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

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

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:

  • Canadians can be described as one of four distinct segments, or mindsets, when it comes to their local communities: the Happy Joiners, the Ambivalent Belongers, the Contented Non-Participants, and the Unhappy Urbanites
  • “Community” represents more than just a geographic space: according to the survey, Canadians also define community by their sense of belonging to groups of people with whom they share work, sports, religious and ethno-cultural commonalities
  • Canadian neighbourhoods and communities boast high levels of satisfaction when it comes to safety, protecting the environment, health and learning
  • Communities don’t hold up as well on “bread and butter” issues such as economic growth, employment, and opportunities for youth
  • Satisfaction varies markedly by community size: people living in rural areas and smaller towns have different concerns, levels of satisfaction than those living in big cities

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:

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

As illustrated in the infographic to the right (click here 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:

  • Affordability (selected by 40% of those surveyed, far fewer in Quebec)
  • Public safety (38%)
  • Employment opportunities (36% overall, considerably higher among those under 35 years of age)
  • Health and wellness (32% overall, and higher among citizens over 55)

In the second tier:

  • The economy (26%)
  • The environment (25% overall, far more important among Quebecers and B.C. residents)
  • Housing (21%, almost twice that for residents of the “big three” cities)
  • Transportation (20%, and again with much higher numbers among big city dwellers)

In the third tier:

  • People’s sense of belonging to the community (16%)
  • Learning/education (15%)
  • Arts, culture and leisure (13%)
  • Low poverty levels (11%)
  • Opportunities for youth (8%)

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”?

  • The top priority, affordability, ranks very low in terms of Canadians’ overall citizen satisfaction levels. Fewer than one-quarter of respondents (23%) assigned their community a rating of very good or excellent (8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale). Residents of the “big three cities” assign the lowest ratings for affordbaility.
  • By contrast, public safety receives the highest overall citizen satisfaction score: nearly half (45%) of Canadians assign a rating of excellent/very good. Of note: Canadians overwhelmingly agree that they “feel safe walking in my neighbourhood alone after dark”. Across all Canadians surveyed, 32 per cent strongly agree and a total of 81 per cent at least moderately agree. Women are less likely to agree with this statement than men (75% versus 86%, respectively)

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

Angus Reid Institute

Moving to the second tier of key community elements:

  • The economy gets a fairly low rating from Canadians. This is especially true in rural Canada
  • The environment gets a fairly high rating overall
  • Housing receives “so-so” ratings: 30 per cent excellent/very good overall; lower in bigger centres (For more, see our reports on housing and transportation in Vancouver and Toronto)

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

Angus Reid Institute

Among the third tier of community elements:

  • People’s sense of belonging to the community receives a very good/excellent rating from just over one-third (36%) of Canadians surveyed
  • Learning/education (41%) and Arts, culture and leisure (33%) are the other two receiving fairly high marks overall (though with lots of variance by community size – see the graph below)
  • The amount of poverty in the community (19%); and opportunities for youth (18%) are each rated as very good/excellent by fewer than one-in-five of the Canadians surveyed. Nationally, exactly half (50%) agree with the statement: “My city/town doesn’t have enough to offer for young people.” Agreement rises to three-quarters in rural areas and Atlantic Canada.

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:

  • Half of those surveyed (50%) choose Canada
  • 20 per cent choose their province
  • 18 per cent choose their city/town
  • 12 per cent choose their neighbourhood

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:

  • Canada still has the edge with more than two-in-three (69%) of those surveyed describing the quality of life in the country as very good or excellent
  • This figure is 60 per cent at the level of one’s own neighbourhood
  • And 55 per cent for city/town and 52 per cent for province

Angus Reid Institute

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

  • We see marked concern, even pessimism, about the overall direction of Canada.
  • Things get worse still when Canadians rate their respective Things seem sunniest in Saskatchewan, while Ontarians have the gloomiest outlook (see comprehensive tables at for individual provincial ratings).
  • Citizens are as likely to believe things are getting better as worse in their own municipality
  • And in their own neighbourhoods, Canadians are generally positive. It’s an assessment that’s most bullish among residents of small cities and least optimistic in Canada’s three largest metropolitan areas (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver)

Angus Reid Institute

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

  • The Happy Joiners are, unsurprisingly, the most likely to see things getting better overall
  • The Unhappy Urbanites are the most negative across the board
  • The Ambivalent Belongers are decidedly more negative about the overall direction of their community, no doubt a key clue as to why they express a lower level of fundamental attachment to their place of residence
  • The Contented Non-Participants meanwhile, express a relatively positive outlook about their community’s overall direction

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:

  • Older
  • Female
  • Living in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, or Atlantic Canada
  • University-educated
  • Living outside of Canada’s largest cities
  • Typically living in their community longer

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

  • Younger
  • Male
  • Living in Quebec or one of Canada’s three largest urban centres
  • less formally educated
  • lower total household income earners

(For more detail regarding community participation levels across population groups, see the comprehensive tables at

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:

  • Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) who say spending time ‘out and about’ in their communities is important
  • Three-quarters (74%) who say knowing their neighbours is important
  • And four-in-five (79%) who say the same about following the news and decisions in their communities

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

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:

  • The Happy Joiners, as their name implies, are extremely likely to agree with these positive statements about attachment to community, feeling they belong in their neighbourhoods and believing that their cities/towns are great places to live. Likewise, almost all of the Happy Joiners feel they have a stake in their community.
  • The Unhappy Urbanites feel the opposite way. Three-quarters of this segment deny feeling a sense of belonging to their neighbourhoods, and very few feel like they have a stake in their communities.
  • Both the Ambivalent Belongers and the Contented Non-Participants are largely attached to their communities. What separates the former group from the latter – indeed, what makes them ambivalent – is the fact that the overwhelming majority would rather live somewhere else if given the choice:

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

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey

Click here for comprehensive data tables

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693

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.


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