UPDATED: Who Really Won the “Ethnic” Vote in the May Election?

September 9th, 2011

---- 2 ±±±± 1 ±±±± 0 ±±±± 1 ±±±± 2 ++++

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

[UPDATE: I have added the relevant charts, both from the preliminary CES data reported in June's Policy Options, and the graphic prepared by the Vancouver Sun from the Ipsos-Reid Exit poll data.]

Before too many myths become entrenched, it’s worth reviewing what we know about last May’s election from the various post-election surveys reported so far, and identifying some of the areas where people disagree.

With another round of election post-mortems held this past Tuesday in Toronto, and another on September 22 in Ottawa, perhaps a literature review of the exit polls, post-election surveys and other associated research would not be out of place.

Most of the major public domain opinion research firms conducted post-election research of some kind. Here are the studies, datasets and analyses that I’m aware of:

[Click on image to open full-sized PDF version of sources table]

In the next series of posts, we’ll review these exit surveys by examining a number of questions on which they disagree, starting with “Who Really Won the ‘Ethnic’ Vote?”.


The only way to answer this question definitively is to buy the very, very detailed (long-form) census data from Statistics Canada, cross-reference it against polling division boundaries (some vendors do this for you and sell the product), and then run correlations between different measures of ethnicity or immigrant status and a party’s actual number of votes by poll. This methodology was clearly employed as part of the justification for Jason Kenney’s strategy to buy ethnic-outreach TV ads (the one that was inadvertantly given to the NDP months before the election this past spring).

Of course the last set of census data that included various measures of ethnicity and immigration was in 2006, and there won’t be a similar data set in 2011 because the long-form census was cancelled, so even those correlations would have to be done with older census data, or unrepresentative national household survey data from 2011.

An alternative is to run post-election opinion research – whether by telephone, online, by interactive voice response (IVR) or in focus groups – soon after the election.

Another part of the answer involves defining our terms when it comes to the voters in question; and a number of writers have unintentionally conflated different dimensions. Voters might be:

  • Immigrants. If so, the length of time they’ve spent in Canada is one variable that influences both whether they’re likely to vote and who they are likely to vote for. It’s also associated to some extent with the country they came from, and therefore the immigrant voters’ ethnicity and/or visible minority status and/or religion.
  • Visible Minorities. In which case, they might be either immigrants or born in Canada. And in the latter case, they might have an Aboriginal Identity. Or be of First, Second or later Generations. [UPDATE: Note that Statistics Canada does not include members of any of the aboriginal peoples of Canada in its definition of Visible Minorities, unless that person reports a combination of aboriginal and other visible minority statuses. Aboriginal Identity is a separate measure in the census. Thanks to the commenter for reminding us to be clear on that point.]
  • Regardless, voters have one or more Ethnicities; and they speak and understand one or more Languages, whether as a mother tongue, in the home, at work, or otherwise.
  • And they might be adherents of a Religion.

Here’s what the various post-election surveys have reported on those different but related aspects.

The Canadian Election Study (CES) uses a grouping of “immigrants” which it defines as first-generation Canadians from non-US and non-European origins; thus, mainly visible minority immigrants. Based on their preliminary unweighted dataset, the CES researchers report that the Conservatives obtained fewer vote intentions in 2011 from this group of immigrants than it did from non-immigrants (i.e., the party’s immigrant vote share minus its non-immigrant vote share totalling -3 points or so); while the Liberals showed the opposite pattern, and to an even greater extent (around +5). On the other hand, the Conservatives’ negative gap has grown smaller since 2008, while the Liberals’ immigrant advantage was shrinking too. Meanwhile the NDP was also picking up somewhat more support from new Canadians in 2011, they found.

[Figure from Soroka et al., Policy Options, June 2011]

The Immigrant Vote Gap: Canadian Election Study, Preliminary Data from 2011 Election, as reported in Policy Options, June 2011

Nonetheless, all this CES data showed fairly similar distributions of party vote intentions in both immigrants and non-immigrants in 2011, they report, though earlier CES studies showed that the Liberals lost visible minority supporters to the NDP in 2006, and another wave of them to the Conservatives in 2008.

With its much bigger sample (n=36,520), the Ipsos-Reid Exit Poll could report on more sub-groups, and give a more detailed picture of immigrant voting patterns.

