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Public Opinion Survey Following the March 19th, 2012 By-election in Toronto–Danforth (Ontario)


On behalf of Elections Canada, Phoenix SPI conducted a random digit dialling (RDD) telephone survey with 750 Canadians eligible to vote in the March 19th, 2012 by-election in the Toronto–Danforth federal electoral district. Based on a sample of this size, the overall results are accurate to within ±3.6%, 19 times out of 20. The fieldwork was conducted April 10th to 24th, 2012.

The purpose of the survey was to evaluate electors' opinions, experience, attitudes and knowledge of the agency's services and various aspects of the electoral process. Where relevant, the findings from this survey will be compared with the results from the most recent federal general election (May 02, 2011), as a reference point. The results will be used to assist in evaluating and refining Elections Canada's programs and services to the electorate, and to provide information that will help inform the Chief Electoral Officer's recommendations to Parliament.

Awareness of the By-election

Almost all eligible voters (96%) claimed to have been aware of the by-election that took place in their riding on March 19th, 2012. This result is similar to that of the 2011 general election (98%). In terms of how they heard about the by-election, respondents pointed most often to the mainstream media. Heading the list in this regard is television (45%) and newspapers (41%), followed by radio (26%). In addition, almost one-third pointed to candidate or party election signs (28%) or signage in general (4%).

Voter Information

Eligible voters aware of the by-election were asked to identify where they obtained informationFootnote 1 on voting procedures for this by-election. Elections Canada materials, by a considerable margin, were mentioned most often. Similar to the result from the most recent general election, 70% identified the Voter Information Card, while 14% mentioned a flyer received from Elections Canada and 2% said they obtained information directly from Elections Canada.

Recall of by-election advertising by Elections Canada was modest, with 31% of eligible voters aware of the by-election having noticed an advertisement about the voting process, compared to 40% in the 2011 general election. Those who recalled an Elections Canada ad were most likely to have noticed it in newspapers (43%). Following this, 16% said they saw an ad on television,Footnote 2 14% heard it on the radio, and 10% cited the Elections Canada flyer. All those who recalled advertisement were asked to identify what it talked about. The aspects of the ad most likely to be mentioned were the election date (24%), the reminder to vote (16%), and the voter identification requirements (11%).

Few electors (3%) said they contacted Elections Canada during the campaign. Moreover, the need for additional information about the by-election was limited. Almost nine in ten (88%) said that they needed no additional information, while a few respondents (from 1% to 2%) said they would have benefitted from more information on ID requirements, the dates of the advanced polls, the candidates, the option to vote by mail and voting locations.

Registration and Voter Information Card

Approximately nine in ten (92%) electors said they recalled receiving a Voter Information Card that was addressed to them and told them where and when to vote. This percentage is consistent with the result from the 2011 general election (91%). Among those who recalled receiving the Voter Information Card, all but two respondents said that their address was correct, and 98% said their name was correct.

In terms of recall of the content of the Voter Information Card, 30% said it contained information about the advance polls. Beyond this, 16% recalled the card having the polling station number on it and 15% recalled information about voters needing personal identification to vote. The single greatest proportion, 39%, could not recall any specific type of information from the Voter Information Card. Those who did not recall receiving a Voter Information Card were most likely to have done nothing to find out if they were registered to vote (n=26).

Almost nine in ten respondents (88%) who went to vote reported having brought their Voter Identification Card with them to the polling station. This represents a slightly higher percentage than in the 2011 general election (83%).

Voting in the By-elections

Four in five respondents (80%) reported having voted in the March 19th by-election, while 87% also mentioned having voted at the 2011 general election. Consistent with this previous general election, the main reasons offered for voting in the by-election was the sense that it was a duty (45%) and by habit (25%).

Everyday life issues (66%) were the most common reasons for not voting (e.g. being busy, travelling, injury, illness). Following this, 35% identified political issues to explain why they did not vote (e.g. lack of interest/apathy, perceived futility of voting, issues related to political parties), while 5% cited issues related to the electoral process itself (e.g. lack of information on voting process, problems with access, registration problems). These results are fairly consistent with the previous general election.

Non-voters were asked to identify what could be done, if anything, to encourage them to vote in the next federal election. The top suggestion, mentioned by 25% (n= 24), was the ability to vote online. On this subject, when asked directly, more than two out of three non-voters (68%) also said they would have voted had it been possible to do so over the Internet using the Elections Canada Web site.

