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Survey of Candidates of the 41st Federal General Election

Executive Summary

Elections Canada commissioned Phoenix SPI to conduct a survey among candidates who ran in the 41st federal general election held on May 2nd, 2011. As a follow-up to the baseline survey conducted with candidates of the 2008 federal general election, the main objectives of this survey were to assess candidates' experience and measure various attitudes, including trust in the Agency, perceptions of the Canadian electoral system, satisfaction with the administration of the election and with services provided to candidates by the Agency. Another objective was to track key issues and changes in perceptions compared to 2008.

The research consisted of a census of candidates who ran in the 2011 federal general election. Since the objective was to reach as many candidates as possible, there was no sampling and therefore no margin of error involved. A total of 1,008 candidates completed the survey between May 16th and June 30th, 2011. A response rate of 67% is exceptionally strong for this type of study and represents an increase of 8 percentage points over the 2008 baseline survey (59%). Moreover, the proportion of elected candidates who participated in the survey this year went from 71 in 2008 (23%) to 114 in 2011, an increase of 14 percentage points.

Overview of Key Findings

Overall Perceptions of Elections Canada

Perceptions of Elections Canada's conduct in the 2011 federal general election were positive. Most candidates reported being satisfied with the overall quality of service received from Elections Canada (81%), the way the federal election was administered by the Agency (72%), the way the returning officer in their riding conducted the election (81%) as well as their interactions with the returning officer (86%). These results are consistent with the findings from the 2008 baseline survey.

Experience with Electoral Process

Underscoring candidates' favourable impressions of Elections Canada, their experiences with various aspects of the electoral process during the recent federal election were generally positive.

Regarding candidates' nomination process, 97% felt their nomination was processed in a timely fashion, 81% found it moderately or very easy to comply with the requirements, and 82% found it moderately or very easy to appoint an official agent. Over time, impressions have remained the same or improved slightly. Positive experiences notwithstanding, some candidates (17%) encountered difficulties with the nomination requirements and had difficulties appointing an official agent. Quite similar to the 2008 baseline survey, the main difficulty with the nomination requirements, cited by 60% of candidates who had problems in this area, was collecting enough signatures in their ridings. Many candidates who had problems appointing an official agent mentioned that they found it hard to find someone willing or available to do the job (59%, up from 40% in 2008). There is a growing perception that the job is somehow too demanding (41% vs. 12% in 2008).

Turning to candidates' perceptions of elector registration, 59% were satisfied with the way this process went, which represents a four percent increase from 2008.

When the focus shifts to voting, most candidates were satisfied with the way the vote counting proceeded in their riding (69%), the locations chosen as polling stations (67%), and how the various options for electors to cast a ballot went (65%). Perceptions are virtually identical to those observed in 2008. Not only were candidates satisfied with the actual voting, most (72%) reported that neither they nor their representatives witnessed any problems related to the implementation of the voter identification requirements. Compared to the baseline, fewer witnessed problems with the voter identification requirements 26% in 2011 vs. 37% in 2008. Among those who did report problems, the single greatest proportion, 39%, said that voters did not have proper identification or were unable to vote. With regard to the list of accepted ID documents, a greater proportion of candidates was satisfied and reported no problems in 2011 (71% up from 54% in 2008).

Elections Canada Products and Services

Looking first at information services provided by Elections Canada, 74% of candidates or representatives of their campaign attended the "all candidates briefing" and 81% of attendees found it useful (compared to 83% in 2008). In addition, many candidates (or their representatives) sought information from the Elections Canada website (84%) or their local Elections Canada Office (82%). That said, fewer than half (42%) used Elections Canada's 1-800 support line (down from 48% in 2008). Although use of these information services varied, most who used them were satisfied with the information obtained (83%; up from 79% in 2008).

Turning to elections materials, a majority of candidates recalled receiving documents from their returning officer. Most could recall the voters' lists (92%), the authorisation forms for representative appointments (85%), and the Guidelines for Candidates' Representatives (84%). Fewer, but still strong majorities of candidates remembered receiving a copy of the Canada Elections Act (74%) and the Multimedia Kit for Federal Political Entities (70%). Compared to 2008, there has been a notable decline in recall of the Canada Elections Act, from 81% in 2008 to 74% in 2011, and a slight increase in recall of the Multimedia Kit for Federal Political Entities (67% in 2008 vs. 70% in 2011).

Focusing on the various tools provided to candidates by Elections Canada, 81% of candidates availed themselves of polling division maps, 64% made use of the voters' lists (down from 68% in 2008), and 49% used the "Bingo Card" (down from 67% in 2008). No other tools were used by a majority of candidates. Less widely used tools included the Chief Electoral Officer letter to facilitate access to public places (45%; up from 40% in 2008), and "GeoExplore" (23%; up from 19% in 2008).

Finally, 80% of candidates were satisfied with the number of signs inside the building that indicated where to go to vote, 65% with the number of signs outside the building that pointed to the entrance of the polling centre, 50% with the number of signs that indicated the polling centre had level access for wheelchairs.

Future Directions

In terms of online technology and voter participation, more candidates support online elector registration than online voting. Specifically, three-quarters (74%) of candidates are supportive of allowing voters to register online, while half (51%) are supportive of online voting. Over time, support for online elector registration has not changed, but support for online voting has increased somewhat (up from 46% in 2008).

Looking ahead, candidates offered numerous suggestions to help improve the conduct of future federal elections. That said, no specific suggestions were mentioned by more than 10% of surveyed candidates. Nevertheless, taken together, these suggestions can be grouped into four broad categories: 1) voting or registration changes (42%), 2) administrative suggestions (24%), 3) communications issues (17%), and 4) regulatory changes (16%).

Conclusions and Implications

The research findings are very similar to those of the baseline survey following the 2008 general election. There continues to be widespread satisfaction with Elections Canada, and candidates generally reported positive experiences with various aspects of the electoral process. Candidates were particularly satisfied with the administration of the federal election, the performance of the returning officers, and the overall quality of service received from Elections Canada. Moreover, many found it easy to comply with the nomination requirements and to appoint an official agent, most candidates were satisfied with elector registration and voting process, and few witnessed problems with the implementation of the voter identification requirements. And compared to 2008, there was less witnessing of voter identification problems.

To the extent that there were changes over time, these are most evident when it comes to use and perceptions of Elections Canada's products and services. Use of Elections Canada's 1-800 support line, the voters' lists, and the "Bingo Card" have all declined since 2008, and there has been a notable decline in recall of the Canada Elections Act. Conversely, there has been a slight increase in recall of the Multimedia Kit for Federal Political Entities among candidates, a modest increase in use of the Chief Electoral Officer letter and "GeoExplore", as well a small increase in satisfaction with the information obtained from Elections Canada's information services.

In terms of moving forward, there are several areas that Elections Canada may wish to focus on. When it comes to the nomination process, some candidates continue to experience difficulty collecting the required number of signatures in their riding and/or finding someone willing or available to fulfill the position of official agent. In addition, satisfaction with elector registration is not strong. Efforts to simplify elector registration may help to improve candidates' satisfaction in this area. While not new to this election, the voter identification requirements are still perceived by candidates as an obstacle for some electors, albeit to a lesser degree. The main issue was voters not having proper identification or being unable to vote due to their inability to satisfy ID requirements. Finally, support for online voting has increased; as such, this may be an area that Elections Canada will want to monitor.