Study 101

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Ballots & Belonging was guided by the following research questions:

  • How do new citizens participate in Canadian politics?

  • Are there challenges navigating the political system that are unique to new citizens?

  • What would encourage new citizens to participate in politics to a greater degree?

  • Does political participation contribute to the social integration of new citizens?

  • How is political participation connected to inclusion and belonging?

These questions were explored
over three phases:

  • 1. Environmental scan
  • 2. National online survey
  • 3. Cross-country focus groups

Academic
literature review

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Survey of online
resources for new citizens

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2,300+

More than 2,300 new citizens responded to an online survey. Respondents were participants in the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s Cultural Access Pass program.

10 focus groups
in 7 cities

  • • Toronto
  • • Mississauga
  • • Ottawa
  • • Montreal
  • • Calgary
  • • Vancouver
  • • Richmond
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Survey respondent profile:

  • New citizens, not permanent residents

  • Resident in Canada at least four years; 48% between 5 and 7 years

  • Top counties of origin: US, Philippines, India, England, France, China, Algeria, Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia

  • 67% have at least an undergrad degree

  • 61% had already voted in an election in Canada

  • 97% reported at least some interest in Canadian politics or current events

At the ballot box

How do new citizens approach their first Canadian election?

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61% of study participants had already voted in a Canadian election.
We asked them about their first time going to the polls.

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    81% know what a
    voters’ card is

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    75% know how to
    get their name on
    the voters’ list

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    86% know how to
    find a polling station

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    84% know where to find
    information if they have
    questions about voting

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85%

actively looked for information prior to voting

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11%

said that they consulted information in languages other than English or French

96%

reported that the information they consulted was easy to understand

What new citizens did during their first Canadian election

  • TALKED ABOUT THE ELECTION with family and friends

    78%

  • SEARCHED FOR INFORMATION about a candidate or political party on the internet

    77%

  • TALKED TO A CANDIDATE at the front door

    26%

  • ATTENDED an all-candidates meeting or debate

    12%

  • PUT A CANDIDATE SIGN on the front lawn

    10%

  • DONATED MONEY to a candidate or political party

    5%

“I felt proud to be part of the democratic process of Canada.
I felt that I owed it to my country and myself.”

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Communicating in Canada’s official languages

11% said that they consulted information in languages other than English or French. The new citizens in this study were comfortable communicating in English and French. While language was not a barrier for the new citizens we spoke to, it doesn’t mean that language is not a barrier for other new citizens.

Barriers to the ballot box

What keeps new citizens from voting?

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  • 1.

    Displacement

    46%

    lack of knowledge of the
    candidates/issues,
    lack of knowledge of the process

  • 2.

    Distraction

    40%

    out of town,
    too busy,
    ill,
    family emergencies

  • 3.

    Dissociation

    6%

    lack of interest, lack of engagement
    with the campaign issues, dissatisfaction
    with the government or political system,
    belief that their vote does not matter

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What would encourage new citizens to vote?

MORE INFORMATION about the candidates, political parties, and issues (56%)

Voting places that are MORE CONVENIENT to work/home (34%)

MORE INFORMATION on where and when to vote (33%)

MORE TIME to vote out of election day (31%)

MORE TIME to vote on election day (23%)

BETTER CANDIDATES (20%)

MORE IMPORTANT ISSUES (14%)

  • “My employer is very strict about allowing time off. I was given a verbal warning for missing time off previously, even though I provided a doctor’s note. I was afraid to request time off to vote. I believe all citizens should be given time off work to vote.”

  • “I registered online but the form I needed to bring to the polling station didn’t arrive.”

  • “I was at work and I decided to go vote on my break time but when I checked online to see if my name was on the voter’s list, it wasn’t. I registered online that day but by the time I drove back to vote it was too late.”

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Displacement, distraction, dissociation

We adopted this analytical framework from post-election studies conducted by Elections BC and Elections Manitoba. Elections BC found that for non-voters, dissociation was the most common reason for not voting (whereas it was the least common reason we found). More research is needed, but perhaps it’s logical that new citizens would have less cynicism about the process and more challenges simply navigating it.

Beyond the ballot box

How do new citizens participate in democracy beyond the electoral system?

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Civic vs. political engagement

There are many ways to participate in Canadian democracy. Some relate directly to the electoral system, others focus on collaboration with other citizens in grassroots movements. We asked new citizens how they participate and what activities are most effective.

