80% of Canadians would vote for an atheist Prime Minister

A new survey released by the Angus Reid Institute asks both Americans and Canadians about their thoughts on the country’s potential future leaders. There are no great shocks here, but there are some pleasant surprises.

Unfortunately, a technical fuck-up on ARI’s site means I can’t access the detailed report or the questionnaire. So I don’t have complete data. Please bear that in mind.

The survey consisted of two questions, with slight differences between the US and Canadian versions. The questions were:

  1. “First, would you yourself consider voting for a party led by a person who is…” (for Americans: “First, would you yourself consider voting for a presidential candidate who is…”).
  2. “In your opinion, how probable is it that each type of person will be elected to the office in the next 25 years?”

The options for Canadians were:

  • A woman
  • An evangelical Christian
  • Jewish
  • Muslim
  • Sikh
  • A man who wears a religious head-covering
  • A woman who wears a religious head-covering
  • Atheist
  • A gay man
  • A lesbian
  • Transgender
  • Indigenous
  • Not bilingual
  • Black

For Americans, the list was almost the same except:

  • “Sikh” was dropped (perhaps Americans can’t distinguish them from Muslims?).
  • “Indigenous” was replaced by “Native American”.
  • “Not bilingual” was dropped, for obvious reasons.
  • “Black” was dropped, also for obvious reasons. (Though, I have to admit it would be interesting to see how many Americans actually live in a delusion where Barack Obama never existed.)
  • “Hispanic” was added.

As I said, there are no great shocks in the results. It all unfolds pretty much as you’d expect if you’ve seen a few of these types of surveys before: Canadians are generally much more tolerant than Americans; Liberal and NDP voters are more tolerant than Conservative voters (with Greens all over the map); most provinces are more tolerant than the prairie provinces (except when religion is involved, in the case of Québec); younger Canadians are more tolerant than older Canadians;… the usual, basically.

Here’s what the overall results look like for Canada:

[Chart showing data from ARI survey.]

Take a minute and drink that in. Don’t focus so much on the “probably will be elected” bar, because that captures a lot of complex calculations in people’s heads: for example only 36% think there might be a transgender PM in the next decade or two even though 69% would vote for one… that might just be due to the fact that Canadians generally can’t name a single potential transgender candidate, rather than that they think there’s actually a challenge for one to be elected.

There’s not a single characteristic that less than 50% of Canadians would accept in a Prime Minister. Yes, some are depressingly low, particularly “woman who wears a religious head-covering”, which probably comes very close to the margin of error (though I can’t be sure because I can’t access the full report to see what the margin of error is). But that’s pretty damn heart-warming overall.

Let’s clear up what’s behind some of the results. First, the bilingual prerequisite is pretty much entirely due to Québec, for what I would think are pretty obvious reasons. Only 30% of Québécois would vote for a non-bilingual PM (one presumes they’re reading “non-bilingual” as “anglophone-only” rather than “francophone-only”), while in the rest of Canada it ranges from 73–80%. Every other demographic has at least 60% “yes”, except for NDP voters (54%) and Green voters (24%). Arguably, this isn’t due to “intolerance”, but rather a simple desire to have a leader that they can actually understand, and who they can talk to.

The next group that 2⁄3 of Canadians or less would vote for is evangelical Christians. With this group, it’s a little trickier to figure out exactly where the antipathy comes from. Certainly Québec, with 58% “would vote” answers, doesn’t really like them. But the only regions that show lukewarm support for them are Alberta, with 74%, and Atlantic Canada, with 73%. The rest of Canada hovers between 64–67%. Conservative voters also sorta like them, at 72%, compared with Liberals at 65%, NDP at 58%, and the rest at 57–58%. Overall, it looks like no demographic is particularly enthused with evangelical Christians; disdain for them seems to be spread pretty much universally across Canada.

The bottom four are Sikh, Muslim, “man who wears a religious head-covering”, and “woman who wears a religious head-covering”, and I’ll lump them all together because the demographic dislike is more or less the same for them all. Most of the hate for them comes from Québec, where the “would vote” numbers are 45%, 46%, 36%, 34%, in order. Quite a bit also comes from Saskatchewan, at 50%, 54%, 48%, 46%. There’s also a lot of intolerance among older Canadians, particularly older men, and of course Conservative voters. Green party voters are generally very tolerant, but are shockingly intolerant of religion in general, and particularly minority religion.

[Chart showing data from ARI survey.]

But let’s get to the headline news: 80% of Canadians would vote for an atheist. Support for a hypothetical atheist PM is pretty much across the spectrum, with the glaring exception of Conservative Party supporters. The prairies are also less enthusiastic on average, but they’re still in the low 70s (Alberta is at 80%!). And of course, older Canadians, and particularly older male Canadians, are not all that hot on us.

There are actually quite a few surprises in there. An atheist PM candidate would have significantly more support than an evangelical Christian (80% versus 65%). In fact, “atheist” beats out all other religious identities and markers except “Jewish” (86%). The only groups more widely supported than atheists are women (96%), black Canadians (94%), Jews (86%), indigenous Canadians (85%), and gay men (85%) and lesbians (84%). That’s not bad at all!

[Chart showing data from ARI survey.]

There is no demographic that is 100% cool with the idea of an atheist Prime Minister, though both Green Party supporters and Bloc Québécois supporters are over 90% (Green: 95%; Bloc 91%). Most are in the low 80s, a few in the high 70s. That’s far better than I would have expected on a guess.

And apparently I’m not alone in that. While 80% would vote for an atheist PM, only around 2⁄3 think there might actually be an atheist PM in the next 25 years. Maybe it’s time to revise our estimates upward.

All that is pretty great for Canada. But how do things look south of the border?

[Chart showing data from ARI survey.]

Weeellllll… not so hot. Only 52% would vote for an atheist president… which, sure, it’s better than half… depending on the margin of error. Soooo, yay Americans?

And the pessimism about an atheist president runs pretty deep. Only 37% of Americans think an atheist president is probable in the next 25 years.

“Man who wears a religious head-covering”, and “woman who wears a religious head-covering” both have roughly the same support as “atheist”. Indeed, the only traits that fare worse than “atheist” are “transgender” and “Muslim”. Looks like our American atheist friends have a lot of work on their hands yet.

So how about that? 4 out of 5 Canadians would vote for an atheist Prime Minister, and more than 2⁄3 think we’ll probably have an atheist PM within 25 years. Good news to start the week leading up to Canada Day, eh?

One thought on “80% of Canadians would vote for an atheist Prime Minister

  1. Making your mark on a survey such as this one is not exactly the same thing as actually casting your ballot for someone who will be deciding how your hard earned money is spent. I think most people don’t know what an atheist is. I consider myself an atheist, but only about half the time. It is very hard to keep in mind the reasons for believing in atheism and personally I find it impossible, about half the time I’m really an agnostic. There really is no proof that I know of that there isn’t a supreme creator but simply based upon what I see around me and what I have learned and experienced I find it hard to believe there is one. I think most of the arguments for atheism are far beyond the real concerns of most people as they struggle to survive in this highly hostile world. They want a simple explanation and a simple path to follow, things are difficult enough as they are. This simple way is, it seems to me, what religion tries to provide, even if there may not be a great deal of truth to it.

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