A volatile national mood

MARK NICHOLS January 5 1987

A volatile national mood

MARK NICHOLS January 5 1987

A volatile national mood


Willie Goodyear, a 36-year-old electrician who lives in Carmanville, Nfld., says he does not have a great deal of faith in the men and women who govern Canada. But even though he could only find work for about seven months in the past year, he is surprisingly optimistic about what the future will hold for him, his wife, Jacqueline, and their two children. “If things keep going like they are now,” said Goodyear, “I’ll be doing okay.”

That mix of sentiments appeared to be shared by the majority of Canadians as 1986 drew to a close. The results of the third annual Maclean's/Decima Poll showed Goodyear and his fellow poll respondents to be in an ambivalent mood. Although they were more optimistic than ever about their own future, confidence in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s leadership had declined from the 1985 poll. And Canadians expressed concern about issues ranging from unemployment to the federal deficit and, increasingly, about the possible risks involved in widened trade arrangements with the United States.

Responses to the poll, which are reported in detail in the following pages, also indicated that for the majority of Canadians traditional social values, including the family and jobs, are assuming a new importance. No fewer than 81 per cent of the respondents said that family is becoming a more important part of their lives. Paul Sexton, a schoolteacher who lives in Chilliwack, B.C., with his wife and two children, believes that people increasingly “need the security, love and acceptance of a family. In our society, the small family nucleus is isolated from others, and the extended family is less important.” In a separate question, 59 per cent reported that their jobs are assuming a more important role in their lives.

At the same time, the level of personal optimism among Canadians has risen since the surveys of 1985 and 1984. Despite the bleak economic conditions that generally prevailed outside of Central Canada, 85 per cent of the respondents said that they were optimistic about their own future, compared to 80 per cent in 1985. And 74 per cent of those polled declared that they were satisfied with their personal economic situation, virtually unchanged from 1985, when 73 per cent of the respondents felt that way, and 1984, when the percentage was 76.

For the most part, those hopeful personal sentiments did not extend to assessments of the state of the economy generally. Only 33 per cent of those interviewed said that they believe there is a longterm economic recovery under way. A year earlier 38 per cent said that the economic recovery would last for a long time. And in a significant shift of opinion, the number of respondents who felt that widened Canada-U.S. trade is an idea worth pursuing declined to 67 per cent from 75 per cent in the 1985 year-end survey. Interestingly, respondents were not particularly worried about the loss of Canada’s cultural identity that some critics fear could result from a closer trade relationship. But there is growing concern that Canada might be out-bargained and that a trade deal would not create more jobs in Canada.

Respondents also expressed skepticism about Mulroney’s Conservative government, which received mostly a grade of C or worse for, among other things, its handling of Canada’s relationship with the United States and its efforts to make government work more efficiently. Overall, the percentage of respondents who were satisfied with the job Mulroney is doing fell to 30 per cent from 37 per cent in 1985. “He’s pretty wishy-washy, the type of person who can be swayed easily,” said poll respondent Linda Dunn, a freelance advertising copywriter and mother of two who lives in Edmonton. “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d want Pierre Trudeau back. But I do. He was a strong-willed man.”

Though Canadians were clearly uneasy about many areas of their national life, the poll indicated that to a large extent those concerns are increasingly diffuse. Still, economic issues, including government spending, taxes, interest rates and inflation, were all areas of growing concern. Twenty-seven per cent of those polled rated unemployment—which stood at more than nine per cent of the workforce when the poll was taken during the first week of November—as the most important issue facing Canada, while nearly 12 per cent singled out youth unemployment as the key issue. “Unemployment causes a lot of strife for families and individuals,” said James Mack, 38, who works as a designer for a Lethbridge, Alta., architectural drafting firm. “It damages self-esteem and disrupts the whole domestic economic pattern.”

The Maclean's/Becima, Poll also sought to determine just how active, and adventurous, Canadians are in their sex lives. Five per cent of the respondents claimed to have had sex with more than one partner at the same time, while 37 per cent admitted to having had sex outdoors. When participants in the survey were asked a question similar to one that U.S. newspaper columnist Ann Landers put to her readers in 1984—whether they placed more importance on being treated with love and tenderness or on sexual fulfilment—fully 92 per cent put love and tenderness first.

All of those findings emerged after Maclean's commissioned Decima Research Ltd. of Toronto to test the mood of the nation. Armed with a list of 68 questions, Decima interviewers conducted a series of 20-minute telephone interviews with 1,500 Canadian residents aged 18 and over between Nov. 1 and Nov. 6. The data, which were geographically weighted to make regional comparisons possible, included Canadians 18 and older of all income groups and of varying political persuasions.

Statisticians consider that a poll of the type carried out by Decima will produce results that are accurate for the whole population within 2.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20. During the interviews by Decima personnel, respondents were asked if they would agree to follow-up interviews by Maclean's reporters. While the vast majority (87.4 per cent) of the respondents opted for anonymity, 188 respondents across the country agreed to be interviewed on a wide range of subjects.


