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Three new polls suggest a growing number of Canadians want more money spent on defence

Posted By March 11, 2024 No Comments

Donald Trump’s threats to abandon allies seem to have struck home

Ordinary Seaman Page Francis learns navigational skills during field training on Aug. 8, 2018. Three new polls track growing support among Canadians for a boost in military funding. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

(Written by Murray Brewster. Originally published here in CBC, republished with permission.)

Three new public opinion surveys suggest Canadians are growing more concerned about the state of the country’s military — and about Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s threats to abandon allies who don’t invest in defence.

The Angus Reid Institute released new data Tuesday showing a larger share of Canadians — 29 per cent — are choosing military preparedness and the country’s place on the world stage as their top political priority. Almost a decade ago, that figure was just 12 per cent.

“Slightly more than half (53 per cent) say Canada should increase its spending level to two per cent or beyond,” the survey analysis said — a reference to NATO’s spending benchmark, which calls on member countries to spend the equivalent of two per cent of their gross domestic product on the military.

Quoting a series of leaked documents several months ago, the Washington Post reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau privately told allies Canada would never meet the target.

Even though the Liberal government agreed at last summer’s NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania to make the two per cent goal an enduring commitment, Trudeau and his ministers have not committed publicly to doing so. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said that, if elected, his party would “work towards” the two per cent goal — which was the position taken by the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

According to the Angus Reid survey, seven-in-ten (71 per cent) past Conservative voters would increase Canada’s defence spending, including the 15 per cent who would want to see exceed NATO’s two per cent target:

The new poll shows that Trump’s threat to allow Russia “to do whatever the hell it wants” to NATO allies who don’t meet the target appears to be resonating with Canadians.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s threats to abandon NATO allies seem to have alarmed many Canadians. (Manuel Balce Ceneta)/AP)

Support for hitting the two per cent goal jumps from 53 per cent to 65 per cent in the Angus Reid survey when the idea of a second Trump presidency is factored in.

And two-thirds of that increase in support for the two per cent target tracked by the Angus Reid survey is coming from young women.

The survey randomly sampled 2,427 Canadians and is considered accurate to plus or minus two per cent, 19 times out of 20.

A separate recent poll, conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights, offers an interesting contrast. People who participated in that survey were asked if Canada should increase defence spending because of Trump’s threats — even if it meant fewer dollars for other priorities.

That choice appears to have given some Canadians pause. The Pollara survey polled support for increased defence spending at 34 per cent. A full 43 per cent said Trump’s threats shouldn’t require an increase in defence spending.

The Pollara survey spoke with 1,552 Canadians and also had a margin of error of plus or minus two per cent.

‘Super majorities’ back higher defence spending

A third survey, conducted by EKOS Research Associates Inc. on behalf of the Canadian Association of Security and Defence Industries (CADSI), also found increasing support for higher defence spending.

“The public judgment is that we are failing to provide a strong and successful defence industry,” said the EKOS survey, dated Jan. 31, 2024, which did an in-depth analysis of the public’s attitudes toward defence contractors.

“Although a harder trade-off analysis suggests less enthusiasm, super majorities of Canadians think that increasing defence expenditures is a clear priority. Even on less favorable comparative testing to other higher priorities, there has been a clear rise in support for defence spending.”

Asked if the defence budget should be increased, 66 per cent of those surveyed by EKOS said more dollars should be going in, while only 18 per cent favoured a reduction (5 per cent weren’t sure).

“There is a view that Canada’s position on the world stage has eroded sharply and that our relatively poor performance is linked to problems with how our defence and security capabilities are responding to deepened challenges,” the EKOS survey said.

In fact, a clear majority (71 per cent) told EKOS Canada is not taken seriously by other countries on international defence and security issues (20 per cent of poll respondents claimed that it is). And 67 per cent told the pollster Canada’s allies view this country as “weak” on defence.

The EKOS survey survey spoke to 2,608 Canadians and is considered accurate to within 1.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Both the EKOS research and the Angus Reid Institute analysis gauged public perceptions of Canada’s support for Ukraine and its war with Russia.

Sixty-seven per cent of those who responded to the EKOS survey agreed that “Canada has an important role to play in supplying Ukraine” with Canadian-made military equipment and support, while 27 per cent said it wasn’t a priority.

The Angus Reid numbers mirror those findings but drill down a bit deeper into the perceptions.

“A majority (60 per cent) of Canadians said in January that NATO’s support of Ukraine is the only thing keeping Russia from invading more of Europe. However, support [for] the conflict is waning — most markedly among past Conservative voters,” says the Angus Reid survey.

“Conservative supporters’ reduced interest in supporting Ukraine does not appear to indicate a reduced appetite for military spending in general, however. Seven-in-ten (71 per cent) past CPC voters would increase Canada’s defence spending, including the 15 per cent who would exceed NATO’s two per cent target.”