As we approach the federal election on October 21, the parties are rolling their policies out in bits and pieces through a flurry of media events and announcements. Although policy coherence can be hard to discern in the chaos of the news cycle, you can usually see each party trying to strike its own version of the same balance: keeping their base satisfied and engaged, while stretching to attract new supporters to grow their overall vote share.
At Environics, we track the social values of Canadians in order to monitor deep social trends and understand what motivates people. This approach is especially useful for audience segmentation: identifying individuals with a values-based affinity to your offering (whether a product, service, policy or cause) and developing messages that will resonate deeply with them.
When we use our values data to profile supporters of Canada’s main political parties, we find a striking degree of consistency between the values of each party’s supporters and the key planks in their platforms to date.
Starting with immigration, supporters of the Liberal Party stand out in their openness to the diverse cultures and ethnic communities that make up Canada, and in the belief that ethnic groups should be encouraged to preserve their cultural identities. Liberal supporters also believe that it’s both important and enjoyable to learn about cultures other than one’s own. All this makes the Liberals’ broadly positive and welcoming messages about immigrants and refugees – including their commitment to increase the number of newcomers Canada accepts each year – a fairly easy sell for the base.
The Conservative Party platform stresses fairness and order in the immigration system, emphasizing economic immigration and putting an end to illegal border crossings. This is consistent with the values of Conservative supporters related to authority: they believe that those in positions of authority deserve deference, and value rule-following over flexibility and questioning.
On the environment, the Liberals have set a minimum carbon price across the country, and proposed other green measures such as a single-use plastic ban and the phase-out of coal power by 2030. Our values research indicates that Liberal supporters are likely to be pleased: they place high value on environmental protection, and believe people and industries have a responsibility to prevent or repair ecological harm. They also try to make green choices as consumers (as well as voters).
The Conservatives oppose the Liberal carbon tax and would leave it to the provinces to decide if they want to put a price on carbon. If elected, they would introduce a range of measures to encourage businesses to invest in green tech R&D and commercialization. These policies are a good fit for Conservative supporters, who are more likely than other Canadians to have high confidence in businesses, believing that what’s good for business is good for society. Supporters of the Conservative Party also stand out in their fatalism about pollution, seeing it as inevitable in industrial societies.
The NDP pledges to continue with a carbon tax and the rebate program, but increase the burden on heavy emitters. They also want to provide low-interest loans for green home upgrades and fund low-carbon transit projects. These ideas – and the party’s strong opposition to new pipelines – are likely to land well with their base, since NDP supporters express even higher levels of ecological concern than do Liberals. NDP supporters also believe that government, not business, is best positioned to solve society’s big programs – so they’re likely to respond well to a program of government regulation and intervention (as opposed to the Conservative goal of creating favourable conditions for businesses to innovate their way out of the climate crisis).
In sum, the key elements of each party’s platform are consistent with the values of its support base. What will be interesting to see in the election results is if one of the parties can build a majority coalition of voters – and, if not, who will choose to collaborate in a minority parliament. For such an arrangement to hold, the parties will need to understand the values and motivations of their own supporters, and find viable bridges of compromise to groups with different perspectives.
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