Canadians divided along political lines over whether to accept thousands of refugees in current crisis

Poll reveals schism between religious and non-religious Conservative Party supporters

With the Harper government under fire on the campaign trail for its reaction to the European migrant crisis and refugee policy in general, new data from the Angus Reid Institute shows Canadians are themselves divided – notably along political lines – over what this country should do.

Reaction this week to images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi – a Syrian child with Canadian relatives – drowned on a Turkish beach, has led to discussion over whether Canada is “doing its part” in this situation. Results of the latest ARI public opinion poll reveal less consensus than public outcry might have anticipated.

Canadians who support the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) in this campaign are less inclined than Liberal (LPC) or New Democrat (NDP) supporters to agree this country should be taking a welcoming stance and accepting more refugees. That said, the data also shows the CPC’s Christian base finds itself at odds with Conservative supporters overall – the former, backing more intervention on behalf of refugees affected by the crisis.

Key findings:

  • Overall, most Canadians (70%) say Canada has a role to play in the migrant crisis, but are divided on increasing the number of refugees the government sponsors and resettles here, and on seeing government spend more to make it happen. (54% and 51% support each, respectively)
  • A significant gender difference exists on whether the people fleeing to Europe from the Middle East are seen as “genuine”: Canadian men are twice as likely as women to say the migrants are “bogus”
  • As to what exactly this country should do, Canadians are most supportive of sending medical and armed forces professionals into the affected European countries areas to assist refugees, divided on taking more refugees and least supportive of “doing nothing”

Awareness of the Issue:

Alan Kurdi and his family represent a handful of the more than 350,000 migrants who have sought refuge in Europe so far this year. Like the little boy, his brother and mother, an estimated 2,500 people have died attempting to make the journey.

This survey finds that nearly all Canadians (90%) have at least some awareness of this crisis, with roughly two-thirds (64%) saying they’re following these events actively. By a wide margin, Canadians over the age of 55 are more likely to be following the issue. Angus Reid Institute

Election Implications:

It is unsurprising then, that the issue has made its way into the campaign narrative of the October 19th federal election. But while opposition party leaders Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau have accused the Conservative government and its leader Stephen Harper of not doing enough to address the plight of refugees, Harper’s own message is that bringing them to Canada is not the only solution, pointing to Canada’s military contribution to the fight against ISIS.

This line of messaging clearly resonates with a significant portion of the CPC base:

  • Though majorities of all party supporters view those trying to get to Europe as “genuine refugees”, CPC supporters and leaners are twice as likely as other party supporters to characterize them as “criminals or economic opportunists”

Angus Reid Institute

  • While most of those backing or leaning towards the Conservatives see a role for Canada in this crisis – they are far more divided among their own ranks than those tilting to the NDP and LPC:

Angus Reid Institute

  • Asked how many refugees the Canadian government should sponsor and resettle over the next year, CPC supporters are significantly more likely to say choose a maximum of 10,000. Conversely – Liberal and NDP supporters are more inclined to choose a number higher than 10,000:

Angus Reid Institute

  • Asked whether they supported or opposed a $100 million dollar increase in federal spending to boost the number of government-sponsored refugees in a given year to 20,000, as proposed by immigrant and refugee settlement advocates, CPC supporters and leaners are far more likely to oppose such action (63%, 34% strongly) while near-inverse numbers of NDP and Liberal supporters and leaners support it (62% each, respectively)

Angus Reid Institute

Instances of refugees, trafficked individuals and economic migrants arriving by boat on Canadian shores are far less common than the European experience, but are still very much a part of this country’s history. On the question of how we should react were it to start happening again, the opposition of CPC supporters to a “welcoming approach” in regards to migraant arrivals mirrors support for this by LPC and NDP backers (see the following graph)

Angus Reid Institute

Cleavages within the Conservative base:

While these findings reveal less national consensus on an issue that has dominated week five of this election campaign, conventional wisdom might also conclude they indicate the Conservative Party is successfully engaging its own base. This view however, comes with a hefty caveat.

In fact, Conservatives are divided by religious participation on how to react to and what to do about the migrant crisis. This division is particularly significant for the CPC – more than the Liberal or New Democratic parties – because practicing Christians form a large and influential part of the Conservative base, as evidenced in the graph below:

Angus Reid Institute

And it is with this influential segment of CPC support that Conservative messaging is nearly as resonant. Compare the responses of all those who say they’ll vote Conservative on October 19, regardless of religious participation – with Christian CPC voters who regularly attend services in the graph below on key questions of refugee policy:

Angus Reid Institute

So What Should Canada Do (if Anything)?

Regardless of political preferences, the vast majority of Canadians view the refugees as “genuine” (78%) and agree that the migrant crisis is a global problem, and Canada must do its part (70%).

Notwithstanding the acceptance of more government-sponsored refugees, there are a variety of ways in which any country could be – and in many cases are – responding to the current crisis. The Angus Reid Institute asked respondents about a handful of hypothetical options:Angus Reid Institute

And how do we view Europe’s response?

Canadians are divided on Europe’s response to the current crisis – but only as far as whether it has been sufficient or not. Very few (9%) think the continent has done “too much” to deal with the crisis.

The rest of the country is divided between the opinion that “European nations are doing as much as can be expected” (36%) and “European nations should be doing more” (34%). Another one-fifth (20%) are unsure.Angus Reid Institute

Opinion on this question varies by region and by age. Canadians between the ages of 35 and 54 are less likely than other age groups to say European nations should be doing more (29% say so, compared to 38% of younger Canadians and 36% of those over 55). The opposite is true of residents of the Atlantic provinces, 50 per cent of whom say Europe should be doing more.

Respondents in Western Canada are more likely to say Europeans are doing as much as can be expected. Not quite half of British Columbia (46%) and Alberta (43%) residents choose this option.

What if it happened here?

Migrants have arrived in Canada by boat in the past, but never on the scale currently seen in Europe. In the somewhat unlikely event that the current crisis was taking place here, Canadians are divided on how they would like the country to handle such a situation.

A slim majority (56%) say “Canada should take a welcoming approach to people who arrive this way,” while the rest (44%) say “Canada should not be welcoming to people who arrive this way.”

Interestingly, responses in every province west of Manitoba are reversed – with slim majorities favouring an unwelcoming approach. Manitoba and every region to the east favours a welcoming approach.Angus Reid Institute

This question also yields gender and age divides: Men and those between the ages of 35 and 55 are more likely to say Canada should not welcome migrants arriving by boat, while women and those in the youngest (18 to 34) and oldest (over 55) age groups are more likely to prefer the welcoming option (see detailed tables at the end of this release).

Click here for the full report including full tables and methodology

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693

Image Credit – John Rudoff

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