  • For one thing, the probability of voting at all amongst immigrants increases significantly with their time in Canada, with immigrants of less than 3 years standing more likely not to vote (31%) than to vote NDP (19%), Conservative (14%) or Liberal (12%).
  • The Liberals double their vote to 24% amongst those in Canada 3-5 years, just one point ahead of non-voters in that group; and then
  • the NDP moves ahead to 26% amongst immigrants of 6-10 years standing, with the Conservatives moving up to tie the Liberals at 23% each, and non-voting falling to 14%.
  • At 11-20 years, the Conservatives move slightly ahead (26%) of the other two parties, as turnout further increases; and
  • they spike at 41% amongst those immigrants in Canada for 20 years or more, with the NDP back at 24% and the Liberals four points behind.
  • By the time we look at voters born in Canada, the Conservatives have a 33-30 headstart over the NDP with the Liberals back down to 14% and non-voting at 6% (factoring out the non-voters, the vote-shares in this group are 37% Conservative, 36% NDP and 15% Liberal).
Source: Ipsos-Reid 2011 Exit Poll Cons NDP Lib NV
Actual overall % of eligible voters 24.3% 18.8% 11.6% 38.2
Immigrants by arrival in Canada
< 3 years ago 14% 19% 12% 31%
3 – 5 years ago 12% 19% 24% 23%
6 – 10 years ago 23% 26% 23% 14%
11 – 20 years ago 26% 23% 22% 11%
21+ years ago 41% 24% 20% 6%
Born in Canada 33% 30% 14% 6%
Actual overall vote share 39.6% 30.6% 18.9%  
Born in Canada 37% 36% 15%  
Born outside Canada 42% 29% 22%  
Immigrants by arrival in Canada
< 10 years ago 28% 41% 21%  
10+ years ago 43% 28% 22%  
Visible minority 31% 38% 23%  
Not visible minority 39% 34% 15%  

Taking together all those born outside Canada, the Conservatives win handily: 42% vs. 29% for the NDP and an above-overall-vote-share 22% for the Liberals. But, when broken down by arrival in Canada, the Conservatives lose the under 10 years category to the NDP, while they dominate in the 10 years and over group.

So, the Liberals were over-represented in their vote share amongst all but the most recent immigrants, while the NDP became increasing well-represented the longer the immigrants had been in Canada, according to the Ipsos-Reid dataset.

Conservative strength meanwhile was largely concentrated amongst immigrants of the longest-standing, and their supporters were less likely to be members of visible minorities than otherwise.

[Click on image to open full-sized version; Chart from the Vancouver Sun, May 9, 2011]

Darrell Bricker told the LISPOP seminar in Toronto earlier this week that this group of immigrant Conservative supporters was composed of more established Italian, Greek, Portugese and older South Asian immigrant communities, amongst whom the Conservatives were now winning decisively. This group of voters has been in Canada long enough to have moved out to the suburbs, and has then increasingly taken on the middle class values of their neighbours (whether born in Canada or not), he said.

Hence, the disagreement between the CES and Ipsos-Reid findings can be explained by the fact that the CES researchers eliminate European immigrants from their definition of immigrant voters. The data seem to show that the NDP is winning amongst newer Canadians and visible minorities, with the Liberals also drawing relatively more of their votes from this group as well; while the Conservatives are overwhelmingly winning amongst immigrants of much longer standing, primarily from European origins, and narrowly beating the NDP amongst those born in Canada.


The only other data we have in the public realm is a report by Minister Kenney that the Conservatives’ internal polling showed them with two-thirds of the support amongst Cantonese speakers, said to have been of help to them in Scarborough and Vancouver; and another report from Liberals Navdeep Bains and Jim Karygiannis that it was the NDP surge that was responsible for their party losing seats around Toronto, rather than Kenney’s push into the ethnic communities.

New Canadians in the Ensight Canada post-election focus groups were reported to have been more aware of the parties’ platforms, less anxious about a majority Conservative government and less receptive to charges of totalitarianism against Stephen Harper (many coming from genuinely oppressive regimes themselves, as the report notes), understanding the reasoning behind his call for a stable majority government.


Insofar as religion is concerned, no CES findings have been reported as yet, though they are known to collect that data. The Ipsos-Reid Exit Poll, however, found quite different patterns of party support by religious observance:

Source: Ipsos-Reid 2011 Exit Poll Cons NDP Lib
Actual overall vote share 39.6% 30.6% 18.9%
Attends church/temple weekly 50% 24% 18%
Attends church/temple monthly or less 35% 37% 16%
Catholic 30% 39% 16%
Protestant 55% 25% 14%
Muslim 12% 38% 46%
Jewish 52% 16% 24%
Some religious identity 42% 32% 16%
No religious identity 27% 42% 17%


So, this gives another clue as to the profile of the likely remaining Liberal immigrant supporters, inasmuch as a larger number of them would be expected to be Muslims, though the Liberals are facing a stiff challenge from the NDP for that group as well. Meanwhile, while Jews still make up a greater proportion of Liberal support than they obtain overall, the Conservatives more than doubled the Liberals’ support amongst this group.


Now if the Conservatives didn’t win newer immigrants and visible minorities – if it was only a matter of slowly assuming Canadian suburban values and getting older, that immigrants would eventually vote Conservative – was Minister Kenney’s energetic campaigning all in vain?

