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Survey of Electors Following the 41st General Election

Executive Summary

Elections Canada commissioned Phoenix SPI to conduct a telephone survey with electors eligible to vote in the 41st general election held on May 2nd, 2011. The purpose was to evaluate their experience, attitudes, and knowledge of various aspects of the electoral process. Results will be useful for evaluating and refining Elections Canada's programs and services to the electorate, and to provide information that will help develop the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations to Parliament.

Elections Canada provided the questionnaire, largely based on the 2008 version, and added questions about polling site accessibility, likeliness for non-voters to vote on-line, voting in the 2008 federal general election and at other levels, perception of fairness in the conduct of the election and trust in election results.

Interviews were conducted between May 9th and June 14th, 2011, and averaged 16 minutes in length. The final sample consists of 3,570 Canadians eligible to vote in the general election, and includes 504 youth aged between 18‑24 years old and 528 Aboriginal electors living on and off reserve, including Métis and Inuits. When considering the sample as a whole, the results can be considered accurate to within +/- 1.6%, 19 times out of 20.

Voter Information

Elections Canada dominated as a source of information about voting and elections procedures. The Voter Information Card (VIC) was the vehicle identified most often (66%), with smaller numbers identifying an Elections Canada brochure or flyer (8%), and the Elections Canada website (3%). Beyond Elections Canada, the most frequently-identified sources were television (12%) and newspapers (11%). The VIC remains the top source of information on voting procedures across the 2006, 2008, and 2011 general elections.

The large majority of electors (91%) recalled receiving the VIC and nearly everyone described the information on it as accurate. These results reflect a slight increase in elector recall of receiving the VIC over both the 2008 and 2006 (89% each) general elections. Among respondents who did not recall receiving the VIC, the largest proportion (63%) took no particular action to find out if they were registered: 34% said they did nothing, 24% waited to find out at the polling station and another 5% simply assumed that they were registered. The large majority of voters (83%) brought their VIC with them when they went to vote. This proportion is unchanged since the 2008 election.

Virtually all eligible voters (98%) reported being aware of the May 2011 general election (compared to 99% in 2008). A sizeable minority of them (40%) said they noticed an ad from Elections Canada about the general election. Among them, approximately half (51%) recalled an ad on television, 40% in the newspaper, and 17% on the radio. Those who recalled an ad were most likely to remember it mentioning the election date (20%) and reminding/enticing people to vote (18%). A much smaller proportion (15%) recalled the slogan "Vote! Shape your world" when asked about it. One-third (34%) recalled receiving a brochure from Elections Canada by mail, which reflects a decrease compared to 2008, when just under half (48%) recalled the brochure.

Relatively few eligible electors aware of the election (6%) said there was information about the voting process that they did not have and would have been useful to them before going to vote. The most common needs were for more information about the candidates and on voter ID requirements.

Voting Behaviours

In total, 84% reported having voted in the election,Footnote 1 mostly at a polling station on election day (80%). This result reflects an increase in reported voter turnout since the 2008 general election (73%), but is not as high as in 2006 (87%). A smaller proportion of voters voted at a polling station on election day in 2011 (80%) than in 2008 (87%). Conversely, 2011 saw an increase in the proportion of voters who voted at the advance polls (17% vs. 11%).

There are clear relationships between the likelihood of having voted in the May 2011 federal election and having voted in other elections, including the last federal election in 2008, the last provincial election, and the last municipal election. A majority of electors (57%) reported having voted in all four of these elections. Regarding occasional voters, 29% reported voting in some elections but not others, and 35% reported not voting in some elections but not others. Only 4% could be qualified as recurrent non-voters in that they explicitly stated they did not vote in any of the elections.

In terms of reasons for not voting, non-voters were most likely to point to everyday life issuesFootnote 2 (60%) to explain why they did not vote. Compared to the 2008 general election, there is a slight increase in citing everyday life issues as the main reason for not voting (56% vs. 60%). For the first time in 2011, the survey asked non-voters if they would have voted had it been possible to do so on-line. A majority of non-voters (57%) said they would have voted, with an additional 9% saying they might have voted had this option been available. Most of the suggestions made to encourage non-voters to vote were focused on political issues (24%) and issues related to the electoral processFootnote 3 (21%).

Voter ID

Nearly all respondents (97%) said they were aware prior to the election that voters must present proof of identity in order to vote in federal elections. Fewer (89%) were aware that voters must present proof of address. This reflects an increase in awareness of the identification requirements since 2008, when 94% were aware prior to the election of the need to prove their identity and 85% were aware of the need to prove their address.

