Who Actually Supports the PPC
Updated: Jan 25, 2022
The 2021 election results are in and we find ourselves in the same place we were after the 2019 election, a Liberal minority. One of the few differences we have is the growth of the PPC from 1.6% to over 5%. This may be an anti-restriction blip, but it could also be the upward trajectory of an emerging third party in Canada. The lion's share of PPC media coverage has been about their leader, Maxime Bernier, and not about the type of people that support him. This article uses 2019 Canadian Election Study Data to break down the demographics of who supported him in 2019 as an insight into the recent 2021 results.
Bernier has been labelled a lot of things since founding the PPC. Even though some of them are unwarranted, the label “populist” is quite accurate. Trump is the most notable populist in recent history but it has been a political ideology that has pitted the “people” versus “elite” for over 100 years. Populists often vary greatly in personality and politics, but the closest comparable I have for Bernier is someone like Nigel Farage, formerly of the United Kingdom Independence Party and instigator of Brexit. Farage was bombastic, eccentric, and showed little care for what the media or anyone else thought of him. UKIP went from a one person Party to the political vehicle that drove Brexit into reality. With that bold comparison established, perhaps it is worthwhile to understand who supports the PPC
First of all, the myth that only men support these right wing populist movements is categorically false. PPC support was 52.4% male and 47.6% female which is comparable to the gender divide of the more moderate Conservatives. When it comes to education, 58% of PPC supporters have not completed University or College and only 17% have completed university. This is very much in trend with the demographics that supported Trump and Brexit with both movements being more popular among the uneducated. Before people conclude that “stupid” people vote for the PPC and other populist movements, education level often acts as a proxy for a variety of demographic differences such as values, urban/rural, and income, not intelligence.
PPC support also skewed younger with their greatest support coming from people in their 20’s. Another knock against the stereotypical populist supporter being older white males. But with PPC support skewing younger it does defy the demographic trends of other populist events like Brexit and Trump. A possible explanation for this is that young people in Canada are more likely to vote for smaller third parties (like the NDP and Green Party), meaning that trend may extend for right-wing parties as well.
CES does not record racial demographic data so the racial makeup of PPC support in 2019 is unknown. Obviously people will have preconceived notions about the racial makeup of an anti-establishment fringe right-wing party, but like age and gender, these issues are far more murky than a simple narrative. Trump, for example, increased his share of ethnic minority votes in the 2020 election and outpaced previous GOP Presidential candidates.
When discussing populists it is often hard to refrain from dismissive narratives about their homogeneous mob like support. Part of the reason so many of these populist surprise come election day is because people are unable to see the complex array of reasons, apart from one's personal identity, for being drawn to political movements that represent change and a divorce from the status quo. Perhaps the more important question isn’t “who votes for the PPC” but “why do people vote for the PPC”.
The PPC advertises itself as a freedom party that supports Canadian national pride, so that naturally should be reflected in the opinions of their supporters. When posed the statement “the government does not care what people like me think” Canadians agreed 67% of the time. When asking PPC supporters this number grows to 90%. Such a large jump in political discontent certainly speaks to the anti-establishment angle running through the party.
Only 50% of Canadians agree with the statement “this country would have fewer problems if there was more emphasis on traditions”, this number jumps to 74% amongst PPC supporters. Another metric of traditionalism is the statement “society would be better off if fewer women worked outside the home”, only 12% of Canadians agree while 49% of PPC supporters agreed. Traditional and nationalistic values have been strong predictors across all right wing populist movements. These opinion polls are strong indicators that support for the PPC is not simply a right wing party, but a populist one that has a more refined ideological makeup.
Lastly, on issues of freedom and Canadian nationalism, PPC supporters reacted in predictable ways. PPC supporters are 19% more likely to agree that “we have gone too far pushing equal rights in this country” than the average Canadian. And on the contentious issue of immigration PPC supporters are far more likely to support fewer immigrants than Liberal or NDP supporters, but when compared to the national average, they are equally separated from the mean.
PPC supporters are nationalist, traditionalist, and Canada first, but they are not extremist in the convenient ways that fit simple narratives. Often the passion and anger of populist supporters gets singled out as hateful or spiteful. What the 2019 CES data indicates is that populist support is driven by traditional and nationalistic views that were once mainstream and have now become minority opinions. When given a political vessel to express these anxieties they latch on with devout levels of support.
The takeaway from the 2019 CES data is that the opinions and values that unite PPC supporters are far stronger than any one identity trait. Those who cover the PPC should begin caring a lot more about what they think and not who they are. The opinions of populist supporters are often closer to the national average than many believe, and in some cases they are no more divorced from the national average than the mainstream parties (immigration for example). The PPC massively increased their vote share from 2019, so naturally the demographics and opinions of their supporters have equally grown. Using 2019 numbers to explain 2021 voters is not a perfect science but it still gives some interesting insight (until 2021 election data is released)