Indo-Canadians tend to vote Liberal. But will they continue to do so?


For nearly two weeks, experts scoured pre-election and post-election polls to analyze Canadians’ voting patterns in great detail. It is therefore surprising that little attention has been paid to how Canada’s burgeoning immigrant communities voted.

Among immigrant groups, Canada’s large and rapidly growing Indo-Canadian population deserves special attention. According to the 2016 census, there are nearly 1.4 million people of Indian descent residing in Canada, representing four percent of the population. These numbers have increased considerably since then; today, Indians represent the largest group of new immigrants to the country. In 2019 alone, more than 80,000 Indians came to Canada from India, a quarter of all immigrants arriving that year.

For years, the Indian community in Canada – like other ethnic minorities – has been seen as a staunch supporter of the Liberal Party. But the community’s growing socio-economic profile and young demographic bias, combined with the emergence of Indo-Canadian NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, have raised questions about his political leanings.

On the eve of the election, we collaborated with YouGov on a nationally representative poll of Indo-Canadians. Our poll of 724 citizens of Indian descent suggests that the Indo-Canadian community continues to support the Liberals to a large extent, with 38 percent of respondents indicating their support for the party, double the number planning to vote. conservative. One in five (21%) supported the NDP.

Remarkably, this distribution is almost identical to the distribution of Indo-Canadian votes in 2015 and 2019, according to our analysis of the Canadian Election Study. How to explain the voting habits of Indo-Canadians?

To begin with, on a standard left-right ideological spectrum, Indo-Canadians lean heavily to the left. Almost three in four Indo-Canadians identify with the liberal half of the scale. When it comes to issues high on their agendas this election season, respondents identify the same bread and butter issues that hang over the minds of most Canadians: healthcare and COVID-19, the cost of living, state of the economy.

If the Indian diaspora is tilting to the left, why aren’t more of them voting for the NDP? Indeed, for many Indo-Canadians, Singh’s allure is undeniable. Almost half of respondents said Singh’s leadership in the NDP makes them more enthusiastic about the party, largely due to his Indian and / or Sikh roots. Additionally, when asked to rate their opinions of Canada’s political leaders on a sliding scale of 0 to 100, Justin Trudeau and Singh are virtually deadlocked – Singh gets an average score of 67, Trudeau of 65. and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole lagging behind at 49.

However, Singh is hampered by the one obstacle that arguably prevented many Canadians from voting NDP: the party is seen as having little chance of forming government. One in four Indians say the main reason they don’t vote for the NDP is because they don’t want to waste their vote.

On the other end of the spectrum, when asked why they don’t identify with the Conservatives, poll respondents said the party is too influenced by big business and seeks to cut public services. On day-to-day economic issues, the Conservatives seem out of step with the center-left policies favored by Indo-Canadians. Poorly aligned policies on the right and limited eligibility on the left seem to channel Indo-Canadian voters into the liberal camp.

The apparent stability of the votes of the Indo-Canadian community, however, escapes the deeper changes underway. While older voters (over 30) favor the Liberals over the NDP by a two-to-one margin, young Indo-Canadians split their vote almost equally between the two. The gap between first generation Indo-Canadians (who came as immigrants) and second generation citizens (born and raised in Canada) is more pronounced. While half of naturalized citizens support the Liberal Party, only one in three born in the country does. The NDP is the main beneficiary of this change: the party’s share of the vote among second generation Canadians is twice as high as among their first generation counterparts. Indeed, country of birth is the most important predictor of the likelihood that Indo-Canadians will vote Liberals, even after controlling for age, education, gender and religion.

The relative lack of religious division deserves to be highlighted, as it contrasts with Indian electoral attitudes in another large English-speaking country, the United Kingdom. There, Hindus drove out of the center-left Labor Party en masse and embraced the Tories, which gave British Indians prominent cabinet positions and adopted pro-Indian policies. In Canada, partisan polarization along religious lines is not so evident in the Indian community. But divergent views on how Canada should engage with the Indian government and concerns that the Liberal Party favors Sikhs over the Indo-Canadian community as a whole could trigger a realignment.

Going forward, the community’s voting behavior will be shaped by two competing demographic trends. As the size of the diaspora increases, the number of Canadian-born young Indians who are eligible to vote will also increase, thus increasing popular support for the NDP. At the same time, the sharp increase in recent Indian immigration will increase the number of naturalized citizens, who are more likely to support the Liberal Party. The net effect of these trends and the reaction of the Tories will determine whether the stability of the Indo-Canadian community’s voting preferences holds.

Caroline duckworth and Milan Vaishnav are part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s South Asia program. Devesh kapur is the Starr Foundation Professor of South Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.


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