The most important sources of information about these requirements are the VIC (41%) and experience/prior knowledge (36%). Since 2008, there has been a marked increase in the proportion of electors who identified the VIC (41% vs. 27%) and experience/prior knowledge (36% vs. 6% in 2008) as their source of information about the voter identification requirements. Conversely, there has been a decline since 2008 in those who identified mainstream media sources, including television (15% vs. 32%), radio (10% vs. 22%), and newspaper (9% vs. 22%). There has also been a decline in those identifying the EC brochure/householder/reminder card (5% vs. 14%). Virtually everyone who voted (97%) said it was easy to meet the identification requirements, a proportion almost identical to 2008 (98%).

Since 2008, attitudes towards voters having to prove their identity at the polls have remained relatively stable (96% held positive attitudes in 2011 vs. 94% in 2008). The same can be said about the proof of address (from 88% to 91%). Criticism of these requirements tended to focus on the need to prove one's address.

Virtually all voters who voted at polling stations (99%) said they had the required identification documents with them when they went to vote. This is very similar to 2008, when 98% of voters reported bringing the required identification with them. The vast majority of these voters said they used their driver's license for this purpose. The only other types of documents identified with any frequency were a health card (16%) and a VIC (14%).

In this regard, the 2011 general election saw an increase in electors saying they brought their VIC with them to the polls to prove their identity and address (3% in 2008 vs. 14% in 2011). During the 2011 general election, Elections Canada used a new procedure in certain target locationsFootnote 4, initially tested during the 2010 by-elections, by which the VIC was accepted, along with another document, to prove one's address. This new procedure, however, does not account for the increase. In fact, most electors (91%) who reported using their VIC as ID did so in conjunction with another piece of ID that was sufficient by itself, thus rendering the use of the VIC superfluous. Looking at electors' residential circumstances, only two can be said to have taken advantage of the VIC as ID procedures. Overall, very few (n=16) reported using their VIC by itself, which represents an incorrect use of the VIC.

Convenience and Accessibility

By a wide margin, most voters (80%) said they went to vote from their home. As well, almost everyone felt that the distance to the voting location was convenient for them (97%) and that they had no difficulty reaching it (98%). These results are similar to both the 2006 and 2008 election campaigns, where 96% said that the polling station they used was a convenient distance for them, and 98% reported no problems in finding it.Footnote 5

There was widespread satisfaction with various aspects of the voting process. This includes perceptions that the waiting time at the polling station was reasonable (97%), that the building where they voted was accessible (98%), and that there was sufficient signage both inside (95%) and outside (82%) to direct them, as well as satisfaction with the language in which they were served (99%). Unchanged from 2008, 99% of voters said that casting their vote had been an easy process.

Of note is that electors with a disability were slightly less likely to say that the building where they voted was accessible (96% vs. 99% among others).

Satisfaction and Trust

Perceptions of Elections Canada were also very positive. There was near-unanimous satisfaction with the service provided by Elections Canada Staff (98%), a proportion that has remained unchanged since 2008, and 90% felt that Elections Canada ran the election fairly (65% saying very fairly) while 3% had a negative view on this. Lastly, the large majority (87%) also expressed high levels of trust in the accuracy of election results in their riding.

Focus on Youth

Sixty-nine percent of youth electors said they voted in the 2011 general election, an increase from the 63% who reported doing so for the 2008 general election and roughly comparable to 70% in 2006. As is the case with the general population, youth increasingly cited everyday life issues as the main reason they did not vote (61% in 2011 vs. 50% in 2008), while mentioning electoral process issues less often (9% vs. 16% in 2008). Youth were more likely to say they would have voted had it been possible to do so online (67% vs. 57% in the overall population). The top suggestion offered to encourage youth to vote in elections was to advertise in schools/on campus (19%), followed closely by focusing on issues important to youth (17%). Youth were more likely than members of the general population to learn about the election, voting procedures, and identification requirements through word of mouth and the Internet.

At the polls, youth were no more or less likely than the general population to have had the required identification documents with them, but they were less likely to consider these requirements very easy to meet (74% vs. 83% in the overall population). These findings are similar to 2008. As is the case with the general population, in 2011, youth were more likely to cite their VIC as a document brought for identification purposes (10% vs. 3% in 2008).

