Why the more Calgarians feel, the more likely they are to vote

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EDITOR’S NOTE: As municipal elections approach, Jack Lucas, who teaches political science at the University of Calgary and is part of The Study on Municipal Elections in Canada (CMES), will write a series of articles to help us understand the mechanisms of how a municipal election works. You can see previous articles here, and here.

The CMES is a series of multi-year surveys analyzing how and why we vote the way we do.


Do you consider yourself a Calgarian? If so, how much of a Calgarian are you? How would you understand this? And what would that mean, say, for the next municipal elections?

These are questions of identity – identity of place – and although some of us identify more strongly than others with our communities, we all live somewhere on the identity spectrum.

Recently, as part of my political science work at the University of Calgary, I did a few research with a colleague, Sophie borwein, about a source of identity: our cities. And Calgary has been a priority.

For many of us, the word Calgarian is a meaningful social category to which we feel we belong.

We found clear trends in the numbers we collected.

If you have a strong sense of being Calgarian, you are more likely to worry about city politics, and also more likely to vote. You might even have separate policy preferences.


How Calgarian are you?

Here is a little quiz.

This is the same quiz we used in our 2018 academic investigation Calgarians. Take a look at the questions in the table below. Each answer is associated with an assigned point score. Choose an answer for each question, then add up your total points.

Remember. There are no right or wrong answers here. It’s just for fun.

1. How important is it to you to be a Calgarian?

  • Not at all important (0)
  • Not very important (1)
  • Very important (2)
  • Extremely important (3)

2. How well does the term Calgarian describe you?

  • Not at all (0)
  • Not very good (1)
  • Very good (2)
  • Extremely good (3)

3. When you talk about Calgarians, how often do you use “we” instead of “they”?

  • Never (0)
  • Rarely (1)
  • Sometimes (2)
  • Most of the time (3)
  • All the time (4)

4. How well do you consider yourself a Calgarian?

  • Not at all (0)
  • Very few (1)
  • A little (2)
  • Lots (3)

What was your number?

If you are in the 11-13 range, you identify very strongly as a Calgarian. If you are in the 0-5 range, you would be considered a “weak identifier” in terms of political science.

Again, there is no right or wrong number.

The average score of Calgarians, when we asked them this question in a survey in 2018, was 9.6 – generally strong identification

Calgarian, Albertan, Western Canada, Canadian

Unsurprisingly, the most important predictor is the time you spend in Calgary. It takes time to take root in a place, and the deeper the roots, the deeper your identification.

Strangely enough, people who identify with all political party are also more likely to identify strongly with their city.

This is perhaps what I sometimes call the “groupism thing”: those of us who identify strongly with one type of social group (a political party) may also tend to identify with one. ‘other social groups.

In our recent CBC-CMES investigation, we asked a slightly different set of questions than the ones above about Calgarians’ connection to their city. But the general themes were similar.

We find, again, that many Calgarians identify strongly with their city: almost three-quarters feel “somewhat” or “extremely” close to the city of Calgary.

When given the choice of where they identify with more strongly – the options were community, city, province, Western Canada and Canada – some 25 percent of Calgarians chose the city of Calgary, just behind Canada (29 percent), and well ahead of Alberta (17 percent) and western Canada (12 percent).

Not only do most Calgarians identify strongly with their city, a substantial number identify more strongly with their city than with any other geographic region.

And it turns out that this identity is strongly linked to our interest in municipal politics, or our propensity to vote in municipal elections, or even our attitudes towards municipal politics.

Identities have consequences

From what we found in our 2018 investigation of Calgarians, those who scored high on the City Identity Questionnaire had a strong interest in city politics: about 7 (out of 10) on the interest scale. People who scored low on the identity questionnaire were more likely to be down about 4 on the scale of interest.

It is a big difference. It may seem a little obvious – if you identify more strongly with Calgary, you will be more interested in its politics – but it also has consequences for the vote.

In the 2017 election and the 2018 Olympic Bid Plebiscite, we found that strong identifiers were around four percentage points more likely to report that they had voted. In an election in a large city, this can represent a differential of several thousand votes between strong and weak identifiers.

Perhaps most important of all, by comparing strong and weak identifiers that were otherwise similar in terms of age, ideology, and other characteristics, we found that strong identifiers can also have distinct political preferences. . This was especially the case on issues involving loyalty to Calgary and rivalry with other cities.

In 2018, we find that strong identifiers were considerably more favorable to both the NHL arena and Olympic nominations.

At CBC-CMES 2021 investigation, we find that Calgarians who identify the most with their city are about 9 percentage points more likely to support the NHL arena proposal.

They are also more likely to support the Green Line (8% difference), speed limit reductions (6% difference) and reallocation of funding for mental health and addictions programs (6% difference).

Municipal candidates have a strong incentive to attract voters most likely to vote on election day. This includes strong local identifiers. But strong identifiers are not always representative of the broader political priorities of the community.

Subset of Calgarians

We are still working to understand how and why strong and weak identifiers differ on some issues and not others. But it is clear that they can and do have different political views.

This has potentially positive consequences for our local democracy. For example, we found that strong identifiers might be able to overcome ordinary political divides, such as ideology and partisanship, to build unusually diverse political coalitions.

But it also means that our elected representatives are likely to be elected by, and hear most of them, a distinct subset of Calgarians.


Survey details and methodology:

The survey was conducted by Forum Research on behalf of the Study on Canadian Municipal Elections with results based on a web-based telephone recruiting survey of 2,209 randomly selected eligible voters in the city of Calgary. The survey was conducted between July 6 and August 4, 2021.

For comparison purposes, the margin of error for a probability sample of the same size would be plus or minus 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The results at the service level and other sub-samples were a larger margin. For more information on the methodology, see here. See here for more information on the data, methods and sources of this analysis.


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