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March/April 2006 Issue

Church, Conscience, Corruption and the Conservatives
By Andrew Grenville

What were the forces behind a “C” change in Canadian politics in 2006?

Canada’s change of government, an end to more than 12 consecutive years under the Liberal Party of Canada, is no small event. The Liberals have spent more than 60 of the last 100 years in power. The potent forces behind this change were three Cs: conscience, corruption and the church.

Protestant churchgoers banded together with striking unanimity and voted Conservative, according to the Ipsos Reid polls discussed below. In Quebec, churchgoing Catholics abandoned the Liberals in droves, breaking century-old traditions of voting Liberal.

These dramatic changes confirm just how powerfully “sleepy” forces can act when they band together for change.

Religion and the Vote outside Quebec

In the predominantly English speaking parts of Canada, Protestants who attend church weekly embraced the Conservatives with a fervour never seen before. Historically, Protestants have been slightly more likely to vote Conservative than any other party, but now the differences have become profound.

An astonishing two-thirds of Protestants who regularly attend church voted for the Conservatives—up a striking 25 percent from the 2004 election (see “Conservative Vote Outside Quebec”). Clearly, a line has been crossed and a population mobilized.

In contrast, Protestants who attend once a month or less showed no real change in their voting habits. As usual about 45 percent voted Conservative—that shows no great affinity for the new Right.

There is obviously something that regular church attenders have in common that made a profound difference in this election Catholic churchgoers have traditionally been voting red (Liberal) for decades, if not centuries. But for the first time in the history of polling, Catholics who are regular churchgoers shifted away from the lending the largest measure of their support to the Liberals (42 percent voted Conservative, 40 percent Liberal). And those who attend more than once a week were most likely to vote Conservative rather than Liberal—a real change of heart.

The Catholic-Liberal link has deep roots. Catholics around the world have long tended to vote for more socially conscious, less individualistic parties than Protestants. In Canada Catholicism’s social orientation has a profound resonance with the Liberal Party’s focus on social programs and community intervention.

Religion and the Vote in Quebec

The fact that Quebec is still part of Canada is in large part thanks to churchgoing Catholics in Quebec. In the last referendum, it was their vote that stopped the separatist Bloc. The fact that they have now fled the Liberal party in droves is shocking—and potentially worrisome for Canadian nationalists, since Québécois without any religious identity continue to mark their ballots for the separatist option, as well as 51 percent of infrequently attending Catholics.

The rapid steep decline in vote for the Liberals among Catholics who attend regularly is an important indicator of intense discomfort. Committed Catholics clearly have felt pangs of conscience over social transgressions like corruption and moral issues such as same-sex marriage, and have swallowed hard and switched their vote.

It’s rare to see a shift in popular vote of this magnitude: the Liberal vote in 2006, among churchgoing Quebec Catholics, was roughly half of what it was in 2004 (see “Liberal Vote in Quebec”).

Key Issues: Conscience And Corruption

Clearly, people who attend church regularly in Quebec and across Canada have had a profound reaction to the current political climate. But is there a common thread that pulls it all together? Ipsos Reid polling research identified two key factors: disgust with Liberal corruption and moral issues like same-sex marriage and abortion.

For Canadian Protestants who attend church weekly, the issue that weighed most heavily on their choice was a concern of conscience: moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Among Catholics, the strongest urge was to clean up corruption. Issues like healthcare, the economy and the environment ranked a distant third for churchgoers (see “The Issue That Mattered Most” below).

The fact that four in ten Protestants cited same-sex marriage and abortion as drivers of their choice of vote indicates such issues were powerful factors in this election. But consider the glass half empty: a majority cited some other issue as the main reason for their vote. It remains to be seen if the alignment of conscience, corruption and other issues that brought the Conservatives to power can persist.

We know that about half of the churchgoing Protestants and one-third of the Catholics who voted Conservatives were actually voting for a minority government. So if they were just parking their vote as a protest, this change may only signal a one-time burst of anger at the Liberals. If a free vote on same-sex marriage yields no change, then the banding together of church groups around the same-sex marriage issue may well go the way of the Temperance movement, the momentum slowing dwindling to nothing.

So Canada could be on the cusp of a profound change in culture, a true right turn, or we may have just witnessed something spectacular but ultimately unimportant, a flash in the pan. No one knows for sure. But it certainly will be fascinating to watch, and participate, as we head back to the polls yet again for another federal election in the few short years, if not months, to come.

Andrew Grenville is a senior vice president with Ipsos Reid, based in Toronto. Statistics cited come from an Ipsos Reid poll conducted for CanWest/Global on election day, Jan. 23, 2006. A total of 36,003 voters were surveyed via the Internet. Overall results are accurate to within ± 0.5% (19 times out of 20), and could be less accurate within sub-groupings. The data were weighted to ensure congruity in age, sex, regional and party support with the actual current voter population. The importance of Quebec Catholics in the referendum was established in Ipsos Reid surveys of Oct. 17-29, 1995.

Other Articles
Mar/Apr 2006 Issue

Cover Story
Meeting Christians Online: Does Internet Dating Really Work?

Beware of the Con Man

Featured Articles
Church, Conscience, Corruption and the Conservatives

Four Types of Canadian Voters

A Provocative Public Voice

How to Lose Weight and Gain a Congregation

From the Editor
Blind Dating Online

The Gathering Place
Have Evangelical Optics Changed?

Guest Column
Is Homelessness a Government Problem?

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