Friday, August 14, 2015

Religion and Voting: Does it Matter?

As Canada grows increasingly more secular, does religion matter when it comes to voting in federal elections?

First off, it’s important to note that when it comes to voting, religious groups are not monolithic. It’s hard to speak of a Protestant vote, a Catholic vote, a Jewish vote or a Muslim vote.

Second, when talking about the religious vote it can be hard to distinguish it from what has been called the “ethnic vote.”

Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists are all minority religions in Canada, and are also comprised of many people who are recent immigrants to Canada.

But even apart from those two things, for many Canadians religion plays a role in determining how they vote.

One way is by how individuals “bring their worldview to the voting booth,” according to Ron Dart, who teaches political science, philosophy and religion at the University of Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C.

So it’s no surprise, he said, that they “tend to vote for someone who shares their values.”

Then there is the corporate dimension. Even though attendance at worship services is down, millions of Canadians still gather every weekend at churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and gurdwaras.

While there, they are apt to be reminded about the election, pray for political leaders, hear sermons about their responsibility as citizens, or be encouraged to consider their values when deciding how to vote.

One way church groups help members with voting is through election kits. Groups that have made kits include the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Council of Churches, Development & Peace (Roman Catholic) and Mennonite Central Committee.

These kits focus on issues such as domestic hunger, poverty, homelessness, Aboriginal issues and other things, along with climate change and international relief and development.

Church groups are the only ones to produce election kits, of course, but unlike other organizations that do so, they have the ability to promote them or use them on a weekly basis with large numbers of people.

Contrast all this with people who say they have no religion. Unlike religious people, they don’t gather in groups on a regular basis. It is harder for their opinion to be shaped collectively, as a result.

Then there is the matter of voting itself.

According to Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer at Vision Critical, people who attend worship services regularly are more likely to vote than other Canadians.

“Religious people tend to be more community-minded and more engaged in the community,” he said, adding that these are factors that can also lead people to be more likely to vote.

But will all this make a difference? Eric Mang thinks so. 

Mang, who served as a political aide in the Harris government in Ontario and the Campbell government in B.C., said in 2009: “What should interest political junkies is that, next to regional reasons for voting patterns, religion is the most powerful predictor of voter behaviour in Canada.”

As more and more people say they have no religion, this could change. But for now, it could still make a difference. We'll know in a couple of months. 

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