Trade, Trump & Milk: How Canadians React To Tough Talk

Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson

The large majority of Canadians (92%) are happy with the range and quality of dairy products available in Canada, and two thirds are satisfied with prices.  This view that the market is working reasonably well today creates an important context in which the recent statements by President Trump will be received by Canadian voters.

When informed that the US/President Trump has been critical of Canada for not allowing easier access to US dairy products and would like to see Canadian markets open to more imports, Canadians were mostly are unmoved.

By a broad margin (77%) Canadians were inclined to feel that “like the US and other countries, Canada has policies that are designed to support a healthy Canadian dairy farm sector and they work well enough to meet the needs of consumers too”.  Only 23% chose the alternative argument that “Canada should change our rules and allow more foreign dairy products to compete in our market because it would mean more products would be available and possibly lower prices for consumers.”

Note – We asked half our sample mentioning President Trump specifically and the other half without attributing the criticism to him specifically. The results were only marginally different – those told that the criticism was leveled by Mr. Trump were four points more likely to say Canada’s policies were fine the way they are.

We then asked people what they felt Canada should do if the US Administration presses Canada on this issue.  Almost no one (7%) felt that Canada should simply agree to the changes the US was asking for.   Opinion is somewhat divided between those who feel Canada should “stand firm and refuse to make any changes” (43%) and those who say Canada should “negotiate a solution that gets Canada something we would like in exchange for giving the Americans some of what they want in the dairy sector.” (50%)

Respondents who had been informed that it was President Trump who was making the case for opening up our markets were 8 points more likely that other respondents to say that Canada should “stand firm” and 9 points less likely to say we should give something to get something.

In considering the political context for this issue in Canada, it’s important to look at how responses differ by region, political leaning and whether people live in rural or more urban/suburban settings.

  In every region of the country, and across rural and urban and all major party lines, a majority is satisfied with the range, quality and price of Canadian dairy products.

  More than 70% in every region, among both genders, all age groups, among all major party supporters and across rural and urban Canada believe Canada’s policies are working well enough. Only 23% of Conservative voters believe Canada should open up markets; 24% among Liberal supporters, and 9% among NDP voters.

  On the question of what Canada should do if the US presses the matter, no subgroup shows more than 11% interest in simply going along with the US demands. Conservative voters were a bit more inclined to prefer to see a negotiated solution over standing firm (52% to 39%) while Liberals were more drawn to the stand firm (55%) versus a negotiated settlement (38%). NDP voters were evenly split.  In Quebec, 55% prefer a “stand firm” position, compared to 37% who favoured negotiation. 


According to Abacus Chairman Bruce Anderson:

“The Trudeau government is not alone in facing important challenges in our trading relationship with the US.  These results show that most Canadians want Ottawa to show a combination of firmness and pragmatism in dealing with trade irritants, an instinct that probably would extend to other trade challenges beyond dairy as well.

For Canada’s dairy producers the results show that Canadian opinion is more instinctively aligned with them than not – but in a qualified manner.  Canadians will consider the overall shape of the relationship with the US and expect their government to mount a strategic defense of Canada’s interests.

That means defending dairy policy if necessary, but not necessarily protecting dairy rules if other strategic interests outweigh that consideration.”

Listen to an audio briefing from David Coletto:


Our survey was conducted online with 1,500 Canadians aged 18 and over from April 21 to 24, 2017. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of over 500,000 Canadians.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys.   The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of 1,500 is +/- 2.6%, 19 times out of 20.

The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding. 


We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail and value-added insight.  Our team combines the experience of our Chairman Bruce Anderson, one of Canada’s leading research executives for two decades, with the energy, creativity and research expertise of CEO David Coletto, Ph.D.

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