Could our national leader be: _____? Most in Canada, U.S. say they’d vote for more diverse candidates

by David Korzinski | June 25, 2017 8:00 pm

Respondents in both countries say a woman will probably be elected leader in the next 25 years

June 26, 2017 – Canada and the United States are countries of immigrants. Their electorates are diverse, and include people from different ethnic, cultural, religious, and sexual backgrounds. But the history of each nation includes just one example of the highest office in the land being held by someone other than a white man.

A new, bi-national public opinion poll from the Angus Reid Institute finds Americans and Canadians nearly unanimous in their willingness to vote for a woman for president or prime minister, and similarly enthusiastic about supporting a Jewish or Indigenous candidate.

Fewer than half of all Americans (47%) say they could vote for a Muslim presidential candidate, and respondents in both countries are divided as to whether they could cast a ballot for a candidate who covers his or her head for religious reasons.

There are also significant gaps on both sides of the border, between those who say they could vote for diverse candidates, and those who say the chances of such candidates becoming head of government is probable in the next 25 years.

Key Findings:islamophobia canada




Part 1 – U.S. Findings:

Nearly everyone could vote for a woman; fewer than half for a Muslim

In 2009, Barack Obama broke a 220-year precedent. The United States had seen 43 consecutive presidencies carried out by white men. And while the race barrier was broken then, eight years later, Hillary Clinton came up just short in her attempt to be the first female president of the U.S.

Today, nine-in-ten Americans (90%) say they could vote for a woman for president, and (as will be discussed later in this report) 83 per cent say the U.S. will either “definitely” or “probably” have its first female head of state in the next 25 years.

Other identities Americans find acceptable when considering their willingness to vote for a presidential candidate include Native American, Jewish, and Hispanic. More than eight-in-ten Americans say they could vote for a presidential candidate who identifies as such.

At the other end of the spectrum, roughly half of Americans say could vote for someone who wears a religious head covering, is an atheist, is transgender, or is Muslim, as seen in the graph that follows:

islamophobia canada

Younger people more willing to vote for diverse candidates

Americans under age 35, and especially those under age 25, are more likely to say they could vote for a presidential candidate from each of the identities canvassed in this survey (see comprehensive U.S. tables for greater detail[1]):

islamophobia US

Large partisan gaps drive opinion

An even greater driver of willingness – or unwillingness – to vote for candidates from varying backgrounds? Political partisanship.

Asked about nearly every hypothetical candidate, those who voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election are less willing to cast a ballot for the person in question.

The only potential candidate Trump supporters would be more willing to vote for than Clinton supporters is an evangelical Christian (80% versus 68%), a finding that tracks with the prominent role of evangelicals in the Republican Party base.

By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Clinton supporters (68%) are willing to vote for a Muslim, compared to one-in-four Trump supporters (25%).

Members of the LGBTQ community are also less appealing potential candidates in the eyes of Trump voters, as seen in the following graph:

American candidates

The probability gap: How likely is a president from each of these groups?

There’s a difference, of course, between being able to see oneself voting for a person and believing that person is likely to win an election in the future. It is on this latter issue that notable gaps emerge.

For example, while roughly nine-in-ten (89%) say they could vote for a Native American candidate, significantly fewer think a Native American president is probable (53% do), representing the largest gap in expectations.

The smallest gap? Just six percentage points separate the number of people who say they could vote for an evangelical Christian from the number who say an evangelical president is likely. This small gap is perhaps explained by the fact that current Vice President Mike Pence is an evangelical Christian.

female president

Part 2 – Canadian Findings:

More than half could vote for each type of person on the list

In Canada, the gender barrier at 24 Sussex was broken in the early 1990s, when Kim Campbell was elected leader of the governing Progressive Conservatives and was subsequently sworn in as the country’s first female Prime Minister.

Since Campbell’s short tenure, however, the office has been held exclusively by the same demographic that had always held it before her arrival: white men.

Still, surveyed Canadians are nearly unanimous in saying they could vote for a party led by a woman (96%) or a black person (94%).

Eight-in-ten or more also say they could vote for a party led by someone who is Jewish, Indigenous, gay, lesbian, or atheist, as seen in the following graphs:

black prime minister

Of interest are results regarding acceptability of a Sikh candidate or a candidate who covers his or her head for religious reasons, given Ontario MPP Jagmeet Singh’s entry into the race for national NDP leader. About two-thirds of Canadians (63%) say they would vote for a party led by a Sikh person. Slightly more than half (56%) say they could vote for a man who covers his head for religious reasons, as Singh does.

This finding certainly doesn’t preclude Singh from winning the NDP leadership or even from becoming Canada’s first Sikh (and New Democrat) Prime Minister. That said, it does suggest that he may have a smaller pool of potential voters to draw from.

