The ethnic Conservative myth

Posted by admin on May 20th, 2011

Fri May 20 2011, Toronto Star

WATERLOO—Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was rumoured to be headed for a promotion in last week’s cabinet shuffle — a reward for all the ethnic and immigrant voters he lured to the Conservative fold on the way to the election victory May 2. But Kenney stayed put in his post. And now, according to early analysis of the election results, we may know the reason: Kenney’s work is far from done. In fact, as political scientists have been sifting through the data of May 2, they’re learning that immigrant voters did not flock to the Conservatives in any large way in the election.

This was among one of the most surprising revelations last week when Canada’s leading political scientists held their annual conference in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

The professors who’ve been heading up the prestigious Canadian Election Study shared some of their early findings on the final day of the conference at Wilfrid Laurier University. And when it came to the issue of the immigrant vote, it appears that this study is going to be doing some myth-busting.

“Across the board, there doesn’t seem to be anything but a minor shift in terms of the immigrant versus non-immigrant vote where Conservatives are concerned,” said Stuart Soroka of McGill University.

“Up to this point, there’s a bit of gain there, but it seems tiny,” said Patrick Fournier, of the Université de Montréal.

The Canadian Election Study bases its analysis on a huge amount of polling data, carried out by phone, mail and over the Internet, during and after the campaign, and it is generally deemed to be the most accurate look into election dynamics. Political junkies can get an early peek at the findings in next month’s issue of Policy Options, the magazine put out by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The Canadian Election Study has found little evidence to back up the suggestion — now almost conventional wisdom — that the Conservatives owe their majority to Kenney’s wooing of the immigrant vote, at least on a national scale.

“Many politicians and journalists, during the campaign at least, bought into a story about the immigrant vote that isn’t reflected in our data,” Soroka told the Star.

The academics involved with the Canadian Election Study calculated what they call the “immigrant vote gap” — the percentage of votes from immigrants minus the percentage of vote from non-immigrants. Only the Liberal party, traditionally seen as the party for new Canadians, registers positive figures in this analysis (though less positive than when they were the ruling party). The Conservatives, meanwhile, are still getting more votes from non-immigrants than they are from immigrants, and the vote gap hasn’t changed much since 2008, the researchers found.

“Early results from the CES do not support the hypothesis that the Conservative success in 2011 was a product of making headway with immigrants,” the researchers write in their Policy Options article.

Pollster Darrell Bricker shared similar findings with the conference attendees at yet another election post-mortem session. Bricker also found that Liberals still enjoy an advantage over the Conservatives with immigrant voters and new Canadians.

That may be a hint of where the beleaguered Liberals, reduced to third-party status and 34 seats on May 2, should begin their rebuilding campaign, Bricker told the conference this week.

“The Liberal party is still very concentrated in the new Canada, … the more particularly immigrant-heavy parts of the country, and it may provide them some hope for the future,” Bricker said.

According to Bricker’s findings, immigrants and ethnic minority voters lean Conservative the longer they’ve been in Canada. After about 10 years, in fact, their voting patterns and motives are not that different from Canadians born in this country. The same is true of second-generation Canadians who hail from so-called “ethnic” communities, Bricker told the conference.

The University of Calgary’s Tom Flanagan, former chief of staff, mentor and campaign boss for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was on hand for this week’s conference, too. He told one of the post-mortem sessions that the Conservatives initially didn’t have any grand plans to woo immigrants on a national scale, hoping more to lure them along the lines of traditional values and fiscal concerns. But Conservatives weren’t looking for huge, Liberal-style ethnic voting blocks, Flanagan said.

And Conservatives aren’t getting them, at least not yet, according to the data and analysis floating around last week’s political-science conference.

In fact, if anything, the early study of the May 2 election is showing that there may have been some truth in a memo from Kenney’s office that was accidentally made public in the weeks leading up to the election campaign.

The memo, which set off controversy for its blunt designation of voters as ethnic and “very ethnic,” also noted that the Conservatives’ outreach efforts were not as successful as they hoped. “Data proves hunch: we are losing,” the memo said, though it also noted: “We are losing less badly now.”

The election results may put a more optimistic tone in any future memos from Kenney’s office. But the data from May 2 suggests that while Conservatives aren’t necessarily losing with new Canadians, they’re not winning either — yet.

Comments are closed.