MPs debate ISIS combat role with polls suggesting broad support

As MPs prepare for today's debate on Canada's role in the fight against ISIS, polls suggests a majority of Canadians are supportive of the country joining the United States and its coalition partners in a combat mission. Poll analyst Éric Grenier looks at the numbers.

Recent polls show a majority of Canadians favour of limited combat role - but not without concerns

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had the vocal support of his caucus following his speech Friday supporting his government's motion to join a combat mission against ISIS. Polls suggest most Canadians also support a limited combat role. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

While MPs debate what kind of role Canada should play in the fight against ISIS, polls suggests a majority of Canadians are supportive of the country joining the United States and its coalition partners in a combat mission against the Islamic militants.

The polls also suggest a majority consider the fighters known as ISIS to be a direct or serious threat to Canada's interests.

The government's motion to contribute CF-18 fighter jets, support aircraft and personnel to the U.S.-led coalition for up to six months will be debated in the House of Commons Monday. CBC News has confirmed that a military advance team has already departed.

The most recent poll numbers, from an Ipsos Reid poll for Global News on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, found 64 per cent of Canadians were somewhat or strongly supportive of a Canadian participation that included air strikes. The remaining 36 per cent were opposed, but just 16 per cent strongly — compared to 29 per cent who strongly supported a more intense role.

This is in line with what other surveys have shown over the last month. Polls conducted in the first half of September showed a majority supportive of Canada sending military advisers to Iraq in an initial 30-day mission the government is extending.

That support for a limited role carried over to a more involved participation as well:

  • An Abacus Data poll of Sept. 12-14 put support for sending fighter jets to Iraq at 52 per cent, with 34 per cent in opposition. That same poll found 61 per cent of respondents saw ISIS as a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" threat to Canada's interests.
  • A later poll by Angus Reid Global, conducted Sept. 17-19, put opposition to any involvement by Canada in Iraq at just 23 per cent. When given the choice, 38 per cent supported sending military advisers and 28 per cent were in favour of a role that could include military intervention.

The poll results are not without indications of misgivings. A Nanos Research poll for CTV News found 77 per cent of Canadians agreed that sending soldiers to Iraq could lead Canada into a prolonged conflict.

But, while Conservative supporters are more likely to be in favour of a robust role for Canada in the fight against ISIS, the polls suggest that Liberal and NDP voters are also broadly supportive.

In the surveys by Abacus Data and Angus Reid Global, fewer Liberals and New Democrats opposed a combat role of some kind than those who were in favour of one. It suggests both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair could find themselves offside with party supporters in their opposition to the mission.

A return to the Middle East — for how long?

However, if Canada's involvement against ISIS does indeed become prolonged, support could dwindle.

Support was similarly high for Canadian involvement in Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001. Polls by EKOS Research at the time showed between 57 and 66 per cent of Canadians supporting participation in military retaliation, with just 14 to 20 per cent opposed. An Ipsos Reid poll from January, 2002 put support for a combat mission in Afghanistan at 66 per cent.

By mid-2002, EKOS was recording a drop in support for military retaliation. By early 2006, Ipsos Reid showed the country split over whether Canada should still be playing a significant role in Afghanistan, with 48 per cent wanting the troops to be brought home immediately. Canada's combat role would not end for another five years.

The decision to send members of the Canadian Armed Forces into the Middle East is not one taken lightly, and it is a decision that could have long-term consequences. Nevertheless, Canadians seem willing to play their part in the fight against ISIS — for the time being, at least.

The poll by Ipsos Reid was conducted for Global News between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, interviewing 1,003 online panellists. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Respondents were asked "As you may know, the United States and some of its allies have begun military airstrikes against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) targets in Iraq. ISIL is the radical terrorist organization behind violence, including the beheading of hostages, in Iraq and Syria. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Government of Canada are currently deciding whether the Canadian Forces should join the allied coalition and participate in these airstrikes. Would you support or oppose Canada joining this mission, and sending Canadian Forces fighter jets to participate in airstrikes against ISIL targets in Iraq?"

The poll by Angus Reid Global was conducted between Sept. 17 and 19, interviewing 1,502 online panellists. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Respondents were asked "Canada is sending military advisers to provide guidance to forces battling the Islamic State. What best describes your opinion of Canada's involvement?"

The poll by Nanos Research was conducted for CTV News between Sept. 13 and 16, interviewing 1,000 Canadians via telephone. The margin of error associated with the survey was +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked "Thinking about Canada's foreign policy, do you agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or disagree with the following: I am concerned that sending Canadian soldiers to Iraq to help Iraq fight Isis could lead Canada into a prolonged conflict?"

The poll by Abacus Data was conducted between Sept. 12 and 14, interviewing 1,075 online panelists. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply. Respondents were asked "As you may know, a group of Sunni insurgents called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, has taken control of parts of Iraq and Syria. How much, if at all, do you see ISIS as a threat to the interests of Canada?" and "Do you support or oppose sending Canadian special forces to serve as military advisers to Kurdish forces who are fighting in Iraq to stop ISIS?" and "Would you support or oppose Canada sending Canadian jet fighters to Iraq to help support American efforts to defeat ISIS?"

The poll by Forum Research was conducted Sept. 5, interviewing 1,267 Canadians via interactive voice response. Forum claims a margin of error of +/- 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked "Prime Minister Harper just announced that Canada will send about 100 troops to Iraq to act as military advisers in the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. Do you approve or disapprove of this decision?" and "Do you agree or disagree ISIS is a direct threat to Canada?"


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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