Canadian immigrant voter surge elected Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the U.S. Capitol, March 10, 2016.


By JOSH WINGROVE | Bloomberg | Published: November 7, 2016

Just as election data suggests a surge of Latino voters in the U.S. is backing the Democratic Party, a recent Canadian government study shows it was a wave of minority support that helped sweep country's anti-Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, to power a year ago.

A full picture of the victory for Trudeau — young, avowed feminist, pro-trade, pro-immigration — emerged only in October as a study of voter turnout by Statistics Canada found voting rates spiked in particular among Canada's indigenous peoples, recent immigrants, and millennials.

Those groups underpinned a coalition that swept Trudeau, 44, and his Liberal Party from third place to first in the 2015 election, ending nine years of Conservative rule. While Trudeau was Canada's de facto "change" candidate, a mantle the Republican Trump has laid claim to, he was essentially propelled to office by a base that looks a lot like that of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In the U.S., "you have these two key drivers. You have age, and you have minority voters, and these have the potential to be very volatile voting blocs for the Clinton campaign," said Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, a non-partisan polling agency in Vancouver. "Turnout is going to obviously be a huge factor."

The North American neighbors have stark demographic differences — for example, about one in five Canadians are foreign-born, the highest rate in the Group of Seven countries, and Trudeau campaigned on increasing intake of Syrian refugees. Canada's example may still be a warning sign for Trump, 70, who trails Clinton among non-white voters and has vowed to suspend the Syrian refugee program in the U.S. Clinton's campaign has particularly targeted the Latino vote, a key bloc in states including Florida, Arizona and Nevada, and early voting returns suggest it's having success.

Clinton, 69, is backed by 66 percent of Hispanic voters, 86 percent of African-American voters, and 64 percent of all other non-white voters, Angus Reid found in a poll published Nov. 4. She leads among voters 54 and younger, while Trump leads among those 55 and older and among whites. Overall, the poll showed Clinton up by four points. The final Bloomberg Politics national poll before Tuesday's election showed similar results.

The Statistics Canada study published Oct. 12 found Canada's voting rates among recent immigrants rose by 14 percentage points while indigenous voter turnout rose 15 points compared with 2011, catapulting groups with traditionally low turnout into more traditional ranges. The study used Labor Force Survey data for the first time to provide a more detailed breakdown. Earlier Elections Canada data had shown a spike in overall and youth turnout, while offering a cursory look at ethnicity.

In particular, voting rates spiked for recent immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and west-central Asia. Those are regions from which Canada's immigrants are roughly 40 percent Muslim, according to other government data. Canada's election campaign saw only a flicker of the racial division seen in the U.S. race, though it was also aimed at Muslims, a group Trump has threatened to block from immigrating.

With just over two weeks to go in the race, though, Canada's incumbent Conservatives proposed establishing a "barbaric cultural practices" tip-line. Polls showed that was key to sealing the Conservative defeat and buoying Trudeau.

Overall turnout in Canada of recent immigrants rose by 14 points, to 70 percent in 2015 from 56 percent in 2011. That compares with an increase of 15 points for indigenous Canadians, 7 points for Canadian-born people who are not indigenous, and 6 points overall for all immigrants (recent and established), the Statistics Canada data found.

The voter rate among established immigrants increased less than that of recent immigrants, largely because the former group already participated at a higher rate. The voting rates for both groups started to converge, at 76 percent for established immigrants and 70 percent for recent immigrants.

The data comes with a caveat — it's based on responses, and therefore would capture people who merely said they voted, regardless of whether or not they did. Study co-author Sharanjit Uppal said the rate at which respondents would lie about voting is assumed to be similar across ethnic groups. The results also mirror Elections Canada data that showed overall turnout was 68.3 percent in 2015, up from 61.1 percent in the previous election.

"We are pretty confident in the data and the results," Uppal said. Before it, "we had no basis to believe where the turnout rates increased the most."

Trudeau, whose popularity soared after his victory, has mostly avoided commenting on Trump, although his centrist Liberals have longstanding ties to the Democratic Party. Trudeau has said repeatedly that he'll work with whomever is elected. Trump has pitched a brand of protectionism, including reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement, that would have a strong impact on a Canadian economy heavily reliant on exports to the U.S., its largest trading partner.

Canadian politicians make a point of courting immigrant voting blocs far more than their counterparts in the U.S., Kurl said. "They haven't really figured out marginal minority politics in the way Canadians have," she said in a telephone interview. "The parties in Canada at least pay lip service to, or really do double down on, courting and franchising the minority vote."

Other Angus Reid polling found Trudeau won the overall immigrant vote due to a substantial lead among recent immigrants. The agency also found that its polling category of "other" religions — including Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and Buddhist voters — skewed heavily for Trudeau.