Canadians and their Communities: A National Survey on Citizen Engagement and Attitudes

by Angus Reid | October 5, 2015 10:30 pm

Feelings of attachment and belonging to communities depend greatly on Canadians’ individual mindsets

October 6, 2015 – Canadians tie more of their identity to their country than their own communities, but are more bullish about the futures of their neighborhoods than the nation. This, according to an Angus Reid Institute public opinion survey conducted in partnership with Community Foundations Canada.

The comprehensive national survey on issues associated with Canadians and their Communities covered a number of areas including Canadian identification with different types of community, attachment to and overall ratings of communities and views on what constitutes a good community. Angus Reid Institute

Key Findings:

Part 1: Community mindsets

What do the overall survey findings tell us about Canadians and their communities? Using a multivariate “segmentation analysis” (see note on methodology at the end of this release), this ARI-CFC survey reveals four distinct “mindsets” on the community issues explored throughout the research. These population segments are summarized in the table below:

Four Community Mindsets:

Happy Joiners Ambivalent Belongers

o    Most likely to be from small cities and towns

o    Older: most are aged 55+

o    Very engaged and involved in their community

o    Feel  they belong in their neighbourhood

o    Rate their communities highly across all dimensions

o    Most likely to be from Ontario

o    More men than women

o    Community involvement is fairly important

o    Rate their communities roughly average

o    Most feel they belong, but would rather live somewhere else

Contented Non-Participants Unhappy Urbanites

o    Most likely to be from Quebec

o    Much lower involvement in community activities

o    Most feel they belong in their neighbourhood, and would not prefer to live elsewhere

o    Most likely to be from Canada’s biggest cities

o    Younger, and more women than men

o    Community participation is not important

o    Most do not feel like they belong in their neighbourhood

o    Rate their communities poorly across all categories


Part 2: What makes a good community?

Non-geographic communities

While the focus of this research is on “place-based” or geographic communities, the concept of community is much broader than that. It encompasses shared experiences and attitudes as well as common locations. In recognition of this – and as a jumping-off point for a conversation with Canadians about communities and belonging – the survey began by asking about people’s identification with an assortment of eight other types of communities: Angus Reid Institute[1]

As illustrated in the infographic to the right (click here[2] or on the image to see a larger version), all of these community types foster identification – in varying numbers and with people from different walks of life.

The segments certainly distinguish themselves on this dimension of community identification. As their label implies, the Happy Joiners more closely identify with all of these different types of communities, and especially with other people who share their passion for community involvement. They contrast most sharply with the Unhappy Urbanites who are much less likely to identify across the board.

The other two segments express very similar and quite average levels of identification with these various communities, but they diverge sharply on one: Ambivalent Belongers are considerably more likely to identify with people involved in their community whereas this holds for very few of the Contented Non-Participants (see detailed tables at the end of this release).

Key elements of geographic communities

So what goes into creating a good city or community? Canadians point to lots of different elements, but put a higher premium on some. Respondents to this survey were presented with a list of 13 different factors and asked to choose up to three they felt were most important.

In the top tier:

In the second tier:

In the third tier:

Community priorities do much to characterize the attitudinal segments. For the Happy Joiners, “people’s overall sense of belonging to the community” ranks right up in the top-tier. This segment also attaches considerable priority to health and wellness factors (a reflection of their older age) and to opportunities for youth.

The Ambivalent Belongers are not extra-concerned with any specific element assessed, while the Contented Non-Participants give above average priority to safety and transportation. The Unhappy Urbanites are very much focused on “kitchen table” issues, giving much higher ratings to concerns such as affordability, jobs and housing.

Canadians rate their communities

How do Canadians assess their own cities and towns on these same “community building blocks”?

Ratings for other measures can be seen in the graph below:

Angus Reid Institute

Moving to the second tier of key community elements:

Getting around receives an excellent/very good from two-in-five respondents (40%) overall

Angus Reid Institute

Among the third tier of community elements:

Angus Reid Institute

Assessment of their own community’s performance on these various dimensions is a key differentiator of the four segments referenced earlier in this report.

Among the Unhappy Urbanites, we see very poor ratings across the board. Indeed, on all dimensions assessed, members of this mindset are more likely to consider their community as “terrible” than as very good or excellent.

The Ambivalent Belongers are also less than fully impressed with their communities, notably with respect to their community’s leisure and recreation amenities.