Then again, that pool of potential voters includes a larger proportion of young people – often cited in profiles of Singh[2] as a key part of his base. It also includes a larger percentage of past NDP voters than past Conservatives, though it is past Liberal voters who identify as most willing to vote for Sikh and head-covering candidates, as seen in the following graph:

Sikh prime minister

Could the PM be monolingual? English Canada says ‘yes,’ Quebec says ‘non

As is the case in the U.S., younger people in Canada tend to be more open to voting for a party led by someone from each of the communities canvassed in this survey – especially religious and sexual minorities (see Canadian comprehensive tables for greater detail[3]).

Unlike in the U.S, there are significant regional differences in Canadians’ willingness to vote for different groups of people. These differences are driven mostly by respondents from Quebec.

Perhaps owing to skepticism toward organized religion[4], Quebecers are more likely than residents of other provinces to say they could vote for an atheist, and are less likely to say they could vote for each other religious group canvassed.

Visible religious symbols have long been a source of contention[5] in Quebec, which perhaps explains why two-in-three say they could not support a party led by a person who wears a religious head-covering:

Canada religion

Quebec is also an outlier on the question of whether Canadians could vote to have a Prime Minister who does not speak both of the country’s official languages. While predominantly English-speaking regions say they could support such a candidate by substantial margins, just three-in-ten Quebecers (30%) say the same:

Bilingual Prime Minister

In theory, Quebec’s opposition to a monolingual Prime Minister wouldn’t necessarily preclude someone who speaks only English from being elected to the office. In practice, however, it’s rare for federal political parties to form government without winning at least a few of Quebec’s 78 seats in Parliament. A party putting forward a monolingual leader would risk its electoral fortunes among the second-largest collection of available seats, and thus have considerably less margin for error the rest of the country.

Most Canadians say a gay PM is ‘probable’ in the next 25 years

When asked to consider the likelihood of a Prime Minister from each of the groups canvassed in this survey, Canadians are bullish about the prospects of several identities. More than three-quarters (78%) say there will definitely (28%) or probably (49%) be a black PM in the next quarter-century.

Likewise, some seven-in-ten (71%) see a gay man as likely to become PM – a development that would see Canada join the small handful of countries, including Ireland[6] as of earlier this month, to have a gay leader.

Similarly, large numbers of Canadians anticipate a Jewish, lesbian, or atheist leader. Notably, the percentage who expect each is higher than the perceived probability of an evangelical Christian leading Canada’s government, as seen in the following graph:

Canada poll

Fewer than four-in-ten (37%) say there will probably or definitely be a Sikh PM in the next 25 years, and similar numbers anticipate a Prime Minister who covers his or her head for religious reasons.

These responses may come as a surprise to some, given the prominent roles Sikh politicians have held in federal and provincial governments in Canada over the years. A turban-wearing Sikh – Harjit Sajjan – currently serves as minister of defence, one of four Sikhs in the Trudeau government’s cabinet. For comparison, there are currently only six[7] gay members of Parliament (five gay men and one lesbian), and only one – Treasury Board President Scott Brison – holds a cabinet position.

The 26-point gap between the number of people who say they could vote for a party led by a Sikh and the number who actually expect such a party to come to power is one of the largest probability gaps seen in the survey. The only larger gaps are for the prospect of a transgender (33 points) or Indigenous (29 points) PM.

Part 3 – Cross-Border Comparisons:

Canadians much more willing to vote for atheists, members of the LGBTQ community

In order to reflect the histories and demographic make-up of the U.S. and Canada, respondents in each country were given a slightly different list of groups to consider. That said, there were several questions on which comparable data may be drawn.

Canadians and Americans are roughly equal in their willingness to vote for a candidate who is a woman or Jewish, and roughly equal in their hesitation about voting for a candidate who wears a religious head-covering. They disagree substantially on voting for candidates from the LGBTQ community and atheists, with Canadians more willing to cast a ballot for a candidate belonging to each of these identities:

gay prime minister

Many of these same differences between countries can be seen in the perceived probability of a national leader from each of the groups. Americans are slightly more likely than Canadians to expect an evangelical leader, and significantly less likely to anticipate an atheist, a gay man, or a lesbian:

Indigenous prime minister

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.


Click here for the full report including tables and methodology[8]

For detailed Canadian results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here[9].

For detailed U.S. results by these and other demographics, click here[10].

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey[11]

Image – Andy Tyler/Unsplash


Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693[12] @shachikurl

  1. see comprehensive U.S. tables for greater detail:
  2. cited in profiles of Singh:
  3. see Canadian comprehensive tables for greater detail:
  4. skepticism toward organized religion:
  5. a source of contention:
  6. including Ireland:
  7. only six:
  8. Click here for the full report including tables and methodology:
  9. click here:
  10. click here:
  11. Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey:

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