This is the Samara Centre for Democracy’s third edition of the Democracy 360, a made-in-Canada report card on the state of Canada’s democracy. Built on the understanding that democracy is about more than casting a ballot every four years, this biennial report card examines the complex relationship between Canadians and their political leadership—especially between elections. Based on 19 indicators and 37 sub-indicators, it measures three areas essential to a healthy democracy: communication, participation, and political leadership.
As each area of the Democracy 360 reveals, there is a tremendous opportunity for Canadians—with support and greater effort from elected representatives—to channel their underlying democratic spirit into the workings of a resilient democracy.
Communication: A significantly greater number of Canadians are discussing politics and reaching out to their elected representatives. On the other hand, they report that Members of Parliament (MPs) are not contacting them as much as they have in the past.
Participation: Canadians haven’t given up on our formal political system. They’re participating slightly more in formal politics, and engaging in activism at rates similar to previous years. Troublingly, rates of broader civic and community engagement have dropped significantly.
Political leadership: Since 2017, there has been little change in the public’s opinion of how well federal MPs and political parties are doing their jobs, although there is growing trust in MPs and in the belief that their work can influence our country’s direction. However, since the first Democracy 360 in 2015, MPs and political parties are viewed much more favourably. In terms of how well our elected representatives reflect society, the House of Commons is not keeping up with the changing Canadian population.
Canadians’ satisfaction with the way Canada’s democracy works has never been higher. They’re more interested in politics, they’re talking about it more, and they’re reaching out more to their elected representatives. In contrast to other studies which have found surprising levels of support in Canada for non-democratic forms of government, the vast majority of Canadians find it “very” or “rather” important to live in a democratic country.
However, Canadians are much more likely to say our democracy is becoming weaker than stronger, with nearly half of respondents describing it as getting weaker.
The information collected in this year’s report card suggests enormous potential. All the ingredients for a major democratic moment are present. But if Canadians and their elected representatives miss this chance then the deep-seated concern that our democracy is getting weaker could become a reality.
What is the Democracy 360?
The Democracy 360 is a made-in-Canada report card on the state of Canada’s democracy, which focuses on the relationship between citizens and political leadership.
The Democracy 360 combines quantifiable indicators, focused on three areas: communication, participation, and political leadership. The Democracy 360 allows Canadians to compare and assess their democracy over time. First published in 2015, the Democracy 360 is published every two years to measure improvement or decline. This is the third edition, published March 26, 2019.
What makes up the Democracy 360 data?
There are five main sources of data in report card:
- Public opinion survey data using an online sample of 4,054 Canadian residents over 18 years of age living in 10 provinces
- House of Commons records
- Elections Canada and other electoral agencies’ voter turnout records
- Independent analysis performed by Samara Centre volunteers (based on MPs’ individual social media accounts and websites)
- Information on the diversity of elected officials in legislatures in Canada provided by Andrew Griffith
The 2019 Samara Citizens' Survey was conducted in English and French using an online sample of 4,054 Canadian residents over 18 years of age living in ten provinces. Data was collected between January 16 and February 6, 2019. The survey has a credibility interval of 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Responses were weighted to ensure they reflect a national representative sample of Canadians. Weighting was done with respect to gender, region, age group, whether respondents were born inside or outside of Canada, and whether respondents spoke English, French, or another language at home. Given the small base population, no respondents were sought in the Territories.
The Samara Centre worked with Professors Peter Loewen (University of Toronto) and Daniel Rubenson (Ryerson University), as well as Benjamin Allen Stevens (Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy) to complete the data sampling, programming, and weighting.
The 360+ Series
Is populism on the rise in Canada? To help answer the question, this year we added a short set of questions to the public opinion survey that measure some aspects of populist thought. We chose some questions that had been asked before in Canada, so that we could look for changes or trends that would suggest a populist revolt. We also tried to mirror questions about political discontent that have been found to go along with support for populist parties in Europe.
These survey findings were published in the report Don't Blame "The People": The rise of elite-led populism in Canada.