Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Which Political Party Supports Arts & Culture? Not the Liberals

Parliament has become more partisan than at anytime in its history and neither the Conservative majority nor the death of Jack Layton has blunted the bickering and attacks both in and outside the House of Commons. Twitter and political blogs have become cesspools of digital abuse, facts and arguments in the digital universe have little place in the brutish social media environment described by John Doyle.  CMRI's Media Trends Survey has tracked usage and attitudes toward Canadian arts and cultural activities for the past ten years and this year tested for political partisanship in arts and culture, a subject that should for the most part be above politics.   

The federal government spends roughly $2 billion annually on arts and culture, about half of which goes to the CBC, and provides other tax incentives and programs that support the arts.  Countless billions in assets, museums, libraries, arts centers, TV/radio stations, etc. have been accumulated over decades.  This investment is generally regarded by Canadians as positive but supporters of the main political parties have quite different opinions about which party is most supportive of culture.
Some well-phrased survey questions put to a representative sample of almost 900 voters can test whether supporters of the three main parties are partisan when it comes to Canadian arts and culture.  Liberals and NDP supporters, i.e., those who voted that way in 2011, are pretty clear about which political party is most supportive of Canadian arts and culture, their party!  Supporters of the two opposition parties are extremely partisan and overwhelming choose the party they voted for as being the most supportive of the arts. More than three quarters of NDPers choose the NDP and about the same proportion of Liberal voters say the Liberals are the most supportive of Canadian culture. By any other demographic characteristic, such as gender, age, occupation or income, none reveal this kind of dramatic skew in these survey results.  

But Conservative supporters are not so quick to blindly support their party and appear fair and balanced about this issue. Less than half of Conservative supporters think that their party is the most supportive of arts and culture.  Over 50% of Conservative voters choose either the Liberal party or the NDP as being more supportive of the arts, something you would think Conservative strategists should be concerned about.  James Moore's message about the increased financial support his party has given to the arts doesn't appear to be getting through; hardly any opposition supporters think so and many of his own party's supporters are not convinced.  

In an earlier post we pointed out that Conservatives, along with Liberals and NDPers are, surprisingly, very supportive of CBC TV and radio. Sympathizers of all three political parties are generally supportive of the arts.  For example, the majority in all cases believe artists (musician, painters, writers, etc.) deserve at least the minimum wage.  

Plus, a large majority of Liberal, NDP and Conservative supporters don't seem to put the importance of athletes ahead of Canadian artists. Conservatives are oftentimes portrayed as red necks interested in nothing but hockey and this is clearly not the case. Besides, hockey has evolved; for example, the Chicago Blackhawks were one of the first NHL teams to introduce an improvement for the Zamboni.

CMRI's Media Trends Survey found that less than 1 in 5 Liberals or NDPers placed athletes ahead of artists in importance. Less than 1 in 3 Conservatives felt that way, meaning they too value artists, at least abstractly.  
Our annual survey has collected invaluable information on the specific arts and cultural activities Canadian voters consider important (and are willing to support financially) and these results will be discussed in this space in future.  It will be useful to know how fiction and non-fiction books stack up against museums and professional dance, for example. Or pro and amateur sports (which we included) fare versus libraries and sculpture.  Unfortunately, internet publications, such as blogs!, didn't receive much support in the survey compared to other cultural activities.

Voters of all three parties support artists but are they willing to pay for them? It's one thing to be in favour of the arts but the litmus test is whether someone is willing to financially support them, either personally or through government.  Our test shows that when it comes to the government funding artists, there is some divergence of opinion. 2 out of 3 NDPers think there is a role for government, whereas only about 1 in 2 Liberals think so and only 1 in 3 Conservatives believe in direct government funding of artists. 

In terms of direct government funding the NDP know what they stand for and so do the Conservatives but the Liberals, the party that held power when government policies and programs developed so many great Canadian musicians, writers, actors and other artists, are today ambivalent and divided, which may be a factor in the decline of the party during the last decade.  The soft Liberal support for arts funding may partially explain why Michael Ignatieff, a man of letters, was unsuccessful at leading the party. He was leading blind and deaf followers.

Of course, the Conservatives and Liberals have held power but the NDP haven't drunk from the chalice yet, so we won't know how the NDP will actually support Canadian artists until they do form a government. These data on arts funding demonstrate that there is an ideological chasm separating the Liberals and the NDP, which would run counter to any merger of the two.  NDP strategists might be better off targeting the 1 in 2 Liberals that think like the NDP and who strongly support arts and culture.  Not that the arts are the only issue voters consider, there are such things as health care, education and pensions, but support of the arts is an indicator of a party's and a society's values.
It was either this or a photo of the PM at playing at the NAC

The 2011 survey results are from CMRI's Media Trends Survey conducted November-December 2011 among a representative national sample of approximately 900 Anglophone respondents aged 18-plus.  Margin of error +/-3.3%.  The Media Trends Survey has been conducted for ten consecutive years and has surveyed over 15,000 Canadians in total in this period. 

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