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Survey of Electors – Whitby–Oshawa / Yellowhead By-elections

2. Introduction and Methodology

A) Background

Elections Canada has a mission to ensure all Canadians are able to exercise their democratic rights, by participating in elections either as voters or as candidates. The agency takes many steps to increase awareness of elections, voting procedures and regulations and minimize barriers to participation.

The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) exercises general direction and supervision over the conduct of elections and referendums at the federal level and his duties cover both operational and regulatory matters.

Elections Canada contracted an independent third-party to conduct a survey of electors aimed at identifying their opinions, attitudes and knowledge of the agency's services and assessing their voting experience with the existing electoral process. These surveys provide an excellent channel to engage voters in a post-election conversation and capture their feedback on the existing process. The resulting insights not only assist in refining Elections Canada's programs and services for future elections but also provide information that helps develop the CEO's reports to Parliament.

With reference to the by-elections held in Whitby–Oshawa and Yellowhead on November 17, 2014, Nielsen Consumer Insights (referred to as Nielsen) was commissioned to administer a telephone survey to meet the above-mentioned requirements.Footnote 3

B) Methodology

A telephone survey of average duration 12 minutes was conducted between December 17, 2014, and December 30, 2014, with eligible voters residing in either the Whitby–Oshawa (Ontario) or Yellowhead (Alberta) ridings.

Elections Canada provided a draft version of the questionnaire which was reviewed by the Nielsen team and suggestions were provided for further refinement of the survey instrument. The survey instrument design and content was finalized in close consultation with Elections Canada ensuring various aspects affecting voter participation and experience were being carefully examined. Wherever appropriate, open-ended questions were used to gain further insights into the potential reasons of a key behaviour.

Nielsen employed a stratified random sampling approach for this survey. Stratification was done based on age and gender. Nielsen had set quotas for all sub-groups within each riding to guide the data collection effort.

A total of 1,503 interviews were conducted (753 in Whitby–Oshawa and 750 in Yellowhead). Survey eligibility was based on the respondent's age (being 18 or over on voting day), established residency in the respective riding (verified using postal code information) and citizenship status (being a Canadian citizen).

Once the data collection was completed, the data were weighted to the population proportions in both ridings. As a result of the careful planning and sampling strategy, the resulting weighting factors were minimal. At a confidence level of 95% (19 times out of 20), the margins of error associated with the combined sample size for this survey is ±2.5% while for the two individual ridings, it is ±3.6%. A detailed description of weighting scheme is provided in Appendix A.

C) Limitations

One of the biggest limitations of studies aimed at estimating voter participation is the bias in results that comes from self-selection and social desirability of respondents.

Self-selection: Nielsen implemented a telephone survey using a random digit dialing approach through which households within each riding were randomly called and asked to participate in the survey. Typically, research shows, those residents who are engaged with the election process and did vote in the recent by-elections are more likely to take part in surveys in general as compared to their counterparts who either did not know about the by-elections or did not vote. The difference in the likelihood to participate in the study results in a higher survey rejection rate among non-engaged residents.

Social desirability: It is commonly felt that participating in the voting process is an important duty for every citizen and thus becomes a socially desirable behaviour. Given this context, a respondent is more inclined to report taking part in the by-elections to prevent being judged by the interviewer.

Cell-phone sampling and limited ability for geographic targeting: The geographic location and size of Yellowhead posed a unique challenge to include cell phone users in the sample in the study. Its close proximity to Edmonton indicated that a significant proportion of residents might be buying their cell phones from Edmonton, and thus not being included in the sample targeted using purchase locations in Yellowhead. In addition, the smaller population size of the riding limited the number of cell phone only records available for calling and still maintaining representation. Similar to Yellowhead, Whitby–Oshawa was also in close proximity to Toronto, which indicated that a significant proportion of cell phone user samples might be from outside of the targeted riding.

Nielsen adopted these key strategies to minimize the impact of these sources of error:

  1. Setting up quotas for various demographic groups to ensure the survey included participants from each sub-section of the population, in particular younger Canadians.
  2. The question wording introduced the idea that many people are not able to vote for a variety of reasons before asking an individual about their participation in the recent by-elections.
  3. The decision was made to use landline-based surveying only, therefore excluding those households who rely solely on cell phone(s).

Despite of these attempts, the survey results suggest a voter participation of 70% in Whitby–Oshawa as compared to 34% reported by Elections Canada and 47% in Yellowhead as compared to 16% reported by Elections Canada.

D) Note to readers

While reading this report, please note the meaning of the following terms:

  1. CEO or CEOC – Refers to the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada
  2. EC – Elections Canada
  3. Electors – Those residents who were eligible to take part in the by-elections held on November 17, 2014.
  4. Voters – Those electors who did participate in the by-elections held on November 17, 2014.
  5. Non-Voters – Those electors who were aware of the by-elections but did not participate.
  6. Respondents – Those Whitby–Oshawa and Yellowhead residents who took part in the by-elections survey.

It is important to note that the report outlines significant differences between demographic sub-groups and regions only if they are statistically significant at 95% confidence (i.e. 19 times out of 20). Where applicable, these differences are highlighted using a red square symbol on the graphs/tables. All graphs are followed by question descriptions and base descriptions providing information on which respondents were asked that specific question. The "n" size indicates how many respondents received that question. A caution statement about low base size is included if less than 50 respondents responded to a specific question.

The detailed results in this report are presented in three main sections:

  1. Awareness and Sources of information;
  2. Voting in by-elections; and
  3. Voting Experience and Identification requirements.

Each section includes a discussion of overall results with a graphical presentation, if suitable. This is followed by a discussion of results by demographic sub-groups highlighting differences found to be significant. A brief description of these sub-groups is provided here:

  1. Riding
    1. Whitby–Oshawa; and
    2. Yellowhead.
  2. Age
    1. Young (18-34);
    2. Middle-aged (35-54); and
    3. Older (55 years or over).
  3. Highest level of education
    1. High school (HS) graduate or less (some/completed elementary, some/completed high school);
    2. Community college (comm. college/vocational/trade/commercial/CEGEP);
    3. Some university; and
    4. University graduate (completed postgraduate university/professional school).
  4. Employment status
    1. Working (working full-time/part-time or self-employed);
    2. Unemployed or looking for a job;
    3. Student; and
    4. Stay at home/Retired (stay at home full-time/Retired).
  5. Household income
    1. Less than $40,000;
    2. $40,000 to less than $60,000;
    3. $60,000 to less than $100,000; and
    4. $100,000 or more.
  6. Awareness
    1. Aware of the by-elections; and
    2. Unaware of the by-elections.
  7. Voting behaviour
    1. Voted in the by-elections; and
    2. Did not vote in the by-elections.

Footnote 3 The survey was conducted in accordance to the Market Research Intelligence Association (MRIA) standards.