The CARP Poll™: Capturing Member Opinions in 2012

November 2, 2012 – We have been polling members on their opinions on current issues every two weeks since October 2008, four years now. This means we have a detailed account of members’ attitudes going back four years, and we also have their voting intention data, a question we ask on every poll.

Our most popular polls, measured in terms of the number of members who complete them, deal with pension issues like OAS and CPP, or health care issues like home care and long term care. These subjects attract a lot of response from members because they are directly related to their quality of life and to CARP’s advocacy mission.

CARP members weigh in on CARP’s advocacy platforms – in detail, not just broad strokes – and add weight to our voice in the corridors of power.

On pension security, members have consistently made it clear that they prefer an expansion of CPP (modest if necessary, significant if possible) to any expansion of privately sponsored pension schemes. On home care, most want and expect to spend their final days at home and they want a comprehensive system of care that will allow them to do so. While none wants to spend time in long term care, all recognize the necessity, and want it to be well-funded and regulated.

On more controversial issues, CARP members have been equally forthcoming. Close to one tenth of our members have shared the fact they have suffered elder abuse, and this was polled twice. But three times as many said they knew of someone else who had been abused, and this added urgency to CARP’s call on governments for immediate action – which culminated in [pending] legislation to increase sentencing for elder abuse.

Members’ Votes cannot be taken for Granted. First of all, their political preferences, while steady are no longer static. Historically, CARP members, much like other middle aged or older, higher income, retired Canadians, tend to support the Conservative Party. In fact, for the first three years of our polling, the Conservative Party rarely scored less than 50% in voting intention, while the Liberals tended to score in the 30s and the NDP in the teens.

All that changed during the May, 2011 election. The Conservatives suffered an initial drop in support at the election call, the Liberals experienced a brief surge, but as the election drew nearer, and the Conservatives headlined seniors’ issues in their election platform, CARP member support reached new highs with most calling for a Conservative majority in our pre-election polls.

CARP members continue to be a bellwether group –calling for and getting a Conservative majority – they also called the “Orange Crush”. The last pre-election CARP Poll™ showed a surge of support for the NDP when all the political pundits were still calling for a Liberal Opposition.

When the votes were counted, the Conservatives were on top in the CARP Poll™ (with a slightly reduced margin), the Liberals and the NDP were slugging it out for second place, with the NDP eventually prevailing. This has remained the pattern since (except for one brief period when the NDP led the Conservatives).

We continue to capture voting preferences in between elections to see how major policy issues play with our members. The OAS changes provided the perfect case study.

A large downward drop in support for the Conservative Party came immediately after Prime Minister Harper’s statement at Davos in early January that was taken to mean [correctly, as it turned out] that the eligibility age for OAS would be raised to 67. Support for the governing Conservatives fell precipitously to erase their double digit lead over the Liberal Party.

Another major decline in the government’s fortunes occurred when they used their Parliamentary majority to force the Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 through the Commons, despite the united opposition of the two other parties. CARP members made it clear in surveys that a majority government was not a license to run roughshod over opposition objections to a bill that was equally unpopular with the public.

The eventual outcome of members ’assessments of the parliamentary conduct of this government is that the Conservatives have lost half their support, while the NDP has doubled theirs. This change did not happen overnight, but it is clearly evidence of a tectonic shift in the attitudes of older Canadians to anything that appears to undermine the checks and balances in our parliamentary processes.

It may be that all governments in power count on support for the status quo from retired middle-class Canadians, but if CARP Polls are any indication, they can no longer take this support for granted.

Democracy matters to CARP members. While polls addressing quality of life issues attract the most response, the polls that attract the sharpest response, that is, the most direct correlation between current events and voting intention, are those that deal with democratic ethics and government misbehaviour. CARP members are very sensitive to what they see as misuse of the norms of democratic process, or government high-handedness.

Detailed discussion of parliamentary processes might bore the general public, but CARP Polls™ dealing with them draw heavy and immediate response from CARP members. For them, a majority government is not a blank cheque and they expect the Official Opposition and all MPs including government backbenchers –to properly fulfill their mandate to ensure a responsible government.  And when they perceive any attack on the checks and balances inherent in our parliamentary rules and traditions, they will demonstrate their disapproval by changing their voting preferences in the CARP Polls™.

In past years, the steepest declines in Conservative Party support came with Prime Minister Harper’s second prorogation of parliament, one that was clearly intended to avoid an election. Another steep decline occurred when the government was declared in contempt of parliament.

This year, there was a decline in voter preference around the release of the F-35 fighter jet cost overruns likely due to the impression among members that the government wasn’t being frank with Canadians. But by far the greatest impact was the fundamental change to OAS without putting it before the electorate and powering the Omnibus Bill through Parliament.  It is clear that, while pensions and health care excite their interest, it is only government high-handedness that will ignite members’ indignation.

Consistently, CARP Poll™ results demonstrate that CARP members want to see even a majority government held in check and give that role to the opposition parties in Parliament. But they, themselves, will also be watching carefully.

Read the Full CARP Advocacy Annual Report