What are the chances of a Canadian Trump?

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In the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican Party some pundits see proof that restless voters are rejecting the guidance of political leaders, business elites and mainstream news media.

Could a demagogue like Trump, arousing xenophobic passions, emerge in Canada?


Canada has had politicians with Trump-like impacts. Their opponents underestimate firebrands, and then they disrupt the system.

René Lévesque founded the Parti Québécois, won Quebec's election in 1976, but lost a referendum in 1980 to take the province out of Canada.

Ontario elected Mike Harris as premier in 1995. He cut taxes, battled public sector unions and slashed government spending under the battle cry "Common Sense Revolution." Toronto voted in Rob Ford as mayor in 2010 on a platform to end the "gravy train" at city hall.

But Lévesque, Ford and Harris were almost conventional compared with Trump. The American political commentator Ruth Marcus says, "Trumpism is not so much a theory of government as a celebration of one individual's claimed capacity to govern…. There can be no Trumpism without Trump."

Trump-style nativist populism has no appeal for Canadians.

In a Forum Research poll in April, just 11 per cent of Canadians said Trump would make the best American president (38 per cent said Clinton and 28 per cent Bernie Sanders).

In an Abacus Data survey in May, 57 per cent said Trump is "certainly not" someone "who would help make the world a safer, more peaceful place."

In a Mainstreet Research poll in June, 75 per cent had an unfavourable view of Trump. If Canadians could vote, the survey said Hillary Clinton would defeat Trump by 73 per cent to 15 per cent (12 per cent were undecided).

In an EKOS Research poll in June, 65 per cent said a Trump presidency would have a negative impact on Canada (22 per cent thought a Hillary Clinton victory would have a negative impact).

Trump is a high-voltage wire carrying Americans' anger through the political system. In 2009, a year after Barack Obama was elected, 48 per cent of Americans said Obama had done something that made them angry (in a poll for CNN).

In a different CNN poll, seven in 10 said they're angry about "the way things are going in the country today," including 31 per cent who were "very" angry.

In a Rasmussen Reports poll this year, two-thirds of U.S. voters said they're angry at the policies of the federal government. Even more -- 84 per cent -- were angry at Congress.

Canadians don't need a Trump to shake up the elites because Canadians have safety valves Americans lack. Just two parties monopolize America's politics -- at every level. To let off pent-up steam in the political boilers, Canadians can vote for third and fourth parties.

Another safety valve is Canada's labour movement. Compared with America and most European countries, the unionization rate in Canada is higher. Unhappy working class-voters in Canada can express their frustrations with strikes -- or strike votes. Republican-leaning U.S. workers vote for a party that's been winning a war on unions since 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired nearly 13,000 striking air traffic controllers.

The major reason Canada will stay Trump-free is in the different values of the two societies. American values produce Trumps. In international surveys, the Environics Research Group uses a litmus-test question to measure how patriarchal a society is. Do people agree that "the father of the family must be the master in his own house"? In 2012, 41 per cent of Americans agreed compared with 24 per cent of Canadians.

Worshipping father figures explains a lot about American foreign policy with its focus on foiling far-off threats. America's first leaders are called the Founding Fathers. America's infatuation with guns is another expression of patriarchy. Cowboys, gunslingers, sheriffs and soldiers are icons in American arts and culture. The country's colossal military protects the homeland; the father's personal arsenal guards the family.

Trump also exploits Americans' cynicism toward government. The "most important problem facing this country today" is government, Americans told a 2015 Gallup poll.

In a 2015 Rasmussen poll, 59 per cent thought most members of Congress are willing to sell their vote "for either cash or a campaign contribution" and 56 per cent suspect their own local representative has done it.

In a Gallup survey in January, 30 per cent said the federal government's "failure to solve the major challenges facing the country" is a "crisis," and 51 per cent said it's a "major problem."

According to an Associated Press poll in May, only one in 10 Americans has a great deal of confidence in "the overall political system" while 51 per cent have "only some" confidence and 38 per cent hardly any.

Only 29 per cent of likely U.S. voters think the country is heading in the right direction, according to a Rasmussen poll in June.

In a Gallup poll in June, 53 per cent said Congress is doing a poor or bad job; just 13 per cent said good or excellent.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll in March found that 82 per cent of Trump supporters say they want an outsider as president, not someone with political experience.

If the system is a wreck, who better to fix it than an outsider and successful businessperson like Trump, who has never been elected to any public office?

In contrast to Americans, Canadians believe in government. Just 27 per cent, according to Environics, believe "governments are more often than not the cause of important problems facing the country." In an EKOS survey in June 63 per cent said the federal government has a "bold new vision."

Marc Zwelling is the founder of the Vector Poll™ (www.vectorresearch.com) and author of Public Opinion and Polling For Dummies (Wiley, 2012) .

Photo: Michael Vadon/flickr

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