Voter Participation

Four in five who said they voted in the by-election reported having voted at a polling station on election day. Another 17% reported having used advance polls, and 2% said they voted at a local Elections Canada office. Virtually unchanged from the 2011 general election, almost everyone said that casting their vote was very (89%) or somewhat (9%) easy. In addition, close to half (44%) knew that it was possible to vote by mail at any time during a federal election.

Voter Identification

Awareness of the voter identification requirements was widespread. Similarly to the 2011 general election, 96% said they were aware that voters must present proof of identity in order to vote at federal elections. Fewer, 92%, said they were aware that voters must present proof of address in order to vote at federal elections, compared to 89% in the 2011 general election.

Among those aware of the voter identification requirements, the top sources of information about these requirements were taken from prior knowledge and/or experience in previous elections (56%) and the Voter Information Card (40%). Virtually everyone (99%) who voted at polling stationsFootnote 3 said they had the required identification documents. In terms of the types of documents voters brought to prove their identity and address, the large majority (79%) said they used their driver’s licence. More than nine in ten (94%) by-election voters surveyed said it was very or somewhat easy to meet the identification requirements.

Voter Experience and Related Issues

Most voters said that when they went to vote, they did so from home (85%). Significantly fewer (12%) went to vote from work and even fewer (3%) from another location. Almost everyone felt that the distance to the polling station was convenient for them (98%), and had no difficulty reaching it (99%).

Almost everyone (99%) said that the waiting time for voting was reasonable, and was satisfied with the language in which they were served. As well, 99% were satisfied with the services provided by Elections Canada staff when they voted (88% were very satisfied). Overall, these results are consistent with the 2011 general election.


The vast majority of voters (92%) described the building where they voted as very accessible, with nearly all the rest (6%) describing it as somewhat accessible. Almost all voters surveyed (98%) felt that there were enough signs inside the building to help them find their way to the room where the vote took place. Slightly fewer (89%) said that there were enough directional signs outside of the building to help them find the entrance to the polling station. As a measure of reference, the perceptions of the adequacy of directional signs inside the building is similar to that of the 2011 general election (95%), while the directional signs outside the building are higher (82%).

Approximately half of the voters surveyed (52%) did not remember seeing any signs indicating that the polling station had level access for wheelchairs. Conversely, nearly four in ten (37%) remembered seeing them (11% were unsure). Of those who remembered these signs, 92% indicated that they were at least somewhat visible, with 66% rating them as highly visible. Very few (4%) felt the signs were not very visible.


The perception that the by-election was conducted by Elections Canada in a fair manner was widespread. Fully 89% felt that Elections Canada ran the by-election fairly, with three-quarters (75%) saying very fairly. This represent a higher proportion of electors who felt the election was run very fairly when compared with the results from the 2011 general election (65%).

Conclusions and Implications

Awareness of the by-election was very high, with mainstream media identified as the main source. Most claimed to have voted in the March 19th by-election, and the minority who did not were most likely to have pointed to everyday life issues to explain why they did not cast a vote. The results suggest that online voting might help to accommodate non-voters, with more than two-thirds saying they would have voted had it been possible to do so online.

With respect to the actual voting experience, results are very positive and consistent with the findings of the most recent general election. Almost everyone felt that the distance to the polling station was convenient, that it was easy to cast their vote and meet the voter identification requirements, that the waiting time for voting was reasonable, and that the by-election was conducted fairly. Likewise, everyone was satisfied with the language in which they were served at the polling station, as well as the services provided by Elections Canada staff. Attesting to service delivery consistency, satisfaction levels with Elections Canada staff are virtually the same as in the 2011 general election.

Finally, in terms of Elections Canada communications, the survey results are largely positive. Almost everyone who recalled receiving the Voter Information Card said that the name and address on it were correct. Almost everyone knew about the voter identification requirements before going to vote (in large part due to Elections Canada information materials). That being said, the advertising recall was modest, suggesting a need for Elections Canada to reconsider how it packages and delivers elections information.

Footnote 1 Refers to when and where to vote and how to prove their identity and address before voting.

Footnote 2 It should be noted that Elections Canada did not produce any television ads for the by-election.

Footnote 3 The term “polling station” includes polling stations on ordinary polling day and advance polling days. Voting at local Elections Canada offices and by mail involves different identification requirements.