Is Canada “broken”? Are Canadians “woke”?

Given three choices to describe the state of the nation: (“Canada is broken, Canada is going through some challenges, but isn’t broken, or Canada is actually doing well”) one in three believe Canada is broken.

May 11, 2023

Given three choices to describe the state of the nation: (“Canada is broken, Canada is going through some challenges, but isn’t broken, or Canada is actually doing well”) one in three believe Canada is broken. 

Not very many think (9%) things are going swimmingly. 

Most (56%) say there are some challenges, but they don’t feel Canada is broken. 

For Pierre Poilievre, who coined this turn of phrase, his intent is clearly to blame Canada’s broken-ness on the left.  But most of the 35% who think Canada is broken, don’t seem ready to blame the Trudeau Liberals.

Some blame global issues, some blame the right.  When you boil it all down, only 14% of Canadian voters believe the country is broken and the Canadian left is to blame.

Only a small majority of Conservative voters (58%) think Canada is broken, and only half of them blame the left.

And so, when Mr. Poilievre pushes his Trudeau broke Canada line, he’s choosing a relatively ineffective weapon. Not only does it fail to convince many people that it’s true, it can make Poilievre seem like he doesn’t have a really accurate read of the state of the country. No doubt this calculation is why Mr. Trudeau made sure to try to pin the label “brokenist” on the Conservative leader in recent days.

Who’s Woke?

The Conservative leader also loves to decry the so-called “woke” politics of Liberals and other leftists.  Does this work for him?  Not as much as he might think.

While only 18% of Canadians consider themselves woke - only 18% say they are “anti-woke”. 

Most Canadians avoid a polar position on the question: 30% say they are more woke than not, and 33% say they are “not really woke” - but stop short of describing themselves as “anti-woke”.

Perhaps Mr. Poilievre’s anti-woke pitch is designed for his base? Even there the resonance is limited, with only a third of Conservative voters saying they are anti-woke.  Against that limited upside, there’s plenty of downside for the Conservatives in using this pitch because of how it sounds to younger people.  Among those under 30, 69% say they are woke, or more woke than not –only 6% say they are anti-woke. 

All of that said, there’s no doubt that “wokism” carries some baggage. 

Given a choice of defining woke either as “being overly politically correct and trying to control other people’s opinions” or “being aware of the injustices that some people face and trying to help overcome them”, 40% picked the more negative interpretation. 

While this suggests that criticizing an excess of political correctness has some potential, it’s far from simple to execute, and there’s plenty of risk.  Three quarters of those under 30, 62% of women, 60% of urban voters think being woke is a virtue.   And even 45% of Conservative voters see wokism in the positive light.

What’s it all add up to?

When Poilievre says Canada seems broken, he sounds to many voters as though he is exaggerating the country’s problems, is overly pessimistic or unaware of the things that make Canadians proud of the country. Pitching Canada as “broken” doesn’t rally the Conservative base, it makes a good number of them feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s even less effective with other voters.

When Poilievre decries “wokism” this has somewhat more, but still limited potential as a political message. A fair number of voters are ready to rally against superior, preachy or overly judgmental aspects of wokism. However, any anti-woke pitch risks backlash if it sounds dismissive of equal rights, or the other social and environmental values that many associate with being “woke”.

In short, calling Canada broken and blasting off against wokism is more likely to be bad math for the Conservative leader – more subtraction than addition. It doesn’t rally the Conservative voter pool, it tends to appeal to the hardest core at best, and leave the rest unsettled or disinterested. Fighting wokism especially makes it harder for Conservatives to win votes among younger people.

For the Liberals, there is opportunity in labeling Poilievre “brokenist” and “anti-woke”. At the same time, Liberals can’t afford to appear to minimize the challenges the country is facing. Equally, if the Liberals sound as though they love the label “wokist” as an emblem of their superior virtue, or moral authority to tell others how to live and think, there is no shortage of risk in this aspect of the modern culture war.

(Data supplied by Abacus Data. Questions designed by spark*insights)

About spark*insights

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