The future of the Liberal Party may be in question, but liberalism itself appears to be alive and well in Canada.
A poll conducted by EKOS Research for iPolitics at the end of November -- part of a larger series of polls investigating various issues -- suggests twice as many Canadians self-identify as liberal than conservative, in the ideological sense of the words.
Small-l liberals account for 48 per cent of the population according to the poll, with 25 per cent identifying themselves as conservatives. Another 22 per cent said they were neither liberal nor conservative.
If these numbers represent the bases of support the Conservatives and centre-left opposition parties can count on, it would appear the Liberals and New Democrats are not attracting centrist voters. In the 2011 election, the Liberals and NDP combined for 50 per cent support -- barely above the 48 per cent in the poll who said they hold liberal views. Conversely, the Conservatives took 40 per cent of the vote, punching well above their weight.
The poll shows liberalism is relatively ubiquitous throughout the country: In Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and the Prairie provinces, between 45 and 49 per cent of respondents said they were liberal. The outliers were British Columbia (56 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (41 per cent).
There was a little more variation when it came to conservatism. Ontario, Atlantic Canada and the Prairie provinces were about 30 per cent conservative, with that number dropping to 24 per cent in British Columbia and increasing to 35 per cent in Alberta.
The number of respondents who said they were neither liberal nor conservative varied little, standing at between 16 and 19 per cent in every region of the country. The one exception was Quebec, where 37 per cent said they didn’t identify with either ideology. This might be expected -- supporters of the NDP and Bloc Québécois were more likely than Liberal or Conservative supporters to consider themselves neither liberal nor conservative, and support for the Bloc and NDP accounted for two-thirds of the vote in the province in 2011. Bloc supporters in particular might bristle at considering themselves liberal, due to the political connotations in Quebec in terms of the sovereigntist-federalist divide.
Women are only slightly (and perhaps insignificantly) more likely to be liberal than men (49 to 47 per cent), but are much less likely to be conservative. Twenty-nineper cent of men said they were conservative, compared to 21 per cent of women.
Liberalism decreases with age, with two-thirds of those under 25 considering themselves liberal but only 39 per cent of Canadians over the age of 65 (37 per cent of seniors said they were conservative).
But liberalism increases with education. While 36 per cent of Canadians with no more than a high school diploma considered themselves liberal, fully 63 per cent of university graduates did.
In terms of party support, ideology broke down as one would expect: 73 per cent of Conservative supporters said they were small-c conservatives, while more than 70 per cent of Liberal and NDP supporters said they were small-l liberals. Interestingly, of the four national parties the Greens had the highest number of neither liberal nor conservatives, at 24 per cent. Their supporters were still overwhelmingly liberal, however, with 62 per cent putting themselves on that end of the spectrum.
The Conservatives will continue to have electoral success as long as enough fence-sitters lean their way. But these numbers do show how bad things could get for the Tories if political winds blow those free agents to the other side.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
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