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

3. Review and conclusions

What do the existing public opinion data tell us about Canadians’ attitudes on issues of immigration and multiculturalism? Overall, there is broad support for multiculturalism and immigration, and that support has not decreased in recent years; indeed, it may even have increased slightly. This broad level of support for immigration and multiculturalism is accompanied by majority support for a certain degree of integration. However, exactly what respondents mean by integration, is difficult to specify given the nature of the questions asked in existing public opinion surveys. Most likely, respondents showing support for integration have quite different views of what that integration entails; the result is that there is a good deal of variance in opinion amongst those within the “integration” category on any one question. Existing polls do not currently provide much leverage on what the appropriate balance is, according to the average Canadian, between diversity and integration.

A lack of specificity is also evident in questions on minority rights and multiculturalism. Again, we have only a vague sense for what respondents are thinking about when they are asked to answer questions about these issues. On these items, as well as on integration, future research might consider ways to better capture attitudes using specific examples of tolerance, or integration, or diversity, and so on. Event-oriented questions may be less useful over extended periods of time, but more valuable in the short-run where understanding opinion is concerned. We should also keep in mind the way in which simple trade-off questions may mask more nuanced preferences. Consider questions presenting either reasonable accommodation or cultural adaptation (as in Figure 31); minority rights or majority rule (as in Figure 26). By forcing choices, these questions capture broad preferences very effectively. But there clearly is a good deal of nuance that further questioning might uncover.

Relatedly, existing data also go only so far in capturing levels of discrimination, or attitudes about specific ethnic groups. We have observed that there is no support for immigration policy based on race; and a belief amongst Canadians that their communities are welcoming to newcomers. At the same time, minority groups clearly face varying degrees of discrimination, as captured either by asking about perceptions of discrimination towards other groups, or by asking about respondents’ own feeling towards other ethnic or religious groups. Data suggest that Muslims are perceived as being particularly at risk; though Sikhs, Blacks, and Aboriginal Peoples are are seen as suffering similar levels of discrimination.

Clearly, there is more to be done to go beyond the surface of Canadian opinion on these critical issues. The results of this report suggest that Canadians are, and continue to be, broadly supportive of immigration and multiculturalism. There remains much work to be done to fully understand, and then to follow Canadians’ evolving attitudes on issues of immigration and multiculturalism.

Data sources

Data for this report have been drawn from the following sources:

  • Angus Reid Strategies, 2008 and 2009.
  • Canada Canada West Foundation, 2007
  • Canadian Election Studies, 2004, 2006 and 2008
  • CIC Tracking Surveys 2008 and 2009
  • CROP, 2009
  • EKOS (for CBC), 2009
  • Environics Focus Canada surveys, 1985-2009
  • Environics Muslim Survey, 2006
  • Environics 150! Canada poll, 2010
  • Pew Global Attitudes Survey, 2005
  • Ipsos-Reid (for CanWest/Global News), 2006 and 2007
  • Leger Marketing (for Sun Media), 2007
  • SES Research (for IRPP), 2007
  • Strategic Counsel (for Globe & Mail/CTV), 2005, 2006, and 2008
  • World Values Survey, 2005-2008

All Environics and Canadian Election Study polls are freely available through the Canadian Opinion Research Archive at Queen’s University (www.queensu.ca/cora); Ipsos data are available through a paid subscription at ispos.ca; the Pew Global Attitudes survey is available at pewglobal.org; the World Values Survey is available at worldvaluessurvey.org; CIC tracking surveys are available from Citizenship and Immigration Canada. All other data were drawn from press releases from polling firms, or were provided directly to the author by the firms for the purposes of this report.

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