Updated: Mar 29
Opinion by Ben Beiles
In 2020, Canadians protested, observed, celebrated, and despaired. Since January of last year, US-Iran tensions threatened to break into war, the COVID-19 virus became a global pandemic, the murder of George Floyd sparked a global reckoning on racial justice, and the American election brought democracy to the brink. After one of the most memorable years in recent history, it is crucial to reflect upon how Canadians reacted, how they felt and what they thought. Compiled below are the results of polls and surveys from 2020 that were shocking, revealing, depressing, and inspiring.
Note: All the surveys and opinion polls cited in this article were from Abacus Data or IPSOS, and were designed to be representative of the entire Canadian population over the age of 18, but, as the U.S. election results warned (again), polls are an imperfect science and can be erroneous.
Justin Trudeau began 2020 just months after winning re-election and forming a minority government. In early January, public opinion on Trudeau and the government was slightly negative but quickly improved at the outset of the pandemic, spiking over the summer and then tapering off in the fall (1). In October, an election seemed to be brewing as MPs debated creating a committee to investigate government pandemic spending and the WE Charity scandal. Most Canadians (55 per cent) supported the committee investigation, even if its conception would trigger an election (2).
At the end of 2020, 45 per cent of Canadians approved of the federal government (a 7 per cent increase from January 2020), and 39 per cent had a positive impression of Trudeau (a 4 per cent increase).
Despite increased approval for the governing Liberals, Canadians reported nearly no changes in their voting intentions, with the Liberals maintaining a slight lead over the Conservatives (3). Canadian opinion was stagnant and divided with regards to the direction of the country. In December of 2020, 40 per cent of Canadians believed Canada to be on the wrong track (39 per cent in January 2020), and 40 per cent of Canadians thought Canada was on the right track (38 per cent in January 2020) (4).
On November 3rd, Canadians looked on as Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the presidential election after a brutal and divisive campaign. Before the election, most Canadians believed that a Biden victory would benefit Canada, but 22 per cent reported that Trump would be preferable. However, this differed by province and a notable 39 per cent of Albertans considered the re-election of President Trump to be a good thing. Just under a third (32 per cent) of Canadians held that Trump would win, and 6 in 10 were concerned about violence in the case of a Trump loss (5).
The Black Lives Matter movement brought institutional and systemic racism to the forefront in Canada, specifically anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism. When asked, 6 in 10 Canadians said that racism was an issue in Canadian society, a 13 per cent increase from 2019, and around two-thirds (68 per cent) supported the Black Lives Matter movement. 6 in 10 Canadians agreed that there is systemic racism in Canada, and nearly half (48 per cent) said that Canadian institutions help propagate systemic racism. Additionally, 28 per cent of Canadians reported experiencing racism in 2020, a 5 per cent increase from 2019 (6).
Personal attitudes towards race and racism remained relatively unchanged in 2020. 7 per cent of Canadians disagreed with the statement that “racism is a terrible thing,” but younger Canadians (18-34) were 10 per cent more likely than older voters (35+) to disagree with that statement. Fewer Canadians agreed that “white Canadians are under threat from immigration” (28 per cent in 2020 and 37 per cent in 2019), but attitudes towards relationships seem unchanged. About 1 in 6 Canadians said that “they would never marry or have a relationship with someone of a different race. (7)”
The COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic dominated the lives of Canadians, killing thousands, infecting hundreds of thousands, and transforming the lives of individuals across the country. Canadians were generally supportive of policies like border closure (59 per cent in favour and trending upwards since March), (8) lockdowns (70 per cent in favour), (9) and mandatory mask regulations (79 per cent in favour), (10) but many (25 per cent) self-reported that they had gone into public venues and refused to wear a mask (11). By early May, most Canadians (56 per cent) said that the pandemic was harming their mental health, with 58 per cent of that group reporting that they were not receiving any support (12). In the latter months of 2020, just under half (48 per cent) of Canadians reported feeling tired of public health guidelines, but 93 per cent still reported they were doing their best to adhere to the recommendations (13). Interestingly, while 69 per cent of Canadians said they missed their work colleagues, 78 per cent said that they enjoyed working from home and only 50 per cent want to go back to in-person work. More than half of Canadians (57 per cent) believe that an approved vaccine will be completely safe, but 1 in 10 (13 per cent) said that they will refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine, with the remaining population wanting further assurances. As 2020 ended, 86 per cent of Canadians expected that COVID-19 would be controlled by the end of 2021 (14).