Focus on Aboriginal Canadians

Sixty-seven percent of Aboriginal respondents reported voting in the 2011 general election. This is an increase over the federal elections of 2006 (64%) and 2008 (54%). Aboriginal Canadians were less likely to report awareness of the 2011 election (89% vs. 98% of the population at large). Similar to the general population, Aboriginals increasingly cited everyday life issues as the main reason they did not vote (55% in 2011 vs. 45% in 2008). Conversely, they mentioned electoral process issues less often (6% in 2011 vs. 18% in 2008), while political issues remained essentially the same in prominence (36% in 2011 vs. 35% in 2008). Suggestions for encouraging Aboriginal people to vote in federal elections include more education or information about the voting process, more campaigning or information from candidates directed to Aboriginal Canadians, better communication with Aboriginal Canadians, providing information in their native language, and better treatment of Aboriginals and Aboriginal issues.

Aboriginals were less likely than the general population to have brought their VIC to the polls with them (69% vs. 83%) and to have had the required identification documents with them when they went to vote (94% vs. 99%). They were slightly less likely than the general population to think that meeting ID requirements was easy (95% vs. 97%) and, in particular, less likely to consider it very easy (73% vs. 83%). Also, proportionally more Aboriginal respondents found meeting the proof of ID requirements easy compared with 2008 (95% vs. 89%). As is the case with the general population, Aboriginal voters were more likely to say that they brought their VIC as an identification document in 2011 than in 2008 (12% vs. 2%). Amongst Aboriginals, a greater proportion found the distance to their polling station convenient in 2011 than in 2008 (95% vs. 89%).

The likelihood of reporting having voted in the 2011 election did not differ significantly between Aboriginal electors living on a reserve from those living off a reserve (65% vs. 69% respectively). Aboriginal electors living off a reserve, however, were more likely to report having voted in their last provincial election (69% vs. 58% living on a reserve). They were also more likely to trust the accuracy of election results in their riding (73% vs. 58% living on a reserve), and to report following the campaign closely (63% vs. 51% living on a reserve). Interestingly, Aboriginals living on a reserve were more likely than those living off a reserve to say that their address was correct on their VIC (99% vs. 94%).

Key Implications

In terms of going forward, the results point toward a few areas that Elections Canada may wish to focus on. One such area would be what seems like a growing confusion over the purpose and use of the VIC with regards to identification, which Elections Canada may seek to correct. Fourteen percent of electors reported having used their VIC as a means of identification at the polls, an increase from just 3% in 2008. Since the majority of these respondents did not qualify for using their VIC as ID and most also reported having presented another identification document that, by itself, sufficed to meet the identification requirements, the likeliest explanation is that electors believe that their VIC is used for identification purposes on account of their having presented it.

Another area of interest is certainly the difficulties Aboriginal Canadians experience with meeting the voter identification requirements. Aboriginal Canadians tended to encounter more problems in this area than did other Canadians, being less aware of the requirements, less positive in their views of the requirements, less likely to have had required documents with them when they went to vote, and less likely to consider meeting the requirements as easy or very easy. While Aboriginal Canadians were more likely than they were in 2008 to find it easy to meet the identification requirements, a discrepancy remains between this subgroup and the general population.

The results also indicate increased support for online voting, with a majority of non-voters (57%) saying they would have voted had it been possible to do so over the Internet using the Elections Canada Web site, and an additional 9% saying they might have voted had this option been available. In short, there appears to be interest in online voting among non-voters, even though the absence of this option was not a primary reason for not voting. Since the majority of non-voters pointed to everyday life issues (60%) to explain why they did not vote, Elections Canada may wish to explore the potential for online voting as a means of rendering the voting process more convenient, thus addressing these barriers. Online voting may prove particularly effective amongst youth, who, despite evidence of lesser political engagement, are more likely than the general population to say they would have voted had it been possible to do so online (67% vs. 57%). More technologically engaged than the general population, they are also more likely to discuss politics online (39% vs. 18%). These results suggest that adjustments to the medium of political engagement could increase youth involvement.


Footnote 1 When interpreting these results, it is important to keep in mind that 1) non-voters are more likely to refuse answering surveys about elections, and 2) the 'social desirability' factor leads to over-reporting of voting behaviour. Official turnout for the May 2011 federal election was 61.1%.

Footnote 2 Includes reasons such as travelling, work/school schedule, being too busy, lack of information, health/illness/injury, family obligations, forgetting and transportation-related reasons.

Footnote 3 Includes online voting, increased accessibility and information on polling dates and locations.

Footnote 4 Long-term care facilities, seniors' residences, student residences on campus and First Nations reserves.

Footnote 5 In 2006 and 2008 the question asked about "finding" the polling station; in 2011 it addressed "reaching" the polling station.