By Bruce Anderson and David Coletto
Global events have brought Canadian foreign policy into focus in recent months. Our latest poll explored how Canadians are feeling about the leadership of the government in this area.
On the whole Mr. Harper has the confidence of more Canadians than not when it comes to the positions he’s been taking. The number of voters that agree with him on current international issues is substantially higher than the number of people who say they are planning on voting Conservative, which indicates that this has potential to be of political value, if foreign policy turns out to matter more in the next election than it usually does.
How do Canadians feel about some of the hot button issues Mr. Harper has been grappling with? Here are the proportions that agree with his approach on each of a series of issues:
• 49% agree when it comes to Canada-US relations, 27% disagree
• 45% agree with steps taken to help Ukraine, 27% not
• 43% agree with the PM about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, 29% don’t
• 41% agree with the PM’s remarks about Russian President Putin, 29% disagree
• 45% agree with using our forces to combat Islamic terrorism, 32% disagree
• 42% are comfortable with the PM’s collaboration with other federal party leaders on foreign affairs
• A plurality (36%) agrees with the PM on Israel-Palestine; 33% disagree
The Israeli-Palestinian situation is clearly somewhat divisive. West of Quebec, the plurality of voters is comfortable with the PM’s position, but in Quebec and Atlantic Canada the opposite is true. Among voters under 45, more disagree than agree with the PM; the opposite is true among those over that age. Women are split; men are more comfortable with the PM’s position. The majority of Conservative voters agree with Mr. Harper, while pluralities of the supporters of all other parties disagree.
Involving Canadian forces in Iraq has the potential to be somewhat divisive as well. The same regional, generational, gender, and partisan tendencies are evident in reactions on this issue.
When we ask Canadians about their reaction to sending special forces to serve as advisers, 54% support the action while 30% are opposed.
When we ask Canadians about their reaction to the hypothetical situation of Canada sending jet fighters to Iraq to help American efforts there, 52% support such an engagement while 34% are opposed. Support is higher among men, those aged 62 and over and those who currently support or voted for the Tories in the past.
The electoral upside for the Conservative leader on foreign policy is not apparent today. As things now stand, 20% say they are more likely to vote Conservative, 30% less likely, owing to Mr. Harper’s conduct of foreign policy. The majority (60%) of the 20% who say “more likely” are those who voted Conservative in 2011.
A modest number of voters (28%) are convinced that Mr. Harper is doing a better job than Justin Trudeau would do, and almost as many (23%) think Mr. Trudeau would be better at handling foreign policy than Mr. Harper. The rest imagine no difference or have no opinion.
When asked to compare Mr. Harper on foreign policy to NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, 28% say Mr. Harper is better, while 19% think Mr. Mulcair would do a better job.
It’s more or less normal for incumbents to enjoy an advantage over their opponents on matters of foreign policy, and foreign policy is an area where Canadians seem relatively comfortable with the positions the Prime Minister has been taking. The PM enjoys more breadth of support when it comes to Canada US and Canada-Russia-Ukraine matters than he does on Palestine-Israel and the involvement of troops in Iraq.
From a domestic political competition standpoint, at this point, the stakes surrounding foreign policy seem low.
This may well change between now and the next federal election, but as they evaluate their choices right now, it is not clear than foreign policy will be a ballot question for many voters. While voters are more comfortable with Mr. Harper’s approach on foreign policy than on some other policy areas, his advantage over his opponents is slight.
Our survey was conducted online with 1,075 respondents by Abacus Data, September12 to 14, 2014. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Canadians, recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading provider of online research samples.
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 the same size is +/- 3.1%, 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.
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