Canada’s upcoming federal election could expose deepening societal rifts and ‘ordered’ populism, says Graves
Thanks to economic stagnation, the hyper concentration of wealth, and a brewing cultural backlash, Canada’s political climate is ripe for populist forces that mirror the experiences of the U.S. and the U.K. to gain traction, says Frank Graves of EKOS Research. But other politicos disagree.
Canada’s upcoming federal election could expose deepening societal rifts that will test the country’s immunity from Trumpian-style populism, says one leading pollster, but other politicians and political observers say while there are worrying signs, it has limited appeal.
Thanks to economic stagnation, the hyper-concentration of wealth, and a brewing cultural backlash, Canada’s political climate is ripe for populist forces that mirror the experiences of the U.S. and the U.K. to gain traction, said Frank Graves of EKOS Research. He said the polling he’s conducted over the years has suggested there’s a widening gap between the attitudes that left- and right-leaning voters share towards issues such as immigration and climate change.
“This particular phenomenon has never expressed itself in Canada [until now]. The differences across the people who are attracted to ordered or authoritarian populism and everybody else are on a scale that we haven’t seen in the past,” said Mr. Graves of his research.
Under the Harper government in 2011, for example, 43 per cent of respondents who identified as Liberal thought the country was heading in the wrong direction. In contrast, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) in 2019, 87 per cent of Conservative respondents said the country isn’t headed in the right direction. When such sentiment is widespread, it’s often cited as an indication of an openness to embracing ordered populism, or populism that seeks to revert to the status quo of a bygone era in response to perceived chaos or disorder, Mr. Graves said.
Whereas in years past, Mr. Graves’ research indicated, working-class and less-educated voters’ support was more evenly distributed across parties, the Conservatives have started to gnaw away at the Liberals’ hold. In 2015, for example, the Liberals’ and Conservatives’ share of high school and college graduates was in the range of 30 per cent. But in 2019, the Liberals’ support dipped to around 20 per cent among both groups, increasing the Conservatives’ share to 40 per cent or more. “The gaps that have opened up are dramatic. The Conservative base was [once] evenly distributed. Now, there’s a 20-point gap.”
Both polls have similar sample sizes of more than 2,000 respondents, with a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20 for the 2019 survey and plus or minus 2.1 per cent for 2015.
The left or right hold no claim over populism. But in Canada, and in much of the world, the forces that have cropped up bend to the right.
“Although, authoritarian (or what I prefer to call ordered populism is moving very rapidly in the West, its roots are long simmering forces. Economic stagnation, hyperconcentration of wealth, cultural backlash from the previously privileged, a magnified sense of external risk,” Mr. Graves tweeted earlier this month. “I could go on but what is happening is a pattern mimicking the patterns in the U.S. and other advanced Western democracies. Authoritarian populism is rooted in widening polarization and sneering and denial aren’t going to solve this problem.”
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