The AmericasBarometer is a 29 country public opinion survey on democracy, governance and civic engagement, conducted every two to three years by a consortium of of research partners across the western hemisphere.
The Environics Institute has been the Canadian partner on this research program since 2012, and is now releasing the results of the 2017 survey, which focuses on the following themes:
- Attitudes about democracy
- Confidence in the political system
- Confidence in the justice system and the protection of human rights
- Tolerance for political dissent
- Confidence in the national economy and household finances
The Canadian survey was conducted online in English and French with a representative sample of 1,511 Canadians (aged 18 plus) between March 24 and April 4, 2017. The sample was weighted by region, age and gender to match the country's population.
The final report presents the results for Canada, as well as selected comparisons with results from 28 other countries spanning the hemisphere.
Canadians' level of confidence in their country's democracy, political system and central institutions hsa changed very little over the past three years, and continues a stable trend dating back to 2010. On most measures public opinion has either not changed or improved modestly since 2014.
As before, Canadians are generally positive about their system of government and democracy, with a more mixed assessment of the central institutions of government.
The public continues to express the most trust in the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCMP and Supreme Court, and much less so when it comes to the political system (e.g, Parliament, political parties) and the mass media.
The change in government in Ottawa since 2014 (and its change in "tone") appears to have had a positive effect in improving public confidence in the Prime Minister and in how elections are run. Opinions between Canadians on the left and those on the right along the political spectrum are now less polarized than three years ago.
There is no evidence of growth in anti-government or populist sentiment among Canadians over the past three years. However, the public's commitment to democracy as the only form of government has weakened a bit over this period.
Canadians’ faith in the country’s democracy is further reflected in a sustained belief in the importance of free speech and tolerance of political dissent. Public confidence in the protection of human rights, including the right to a fair trial, has held steady for most of the past decade.
The stable or improving results may in part reflect improved confidence in both the national economy and ones' own household circumstances, in both bases now stronger than in 2014.
Income inequality remains an issue for most Canadians, but it is not manifested in a growing divide in confidence about economic conditions or the country's democracy and central institutions. Canadians at the lower end of the socio-economic ladder mirror the national average in terms of showing stable or improving opinions about the topics covered in the survey. There is no evidence of a growing segment of the population feeling economically or politically alienated .
How Canada compares with the Americas
Canada has long been considered a benchmark for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean because of its well-established democratic system, stable institutions and track record of good governance. Canada’s position has become even more relevant in the past few years as the United States (and several other western democracies) undergoes unprecedented political turbulence and polarization.
As recorded in previous AmericasBarometer surveys over the past decade, Canadians’ continue to be among the most positive in the hemisphere about their democratic system of government. This is most evident when it comes to satisfaction with how their democracy is working, belief in their leaders paying attention to citizens, confidence in elections, and the protection of basic rights. Canadians also continue to have the highest level of social trust in others.
The trend in other countries across the hemisphere since 2014 are mixed. In some areas public confidence has held steady or improved, although there are notable declines on some measures most notably in Mexico and some South American countries (e.g., Brazil, Venezuela). There is wide variation within regions, and countries such as Guyana and Uruguay continue to stand out in terms of strong public confidence in their democracy and institutions.
How Canada compares with the USA
The USA has been undergoing an especially turbulent period in its political history, with growing polarization, emerging anti-government sentiments, and rising nationalism; culminating in the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016. These trends have yet to translate into a significant shift in Americans’ confidence in their country’s democracy and institutions, although some impact is evident.
On many of the measures included on this year’s survey, US public opinion has not changed noticeably, and in some cases is comparable to Canadian opinion. Americans’ overall satisfaction with how their democracy is working is well below that of Canadians (50% of Americans are satisfied, versus 79% among Canadians), but is down only three percentage points from 2014.
What has changed over the past three years is a significant decline in Americans’ confidence in their President, trust in their political parties, and pride in their nationality. Americans ‘ trust in their legislature (at 6%) is now tied with Chile for the lowest in the hemisphere.
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Stay tuned for the next AmericasBarometer survey, which is scheduled to be conducted early in 2019.
Keywords: democracy/governance, confidence in political institutions, political engagement, quality of life, life satisfaction, economic/financial circumstances, economic confidence, Americas/western hemisphere, crime/community safety, social equity/income inequality, human rights, politics, populism, religion, social capital/trust
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