CBC Support is softer than you might think

It’s not quite 100 years old, and it’s not a sure thing it will make it to 100.

Shut it down?

As Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre ratchets up his campaign to “defund the CBC”, many observers are tempted to believe that he is alienating a huge swath of Canadians. Not necessarily.


Our spark*insights research reveals that across the country, given two options, 45% are drawn to the idea “shut the CBC/Radio Canada (all questions asked of French speakers referred to Radio Canada, in English, questions were about the CBC) down and save tax dollars” while a bare majority (55) choose “I value the CBC and want it maintained”. (Sample size 1200, Nationwide, April 18-20th, 2023, online, field work by Abacus Data)


Conservative voters (66%) lead the way in enthusiasm for shutting the Corporation down, but roughly a third of Liberal and NDP voters do too. While Albertans (57%) lead all regions in desire to end the CBC, Québec residents are not that far behind (47%), and this view is at least 40% in every region.

But a big part of this story has to do with age. Most of those under 30 would close the CBC down.


Is CBC News Propaganda?

Most people don’t think CBC news is government propaganda, but a striking 40% believe the opposite. Once again, young people are far more likely than older people to feel this way.

Two thirds of Conservative voters (64%) think the CBC journalism is propaganda on behalf of the federal government, as do 60% of People’s Party voters. A quarter of Liberal and NDP voters think the same way. Albertans (55%) are more likely to believe this, while BC (35%), Ontario (38%) and Québec (35%) are less likely. Of those who think the CBC should be shut down, two thirds think CBC news is government propaganda.


What to make of it?

Times have changed in the media landscape and there is far less attachment to the CBC than once was the case. No doubt this has a lot to do with the explosion of options for news and entertainment in the digital age, which is reflected in the massive age differences. People are consuming a lot of content, from a lot more different sources, than at any time in the history of the CBC.

But as with many subjects today, people may not have a clear sense of what would be lost if this public service went away. Those who don’t use the CBC may think there are lots of other ways to get what the CBC makes, and so imagine that cutting government spending in this area is without consequence easy choice.

There’s also the general decline in trust in institutions, including those of government and the news media, that we and others have documented in our research. Add to it the high profile and highly polarized cable news channels from the US, and the line between reporting and commentary is more and more blurry, for more and more people. Some of the most prominent Canadian print media also may add to doubts about whether a political bias in journalism is more normal and to be expected.

But these numbers also tell a story about the role of partisanship in how people see the world, and the impact that partisan leaders can have. No doubt part of these numbers reflects what Donald Trump has been saying about media for years, and what Pierre Poilievre is saying today. These numbers don’t exactly say that Conservative Leader Poilievre has a winning strategy, but they should put to rest the notion that he is speaking to a tiny sentiment, or that his words aren’t convincing some people that he may be right.

The CBC clearly has a fight on its hands to re-establish a strong attachment with Canadians, something that will be made more difficult, the more politically contentious the topic becomes in national politics. The generation gap is wide, and a potentially slow-moving disaster for the organization, if solutions aren’t pursued aggressively.

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