Canadians want more to be done to help refugees, polls suggest

Canadians are open to accepting more refugees into the country and doing more to help them. But there is an important difference of opinion between Conservative supporters and those of the Liberals and NDP. Poll analyst

But Conservative supporters are far less supportive of helping refugees than Liberal and NDP voters

Migrants and refugees arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece, on Tuesday. (Petros Giannakouris/Associated Press)

Canadians want more to be done about the refugee crisis and are willing to take in a substantially larger number of refugees than the country is currently admitting, polls suggest.

These surveys also hint at what's behind the different approaches toward the issue the three main party leaders are taking: Conservative supporters are far less likely than their Liberal and NDP counterparts to welcome more refugees with open arms.

Polls by the Angus Reid Institute and Mainstreet Research, both published over the last week, provide a glimpse of where Canadians stand on the crisis. Just over three-quarters of respondents to the Angus Reid poll agreed that "most of these people are genuine refugees whose lives are in danger."

Mainstreet found that the population was split on whether it was the Islamic State or the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad that was most responsible for the crisis, but 70 per cent told Angus Reid that the issue, whoever was causing it, is a global problem in which Canada has a role to play. 

It seems that Canadians are not pleased with the role Canada has played so far. In the Mainstreet poll, only 35 per cent approved of the government's response to the crisis, while 48 per cent disapproved. Just 25 per cent thought that Canada is doing its fair share.

There is broad agreement that Canada should do more, but the polls are less clear on what exactly Canadians want to do. According to Angus Reid, 54 per cent agree that more refugees should be allowed into the country, and 63 per cent believe that individuals and groups should sponsor more migrants. 

This aligns with the responses garnered by CBC's Vote Compass, which found that 60 per cent of people who participated in the voter engagement survey strongly or somewhat agreed that Canada should take in more refugees from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

But how many more? Angus Reid polling suggests differing views. Fully 16 per cent said that Canada should sponsor and resettle no refugees, while another 21 per cent supported allowing in 5,000 or fewer over the next year. But 25 per cent were willing to allow between 5,000 and 10,000, while 38 per cent supported sponsoring and resettling over 10,000. 

Mainstreet found support for 10,000 or fewer brought in over an undetermined amount of time at 13 per cent, while 24 per cent envisioned bringing in between 10,000 and 30,000. Almost half of respondents, or 48 per cent, supported settling over 30,000 refugees.

Canadians also appear to be split on the kind of contribution the country could best provide. Mainstreet found that 31 per cent thought resettling refugees was Canada's best way to contribute, while 27 per cent supported humanitarian aid. Just 18 per cent thought military force was the best solution.

Conservatives see things differently

There is a marked difference between the views of Conservative supporters and those of the NDP and Liberals. It might partly explain the Conservatives' more restrained approach to the crisis.

A girl cries as she waits on a bus which will transport her family to the metro station, after their arrival from the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos to the Athens' port of Piraeus on Tuesday. (Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

If "boatloads of migrants began arriving on Canada's coasts," Angus Reid found that 60 per cent of Conservative supporters said that Canada should not be welcoming to them, whereas 65 per cent of Liberal and NDP voters said that Canada should take a welcoming approach.

Conservatives were also more than twice as likely as Liberals and New Democrats to think that "many of these [refugees] are bogus," according to Angus Reid. They were half as likely to want to bring in more than 10,000 refugees over the next year, and a majority were against increasing the number to 20,000.

The Conservatives may thus be playing to their base with their refugee policies. But considering the wide support a larger response has within the population, the party may also be limiting its prospects with its position. And as the party is in third place in the polls, it needs to make gains. But is this a ballot box issue for Canadians?

Although about two-thirds of Canadians say they are following the news surrounding the crisis, only about one-third say they are following it very closely.

It is difficult to determine, then, just how much of an influence the crisis is likely to have on the election campaign. But the numbers do not look good for Stephen Harper: in the Mainstreet poll, he trailed both Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau on who Canadians thought would be the best leader to address the crisis. If it does have an effect on the campaign, it is unlikely to help turn around the Conservatives' sinking support levels.

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted on Sept. 3, interviewing 1,447 Canadians via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. See here for full tabulations and questionnaire.

The poll by Mainstreet Research was conducted for Postmedia between Sept. 4 and 6, interviewing 2,506 Canadians via interactive voice response. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus two per cent, 19 times out of 20.See here for full tabulations and questionnaire.

Developed by a team of social and statistical scientists from Vox Pop Labs, Vote Compass is a civic engagement application offered in Canada exclusively by CBC News. The findings are based on 9,336 respondents who participated in Vote Compass from September 3 to September 4, 2015. Unlike online opinion polls, respondents to Vote Compass are not pre-selected. Similar to opinion polls, however, the data are a non-random sample from the population and have been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample. Vote Compass data have been weighted by geography, gender, age, educational attainment, occupation, religion, religiosity, and civic engagement to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to census data and other population estimates.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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