The Twitter app on a mobile phone. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke

Canadians are politically polarized, but social media likely not culprit: study

‘People on Twitter are not representative of the broader population’

Social media might not be to blame for Canadians’ ideological polarization, a new report on digital democracy in Canada finds.

The latest findings are from an ongoing effort led by the Public Policy Forum and McGill University’s Max Bell School of Public Policy called the Digital Democracy Project.

“A lot of people don’t use social media very actively,” said reseracher Eric Merkley. “People on Twitter are not representative of the broader population.”

Instead, the study argues polarization in Canada arises partly from intense party loyalty and how far apart Canada’s political parties are, meaning party positions are an important factor.

Also, researchers found that people did not appear to make meaningful distinctions in their views between politicians from opposing parties and their supporters.

“This is troubling,” the study says, because it suggests “polarization does not just influence people’s opinions about the parties, but also how they view ordinary Canadians.” Each other, in other words.

Researchers found evidence that Canadians are “affectively polarized” — they feel negatively towards other people simply for being part of the opposing group.

READ MORE: Use of fake social media bots in Alberta election will come to federal vote, experts say

That was based on three measures, including the levels of warmth participants in the study feel for their ideological comrades and opponents; how much they associate their allies and opponents with positive and negative traits; and how comfortable they feel with having someone from an opposing ideology as a neighbour, friend or relative.

“Partisans have substantially colder and more negative feelings about ideologically opposed parties, compared to those that are ideologically proximate,” and also see opposed parties as “more socially distant,” the study says.

The study goes on to note that though Canadians do seem to be polarized, it’s probably not our use of social media that is causing the divide.

Based on an analysis of the activity of about 50,000 Twitter accounts, the Digital Democracy Project researchers found evidence supporting the theory that users tend to create “filter bubbles” for themselves. Very few partisans, it found, follow information sources from other parties.

But the study suggests the echo chambers do not extend far beyond Twitter.

By comparing the Twitter data to information gleaned from the survey, researchers also found just 16 per cent of Canadians are exposed to strongly partisan news sources. A tiny fraction — fewer than one per cent — get more than half their news from “partisan-congenial” outlets.

RELATED: Elizabeth May predicts ‘likely’ more Greens elected in Greater Victoria

Most Canadians still engage broadly with mainstream news sources, the study suggests.

If media consumption is not to blame for polarization, the answer the study offers instead is that “the biggest driver of polarization seems to be ideology and partisanship themselves.”

Strong partisans have much more intense feelings towards opposing parties than weak partisans, the study finds.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Residents treated for smoke inhalation after fire in Maple Ridge building

Fire took place in the 11800 block of Laity Street

Muse proceeds with cannabis store in Westgate Shopping Centre

Private retail store would be within 1,000m of proposed government store in Maple Ridge

VIDEO: Person falls from roof in Maple Ridge

Air ambulance was called but victim taken by ground instead

Friends do ‘amazing’ home makeover for retired police officer

Pitt Meadows RCMP veteran was away getting treatment for PTSD

Canucks ride momentum into NHL playoff series against defending Stanley Cup champs

PREVIEW: Vancouver opens against St. Louis on Wednesday

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

One dead as fish boat sinks off southern Vancouver Island

Shawnigan Lake-registered Arctic Fox II went down off Cape Flattery, west of Victoria

Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent

Maple Ridge mom gets help from community generosity and government

42 more people test positive for COVID-19 in B.C.

The province has recorded no new deaths in recent days

Joe Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Harris and Biden plan to deliver remarks Wednesday in Wilmington

Displaced tenant ‘heartbroken’ to find Langley City condo robbed after fire

Wedding rings of Michelle Buchan’s have since been recovered, but much is still missing

Canucks fan risks life to celebrate at Surrey intersection

‘All fun and games until somebody falls out an open side door of the van’

Most Read