Do Canadians think mayors are powerful?

In October 2015, Ipsos Public Affairs surveyed more than 12,000 Canadians about their perceptions of mayoral power in Canada.

Survey respondents were asked whether they agree with the statement, “Canadian mayors have the power to make things happen in their communities.” Responses were measured using a Likert scale (a list of options designed to capture the intensity of a response).

The overall finding was that Canadians, generally, believe that our mayors have the power to make things happen in our communities.

In fact, nearly three in four people (72%) agreed with the statement while about one in five disagreed (22%).

  • Strongly agree – 17.0%
  • Somewhat agree – 55.1%
  • Somewhat disagree – 17.1%
  • Strongly disagree – 4.9%
  • Don’t know / not sure – 5.9%

The survey found a few interesting patterns. Certain groups tend to view mayors to be more powerful, such as women, younger people and recent immigrants. Perceptions about mayoral power considerably vary by province, with the most affirmative responses in Alberta and PEI and the lowest in Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador. These findings are interesting because they do not line up with how much power mayors hold based on their respective provincial legislation (spoiler alert: this will be the topic of a future blog!).

Some variables seem to have little relationship with perceptions of mayoral power, including income, employment status, education, union membership, visible minority status, marital status and sexual orientation.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is with respect to cities. People living in Canada’s largest cities are more likely to believe that their mayors have the power to make things happen than those living outside of major urban centres. Why is this? Do big city mayors actually have more power, or is it just a perception because they tend to be more well known public figures? The honest answer is that we do not know.

Unfortunately, there is lots we don’t know about what Canadians think about mayors. We don’t know how powerful people view mayors to be are compared to other types of political leaders. We don’t really know what “things” Canadians expect their mayors to “make happen” in our communities. While there is data about how Canadians feel about individual mayors (polling data, election results), we have little information about the perceptions and expectations Canadians hold for the role itself.

Sometimes having more questions than answers is a great place to start.

The Ipsos survey finds that Canadians generally believe that our mayors hold power. What this means, and how it varies across the country, is a big part of what this project is all about.