Canadians continue to have high levels of confidence in scientists, but less so for business and political leaders, as well as journalists, according to a new report that looks at how perceptions of these professions have changed over time.
The Confidence in Leaders report, from the Environics Institute for Survey Research and its partners, details the results from an annual survey of Canadians. Participants discussed their level of confidence in various types of leaders, including those from Indigenous organizations, businesses, governments, as well as scientists and journalists. The data were then used to build on previous results collected to help identify trends over the past four decades.
This year’s survey was conducted mostly online with 5,300 Canadians.
Fewer respondents said they had “a lot or some” confidence in leaders in general than in 2021. Confidence in scientists fell from 84 per cent to 75 per cent; journalists from 57 to 50 per cent; business leaders from 44 to 42 per cent, and governments from 52 to 43 per cent.
Leaders of Indigenous organizations were the only group to see an increase, a rise of three percentage points from 2021 to 2023.
The report emphasizes that for each group, levels of confidence depend on the demographic, political leaning and region of the person being surveyed. For instance, the report found confidence in both scientists and medical advice from the Government of Canada is higher among those with a postsecondary education than those without one.
Confidence in government fell 37 percentage points among supporters of the Conservative Party between 2006 and 2023. There was a 38-percentage-point increase from Liberal Party supporters between 1992 and this year.
Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute, said the importance of this finding is it forces people to see the big picture, including the ups and downs that come with a cycle of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, between various groups.
“It is absolutely true that the level of confidence that Conservatives have in government right now is really low,” Mr. Parkin explained. “It’s actually the exact same level as how Liberals felt about government at the end of the Mulroney period in the 1990s.”
Conservatives’ confidence in government was at 66 per cent when then-prime minister Stephen Harper was in office and dropped to 29 per cent since Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government came to power in 2015.
“I think it helps to put things in perspective by saying that Conservatives today feel no different than the Liberals felt in previous eras when the Conservatives were in government,” Mr. Parkin added.
The report describes the trend of confidence in journalists as an arc, saying 50 per cent of Canadians have “a lot or some” confidence in the profession. Although the current number has declined by seven percentage points since 2021, it’s still close to the percentage in 2020, 53 per cent.
Confidence in journalists is much higher with those to the left of the political spectrum, 68 per cent, than on the right, 46 per cent. In fact, the report found confidence in journalists among Conservative supporters to have fallen by 26 percentage points since 1995. In comparison, confidence in journalists among Liberal supporters remains unchanged at 65 per cent, while the confidence of NDP supporters increased by four percentage points.
The report showed that supporters of the Conservative Party are more likely to have lost confidence in leaders over supporters of any other party in the past decade. Their confidence in business leaders has declined by 25 points, in government by 26 points and in journalists by 15 points.
Conservatives traditionally have had better relationships and more confidence in business leaders, but that’s not the case in this latest survey. Based on the results, confidence in business leaders is now slightly higher among Liberals at 53 per cent.
“Conservatives are the party of big business and that seems to have changed,” Mr. Parkin said. “I think that’s really interesting.”