Meet the Tories: Segmenting the Conservative Party Base (Part 1)
The Conservative Party mustn't sound like the old man on the park bench who says things were better in 1985, or 1955, or 1855.
The Conservative Party has something that no other political party in Canada has: a defined, loyal and highly cohesive base with almost no second choice party to vote for.
Polling over the last few elections has shown that Liberal Party supporters often have the NDP as their second choice while NDP supporters often have the Liberal Party listed as their second choice. The competition for non-conservative voters has become increasingly more complicated with the emergence of the Green Party.
While more people than not do not identify with the Conservative Party, the Tories know who their supporters are, where they are, what matters to them and how they can be reached in order to get them to the polls.
When you look at the percentage of the vote the Conservative Party was able to obtain over the last few elections, an interesting trend presents itself:
On average, the Tories could usually count on the support of roughly 7 in every 20 voters.
This relatively consistent level of support from election to election provokes two major questions:
Who makes up the Conservative Party base?
And more importantly:
What do they care about?
This blog entry looks at how conservatives view different public policy issues along gender and regional lines. The next entry will focus on how conservatives view those same issues along age and educational lines.
Generally speaking, we know from historical polling trends that Conservative Party base tends to skew towards men, those who are above the age of 65, those who are married, those who live outside of major urban downtown cores, those who own their homes and those who live in Ontario and Alberta.
Geography aside, we know these demographics have higher probabilities of showing up to vote - great news if you’re a Tory strategist. There’s a small but growing problem though: as demographics shift, the Tories will be unable to draw water from the same well election after election. The party will, at some point in the near future, have to grow the tent as opposed to turning out their base.
In the interim, they still have an electoral advantage.
So what do Tories care about?
The 2015 Canadian Election Study asked voters whether the government should spend more, less or about the same as now on seven major public policy realms.
This is how conservatives overall viewed government spending:
Overall we see that conservative voters in 2015 believed that government spending wasn’t the enemy.
What the government spend money on, however, is a different issue entirely.
Conservatives were more likely to be fiscally hawkish on welfare and immigration. The intensity of fiscal conservatism on these two areas was on average three times higher than the other five policy realms.
We see a fairly strong majority of conservatives supporting increased government spending on healthcare followed by education.
What’s really interesting to note though is that for every one Tory that believed that the government should spend less on the environment, four believed the government should spend more on it. This goes to show that while Tories may not own the issue of the environment as much as the Liberals, NDP or the Greens do – the party base isn’t exactly anti-environment. Also remember that this data is from 2015. With the environment being a greater issue today than it was during the 2015 election, I could only imagine that Tories are greener today than they were in the past.
There are some noticeable differences between conservative men and women with respect to government spending.
Overall we see that Conservative women are more likely to favour increased government spending in 6/7 policy realms with the exception of defence.
Men were more likely to favour reduced government spending on each of the seven policy realms and were more likely to support status quo spending on health care, education, crime and welfare.
We see some fairly staunch regional divides when we look at how conservatives across Canada view public policy spending.
Before we go into the weeds, it’s interesting to note that conservatives on the east coast were the highest supporters of government spending in four of the seven policy realms: welfare, the environment, crime and justice, and immigrants and minorities. It’s also interesting to note that east coast conservatives were second-most supportive of government spending on defence.
Conservatives in Alberta were least likely to support increased government spending on five of the seven policy realms with the exceptions of education and crime & justice.
British Columbia conservatives are significantly more likely to believe the government should spend more on health care not only more than any other region of the country, but also more than any other public policy issue by far.
Health care spending is a rather divisive issue for east coast conservatives: roughly nine in twenty believe health care spending should be reduced. East coast conservatives were highly hawkish around health care and welfare spending – more than any other region of the country and more than any other public policy issue (aside from welfare).
Generally speaking, Tories are more likely to oppose government spending on welfare than on other major public policy realms. However, conservative voters in Atlantic Canada were particularly divided on how much government should spend on the topic. East coast conservatives were significantly more likely to believe the government should spend more on welfare while also having one of the highest levels of opposition to government spending. Quebec had similar levels of lower government spending.
With the exception of Ontario and BC, conservative voters across Canada were more likely to believe that the government should spend more on education.
Very few conservatives were willing to say that the government should spend less on education. The highest levels of reduced education spending was found in Ontario.
As noted above, conservatives are relatively open to the idea that the government should spend more on the environment. However, the greatest level of opposition to environmental spending was found among conservatives in Alberta were roughly three in twenty said the government should spend less on the environment.
More than half of east coast conservatives believed that the government should spend more on the environment.
Crime & Justice
With the exception of Atlantic Canada and Alberta, conservatives across Canada were more likely to support status quo spending on crime & justice.
Very few Tories said that the government should spend less on crime, however, Ontario had the highest concentration of conservatives who believed in reduced spending.
Similarly with crime, strong pluralities of conservatives believe in status quo spending on defence.
Quebec and Alberta had the lowest level of support for increased government spending and had the highest concentration of conservatives who believed the government should spend less.
Immigrants & Minorities
The highest levels of support for increased government spending on immigrants and minorities among conservatives was in Atlantic Canada.
Conservatives in Alberta were most opposed to increased government spending on immigration where just over one in fifty said the government should spend more.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we look at how Conservative Party supporters view public policy spending along age and educational lines.