The Contented Non-Participants give average ratings to their communities across these dimensions, while the Happy Joiners give much higher grades on all dimensions assessed, and are especially pleased with the extent to which their community fosters a sense of citizen belonging.

Part 3: The bigger picture on geographic belonging

These survey finds indicate that to Canadians, idea of a “place-based” community is not limited to one’s city or town. Rather, it applies to larger geographic areas – such as one’s country or region – and smaller ones – such as one’s neighbourhood.

Those polled were asked to describe their own personal sense of belonging to each of these places. The results show Canadians feel the strongest sense of belonging to their nation:

Angus Reid Institute

Similarly, asked which one of these is most important to their own personal identity:

Notably, the top two results are reversed in Quebec, where 39 per cent say their province is most important to their identity, compared to 31 per cent who choose Canada.

The sun shines brighter closer to home

Regardless of identity, these geographies are on a much more even footing when it comes to Canadians’ quality-of-life assessments:

Angus Reid Institute

The tables turn further when it comes to Canadians’ perceptions of the overall direction things are going in these geographic places.

Angus Reid Institute

Looking at opinions by attitudinal segments, we find markedly different levels of attachment and perspectives:

Part 4: Canadians’ participation in their communities

This ARI-CFC survey also asked Canadians about their participation in different community activities – from attending neighbourhood meetings to using the local library or recreation centre to getting involved in children’s activities.

Participation was broken down into two categories: things one does regularly and things one has done in the past, but doesn’t do regularly:

Angus Reid Institute

Looking at this community participation data in aggregate helps highlight which population groups are most actively involved. Those most likely to participate in community activities tend to be:

Conversely, those who are least likely to participate in community activities tend to be:

(For more detail regarding community participation levels across population groups, see the comprehensive tables at[5]).

Community involvement goes a long way to defining the attitudinal segments: Happy Joiners are most involved on all counts, both self-oriented activities (such as socializing with friends and going out to hear live music) as well as the community-oriented activities such as attending public meetings and participating in community projects.

Ambivalent Belongers also participate in these community-oriented activities in considerable numbers, and are also “out and about” in their community.

The other two segments are less likely to be involved in any of these activities and are especially below the average in the case of the community-oriented efforts.

But how important is it to get involved?

Overall, respondents rank getting involved in community activities as less important to their day-to-day life than three other aspects of community participation canvassed. Half (50%) of Canadians say community involvement is important to them, compared to:

Part 5: Key attitudes towards community issues

A final important component of this study involved an exploration of citizen opinion on a variety of attitudinal dimensions. A couple of these have been noted earlier and a few others are highlighted here. The interested reader is invited to view the responses to all attitudinal items presented in the detailed tabular results available at[6].

Some of these attitudinal statements probed community attachment, as shown in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

These levels of attachment do vary greatly across the different mindsets identified in this survey:

Angus Reid Institute

Nationally, fully 37 per cent of Canadians surveyed shared this willingness to move elsewhere. Those most open to re-location include residents of the “big three” cities (47%), younger people (49%), those with lower incomes, and those with lower levels of attachment and involvement with their current community.

Other statements dealt with citizen efficacy, long recognized as a key aspect of overall citizen engagement and community involvement:

Angus Reid Institute

Though they’re less involved in their communities than they are attached to them, Canadians are generally positive about their municipal governments and their communities’ abilities to get things done. That said, most would rather keep to themselves than take an active role in their communities. The notable exception to this rule is the Happy Joiners segment:

Angus Reid Institute

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology[7]

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[8]

Click here for comprehensive data tables[9]

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693[10]

Image Credit: Gord McKenna

A Note on Methodology

In order to fully mine this rich data, Angus Reid Institute researchers conducted a special segmentation analysis. This multivariate analytical technique uncovers underlying structures and relationships within a given survey data set and groups or “segments” the population based on people’s shared attitudinal characteristics.

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) is the national network for Canada’s 191 community foundations, which help Canadians invest in building strong and resilient places to live, work and play.


  1. [Image]:
  2. click here:
  3. Vancouver:
  4. Toronto:
  5. comprehensive tables at
  6. detailed tabular results available at
  7. Click here for the full report including tables and methodology:
  8. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:
  9. Click here for comprehensive data tables:

Source URL: