ARCHIVED – A literature review of Public Opinion Research on Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration, 2006-2009

1. Research overview

The following report is a review of publicly-available data on public attitudes relating to multiculturalism and immigration, from 2006 to 2009. We believe that a review of attitudes can play a critical role in policy and program development in these domains. That said, relatively little data on the state of Canadian public opinion on issues of multiculturalism and immigration exists since 2006, and the current state of Canadian opinion on these critical issues has been scarcely explored. There has been some intermittent and partial exploration of these attitudes in various individual commercial and in some academic work, but no systematic review of the public literature on the state of opinion on these issues. The primary purpose of this project is to identify and analyze existing public opinion data on the Canadian public’s attitudes towards multiculturalism and immigration, and review literature that analyzes such data.

The data reviewed in this report are, almost by definition, incomplete, as we have not commissioned any new public opinion polls. Rather, we rely entirely on existing, publicly-available data, and through this reveal some areas which could benefit from more data. Nonetheless, there are a good number of domains in which there are relatively complete data, and as a result, we have a good understanding of the state of public opinion in several areas. In other domains, we rely on existing data to highlight a few findings, and point towards the need for further research.

This review began by identifying what we saw as the major themes applying to public opinion research on issues of immigration and multiculturalism. The purpose of this report is to explore attitudes about multiculturalism, not attitudes that capture the success (or failure) of multiculturalism policy. While there has been a good deal of recent academic work on the latter — exploring, for instance, political participation and sense of belonging of immigrants, this is not the focus of this review. [Note 1] Rather, this review focuses on Canadians’ attitudes about the following themes based on a review of the existing data and the related literature, which capture three broad areas in which there exists a sufficient recent body of opinion data related to issues of multiculturalism and immigration:

  • Support for ethnic/linguistic/religious diversity
  • Support for minority rights
  • Support for immigration

While the three themes are related, and overlap, most of the data from the surveys here reviewed, covering 2006 to 2009, fit relatively easily into one of these categories. We examine each theme below, with a focus on Canadian data, and then look briefly at the available comparative international data on similar issues.

Following from these themes, the opinion data included in this report are the result of a search based on the following criteria:

  • focus on data collected from 2006 to 2009, with an interest in comparability over a longer time period;
  • focus on Canadian polls, with an interest in international studies with a Canadian component; and
  • a search of polling results, focused on the following keywords (among others): multiculturalism/multicultural, diversity/diverse, ethnicity/ethnic, linguistic, minority/minorities, minority rights, immigrant, and immigration.

We have drawn on a combination of the following resources for this review:

  • publicly-available individual-level commercial data files at the Canadian Opinion Research Archive;
  • additional individual-level data files from Environics;
  • results from aggregate-level reports from other commercial firms; and
  • results from the Canadian Election Studies and from other available academic polls.

As a result, the data presented in this review are drawn from dozens of different polls, across many agencies, both commercial and academic. We have not presented every available result, but rather focus on the most reliable questions (based on consideration of sampling, question wording, etc.) or those that are representative of others which we have chosen to leave out. We present detailed results on roughly 80 separate polling questions in the pages that follow, many for which there exist data over an extended period.

What do these data tell us about the state of public opinion on issues of multiculturalism and immigration? It will come as no surprise to those involved in the field that Canadians show broad support for multiculturalism — for diversity — and for immigration. There is no evidence of the kind of retrenchment seen in European countries over the past decade. Indeed, we suggest that one of the main findings in this report is that Canadian attitudes towards multiculturalism are very stable, perhaps a remarkable finding, given high levels of immigration and diversity.

As a result, we characterize opinion in this domain as one of strong, but conditional, support for multiculturalism and immigration. Canadians’ attitudes about diversity, immigration and minority rights are largely, though not entirely, positive; and those attitudes are accompanied by a sense that a degree of difference should be combined with a degree of integration. Multiculturalism is viewed as an integral and largely positive aspect of the Canadian state; but Canadians — including visible minorities and recent immigrants — see some value in shared values and traditions as well. These are the two findings that we see as most prominent in public opinion data on these matters from 2006 to 2009. Much of the data collected for this report is presented in fifty-five figures, throughout sections of the report. Each of those figures is discussed, by subject and by theme, in the sections that follow.

Unless otherwise indicated, polling data are for a nationally-representative sample of Canadian residents; sample sizes and data sources are listed in the corresponding figure; all data sources are listed again in the final section of this report. Since we are dealing almost entirely with aggregate-level data, we have for the most part presented results for Canadians as a whole, rather than by age, gender, and other demographic characteristics. In several cases, results are presented by age, or region, where the data are available, and where differences are noteworthy. That said, there is more that can be done in the future with regards to examining results by demographics, in relating opinions across domains to each other, and in conducting opinion research on issues that have not been dealt with in the recent past.


  • [1] Reitz, Jeffrey C., Raymond Breton, Karen Kisiel Dion and Kenneth L. Dion. 2009. Multiculturalism and Social Cohesion: Potentials and Challenges of Diversity. New York: Springer; Soroka, Stuart N., Richard Johnston, and Keith Banting, 2007. “Ethnicity, Trust, and the Welfare State”. In Social Capital, Diversity, and the Welfare State, edited by F.M. Kay and R. Johnston, Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, pp. 279–303; Soroka, Stuart N., Richard Johnston, and Keith Banting, 2007. “Ties That Bind? Social Cohesion and Diversity in Canada”. In Belonging? Diversity, Recognition and Shared Citizenship in Canada, edited by K. Banting, T.J. Courchene, and F.L. Seidle. The Art of the State, Vol. 3. Montreal: Institute for Research on Public Policy, pp. 561–600. [back to note 1]
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