I don’t think so. Not if you consider that the original objective of the outreach strategy was to put the Liberal Party on the defensive in one of its last bastions of uncontested support. Or that the Conservatives have steadily reduced the gap in their support amongst even non-US, non-European immigrants, over the past two elections.

But the other aspect to his efforts, I believe, was to find and build some party organizational infrastructure to go along with that growing support – find and recruit candidates from many different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultural communities, build party membership there as well, and then welcome those members into the riding associations and election planning committees that would be running the local campaigns. Not to mention building relationships with ethnic media outlets across the country. That was the extra piece required to cement the party’s newfound support into a winning political strategy.

20 Responses to “UPDATED: Who Really Won the “Ethnic” Vote in the May Election?”

  1. Steve C. says:

    “Visible Minorities. In which case, they might be either immigrants or born in Canada. And in the latter case, they might have an Aboriginal Identity.”

    Minor point. If I’m not mistaken, the definition of visible minorities used by StatsCan excludes Aboriginal people– except where the groups cross over, for example, a person of both Chinese and First Nations ancestry.

    Aboriginal people are the invisible minority.

  2. Nice work! Of course, the other factor is that if the Conservatives were doing particularly badly among immigrant communities before, doing this much better can also be seen as a “winning political strategy” and an achievement for Kenney. It would be hard to say how much of an achievement without looking at similar data for 2008 (and perhaps 2006), though.

  3. You’re right, Steve C. “Aboriginal identity” is reported as a separate measure on the census by Statistics Canada. I’m sure this is in part so as not to conflate original peoples with immigrants, a lumping-in-together that is not appreciated by the aboriginal leadership in my experience.

    Thanks, IP. I didn’t have access to comparable data from the Ipsos-Reid exit survey from 2008 (though I understand it is on file at Wilfred Laurier University’s LISPOP for academic consultation), but I did mention the earlier CES findings I had access to.

  4. Candace says:

    Re immigrants here for <3 years – how many can vote? It takes 3 years of residency to apply for citizenship, after all, and last I heard you had to actually be a citizen to vote, no?

    Other than that, excellent post.

  5. That point was raised in the seminar, to be sure. I’m reporting the data as it was reported.

  6. Roy Eappen says:

    I am always amused when Tory opponents belittle Jason’s work, bring new Canadians into the Tory blue tent. We have a veryvdiverse caucus and membership. That has been the case for some time. I am an immigrant to Canada albeit that I have been here since the age of 2. I am very proud of the efforts of Jason’ s work. The opposition underestimate him at their peril.

  7. Brad says:

    I wonder if newer immigrants of <5 years residency actually understand the differences between the parties, or they just vote as they are told to vote by friends, relatives, community leaders, religious leaders. Just wondering ….

  8. Dr. Roy, I wasn’t belittling that work at all. Just reporting on the data that quantify the progress to date.

  9. Brad, if your suggestion was correct you would expect to find the same voting pattern among newer and less new immigrants, but apparently you don’t. I’m sure there’s influence, but it’s obviously not as simple as that.

  10. DL says:

    What about visible minority group members who were born in Canada. Do we know how they voted? That would include most Afro-Canadians – esp. those in Nova Scotia who have been in Canada since the 18th century as well as a lot of second generation East and South Asians etc…

  11. I can’t say for sure, but I believe the “Visible Minorities” category reported from the Ipsos-Reid Exit Poll represented both immigrant and non-immigrant Visible Minorities. It’s certainly a question to ask.

  12. James Ford says:

    Voters at all levels – municipal, provincial and federal must be Canadian citizens to vote in elections.
    No so with the selection of party leaders and party candidates to run in the elections.
    These voters only have to be permanent residents who have become permanent residents for as little as six months.
    The selection of candidates running in elections are often voted in through the strong turnout of permanent residents.
    Other Canadians are known to be apathetic and are relinquishing their infuence on who gets to govern.
    The non-citizen ruling in candidate selection is crucial in getting the ethnic vote and ultimately winning elections, hence the growing evidence of minorities achieving growing disproportionate representation.
    The situation of giving permanent residents the same status as citizens in selecting candidates is problematic and manipulative party initiative to win seats.

  13. Wilf Day says:

    James Ford: interesting point about nominations. You say voters have to have become permanent residents for six months, to vote in nominations for party candidates. Where does the “six months” limit come from?

  14. George Pringle says:

    It depends on the party rule since there is no law covering the matter. I would think it is just the permanent resident status alone just keeping out the people on visas.

  15. The long form census wasn’t ridden of exactly, it was replaced by the voluntary national household survey.

  16. Matt says:

    It would be good to see Catholics outside Quebec vs. Quebec Catholics.

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