Canadians more supportive of military campaign against ISIS, less inclined to admit Syrian refugees following Paris attacks

Canadians more supportive of military campaign against ISIS, less inclined to admit Syrian refugees following Paris attacks

Published November 18, 2015

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, a panel study conducted by Vox Pop Labs shows higher levels of support among Canadians for military intervention against ISIS as well as waning support for admitting Syrian refugees to Canada as compared to during the recent federal election campaign.

To gauge public opinion in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on two central planks of the new Liberal government’s foreign policy agenda, Vox Pop Labs drew a random sample of respondents to its Vote Compass initiative, which ran from August 30 to October 19, 2015. Between November 14 and 16, 1,681 respondents from that sample were surveyed and asked to again respond to questions they had answered during the federal election campaign.

These data offer us a glimpse into the Canadian psyche at a time when reaction to the Paris attacks are raw and people are still processing the implications. We will continue to track public opinion in the days and weeks to come to see whether the Paris attacks have a temporary or lasting effect on Canadian attitudes.

On the fight against ISIS

On the matter of how involved the Canadian military should be in the fight against ISIS, support among Canadians for an increased role in the combat mission rose from 36 per cent at the end of the campaign to 48 per cent immediately following the attacks in Paris.

Canada’s military involvement in the combat mission against ISIS seems to be the issue where we see the most change in Canadian public opinion following the Paris attacks as compared to during the recent federal election campaign. In the immediate aftermath of an attack like this, it’s common to observe a rally around the flag effect, which extends to a nation’s allies. It also raises questions about the reach of ISIS and thus prompts increased security concerns throughout the West.

On Religious accommodation

On the question of how much should be done to accommodate religious minorities in Canada, public opinion has remained stable. During the election campaign 48 per cent of Canadians favoured fewer religious accommodations in Canada, as compared to 43 per cent directly following the Paris attacks.

The Paris attacks do not appear to have resulted in a noticeable backlash against religious minorities in Canada. If anything, we see slightly more support for religious minorities after the Paris attacks than we did around the time of the election, although this may have been due to the politicization of the niqab during the campaign.

On Government surveillance

As compared to during the federal election campaign, where Bill C-51 was a salient issue, Canadians are more amenable to online monitoring by law enforcement following the Paris attacks. During the campaign, 44 per cent of Canadians opposed greater government surveillance powers, but that figure has since dropped to 33 per cent.

More Canadians now say they agree with increased government surveillance than disagree, which is a dramatic shift since the campaign. Interestingly, uncertainty about the necessity of increased surveillance has also increased, even though we are looking at the same set of people surveyed at two different points in time.

On Attitudes towards admitting Syrian refugees

Vox Pop Labs fielded a study in the days prior to the Paris attacks that included survey items on Canadians’ attitudes towards Syrian refugees. The timing of the study allows a unique comparison of Canadian attitudes directly prior and subsequent to the attacks.

Canadian attitudes toward Syrian refugees are measured according to two indexes: one which measures the degree of sympathy Canadians feel toward Syrian refugees and another the degree of anxiety they feel about those refugees being admitted to Canada.

The level of sympathy Canadians expressed for Syrian refugees remained relatively consistent before and after the Paris attacks, but anxiety about admitting said refugees into Canada rose considerably. Overall, support for permitting Syrian refugees dropped from 74 per cent in the days prior to the Paris attacks to 69 per cent in the days that followed.

The overall difference of about 5 per cent is not overly surprising and may be a temporary effect. But when you observe the gradation of opinion you see that the number of those who strongly agree with taking in Syrian refugees in the days prior to the Paris attacks drops by 10 per cent in the days after the attacks. Conversely, the number of people who strongly disagree with taking in Syrian refugees rises by 10 per cent as a result of the attacks.


Canadian attitudes with respect to the combat mission against ISIS, religious accommodation in Canada, and government surveillance were obtained by resampling a random subset of 1,681 respondents to the 2015 Canadian federal election edition of Vote Compass.

The findings regarding attitudes towards Syrian refugees were derived from a survey fielded by Vox Pop Labs to 2,497 Canadians from November 12 to November 16, 2015. The survey asked “If it were up to you, would you agree or disagree that these refugees should be permitted to settle in Canada?” Response options included Strongly disagree, Somewhat disagree, Slightly disagree, Slightly agree, Somewhat agree, and Strongly agree. A comparison of means before and after the Paris attacks was used to identify the effect of the attacks on opinions towards admitting Syrian refugees.

Data were weighted by gender, age, education, region, and mother tongue to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the actual population of Canada according to the census.

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