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Estimation of the Jewish Population

Data Analysis and Quality Division, Elections Canada - August 2019


On July 29, 2019, the Chief Electoral Officer announced that the 43rd general election would take place as planned on October 21, 2019. In order to accommodate the needs of observant Jewish electors, an action plan for observant Jewish community voting will be implemented. The six-step action plan includes various enhanced voting options and services that will be implemented by returning officers in federal electoral districts (FEDs) with a Jewish population of 1 percent or more.

To determine the location of Jewish populations, Elections Canada relied on 2016 Census data and identified 36 out of 338 ridings with a Jewish population varying from 1 to 13.4 percent.

When initially published, the 2016 Census results were contested by the Jewish community. The reason being that, compared to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), the 2016 Census estimated a Jewish population of 143,665; hence a drop of 53.6 percent. Another study conducted in 2018 estimated the number of Jews (respondents who answered that their ethnicity was Jewish or Israeli) to be 392,000 (Brym, Neuman, and Lenton, 2019). On July 26, 2019, Statistics Canada reported on the results of their methodology review (Smith and McLeish, 2019) and attributed the difference to a change in the ethnicity question on the census form. By extrapolating the results from previous censuses, Statistics Canada estimated the Jewish population to be between 270,000 and 298,000.

After Statistics Canada's review, Elections Canada revised their figures to more accurately identify advance polls (APs) and FEDs with a Jewish population of 1 percent or more.

This note presents the approach used to derive adjusted Jewish population estimates based on Statistics Canada's revised estimates.

1. Approach

1.1 Jewish population

In 2016, no question about religion was included on the census form. However, other questions related to the following concepts on the census form can be used to derive estimates of Jewish communities:

  • Mother tongue: Hebrew or Yiddish
  • Language spoken most often at home: Hebrew or Yiddish
  • Ethnic origin: Other European origins/Jewish or Asian/Israeli
  • Selected places of birth for the recent immigrant population: Israel

The “Revised Jewish Standard Definition” (Shahar, 2014) proposed using these concepts to define Jewishness. As this data were not available, it would not be possible to estimate the Jewish population without the risk of double-counting individuals. However, it has been shown that if one uses the “Jewish Standard Definition” (Torczyner, 1971), which takes into account ethnicity only, one would obtain a difference of about 1 percent. Elections Canada therefore used the information based on combined Jewish and Israeli responses to the ethnic origin question to estimate the Jewish population.

Using 2016 Census data at the FED level obtained from Statistics Canada, the Jewish population is primarily located in 36 out of 338 ridings, whose population is ranging from 1 to 13.4 percent.

1.2 Data sources and adjustments

Statistics were compiled for APs and FEDs. Elections Canada obtained a subset of the 2016 Census variables for each AP and FED, and 2011 estimates from the NHS by FED from Statistics Canada.

To correct for the under-reporting of the 2016 Census, Jewish responses from the ethnic origin question were adjusted using a three-step procedure. The Israeli responses were not affected by the under-reporting problem and did not require any adjustments.

In the first step, a scaling factor was calculated based on the ratio of 2011 to 2016 Jewish counts for each FED. This step was done to ensure a more accurate regional distribution as the 2011 NHS data were deemed more complete than the 2016 counts.

This factor was used in the second step to adjust the 2016 APs. The third step consisted of readjusting the APs to the newly released low (270,000) and high (298,000) population estimates by Statistics Canada (Smith and McLeish, 2019). The FED estimates were obtained by summing the APs estimates. 

Finally, the total estimate of the Jewish population was obtained by adding the Israeli counts and the adjusted Jewish counts.

2. Results

Based on these adjustments and using Statistics Canada's revised high estimate, the Jewish population—including respondents who answered that their ethnicity was Jewish or Israeli—is estimated to be 326,093 in 2016 and primarily located in 54 out of 338 ridings, with proportions varying from 1 to 29.5 percent.

3. References

Brym, R., Neuman, K., and Lenton, R. 2019. 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada. Environics Institute.

Shahar, C. 2014. 2011 National Household Survey - The Jewish Community of Montreal. Federation CJA.

Smith, T., and McLeish, S. 2019. Technical report on changes in response related to the census ethnic origin question: Focus on Jewish origins, 2016 Census integrated with 2011 National Household Survey. Statistics Canada.