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Survey of Electors on Communications with Electors

Executive Summary

On behalf of Elections Canada, Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. conducted a random digit dialing (RDD) telephone survey with 1,011 eligible electors from among the general population. Based on a sample of this size, the overall results can be considered accurate to within ±3.4%, 19 times out of 20 (adjusted for sample stratification). The fieldwork was conducted from November 21 to December 2, 2012.

The objective of the survey was to assess electors' opinions and attitudes on various issues related to communications with electors. The results will increase the agency's knowledge about the opinions and attitudes of Canadians on such communications practices. Additionally, they will be used to assist in the production of the Chief Electoral Officer's report on the complaints received about automated telephone calls and live calls during and after the 41st federal general election.

Attitudes & Preferences on Communications Practices

Electors are receptive to being contacted by political parties and candidates during a federal election. Close to three out of four respondents (74%) think it is appropriate for political parties and candidates to call electors to inform them about their positions or platforms. Below this, 69% think it is appropriate for parties or candidates to contact them to encourage them to vote, and 64% to provide them with information on where and when to vote. Respondents were least likely to consider it appropriate for parties or candidates to contact electors during a federal election for the purpose of seeking a donation, with slightly more than one third (35%) indicating that this is an appropriate reason for calling electors.

Looking at the different methods of communication, it is important to note that the telephone is the least preferred way by which Canadian electors believe that political parties and candidates should try to contact them (11%). In contrast, the most appropriate ways to communicate with electors are found to be by regular mail (37%), by e-mail or other electronic means (27%) and by in-person contact, such as door-to-door canvassing (22%).

When it comes to the preferred time of day to be contacted, the greatest single proportion (40%) mentioned that it would be in the evening (5:00 p.m. to just before 9:00 p.m.). Relatively few (12%) expressed a preference for the morning (9:00 a.m. to just before 12:00 p.m.). The remaining respondents were fairly evenly divided, with 20% saying that the afternoon (12:00 p.m. to just before 5:00 p.m.) would be preferable, and 22% having no preference at all.

Protection of Personal Information & Privacy

Nearly four in five respondents (78%) agreed that electors contacted by a party or candidate should have the right to "opt out" of any further contact by that party or candidate. Furthermore, the majority of electors surveyed (69%) disagreed with the view that it is important that federal political parties be able to collect personal information on electors. The right to privacy and the protection of personal information are clearly important to electors, and almost one third (32%) think that parties and candidates in Canada do not use personal information appropriately to communicate with electors. Not surprisingly, then, in the trade-off between preserving an elector's privacy and the need for political parties and candidates to be able to communicate with electors, nearly two thirds of respondents think that privacy should always (53%) or mostly (13%) prevail. Conversely, 15% feel that the needs of parties and candidates to communicate with electors should always or mostly prevail.

Finally, underscoring these preferences and opinions is electors' position on the regulation of communications practices during a federal election. Almost two thirds (65%) think that political parties and candidates should be regulated by privacy laws when it comes to how and when they can communicate with electors during a federal election. Conversely, 31% hold the view that parties and candidates should be self-regulated.

Experience & Views Regarding Contact by Elections Canada, Political Parties & Candidates

Ten percent of electors claimed to have received a phone call from Elections Canada during the last federal election informing them about where and when to vote. This may be perceived as a contradiction, since Elections Canada does not call electors on a pro-active basis, or as an indication of possible misusage of Elections Canada's name and identity. Among those 98 respondents who reported having received such calls, 13 mentioned that they had not voted at the 41st federal general election. This proportion of non-voters is similar to that of the overall survey population. That said, readers should be reminded to exercise caution in the interpretation of such low-occurrence, self-reported results.

More than half of the electors surveyed (58%) were contacted by one or more political parties or candidates during the last federal general election. Several contact methods were routinely used: mail (66%), a live phone call (62%), or an automated call (58%). Roughly one third (34%) received a visit from a party representative or candidate. Relatively few—just 12%—received an e-mail.

Canvassing and polling were the top reasons for contacting electors. Forty-nine percent said they were contacted to discuss policy or to persuade them to vote for a party or candidate, while 40% reported that a party or candidate contacted them to determine their voting intentions.

A few electors (6%) also stated that they received a phone call from political parties or candidates telling them that their voting location had changed. Among those 39 respondents, 6 of them reported that they had not voted at the 41st general election. This proportion of non-voters is similar to that of the overall survey population. Caution should once again be exercised when interpreting these low frequency results, based on these individual cases.

Fully 69% of electors with whom parties or candidates communicated during the last federal general election had at least a moderately positive reaction. Notably, 12% characterized their reaction as very positive.

Sources of Information Used by Electors

Electors were most likely to point to television as their main source of information on political parties and candidates during an election. In all, 41% identified television as their main source. Newspapers (22%) and the Internet or blogs (19%) followed at a distance. When asked to focus on information about the electoral process itself, Elections Canada was the top source, by far. Nearly half (48%) pointed to Elections Canada's brochure, householder, leaflet or reminder card and 7% mentioned Elections Canada's website. Taken together, this means 55% would turn to Elections Canada as their main source of information on the electoral process.

Few electors (7%) reported having needed to make an additional effort to find out when or where to vote during the last federal election. Those who did were most likely to have contacted Elections Canada or asked their friends or family.

