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Survey of Electors – Whitby–Oshawa / Yellowhead By-elections

1. Executive Summary

Background and Methodology

Elections Canada has a mission to ensure all Canadians are able to exercise their democratic rights, by participating in elections either as voters or as candidates. The agency takes many steps to increase awareness of elections, voting procedures and regulations and minimize barriers to participation.

Elections Canada contracted an independent third-party to conduct a survey of electors aimed at identifying their opinions, attitudes and knowledge of the agency's services and assessing their voting experience with the existing electoral process.

With reference to the by-elections held in Whitby–Oshawa (Ontario) and Yellowhead (Alberta) on November 17, 2014, Nielsen Consumer Insights (referred to as Nielsen) was commissioned to administer a telephone survey to meet the above-mentioned requirements.Footnote 1

A telephone survey of average duration 12 minutes was conducted between December 17, 2014, and December 30, 2014, with eligible voters residing in either the Whitby–Oshawa (Ontario) or Yellowhead (Alberta) ridings.

A total of 1,503 interviews were conducted (753 in Whitby–Oshawa and 750 in Yellowhead). Survey eligibility was based on the respondent's age (being 18 or over on voting day), established residency in the respective riding (verified using postal code information) and citizenship status (being a Canadian citizen).

Once the data collection was completed, the data were weighted to the population proportions in both ridings. As a result of the planning and sampling strategy, the resulting weighting factors were minimal. At a confidence level of 95% (19 times out of 20), the margins of error associated with the combined sample size for this survey is ±2.5% while for the two individual ridings, it is ±3.6%.

Key findings

The voters in both ridings expressed extremely high levels of satisfaction with the services obtained from Elections Canada staff (91% being very satisfied). Similarly, almost all voters indicated that it was either very easy (85%) or somewhat easy (11%) to cast their vote in these by-elections. A majority indicated that the way Elections Canada ran the by-elections was either very fair (63%) or somewhat fair (17%).

Awareness of by-elections

The study measured the awareness of the by-elections held in Whitby–Oshawa and Yellowhead on November 17, 2014, and found nine out of ten respondents knew about the by-elections. Although both ridings were high on awareness levels, Whitby–Oshawa was significantly higher than Yellowhead (95% vs. 86%, respectively). The majority of this difference could be attributed to the lack of awareness among young residents of Yellowhead (89% in Whitby–Oshawa vs. 70% in Yellowhead) while other sub-groups in both ridings were comparable.

Generally, respondents heard about the by-elections through newspaper (47%), TV (38%) or radio (33%). Some of the other commonly mentioned sources include candidates/parties elections signs (18%), word of mouth (15%), and two Elections Canada products, namely, the voter information card (14%) and the Elections Canada householder – brochure/leaflet/reminder (14%). Over half (53%) of Aboriginal respondents noticed advertisement from Elections Canada compared to one third (33%) of the general population. Over four in ten (43%) respondents with a disability noticed ads compared to one in three (33%) respondents without a disability.

The voter information card (VIC) was by far the most commonly used source of information for voting procedures in these by-elections (68%) followed by newspapers (17%). The reach of Elections Canada's advertisement in both ridings was limited with only one third (34%) of electors indicating noticing the advertisement. It had better success in Whitby–Oshawa reaching 40% of electors as compared to only 27% in Yellowhead.

Those who did notice the ad recalled it talking about the by-election date (44%), reminder/entice to vote (23%), proving ID/address (17%), polling station opening hours (12%) and advance polling dates (12%). The most common channels through which the Elections Canada advertisement was noticed were newspaper (59%) and radio (22%) while other modes were not that effective. The recall for the Elections Canada's slogan was also limited in both ridings (18% in Whitby–Oshawa and 17% in Yellowhead).

