What role will religion play in this election?
With two months to go, it’s too soon to say. But an exit poll by Ipsos Reid following the 2011 election might provide some clues.
That poll, which probed the relationship between the religious affiliation of 36,000 Canadians and how they voted, found that Protestants and Jews were more than likely to vote for the Conservatives, people with no religious affiliation were more likely to vote NDP, and that of all the religious groups, only Muslims were more likely to vote Liberal.
Specifically, the poll found that 55 percent of Protestants voted Conservative, as did 52 percent of Jewish voters.
The NDP attracted 40 percent of Catholics, but this is mainly attributable to its success in Quebec. The Conservatives attracted 30 percent of the Catholic votes, 16 percent voted Liberal.
For Muslims, 46 percent vote Liberal, 38 percent voted for NDP, and only 12 percent voted for Conservative.
Of those who attend worship services regularly, 50 percent voted Conservative, 24 percent voted NDP, and 18 percent voted Liberal. Overall, the Conservatives received the votes of 42 percent of Canadians who say they have a religious identity.
(See chart below for full details.)
(See chart below for full details.)
What does this mean for the coming election?
First, the Conservative strategy of reaching out to religiously-inclined voters, including immigrant groups and Jewish voters, seemed to pay off in the last election--and it may pay off in the next one.
Second, the NDP is attracting more people who say they have no religion—which is a big change for a Party that was founded by prairie Baptist preachers and supported for decades by Christians who embraced the Social Gospel.
Third, the loss of religious voters seems to be hurting the Liberals. Catholics and Jews, who have historically voted Liberal, are moving away from that Party. With its third party status right now, the loss of every potential vote is significant.
Will these trends continue? Perhaps. One wonders what effect all the scandals will have on the many Protestants and evangelicals who supported the Conservatives in the last election.
For those who prize integrity, honesty and probity, it could have an effect when it's time to cast a ballot on October 19.
For the NDP, which has actually made small gains among evangelicals, the way Thomas Mulcair attacked Crossroads, the church-based humanitarian organization that was accused of being anti-gay in 2013, could affect the way some of them might vote.
In his criticism of how the Canadian government provided funds for that organization’s foreign aid work, Mulcair called Crossroads "un-Canadian," and "against not only Canadian values, but Canadian law."
For some evangelicals who might be considering the NDP over the Liberals, those comments might still rankle.
And the Liberals did themselves no favours when Justin Trudeau announced that all candidates for that Party must be pro-choice. Anti-abortion groups, many of them supported by churches, are ratcheting up their attacks on the Liberal Party in advance of the election, and calling on their members to park their votes elsewhere.
As Raymond de Souza, a Roman Catholic priest and editor of Convivium Magazine put it following Trudeau's announcement, the message being sent to Catholics is that “you’re not welcome.”
But with Canada becoming an increasingly secular country, does religion even matter that much today when it comes to voting?
For many observers, the answer seems to be yes. Although religion is only one of a number of factors that shape decisions about politics, it is still an important one. In their 2010 study of Canadian voting behaviour, Cameron D. Anderson and Laura B. Stephenson wrote that “outside of religion and class, religion has been found to be one of the strongest vote determinants in Canada.”
At the same time, they acknowledge, “in many ways, the issue of religious voting in Canada remains one of the least understood aspects of Canadian voting behaviour.”
Adds Will McMartin, a long-time political consultant and commentator in they July 15 issue of The Tyee: “Religion today may or may not be as vital to Canadian politics and elections as once it was, but it remains an important consideration nonetheless.”
Religion, he goes on to say, “almost certainly will be an important factor for a sizeable number of Canadians as they ponder how to vote in the looming federal general election. Whether it will be decisive in determining the outcome remains to be seen.”