Canadians and Americans take to social media every day to register their displeasure about politics, sports and entertainment. The events of the past three years have provided a unique opportunity to look at the way the concept of “political correctness” is evolving in North America.
A two-country survey conducted by Research Co. and Glacier Media last month showed that we are more likely to stop talking to a family member or friend if we disagree with their views on COVID-19 restrictions and mandates. With this in mind, we were curious to see if our opinions on political correctness have changed.
There are some behavioural differences on each side of the border. We have a majority of Canadians (55 per cent) who say they support the use of political correctness, up five points since our December 2020 poll. The proportion of Americans who feel the same way fell by eight points to 45 per cent.
While a majority of Americans aged 18 to 34 agree with political correctness (53 per cent), the proportion drops to 46 per cent among those aged 35 to 54 and to 39 per cent among those aged 55 and over. Canada does not see a massive generational divide, with 61 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 endorsing the concept of political correctness, along with 51 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 and aged 55 and over.
There are some marked discrepancies in the way we behave in public as well. In our survey, 20 per cent of Americans and 11 per cent of Canadians say that they do not act politically correct because it’s the wrong thing to do. About two in five residents of each country (41 per cent in the United States and 40 per cent in Canada) say they sometimes act politically correct because it’s the safe thing to do.
This leaves 34 per cent of Canadians and 24 per cent of Americans who claim to always act politically correct because it’s the right thing to do. The proportion of firm believers in the concept increased by two points in Canada and fell by 12 points in the United States.
When residents of the two North American countries are asked about the way four specific professions should address political correctness, the numbers also sway. More than a third of Canadians and Americans (42 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively) think teachers should always be politically correct. The numbers are slightly lower when respondents ponder the job of journalists (38 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively).
Few Canadians (15 per cent) and Americans (11 per cent) think comedians should always be politically correct. The biggest fluctuation is observed on politicians. While practically half of Canadians (48 per cent) want those elected or running for office to be politically correct all the time, only 37 per cent of Americans concur.
In the United States, Republican party supporters are significantly more likely to say that politicians should never act politically correct (25 per cent) than those who describe themselves as Independents (17 per cent) or Democrats (seven per cent). Canadians are nowhere near this divergence. Only 11 per cent of Conservative Party of Canada voters in 2021, eight per cent of New Democratic Party (NDP) voters and four per cent of Liberal Party of Canada voters believe in politicians forgoing political correctness at all times.
As was the case in late 2020, Canadians and Americans want limits on just how pervasive political correctness can be in arts and entertainment. Majorities of residents in the two countries are opposed to printing new editions of books that remove words that may be deemed offensive to a specific race or ethnicity (65 per cent in the United States and 55 per cent in Canada). Opposition is also high to the idea of re-dubbing movies to remove words that may be deemed offensive to a specific race or ethnicity (64 per cent in the United States and 56 per cent in Canada).
Still, the now ubiquitous disclaimer that explains that programs or movies are presented “as originally created” and “may contain outdated cultural depictions” is regarded in a different light. Seven in 10 Canadians (70 per cent) and just under three in five Americans (59 per cent) are in favour of its use.
Over the past couple of years, Canadians appear to have become more politically correct while Americans are starting to question and abandon the practice. In spite of the purported polarization of political views across the continent, Conservative party voters are not expressing the same outright animosity towards political correctness than their Republican counterparts in the United States. More importantly, Canadians of all leanings are not overly happy with the idea that people running for public office should disregard possible offences to racial, cultural and gender identity groups.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on online studies conducted from September 16 to September 18, 2022, among representative samples of 1,000 adults Canada and the United States. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.