designed to elicit and examine people’s perceptions of politics and democracy—the
first-ever study of its kind in Canada. Participants in seven of these groups self-identified
as less interested in politics and most did not vote (the disengaged). We also spoke
to an eighth group of politically engaged Canadians for comparison purposes. These
different groups were chosen to provide a broad cross-section of perspectives across
Canadian society (see “Background to The Real Outsiders” on page 5 for more information).
The responses of the disengaged were intriguing and remarkably consistent. The types
of answers that we received transcended different social and economic backgrounds,
whether we were speaking to groups of lower-income Canadians, less-educated youth,
urban Aboriginal people, women, new Canadians or rural Canadians. Even more remarkable
was the contrast between the experiences of the disengaged and the experiences of
our comparison group of engaged suburban dwellers.
Three specific findings emerged from our research.
First, whether they were engaged or disengaged, our participants universally condemned
politics. Contrary to the notion that the disengaged are apathetic, we found that
those less likely to participate were neither disinterested in nor uninformed about
the system. Instead we found that their disdain for politics was driven by an intuitive
understanding of how the political system functions and their previous interactions
Indeed, their dislike of politics
seemed closely related to their perception of a gap between what politics is and
what democracy should be.
On the one hand, democracy is seen as a worthy ideal for society. On the other hand,
for the participants, politics is a source of frustration and disappointment. These
were attitudes gained through concrete experiences of interacting with political
institutions—whether accessing daycare, covering tuition costs, or getting a speed
bump installed on one’s street. The disappointment people feel with respect to politics
may therefore be caused by a disconnect between democratic expectations and political
Second, the key difference between the disengaged and the engaged is their relationship
to politics. Almost without fail, the disengaged we spoke to described themselves
as political outsiders. On the basis of their experiences, they described government,
bureaucrats, politicians and the media as working for someone else and, therefore,
irrelevant to their needs. Some went so far as to say that the political system
makes them outsiders on purpose. For those who feel like outsiders, there is little
reason to engage in politics when politics does not engage with them.
In contrast, those who identified themselves as politically engaged describe an
insider relationship with politics, believing that the political system works for
them. And even though these insiders do not always get what they want and are sometimes
frustrated with the political system, they maintain a sense of hope that they can
effect change. In short, it is this belief in their own efficacy that seems to keep
these insiders engaged in politics.
Why do outsiders feel as they do?
The third and final finding of this report proposes that disengaged people become
outsiders through their daily experience and