Election 2015: To Have and Have Not; Canadians’ Economic Anxiety Shapes Campaign Perspective

Election 2015: To Have and Have Not; Canadians’ Economic Anxiety Shapes Campaign Perspective

Those who say they’re “Haves” back the Conservative Party; “Have-Nots” size up opposition alternatives

September 14, 2015 – The economy continues to be the dominating issue of this federal election campaign, and new data from the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) reveals considerable anxiety in the minds of Canadians when it comes to their own fiscal fortunes.

That anxiety is strongly tied to what Canadians choose as their economic priorities, where they see themselves in the financial spectrum, and which party leader they see as best to instill confidence in investors at home and abroad.

This new ARI public opinion poll finds strong divisions in Canadians’ economic identification as they fall into one of four segments: the Older Haves, the Insecure Haves, the Indebted Have Nots and the Younger Have Nots.  And while the “haves” are hoping to see the Conservatives re-elected on October 19th, the large pool of the anxious “have-nots” are looking at the opposition parties.

Key Findings:Angus Reid Institute

  • Two-in-three Canadians (66%) say they’re stressed about money at least some of the time
  • 47 per cent surveyed worry they or someone in their household will lose their job in the next year
  • Two-in-five Canadians (39%) see themselves as “have-nots”
  • Tax fairness (42%) and job growth (41%) are seen as the top economic priorities for government
  • In terms of economic management and risk, the New Democratic Party’s Thomas Mulcair is seen as best leader

Part 1 – The Economy dominates, but what should government do about it?

The economy’s dominance in the minds of voters has been a consistent feature of Election 2015. Indeed, this latest Angus Reid Institute poll shows almost half (44%) of Canadians surveyed say it’s the most important issue facing the country today. Factor in those who choose economic issues such as jobs/unemployment (23%), the deficit/spending (16%), taxes (14%) and income inequality (9%), and the majority of Canadians have fiscal matters on their minds.

This preoccupation with the economy is understandable, given the gloomy economic outlook Canadians display in this poll:

  • Four times as many say their current standard of living is worse than it was a year ago (34%) as say it’s better (8%)
  • And twice as many expect it to get worse over the next year (25%) as expect it to get better (12%)

Canadians are similarly unenthusiastic about the economic prospects of their provinces (Manitoba, Ontario, and Atlantic residents, especially) and the nation as a whole in the coming year (see detailed tables at the end of this release).

But what do they see as the most pressing economic task for government? Tax matters, job growth and social spending rank high, as seen in the following graph:

Angus Reid Institute

Part 2 – Where do Canadians place themselves in the Economy?

Where Canadians place themselves in economic terms drives much of their thinking – about priorities, vote preference and leaders’ economic performance. But herein lies a typically Canadian conundrum: so many people see themselves in the same economic category – the middle class:

Angus Reid Institute

Little wonder that political parties devote such attention to this group. A look at support by class identification shows an intense three-way race among the voters who identify as “middle class”:

Angus Reid Institute

But how helpful is it to focus on the subjectively self-selected “middle class”, when nearly half of Canadians put themselves there, regardless of income, debt levels or other factors? The Angus Reid Institute asked respondents a second, more pointed question – do they see themselves as “haves” or “have nots”:

  • About one-third (31%) see themselves as “haves”
  • Two-in-five (39%) see themselves as “have nots”
  • The rest (30%) aren’t sure where they belong

Interestingly, an August Gallup poll in the USA found Americans more bullish, with most (58%) seeing themselves as “haves”, well more than the 38 per cent who said they were have-nots and the just five per cent who were uncertain.

Still, the question yields notable divisions within the Canadian population, and the two sides of this divide show different political allegiances in this federal election campaign:

  • If it were solely up to the “haves”, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) would be on track to win re-election, albeit by a slim margin – just five points over the New Democrats (NDP)
  • The have-nots favour the NDP by a two-to-one margin over the CPC (with the Liberals also substantially ahead of the CPC). Among the large “unsure” group, party preferences reflect the overall national average

Angus Reid Institute

Part 3 – Economic Anxiety: Four Different Realities

Canadians are anxious about the economy, but not equally so. Regardless of how they categorize themselves, i.e. “Have”, “Have-Not” or “Can’t Say”, a special segmentation (or cluster) analysis of the data categorizes all respondents into four segments. This multivariate analytical technique helps uncover underlying structures and relationships within a given survey data set. Respondents are grouped or “segmented” based on shared attitudinal characteristics. This can powerfully illustrate the different “mindsets” surrounding the issue at hand – in this case, the economy and people’s experiences of it. Angus Reid Institute

Part 4 – What are Canadians Anxious about?


Jobs and unemployment are a major source of economic anxiety, with almost half (47%) of Canadians surveyed agreeing “I’m concerned that I or someone in my household could lose a job because of the economy.” More broadly, three-in-four Canadians (76%) say they “worry about how young people today will be able to find a good job.” More than a third (35%) strongly agree with this statement, including nearly half (48%) of those under 25 years of age.

The Insecure Haves are much more concerned (63%) than the Older Haves about unemployment in the family. Indeed, it’s one of the key things that makes them insecure.Angus Reid Institute


Fully two-in-three (66%) Canadians disagree with the statement “I’m never really stressed about money” – 28 per cent disagree strongly.

This broad-based disagreement is particularly vehement among those making less than $50,000 per year (74%) and those under age 65 (see detailed tables at the end of this release).

Money-related stress is also a red line that separates the two “Haves” segments from the two “Have-Nots”:Angus Reid Institute

Credit Card Debt:

Paying by plastic has one-in-four Canadians (27%) agreeing with the statement, “I have too much credit card debt”. That rises to more than one-third (34%) between the ages of 35 and 54. Not coincidentally, the 35-54 age cohort is also the most represented among the Indebted Have-Nots, who are defined by this particular anxiety.Angus Reid Institute

The Future:

Canadians are also anxious about their own personal economic futures. Six-in-ten (60%) say they worry that in the future they won’t live as well as their parents’ generation.

Unsurprisingly, the only age-group that doesn’t agree with this statement is those older than 65 – an age cohort that has arguably lived the majority of its life-span. To that end, the Older Haves are the outliers on this question:Angus Reid Institute

Likewise, most Canadians disagree with the statement “Based on my current financial position I feel I can have a comfortable retirement” (58% do so, 27% strongly). Concern about financial security in retirement is highest among lower-income Canadians and those not yet at retirement age (see detailed tables at the end of this release).

These findings align with what the Angus Reid Institute found in our in-depth study on the anatomy of retirement in Canada, released earlier this year.

Part 5 – To which leader do Canadians turn on the Economy?

So how do these anxieties affect how Canadians view the party leaders’ positioning on the economy? This Angus Reid Institute survey asked eligible voters for their view of the main party leaders on four key economic management dimensions:Angus Reid Institute

As seen in the graph above, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair emerges with the best positioning on all four questions among all respondents. Dissected by segment, the party leaders’ positioning varies, with Conservative leader Stephen Harper the most respected among the “Older Haves”; Mulcair very strongly positioned with both Have-not segments, and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau running second in both camps.

Graphs showing opinion of each leader by segment follow:Angus Reid InstituteAngus Reid InstituteAngus Reid Institute

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey

Shachi Kurl, Senior Vice President: 604.908.1693

Image Credit – KMR Photography/Flickr


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