Vote Compass: What we've learned so far
Canadians often (and rightly) lament the short shrift given to issues during our election campaigns. These contests don't always focus on the issues that divide us, much less the ones on which there's a broad consensus. Instead, the focus is on leaders, scandals, personality, and the 'horse race.'
Vote Compass is helping to change this by giving voters a tool to consider their own views and understand the positions of the parties.
Guess what? Canadians have embraced Vote Compass in staggering numbers (more than 1.5 million responses).
Now the Vote Compass team — composed of academics and graduate students from the University of Toronto, and overseen by an advisory board of eminent Canadian political scientists — is looking for trends that illustrate what respondents think about the 30 issues we asked you about.
We'll be releasing a large amount of data after the election. But already, some fascinating trends have emerged. Before diving in, I'd like to outline how we've analyzed what you told us.
Not a poll
Vote Compass is not a poll or — more correctly — a representative sample of Canadians. That means we can't generalize our data and assume it reflects the whole population.
Peter Loewen is director of analytics for Vote Compass Canada. He is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto. He has done research for both Liberal and Conservative candidates.
However, more than 40 per cent of respondents have been generous enough to answer additional questions telling us about their key demographic characteristics (such as age and gender) and for whom they intend to vote. (Of course, we make sure to protect your privacy by keeping it all anonymous.)
By making comparisons between groups of respondents, we can understand how different political preferences are related to these respondents' views on the issues.
For example, we can compare opinions on the gun registry among those who intend to vote Liberal or Conservative to see how supporters of these two parties differ on this important issue.
In the same way, we can look at how young respondents compare with older respondents when giving their opinions on euthanasia, same-sex marriage or corporate taxes.
Are these respondents always representative of all Canadians? Probably not. But we do think that the differences and similarities between groups should mirror those trends in the Canadian population.
By examining the data in this way, we have learned a lot about Canadian politics and especially this election.
What we've seen
Take immigration, for example. Our Vote Compass data tells us that supporters of all five parties are generally comfortable with the status quo of Canada's current (and comparatively high) immigration numbers.
However, there's less support across the board for further accommodation of religious minorities, especially among respondents who intend to vote for the Conservatives or the Bloc.
And when asked whether speaking English or French should be a requirement for immigrating to Canada, the most popular response among supporters of all parties was "strongly agree."
Canada has a well-earned image as a country open to immigration, but responses to these last two questions suggest that under the surface is a strong feeling — among supporters of every party — that our immigration and multiculturalism policy should change.
We have also learned that the so-called two solitudes may continue to exist in Canada.
Across the entire range of issues, we find persistent differences in the political opinions of respondents from Quebec and the rest of Canada.
National unity may not be front and centre in this election, but the reality remains that Quebecers view the political world differently than Canadians outside of Quebec. This is no small matter, especially if questions of national unity and accommodation reappear on the national agenda.
Finally, the Vote Compass data help us identify issues in which the views of our respondents match up with none of the parties. Euthanasia is the most startling case.
The NDP, Liberals and Conservatives are officially neutral on this issue, while the Greens and the Bloc register mild agreement with the statement "If they so wish, terminally ill patients should be able to end their own lives with medical assistance."
Despite this, a clear majority of our respondents — regardless of which party they plan to vote for — strongly agree with the rights of individuals to end their own lives.
This is an issue that is getting scant attention. Nonetheless, it appears that Canadian political parties have some room to move to accommodate the views of Canadians of all political stripes.