster, there are no similar studies looking at aboriginal voting intentions in other provinces. This is astounding given just how useful such information could be to political parties in Canada. If, for instance, the Federal NDP could get out the aboriginal vote then a few rural ridings that the CONs have a lock could become competitive.

Also notable from the documentary is the fact that the CONs' are running micro-targeting campaigns aimed at swinging over various visible minorities who historically don't vote CON, yet they aren't targeting aboriginal Canadians. Perhaps they think that this part of the Canadian population can be safely ignored, given the community's lower voter turnout (28% on Manitoban reserves).

Hopefully, the major polling firms will continue to research this issue and test ideas about just how to mobilize aboriginal voters. This could strengthen their say and input into public affairs and decisions made at Parliament and the Legislative Assembly.

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