ISIS mission has support of Canadians, polls suggest

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has proposed an extension and expansion of the mission against ISIS. Canadians were on board with an extension. Will they back him on its expansion?

As parliamentarians debate whether Canada should extend mission, Canadians appear to side with mission

Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced a motion in the House of Commons Tuesday to extend Canada's involvement in the fight against ISIS. Public opinion polls suggest a majority of Canadians support the military mission. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canadians remain broadly supportive of the country's military mission against ISIS, polls suggest, as the Conservative government proposes to extend and expand Canada's involvement in northern Iraq and now, Syria. 

Three recent polls suggest that support for the mission itself is high. According to an Ipsos Reid survey for Global News, 74 per cent of Canadians agreed with the deployment of fighter jets in Iraq for use in airstrikes against ISIS, while 26 per cent disagreed.

A majority of respondents, or 54 per cent, told the Angus Reid Institute in a recent poll that they supported the mission as a whole. While that is a much lower number than the findings of Ipsos Reid, this poll allowed respondents to answer that they were not sure how they felt. Opposition to the mission stood at a similar level as in the Ipsos Reid poll, at 28 per cent.

Splitting the difference between the two was a poll by EKOS Research for iPolitics, which found support for the mission at 60 per cent. Opposition was slightly higher, at 33 per cent.

But while these polls suggest that a majority of Canadians support the mission, opinion is more mixed on whether the military deployment should be extended.

According to the Ipsos Reid poll, support for an extension was still wide, but at 66 per cent was lower than support for the mission itself.

The Angus Reid Institute survey suggested that support for extension to be about as great as for the mission, at 56 per cent, but opposition was significantly higher. Fully 44 per cent were opposed to its extension. EKOS reported a similarly smaller margin, at 54 per cent supporting an extension and 38 per cent opposing it.

Interestingly, in its questioning both the Angus Reid Institute and EKOS assumed that the extension would last just six months, rather than the yearlong extension the government is proposing. Whether or not that would increase Canadians' opposition is difficult to say.

It is also impossible to determine whether Canadians will prove supportive of expanding the mission from Iraq into Syria. None of these polls specifically put that question to Canadians.

Support for mission holds firm

Support for the mission has not shifted since its launch last fall, despite the resilience of ISIS, the fire exchanged by Canadian advisers with ISIS fighters on the ground on multiple occasions, and the death of a Canadian soldier in a friendly-fire incident. 

The most recent poll by Ipsos Reid suggested no significant change in support since a poll conducted in February, before the death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron, and actually recorded an increase in support since it first polled on the topic in October.

EKOS Research has also noted an uptick in support in its most recent poll, though it suggested support to be holding steady between November and February.

Conservative voters supportive

The political questions surrounding the extension and expansion of the mission appear to be favourable to the Conservatives. Polls suggest their supporters are lock-step behind the prime minister.

Ipsos Reid put support for an extension at 86 per cent among Conservative voters, whereas Angus Reid had it at 78 per cent among Canadians who voted for the party in 2011.

However, the issue is more complicated for the Conservatives if they are hoping for a breakthrough in Quebec. Opposition to the mission is highest in the province. A majority of Quebecers told Angus Reid that they were against an extension of the mission.

The matter is also complicated for the Liberals and New Democrats. 

Both parties will be voting against the government's motion on the extension, yet Ipsos Reid suggests that a majority of their supporters are in favour of it (two-thirds in the case of the Liberals).

The waters are a little muddier in the Angus Reid and EKOS polls, which suggested lower, though still significant, levels of support among Liberals and New Democrats.

But will the military mission in the Middle East be a deciding factor in this year's federal election?

Angus Reid asked this question in its latest survey, and found that just 16 per cent of Canadians said it would be a deciding factor. The firm provided a scale from one to 10 on its importance, with 10 being the most important and one being the least, and the majority put it in a range of four to seven.

There were no significant differences between supporters of any of the parties, suggesting that there may be little to gain in any of the positions taken by the three leaders. However, the poll did show that people opposed to the mission were more likely to consider it a deciding factor than those in support of it.

So Stephen Harper's government is safely on the right side of public opinion on this issue, for now. But the election is scheduled for October, and seven months is an eternity in politics. It is even longer in war.

The poll by Ipsos Reid was conducted for Global News between March 16 and 19, 2015, interviewing 1,004 Canadians via the Internet. As the poll was done online, a margin of error does not apply. See here for full details and question wording.

The poll by the Angus Reid Institute was conducted between March 11 and 12, 2015, interviewing 1,500 Canadians via the Internet. As the poll was done online, a margin of error does not apply. See here for full details and question wording.

The poll by EKOS Research was conducted for iPolitics between March 4 and 10, 2015, interviewing 2,950 Canadians via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the poll is +/- 1.8 per cent, 19 times out of 20. See here for full details and question wording.


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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