  • Believe these are effective
    ways to create change

  • Have done
    these activities

  • 88%

    Voting

  • 64%

    Volunteering
    for a
    community
    organization

  • 58%

    Raising
    awareness
    about issues
    through
    social media

  • 57%

    Contacted a
    political
    representative

  • 50%

    Signing a
    petition

  • 41%

    Donating
    money to
    a charity

  • 31%

    Participating
    in a protest,
    demonstration
    or march

  • 26%

    Boycotting
    a product
    or service

  • 23%

    Volunteering
    on a political
    campaign

  • 23%

    Becoming a
    member of
    a political
    party

  • 22%

    Becoming a
    candidate
    for political
    office

  • 70%

    Donated
    money to
    a charity

  • 55%

    Volunteered
    for a
    community
    organization

  • 46%

    Signed a
    petition
    (paper or
    online)

  • 34%

    Attended a
    community
    meeting
    about a
    local issue

  • 23%

    Called or
    emailed a
    politician
    rep. about
    an issue

  • 21%

    Commented
    on online
    stories about
    politics or
    current
    events

  • 18%

    Boycotted a
    product or
    service

  • 14%

    Participated
    in a protest,
    demonstration
    or march

  • 8%

    Wrote a
    letter to the
    editor of a
    newspaper

  • 7%

    Volunteered
    on a political
    campaign

  • 6%

    Became a
    member of
    a political
    party

  • 1%

    Was a
    candidate
    for political
    office

Generally, new citizens told us that volunteering and other civic engagement activities were more effective than electoral politics (except voting).

How do new citizens compare with the general population?

  • Political activity

    Donated money to a charitable cause

    Signed a petition

    Volunteered for a candidate or on a campaign

    Boycotted products

    Contacted an elected official

    Participated in a protest or demonstration

    Volunteered for a charitable cause

    Became a member of a political party

  • General
    population

    78%

    64%

    53%

    37%

    31%

    22%

    17%

    9%

  • New
    citizens

    70%

    46%

    55%

    18%

    23%

    14%

    7%

    6%

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About the numbers

The data for the general population comes from Samara’s Democracy 360. A comparison of our results (new citizens) with Samara’s Democracy 360 (general population) indicates that new citizens are less likely to participate in political and civic activism than the general population. More comparative research would allow us to make more definitive conclusions.

Attitudes at the ballot box

What do new citizens think of Canadian democracy?

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New citizens are generally satisfied with Canadian democracy –
76% had at least some level of satisfaction with
Canada’s system of government.

New citizens who were not satisfied with Canadian democracy expressed many of the same concerns we hear from Canadians generally:

  • The lack of proportional representation means that your vote doesn’t matter if you live in a riding dominated by another political party
  • The idea that politics is dirty i.e. negative attack ads, “bickering” during Question Period
  • The lack of an elected senate
  • The lack transparency in the wake of recent scandals
  • The sense that politicians are disconnected from the issues of “real people”

What percentage of new citizens support the following electoral system reforms?

  • Internet voting

    60%
  • Referendums on important public issues

    59%
  • Changes to Canada’s political system (e.g. proportional representation)

    37%
  • Mandatory voting

    25%
  • Lower voting age

    9%
 

Should permanent residents be able to vote in municipal elections?

Yes48%
  • Permanent residents pay taxes and deserve to have a say in how that money is spent
  • Permanent residency itself shows a commitment to Canada – they are here to stay and deserve a say
52% No
  • A true commitment to Canada can only be demonstrated through citizenship
  • Permanent residents need time to settle and learn about Canada before exercising the vote
 

In focus groups, most participants were open to non-citizens voting at the local level,
but most agreed that voting at the federal level should be reserved for Canadian citizens.

  • “I would reserve the opportunity to change the system for the citizens because the country belongs to its citizens.”

  • “I think in a democracy, you probably would like to hear the voice of the future citizens.”

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Satisfaction with Canadian democracy

14% strongly agree, 37% agree and 25% somewhat agree that they are satisfied with Canada’s system of government. This seems to be higher than what other studies found for the general population, although the questions asked were not completely comparable. For example, Samara Canada’s Democracy 360 found that 33% of Canadians were not satisfied with Canadian democracy. Again, another avenue for further research.

Ready to vote

New citizens share their recommendations to ease the way for first-time voters

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HAVE CENTRALLY
LOCATED INFORMATION

 
  • Central online space to compare candidates and their platforms
  • Workshops offered to new citizens on the political system
  • Give new citizens more information on voting at citizenship ceremony

HELP ME GET
MY VOTER’S CARD!

 
  • Coordination between municipal, provincial and federal election agencies
MAKE VOTING MORE CONVENIENT
 
  • Make election day a weekend or a holiday
  • Longer poll hours
  • Internet voting
  • Voting places that are more convenient to work/home

GOOD NEWS!There is lots of information out there. See our resources list to get you ready to vote!

See Resources