Despite the enormous temptation, I will include no broad conclusions or extravagant extrapolations from the selected data. I encourage anyone interested in a specific survey or topic to refer to the citations as they go into much greater depth about the statistics and the methodology employed by each study. To end on a more positive note, 72 per cent of Canadians felt generally optimistic about 2021, (15) and I would hazard a guess that 100 per cent hope they are right.
Bruce Anderson and David Colleto, “Liberals Lead by 6 Nationally, as COVID-19 Gains as Top Issue,” Abacus Data (Abacus Data Inc, November 28, 2020), https://abacusdata.ca/liberal-lead-6-november-economic-statement november-abacus-data/.
Bruce Anderson and David Colleto, “Canadians are divided on whether MPs should vote for Conservative committee today and force an election,” Abacus Data (Abacus Data Inc, October 21, 2020), https://abacusdata.ca/confidence-vote-election-october-2020/
Bruce Anderson and David Colleto, “Now and then: How have Canadian views on politics and the economy changed over 2020?” Abacus Data (Abacus Data Inc, December 20, 2020), https://abacusdata.ca/january december-2020-politics-polling-abacus-data/
Darrell Bricker, “Seven in Ten (69%) Canadians Agree that Biden in White House Will Be Good for Canada,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, November 1, 2020) https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/canadians-agree-biden-in white house-will-be-good-for-canada
Darrell Bricker, “Majority (60%) See Racism as a Serious Problem in Canada Today, Up 13 points Since Last Year,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, July 24, 2020) https://ww.ipsos.com/en-ca/majority-60-see-racism-serious-problem canada-today 13-points-last-year
Darrell Bricker, “Majority of people want borders closed as fear about COVID-19 escalates,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, March 17, 2020) https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-and-polls/majority-of-people-want-borders-closed as fear-about-covid19-escalates
Darrell Bricker, “Seven in Ten Canadians (72%) Support Four-Week Closure of Non-Essential Businesses as Canada’s Biggest City Goes Back Into Lockdown; Support in Toronto at 76%,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, November 27, 2020) https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/seven-in-ten-canadians-support-four-week-closure-of-non essential businesses
Darrell Bricker, “Eight in Ten (79%) Canadians Support their Municipality making Facemasks Mandatory when in a Public Place,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, July 15, 2020) https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/eight-ten-79-canadians support their-municipality-making-facemasks-mandatory-when-public-place
Bruce Anderson and David Colleto, “1 in 4 Canadians never wear a mask but making it mandatory finds little resistance,” Abacus Data (Abacus Data Inc, July 6, 2020), https://abacusdata.ca/masks-polling-canada-mandatory/
Bruce Anderson and David Colleto, “Majority (56%) of Canadians Say COVID-19 Having a Negative Impact on their Mental Health,” Abacus Data (Abacus Data Inc, May 11, 2020), https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-and polls/Majority Of-Canadians-Say-COVID-19-Having-Negative-Impact-On-Their-Mental-Health
Darrell Bricker, “Half of Canadians (48%) Getting Tired of Following Public Health Rules About COVID-19,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, October 27, 2020) https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/half-of-canadians-getting-tired of-following-public-health-rules
Darrell Bricker, “Optimism About 2021 Depends Heavily on Perception of Resolving COVID19,” Ipsos News & Polls (Ipsos, October 27, 2020) https://www.ipsos.com/en-ca/news-polls/optimism-about-2021-depends-heavily on perception-of-resolving-covid-19