A VanMag commissioned survey shows the U.S. election may inspire more people to get involved in politics—particularly millennials.
With the inescapable antics of Donald Trump dominating the news cycle, we wondered: what effect has the most recent U.S. election—if any—had on British Columbians as we gear up to choose our own government on May 9? Well, it seems the Trump Effect could turn out to be good for democracy in B.C. A survey commissioned by VanMag from Insights West shows Trump’s rise to the White House has underscored the importance of voting in general elections, and may even inspire more young people to vote. Nearly 30 percent of respondents to our poll said they have developed a greater resolve to become involved in politics since the U.S. election, and that voting makes a difference. Among 18 to 34-year-olds the response was even stronger. Nearly 40 percent said the U.S. election had spurred them to become more involved in politics. According to Mario Canseco, vice president of public affairs for Insights West, the constant media attention paid to the U.S. politics in the run-up to the election and its tumultuous aftermath has had a substantial impact in Canada, and especially in B.C. with our provincial election coming so soon after. “We covered the U.S. campaign in Canada like no other presidential campaign has ever been covered,” said Canseco. “We were leading our national newscasts with ‘Trump said this, Hillary said that,’ Trump’s video, Hillary’s emails—so I think many more Canadians than ever paid attention to U.S. politics and the outcome was certainly going against everything that most Canadians wanted.” Will the same anti-Trump sentiment that drew thousands to Vancouver streets for January's women's march lead to a bump in voter turnout in the May 9 provincial election? While Canadians, generally, are not fans of Trump, B.C. seems to be particularly troubled by the recent events in U.S. politics, Canseco said, adding Trump’s disapproval ratings in B.C. were higher than 90 percent for more than three months leading up to his election last November. “So you see a situation like that and you see the analysis after—the people who didn’t vote, people who may have forgotten to vote, the fact that the campaign wasn’t run properly in specific states, the fact that you have somebody who wins an election with more votes but gets fewer electoral votes because of the electoral college—people start paying attention to the nitty-gritty of politics because of it,” he said. But not everybody’s attention has been equally piqued by events south of the border. Generation and income level appear to play a role in how politics is perceived. The VanMag poll showed that older voters were the least likely to be affected by the U.S. election, with 48 percent of those aged 55 and older saying that they have always felt engaged in politics and the U.S. election didn’t change that. Meanwhile, the group most likely to feel more disengaged in politics due to the Trump effect were low-income voters. Fourteen percent of the lowest income group surveyed said they now have a more negative view of politics and “it would seem there’s no point in voting,” compared to 10 percent of all respondents. The survey also revealed that when it comes to the most pressing election issues, people have a very different view of what’s important when they look at their own lives versus the province at large. When asked to identify the top issue facing the province, poll respondents put housing, poverty and homelessness first (32 percent) followed by health care (23 percent) and jobs and the economy (16 percent). But when asked which issues affected them most in their daily lives, the results were almost inverse, with health care topping the list (30 percent) followed by economy and jobs (22 percent) and housing, poverty and homelessness at only 18 percent.
Among younger people, the economy and jobs was the most pressing personal issue, with 34 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds choosing it as their top issue, compared to nearly 40 percent of this group who considered housing and homelessness to be the top provincial issue. Among those 55-and-up, health care topped both their personal and provincial list. Canseco said people will vote based on a combination of what they consider important both provincially and personally, but what he found particularly interesting is the way this election is shaping up to be decided along generational lines. “I’ve never seen an election like this,” he said. “It’s usually urban versus rural, or big city versus the rest of the province, or male-female. But to see the generational shift has been really fascinating,” he said. “It is a generational war for sure.” Results are based on an online study conducted by Insights West from February 23 to February 26, 2016, among 801 adult British Columbians. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age and gender. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.5 percentage points.