A new article from the online journal Church and Faith Trends examines Canadian evangelical voting “intentions” from 1996-2008. (The author notes that the data being used is taken from pre-election polls that indicate “voter intention” rather than actual “voting practice.” i.e., We do not have access to data of for which parties evangelical voters actually end up voting, but pre-election polls about what a voter intends to vote surely tells us something important, even if some people change their mind in the voting booth!)
Among various observations, at least three in the study are worth noting:
- Canadian evangelicals vote very much in accord with the larger regional trends, with only slight preferences given toward “right of centre” parties. The article breaks down voting preferences from four national regions (Western, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic) and shows that by and large, the evangelical vote is proportionally distributed amongst the major political parties relative to larger voting preferences.
- The Liberal Party of Canada has seen a significant drop in evangelical support in the last four years, but not necessarily for reasons one might expect. That is, the author of the article argues that loss of evangelical support for the Liberal Party probably has more to do with ways in which the Liberals have alienated evangelicals than what right of centre parties (such as the Conservatives) are doing to gain evangelicals’ confidence.
- Evangelicals who have left their support for the Liberal Party behind do not automatically go the Conservative Party, despite the fact that much of the mainstream media would like us to believe this. In fact, many evangelicals have thrown their support behind the NDP, Green Party, and in Quebec, the Bloc.
- As one might expect, evangelicals do place “moral issues” (like abortion and same-sex marriage) high on their list of priorities as an election approaches. However, it is also true that, for example, in 2008 50% of evangelicals polled cited the “economy” as being one of the most important electoral issues.
So what do we make of all this?
On the one hand, this study clearly demonstrates that generalizations about Canadian evangelical voters at large are difficult to make. As the author notes, “Canadian Evangelical Christians do not vote as a bloc.”
On the other hand, the study also indicates that evangelicals vote pretty much like the rest of the populace, with only a small measure of them voting with greater preference for the right of centre parties. I don’t know whether that says something about the heterogeneity of evangelical political perspectives, or whether that says something about the homogeneity of the political platforms of the major Canadian political parties, all of which are, at the end of the day, clustered pretty much at the centre of the political spectrum. Evangelicals, in other words, vote across the whole spectrum of political parties because they are, after all, so much alike.
Of course, there are alternative parties for evangelicals to vote for. The Christian Heritage Party (CHP), for example, claims to be “Canada’s only pro-Life, pro-family federal political party.” Yet that does not seem to be enough to persuade evangelicals to vote enmasse for them. Why? It’s hard to say for sure, but I suspect that it is at least because most evangelicals would view it as nigh unto impossible ever to see a government formed under such a platform as the CHP. Or it might simply be that evangelicals, by and large, as interested as they might be in the so-called “moral issues” are also interested in the broader economic, international, health, and environmental issues. True, a party like CHP does in fact have a platform on some of these issues, but again, I suspect most evangelicals are wary of voting for these candidate because they are unconvinced that their vote would actually result in elected MPs, let alone a government.
The greater point, I think, is that evangelicals vote much like the general populace because we all have, to one extent or another, been duped into thinking that the best way to enact political change is accomplished through the exercise of political power. It seems to me that “getting elected” is the number one priority of every major political party these days. Their platforms are designed, in other words, first to get elected, and only secondarily to accomplish political ends. In this sense, we have actually moved backward in our political understanding toward a more hierarchical monarchist view of government. That is, the monarch traditionally “ruled” and had a council of advisers who were an extension of the accomplishment of his or her political political agenda. Similarly, it seems that much political maneouvering in Canada (and I suspect in an even greater way for our neighbors to the south) is about forming a government that can be a political extension of the party, rather than viewing parliament as a government and opposition which is meant to be a forum of what Oliver O’Donovan calls “public deliberation.”
All this is to say that perhaps we (evangelicals and Canadians at large) have to be re-taught about why it is that we elect a government, and politicians need to be recalled to be reminded that their role is not ultimately to gain power, but together as government and opposition to deliberate political proposals in light of fundamental questions about the public’s common good. As long as politicians and political parties have as their main goal the attainment of political power, evangelicals (and all Canadians) will continue to vote on their perceptions of which party will serve me as an individual best, rather than on the basis of which political party and candidates are most likely to do a good job of critically assessing and judging political options in order to enact those measure which are truly best for the country’s citizens.