Liberals won over Muslims by huge margin in 2015, poll suggests

A new survey suggests that the vast majority of Muslim Canadians voted for the Liberals in the last election, turning their backs on the Conservatives and helping secure a majority government for Justin Trudeau.

Muslim Canadians support right to wear niqab at citizenship ceremonies, oppose Bill C-51

Justin Trudeau's Liberals won at least two-thirds of the Muslim vote in the 2015 federal election, up significantly from 2011. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Muslim Canadians voted overwhelmingly for the Liberal Party in last year's election, helping Justin Trudeau secure the majority government that nine out of 10 of Muslims believe will help improve relations between themselves and other Canadians, according to a new survey.

The poll of Muslim Canadians also found widespread support for the right to wear a niqab during a citizenship ceremony and a large degree of opposition to the anti-terrorism legislation known as Bill C-51, two hot-button issues that may have cost the Conservatives dearly in the last federal election.

The Environics Institute polled 600 Muslim Canadians between November 2015 and January 2016, asking a number of questions related to identity and religious issues, in addition to more politically themed questions.

Of those who said they had voted in the 2015 federal election, 65 per cent reported voting for the Liberals, with 10 per cent saying they voted for the New Democrats and just two per cent for the Conservatives.

Another 19 per cent of Muslim respondents refused to say how they had voted.

The Liberals did particularly well among Muslims in Quebec and those who are Canadian born. The NDP did slightly better among younger Muslims than it did among older Muslims.

These numbers mark a shift away from the NDP and Conservatives compared with 2011. An Ipsos Reid exit poll of voters in 2011 found that 46 per cent of Muslim Canadians had voted for the Liberals, with 38 per cent having cast a ballot for the NDP and 12 per cent for the Conservatives.

Though the 19 per cent of non-responders leaves some degree of uncertainty, it seems likely that in 2015 the Conservatives lost a significant proportion of the Muslim voters they had in 2011.

With the niqab debate, legislation that would strip citizenship from dual citizens convicted of terrorism, and the "barbaric cultural practices" tip line, the campaign was one in which many Muslim Canadians felt targeted by the Conservatives.

Perhaps not coincidentally, then, 90 per cent of Muslim Canadians report being optimistic that the new Liberal majority government under Justin Trudeau will improve relations between Muslims and other Canadians. Just three per cent were pessimistic.

The Pollcast: What is it like to be a Muslim in Canada?

Pollcast host Éric Grenier is joined by Keith Neuman, executive director of the Environics Institute, to discuss the findings of his survey of Muslim Canadians. You can subscribe to the podcast here.

The Environics Institute for Survey Research set out to find out more about Muslims living in Canada. Executive Director Keith Neuman joins us.

Citizenship ceremonies and the niqab

The debate over whether Muslims had the right to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies was one of the turning points of the federal election campaign.

It remains a divisive issue. The complementary poll of non-Muslim Canadians conducted by Environics found that 50 per cent believed Muslims should have the right to wear the niqab at these ceremonies, while 45 per cent disagreed.

In Quebec, the margin was 29 per cent in favour and 66 per cent against.

Among Muslim Canadians, however, 60 per cent believed that Muslims should have the right to wear the niqab, with only 24 per cent disagreeing.

Support was highest among young Muslims (75 per cent) and those born in Canada (71 per cent). Muslims in Quebec, however, were most likely to disagree (37 per cent), though a plurality still agreed that Muslims should have the right to wear the niqab at these ceremonies.

Two-thirds of Muslims also agreed that they should have the right to wear the niqab while receiving public services, compared with 21 per cent who disagreed.

Negative views on Bill C-51

​The anti-terrorism legislation introduced by the Conservatives and known as Bill C-51 was opposed by the New Democrats during the election campaign, while the Liberals promised to amend it. Muslim Canadians, however, largely feel it goes too far.

Nearly half, or 48 per cent, of Muslim Canadians said that Bill C-51 infringes too much upon the civil rights of ordinary Canadians, while just 17 per cent said it provides the government with the appropriate level of power and authority to counter terrorist activities in Canada.

One-third of respondents were either unfamiliar with Bill C-51 or were not sure.

Canadian-born Muslims and those who have been here the longest were most opposed to the bill.

More broadly, 57 per cent of Muslims agreed that government agencies like the RCMP and CSIS have "about the right amount of power" to protect Canadians, while 17 per cent thought they had too much power. Only four per cent thought they had too little power.

Nevertheless, 79 per cent of Muslim Canadians said it was very important for Canadian Muslim communities to work actively with government agencies to address radicalization. Another nine per cent thought it was somewhat important, while just five per cent thought it was not very or not at all important.

The survey by the Environics Institute, done in partnership with the Tessellate Institute, the Olive Tree Foundation, the Inspirit Foundation, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and Think for Actions, interviewed 600 adult Muslim Canadians in English, French, Urdu and Arabic between Nov. 19, 2015, and Jan. 23, 2016, by telephone. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

A survey of 987 adult non-Muslim Canadians was also completed between Feb. 6 and 15, 2016, by telephone. A probabilistic sample of this size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.


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.