Majority of Canadians Dissatisfied With Status Quo

by Steve Crabtree, Contributing Editor

On Monday, recently installed Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that federal parliamentary elections will take place on June 28. Martin's Liberal Party has controlled a majority in the Canadian parliament since 1993, under the leadership of Jean Chretien, who stepped down as prime minister in December. Martin is hoping the Liberals can maintain their majority in the parliament and give him a mandate for governing the country. But the party has been plagued recently by a scandal in which it was revealed that in the 1990s, $100 million ($72.8 million in U.S. dollars) in government funds was given to advertising firms with party ties -- who did little or no work.

Forty-five percent of Canadians told Gallup in the late April/early May poll* that they approved of the way Martin is handling his job as prime minister. That's a significantly lower level of confidence than was expressed for Chretien in early December, just before Martin succeeded Chretien as prime minister and head of the Liberal Party. At that time, 58% of Canadians said they approved of the job Chretien was doing.

In contrast to the U.S. electoral system, in Canada, the prime minister is not elected directly. Instead, Martin will have to rely on his party winning enough seats in parliament to continue as prime minister. But as research on voting in parliamentary democracies suggests, Canadians may very well take into account a party's presumptive prime minister when deciding which local candidate to support for parliament. Currently, Martin's Liberal Party holds 168 parliamentary seats; it must retain 155 in order to maintain its majority standing.

Martin's decision to hold elections entails considerable risk. The poll shows growing discontent among Canadians when they are asked whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in Canada at this time. In December, 57% said were satisfied; just 41% respond that way in the more recent poll. However, that percentage is still higher than results from the same question in the United States, where 36% say they are satisfied, and Great Britain, where just 30% do so.

Martin is currently campaigning for support in Canada's Atlantic provinces, promising to spend more on popular social programs without creating a budget deficit. Sunday, he promised to increase spending on healthcare programs by $3 billion (about $2.18 billion U.S.). Improved healthcare is likely to resonate with Canadians; 21% cite poor healthcare or the cost of healthcare as the country's most important problem, more than twice as many as name any other single issue. Additionally, only half (50%) of Canadians currently say they're satisfied with the nation's healthcare system.

On the other hand, a strong majority of Canadians aren't happy with their taxes, which bodes well for the Conservative Party, which favors lower taxes and reduced government spending. Just 22% of Canadians say they're satisfied with the amount they pay in taxes, down slightly from 26% in early 2003. Three in four (75%) are dissatisfied with the amount of taxes they pay, higher than the corresponding figures in the United States (64%) or Great Britain (66%).

Regardless of how the election plays out, the scandal doesn't appear to have had a huge impact on Canadians' level of faith in their government in general; 51% currently say they are satisfied with their "system of government and how well it works," down just slightly from 56% in 2003.

*Results in the United States are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted May 2-4, 2004; 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 5-8, 2004; 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 8-11, 2004; 1,002 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 9-12, 2004; and 1,004 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 12-15, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup USA.

Results in Canada are based on telephone interviews with 1,003 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 29-May 12, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup Canada.

Results in Great Britain are based on telephone interviews with 1,018 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 25-May 5, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Gallup UK.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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