Even though 1986 proved to be less tumultuous politically than scandal-plagued 1985, Brian Mulroney’s standing with Canadians nevertheless appeared to suffer a further, marked erosion: 42 per cent of the respondents said that they were dissatisfied with the job the Prime Minister was doing, compared to the 33 per cent who felt that way the year before. At the same time, 25 per cent of those polled thought that Mulroney was doing a worse job than his predecessors in helping the country work together, compared to only 15 per cent who felt that way in 1985.

In a more general evaluation, respondents were asked to grade the Mulroney government on a report card with marks ranging from A to F—and 44 per cent awarded the Mulroney administration a C for its overall performance. While 37 per cent of those polled gave the government either a D or an F for its efforts to aid the economy, respondents were even harsher in their assessment of whether the Mulroney government was spending tax dollars wisely, with 24 per cent of those polled giving Ottawa a D and 28 per cent an F. On the question of how well Ottawa is managing Canada’s relationship with the United States, 34 per cent of the respondents gave the government a C, while 40 per cent cent awarded that effort a D or an F.

Choice of fields in which poll respondents would like to be one of the most successful people:

The most important issue facing Canada:


The poll results suggested that even though more Canadians are optimistic about their personal economic prospects, they are growing more pessimistic about the country’s immediate economic outlook. The percentage of respondents who believed that the economy is only experiencing a short-term recovery rose to 31 per cent from 27 in the previous survey. At the same time, 42 per cent of the respondents—the same percentage as in last year’s poll, but down from 49 per cent in 1984—said that they looked to government to protect their best economic interests, while 31 per cent looked to business, compared to 33 per cent in the previous poll. Another 13 per cent said that they relied on the labor movement to look after their interests, virtually the same percentage as in 1984.


With negotiations for freer Canada-U.S. trade at a critical stage, and clouded by punitive trade measures on both sides of the border, respondents said that they were pessimistic about the outcome of the negotiations. The percentage of respondents who said that the Americans would prove to be better negotiators in the talks—and would therefore make a better deal than the Canadian side—rose dramatically to 53 per cent from 37 per cent in the previous poll. The percentage of respondents who said that the Canadian side would bargain “firmly and effectively” dropped to 46 per cent from 61 in the earlier survey. As well, the percentage who said that more open trading arrangements between Canada and the United States would result in more jobs for Canadians fell to 34 per cent from 44 per cent.


When they were asked to look outward to the international stage and the prospects for arms control, respondents to the survey adopted a cautious attitude toward President Ronald Reagan’s hard-line bargaining stance with the Soviet Union. Polled just three weeks after Reagan’s Oct. 11-12 meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, 55 per cent of the respondents said that Reagan was right not to make any concessions regarding the United States’ spacebased Strategic Defence Initiative (SDl) as a condition for a reduction in nuclear arms. Forty per cent said that he should have compromised. But when respondents were asked the hypothetical question of choosing between being conquered by the Soviets or enduring a nuclear war, 50 per cent said they would live under Soviet rule, while 42 per cent said that they would rather have a nuclear war.


The respondents regard themselves as sexually active, fairly adventurous in their sex lives and overwhelmingly monogamous, with fully 71 per cent of those polled declaring that they had only one sexual partner in the past year. Six per cent said that they had four or more partners in that period. Sixteen per cent said that they had had sex with someone they considered to be a stranger, and 18 per cent claimed to have had sex in a moving vehicle such as an airplane or train. When they were asked about Ottawa’s plans to outlaw certain kinds of pornography, 32 per cent of those interviewed thought that the government ban could affect materials they might be interested in.


While four out of 10 of those surveyed reported that the importance of religion in their lives had increased, 39 per cent said that the opposite was true. At the same time, respondents were evenly split in their reaction to declining church attendance, with 47 per cent of them professing to be concerned by the trend while 49 percent said that they were not. One religious phenomenon that did arouse concern was the growing number of television evangelists—a trend that no fewer than 73 per cent of those polled said made them uncomfortable.


Overall, the respondents regard themselves as less idealistic—and fractionally more inclined to the political right than in the past. Seventy per cent of the respondents said that to some extent they had sacrificed principles in order to get what they wanted out of life. And although 71 per cent said that they had not shifted their political position at all, 15 per cent said that they had moved toward the right, compared with 12 per cent who thought that they had moved toward the left on the political spectrum. According to the poll results, those minor shifts to the left or right were unlikely to change the basic division of political loyalties in the country. Asked which of the main political parties they normally identified with, 33 per cent of the respondents named the Liberal party, 32 per cent the Conservatives and 18 per cent the New Democratic Party.

The survey also probed Canadians’ attitudes toward different professional groups by asking respondents to imagine what field they would most wish to excel in. While 35 per cent chose business and a surprising 26 per cent chose writing, only six per cent of those polled opted for politics as the career in which they would most like to succeed. That appeared to reflect a strongly negative judgment of Canada’s politicians, mirroring the pessimism felt about some aspects of the nation’s affairs.

As respondent Linda Dunn observed, “We’re definitely in a depression out here in Alberta, and I think it’s going to get worse. But I still feel that in the long run things will get better and people will begin to feel optimistic again.” In the end, if The Maclean's/Decima Poll served to underscore a single salient point, it was the extent to which Canadians at year’s end were feeling at once both anxious and optimistic.