By Greg MacNeil
Welcome to Beyond the Numbers, an exclusive look into research on important issues in federal politics that ENsight Canada has undertaken over the course of the past several months.
In recent days, the Conservative campaign has put a great deal of emphasis on combatting terrorism at home and abroad. On Sunday, the government announced a travel ban to places in the world with known links to terrorist organizations. Harper had strong words for his opponents, claiming that they were soft on the issue. Opposition parties have suggested that this renewed focus was just “political posturing” to help shore up the Conservative base. The incumbent Conservatives maintain that this is a principled position. Regardless of the sincerity of the government’s announcement, there is empirical evidence to suggest that it will indeed motivate Conservative voters.
ENsight has been tracking public support for the Conservative Party’s Bill C-51 and the mission against ISIS since April of this year. While public support for C-51 has dropped significantly since April, support amongst Conservative voters has remained high. In the most recent wave, ENsight asked Canadians how much of a priority ensuring domestic security and anti-terrorism measures should be.
The controversial bill passed earlier this year has garnered much attention over the last few months. When ENsight first asked Canadians about whether or not they supported the new law, half (52%) said they supported the measure. In fact fully one quarter (26%) said they strongly supported it. Today that level of total support sits at 45%, with 19% who say they strongly support the law.
In April, even amongst NDP voters support for the bill was relatively high, with 39% saying that they supported the bill and 42% saying that they opposed it. Today that number has not changed significantly. As of last week, support for the bill amongst NDP voters was at 33% with opposition at 46%.
Conservatives, on the other hand, were far more supportive of the bill, with 78% saying they supported it and only 11% opposing. Since April, Conservative voters have remained strongly supportive of the new law. Today, amongst Conservative voters, total support for the bill is at 75%. In fact, the proportion of Conservatives that strongly support (40%) the law is as high or higher than the total support for the bill amongst Liberal voters (40%) and NDP voters (33%).
While overall support for the mission has eroded since April, a majority of Conservative (63%) voters remain supportive. A minority of NDP (27%) and Liberal (34%) voters remain supportive of the mission today. Liberal support for the mission has remained static, while NDP support has dropped (by 11 points).
Ensuring domestic security and anti-terrorism measures here at home
An overwhelming majority of Canadians believe that the federal government should make ensuring domestic security and anti-terrorism measures here at home a priority (71%). This is a widely held opinion across partisan lines, but is especially true for Conservatives. A sizable majority of NDP voters (65%), Liberal voters (73%), and Conservative voters (83%) hold this view. Amongst Conservative voters, a full 45% believe that it should be an urgent priority.
If the Conservative strategy is to rally the base in the first few weeks of the campaign, talking about security and anti-terrorism is an effective way to do so. The issue is of high importance to the general public, but is especially high for Conservative voters. By marrying the ISIS Mission to C-51, Harper has created a wedge issue that is relevant in a domestic and foreign policy context. This affords him more opportunities to appeal to his core constituents, while attracting new support amongst undecideds and soft supporters of the opposition parties.
Further, many believe that Canada is currently in economic recession – a fact that is not lost on both opposition parties. Many of the harshest criticisms levelled at the Conservative Party since the beginning of the campaign have been about the economy. Speaking about terrorism abroad and at home allows the Prime Minister to pivot from a potentially weak subject area for him, like the economy, to a relative position of strength.