Voter information card

A majority (87%) of electors did receive their VIC. In terms of differences in both ridings, a slightly higher proportion of electors received their VIC in Whitby–Oshawa (90% vs. 84% in Yellowhead). The information on the card was found to be correct by virtually everyone (98%) who received the card. Among those who did not receive their VIC from Elections Canada, about two thirds (64%) did not do anything to find out if they were registered to vote in these by-elections, while some electors knew/assumed they were registered to vote (5%), consulted the Elections Canada website (4%), used social media (3%), relied on word of mouth or asked a family member (3%) or called Elections Canada's 1- 800 number (3%).

A majority (83%) of voters brought their VIC with them to the polling station. The proportion of voters in Whitby–Oshawa who brought their VIC was significantly higher as compared to Yellowhead (88% vs. 74%).

Although very few electors contacted Elections Canada for any reason at all during the campaign (4%), three quarters (75%) of those who did indicated they got the information they needed.

Voter participation

As per the survey results, close to three in five (59%) electors reported having voted in the by-elections held in November 2014. In terms of riding-specific turnout, Whitby–Oshawa reported a 71% voter turnout where it was 47% in Yellowhead.Footnote 2 Among those who voted in the by-elections, two in five (39%) indicated that it was their duty to vote while among those who did not vote, work (17%), traveling (16%) and generally being busy (14%) were the most commonly mentioned reasons.

A considerable proportion (59%) of those who did not vote expressed willingness to vote online if such an option was provided on Elections Canada's website. Close to two in five (18%) non-voters indicated that they always vote and will vote in the next elections while some indicated that Internet/phone voting (14%) and better/more honest candidates/parties (10%) would motivate them to vote in future.

Most voters left from home to go vote (72%) with the proportion being significantly higher in Whitby–Oshawa (77%) than Yellowhead (62%). On the contrary, Yellowhead voters were more likely to start from work (28% vs. 20% in Whitby–Oshawa). More than four in five (81%) voters voted at a polling station and the peak voting time was in the late afternoon/early evening (after 1:30 pm) with 67% of voters voting between this period.

Directional signs inside the building were reported to be more visible to the voters as compared to the signs outside the building (95% vs. 84%, respectively). Overall, the accessibility of the building where the polling station was located was rated very high with 92% of voters giving it the highest score possible. Although both ridings received high scores, the building accessibility was rated to be significantly higher in Yellowhead (95% vs. 91%). The signage for wheelchair access was noticed by less than half of voters (45%).

Identification requirements

Virtually all electors (95%) knew that they needed to prove their identity in order to vote. However, the proportion of electors who knew that they also needed to prove their address was relative lower (82%). Electors from both ridings were nearly identical in their responses to these questions. Previous knowledge/experience (50%) is the most common source of information on these requirements followed by the VIC (34%). Other sources were mentioned by very few electors.

A driver's licence was by far the most commonly used document to prove identity and address while voting (93%). As noted earlier, a majority of electors knew that they needed to prove their identity and address in order to vote. As a result, very few voters (2%) were missing documents when they went to cast their vote.

Overall, most voters found it easy to meet the identification requirements with 83% giving it the highest possible score. The proportion of voters in both ridings who gave the highest possible score to ease of meeting identification requirements was pretty similar (84% in Whitby–Oshawa vs. 81% in Yellowhead).

Experience with by-elections and perception of fairness

Almost all voters were satisfied with the language (99%) they were served in and found the waiting time at the polling station to be reasonable (99%). Similar to above ratings, voters were either very satisfied (91%) or somewhat satisfied (8%) with the level of services provided by the Elections Canada staff.

Four in five (80%) electors have a positive perception about the fairness in the way Elections Canada ran these by-elections. The proportion of electors who gave Elections Canada the highest possible score (very fair) was significantly higher in Whitby–Oshawa as compared to Yellowhead (70% vs. 56%).


Footnote 1 The survey was conducted in accordance to the Market Research Intelligence Association (MRIA) standards.

Footnote 2 Please note that these turnout rates are higher than the official results reported by Elections Canada. The possible reasons for this difference and steps taken by Nielsen to minimize this gap are discussed in the limitations section of this report.