Awareness of Complaints about Telephone Calls

Canadians were asked whether they were aware that Elections Canada received complaints about automated and live telephone calls during and after the last federal general election. Most Canadians (58%) were aware of these complaints, while 42% were not. Awareness of these complaints, however, does not correlate with lower levels of trust in federal election results or reduced likelihood to think that Elections Canada ran the election fairly. Additionally, those who were aware of the complaints were more likely than those who were not to have high levels of confidence in Elections Canada (84% vs. 73%), federal political parties (84% vs. 73%), and the judiciary (67% vs. 51%).

It appears as though Canadians who are aware of the complaints received by Elections Canada are generally those Canadians who are more broadly interested and engaged in politics. These Canadians also tend to be those with relatively high levels of trust and confidence in the system. Overall, they also tend to favour protecting personal privacy in a tradeoff against the need for political parties to communicate with electors and think that political parties should be regulated by privacy laws.

Trust & Confidence in Institutions Involved in Electoral Process

The perception that the last federal general election was conducted by Elections Canada in a fair manner was widespread. In total, 85% think that Elections Canada ran the election in a fair manner, with 43% saying it was run very fairly. As well, the large majority (85%) expressed high levels of trust in the accuracy of the federal election results in Canada. When it comes to confidence in the various institutions involved in the electoral process, Elections Canada was the most trusted—80% said they had quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the agency. Following at a distance was the judiciary or legal system (60%) and local candidates (57%). Respondents were least likely to have confidence in federal political parties, with 56% saying they have not very much or no confidence at all in these institutions. To contextualize these views, the majority of electors surveyed claimed to be somewhat interested (50%) or very interested (26%) in politics.

Use of Technologies in Relation to Political Issues

Focusing on electors' use of technology, Internet users are more likely to use a computer than a mobile device when accessing the Internet. Specifically, 72% said they use a laptop computer and 65% a desktop computer to access the Internet. In contrast, fewer than half (43%) use a smart phone, such as an iPhone or BlackBerry, and 29% a tablet, such as an iPad. Six in ten (60%) respondents indicated that they use more than one of these methods to access the Internet.

When it comes to online activities, 68% use the Internet as a source of information about political issues. Much smaller proportions use YouTube to post or watch videos related to political issues (25%) or use the Internet to post articles or comments on such issues (20%). More than one quarter of Internet users (28%) do none of these online activities. Additionally, 55% of those who use the Internet as a source of information about political issues think that the information they obtain online is just as reliable as the information provided through mainstream media. The remaining respondents were evenly divided in their assessments: 22% said online information is more reliable, and 22% feel it is less reliable.

Most electors who use the Internet are somewhat concerned (46%) or very concerned (39%) about the impact of technologies or applications on their ability to protect their personal privacy.

Conclusions

The survey results suggest that electors are generally receptive to being contacted by political parties and candidates during federal elections. However, they do have clear preferences regarding how, when and for what reasons parties and candidates communicate with them. Few electors want to be contacted by phone or in the morning. Furthermore, mail, e-mail and in-person contact are all preferable to phone as a means of communication. Imparting information or encouraging one to vote are generally viewed by electors as appropriate reasons for contacting them during a federal election. The majority said that soliciting donations is not an appropriate reason for parties or candidates to call during a federal election. As well, electors are more apt to favour formal regulation of communications practices than self-regulation on the part of parties and candidates.

When it comes to collecting personal information, Canadians support an approach that places their right to privacy above all else. They strongly believe that their personal privacy takes priority over the need for parties and candidates to be able to communicate with electors. This is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that fewer than one third believe parties and candidates use personal information appropriately to communicate with electors. Not surprisingly, Canadians tend to think it is not important that parties be able to collect personal information on the electorate, and that electors should have the right to "opt out" of further contact by a party or candidate. While electors are amenable to being contacted during federal elections, they want these communications regulated under privacy laws in order to protect their privacy.

Changing topics, confidence in Canada's electoral system and the institutions involved in the electoral process remains high. Despite the ongoing media coverage of allegations of wrongdoing in the 41st general election, most electors think Elections Canada ran the last federal general election in a fair manner. Although the fairness rating is down slightly compared to tracking prior to the so-called "robocalls" investigation, it is still holding strong, with 85% of electors saying the election was fairly run.

Underscoring this positive impression, electors continue to have high levels of trust in the accuracy of federal election results and confidence in Elections Canada as the administrator of federal elections. While confidence in the other institutions and actors involved in the electoral process was somewhat lower, majorities of electors are nevertheless confident in the judiciary or legal system, local candidates and Canada's federal political parties. Perceptions of electoral fairness, trust in federal election results and confidence in Elections Canada thus appear to have not suffered in the wake of the publicity surrounding the robocalls investigation.

The main source that electors use for information about political parties and candidates is television, followed by newspapers and the Internet. On the other hand, when it comes to the electoral process itself, such as when and where to vote, electors mostly get their information from Elections Canada's voter information card and the reminder brochure. Relatively few Canadians mention using the Elections Canada website as their main source of information.

When it comes to politics generally, many electors who have access are using the Internet as a source of information. However, the numbers using the Internet to engage in some manner of political debate, either by posting articles or comments on the Web, or using YouTube to post or watch videos related to political issues, are much smaller. That said, these numbers can be expected to grow in the coming years because those engaged in these online political activities are far more likely to be younger—under 35 years old. The Internet, and social media in particular, will become increasingly important public spaces, ones that are used both as sources of information and as a means to communicate about political issues.