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The Politics of Faith: Does a leader’s personal religious practice hurt or help with voters? It depends

The role of faith in Canadian society remains part of an ongoing and unresolved debate. In a country that enshrines freedom of religion in its constitution, but whose populace is increasingly less likely to identify as formally religious, how much does a political leader’s own faith help or hinder them?

These are among the questions Canadians themselves are grappling with in the wake of last month’s federal election, as they weigh the election results against the party leaders’ performance and positions on social issues.

A new public opinion poll from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Cardus – suggests that it is not necessarily a leader’s faith that provokes negative or positive reactions, but how the leader approaches and handles the issue on the campaign trail.

The study shows that most Canadians were aware of (at equal levels) the faith and personal beliefs of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, a Catholic, and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, an orthodox Sikh. However, twice as many report Scheer’s religiosity having a negative impact on their views of him than say the same of Singh and his beliefs (51% versus 24%).

And while the campaign was at times dominated by Scheer’s political opponents questioning whether the CPC leader’s religious beliefs would influence Canadian policy and legislation, people in this country are relatively divided over whether personal faith should be a factor at all in public discussion. Just over half (55%) say it should be off limits around media coverage while the rest (45%) say it is fair game.

More Key Findings:

  • Six-in-ten Canadians (62%) say that freedom of religion makes Canada a better country overall, but at the same time, half (53%) feel that reducing the presence of religion in public life is a sign of progress.
  • Six-in-ten Canadians (63%) say that it ultimately does not matter to them whether or not a political leader is a person of faith. Conservative supporters are most likely to be attracted to faith in a leader, yet just one-in-four (24%) are.
  • Asked if they were likely to believe a pro-life political leader when he or she said they would not touch the issue of abortion legislatively if elected, just one-third (32%) say they would trust the leader at their word.
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