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Atlantic Canadians becoming more politically engaged: Dal study


Demonstrators take part in the Extinction Rebellion rally on April 15, 2019. A recent survey sugests Atlantic Canadians are becoming increasingly politically engaged and progressive. - Tim Krochak
Demonstrators take part in the Extinction Rebellion rally on April 15, 2019. A recent survey sugests Atlantic Canadians are becoming increasingly politically engaged and progressive. - Tim Krochak

Atlantic Canadians’ political views are shifting as they become more engaged, a new survey has shown — but they’re not embracing the kind of polarizing views that seem to be spreading throughout other parts of the world.

A new study from Dalhousie University, part of its “Researchers for the Perceptions of Change Project,” asked 1,072 Atlantic Canadians about their participation in political life, their opinions on current issues in Canadian politics, and their perceptions of political change in recent years.

And according to Howard Ramos, a political sociologist at Dalhousie and principal investigator for the project, the survey yielded some interesting results that shed some light on how the region is feeling ahead of the upcoming federal election.

For starters, the survey found that Atlantic Canadians are becoming more politically engaged. 

Seventeen per cent of participants said their involvement in political activities had increased in the last few years, 48 per cent said they discuss political and social issues more frequently, and 44 per cent of participants in the survey said they would be open to protesting in the future.

“This is really showing that Atlantic Canadians are paying attention to what's going on in terms of the political scene, and should ... hopefully translate to solid voting rates in the next election,” Ramos said.

When it came to assessing their own opinions, 65 per cent of respondents said their views had changed “somewhat” or “a lot,” over the last few years, however, the survey also found the region’s traditional red Tory beliefs still quite prevalent.

“Some of the most interesting findings of the survey is that progressive conservatism is still alive in Atlantic Canada,” Ramos said.

For example, 63 per cent of Atlantic Canadians surveyed said they believe in balanced budgets but, at the same time, 85 per cent agree or strongly agree that it’s the responsibility of government to provide affordable food, shelter, heat and healthcare.

“What becomes interesting about a finding like that is Atlantic Canadians show that they have economic responsibility, which is usually associated with conservative politics, but at the same time a big majority of Atlantic Canadians see a role for government in providing the needs of people which is usually associated with more progressive politics.”

Additionally, the study found most participants expressed “high levels of openness to diversity and positive attitudes toward immigration” — three-quarters of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that immigrants bring vital skills and resources that benefit the Canadian economy.

Climate change was another concern shared by a large majority of participants: 75 per cent viewed it as one of the most significant threats facing Canada today, and 79 per cent agreed or strongly agreed that they would support stronger governmental regulation of corporate environmental practices. 

Surprisingly, the survey also found those 65 and older were actually more progressive on economic issues and government spending than younger people. For example, 75 per cent of participants 65 and older agreed or strongly agreed that the minimum wage should be raised, compared to 63 per cent of those 18 to 34. At the same time, younger people were more progressive on issues surrounding cultural diversity than older participants, and younger respondents were more likely to express optimism over the direction of Canadian society.

“The assumption that older people are more conservative doesn’t hold weight in Atlantic Canada,” Ramos said.

Ramos said politicians ought to take note of where the majority of the region sits in terms of issues of economics, social and cultural diversity, and the environment when looking to win votes.

“I think it’s important for any party that wants to succeed in Atlantic Canada to realize that the politics of polarization are not the politics that are going to win them clear majorities,” he said.

The survey has a 95 per cent confidence level and a sampling error of 0.025.

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