Canadians and Americans have the same concerns about having a secure and smart border between the two countries, as well as the importance of North American energy security. And a majority in both countries see no inherent conflict between these shared concerns and each country pursuing its own national interest.

These are the findings of the sixth annual Nanos Research Canada-US poll of 1,002 Canadians and 1,002 Americans, conducted in August 2010, in partnership with the State University of New York, at Buffalo.

In addition, in a Nanos poll of more than 1,006 Canadians, conducted exclusively for Policy Options from February 11-14, 2011, there is no mistaking the importance Canadians attach to relations between Canada and the United States.

For Canadians, there is no mistaking that the importance of that relationship begins at the top — between the prime minister of Canada and the president of the United States. No less than 72 percent of Canadians think a positive relationship between the PM and the president is somewhat to very important, and a clear majority, 51.8 percent, think it is very important (question 1).

Canadians get it — they understand that harmonious bilateral relations begin at the top.

Equally, 60.7 percent of Canadians told us “a positive relationship between the citizens of Canada and the United States” is somewhat to very important (question 2).

When we asked Canadians which country is Canada’s most important partner in terms of Canada’s economic prosperity, nearly two-thirds, 64.2 percent, answered the United States, while one in five, 20.3 percent, answered China. Other countries were in low single digits, with the United Kingdom at 2.8 percent, Mexico at 2.8 percent, Japan at 2.3 percent, and Germany at 1.2 percent (question 3).

We also asked which country was Canada’s most important partner in terms of Canada’s research and development, nearly six Canadians in 10, or 59.2 percent, chose the United States. China was second at 12.7 percent, Japan third at 6 percent, with the UK at 5.3 percent, Germany at 3.6 percent and Mexico at 2.3 percent (question 4).

Rating the importance of relations between elected officials in Canada and the US, almost one half of Canadians,47.0 percent, said that was somewhat to very important (question 5). Similarly, 44.4 percent of Canadians think that good relations between their provincial premiers and US governors were somewhat to very important (question 6).

Finally when we asked Canadians which country was Canada’s most important partner in terms of our energy self-efficiency, 63.9 percent said the United States (question 7).

Returning to our 2010 survey for SUNY on both sides of the border, mutual energy security is a striking theme, with numbers that jump off the page. Fully 88 percent of Americans, and 81 percent of Canadians, agree or somewhat agree that’s important for the two countries to develop “an integrated energy policy” (figure 1).

And in light of the “Beyond the Border” dialogue launched by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama last month, there is strong support for closer cooperation on national security. Sixty-six percent of Americans and 57 percent of Canadians favour closer cooperation on national security, as opposed to the two countries maintaining separate security policies (figure 2).

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On border security, 73 percent of Americans and 65 percent of Canadians favour closer cooperation (figure 3). On anti-terrorism measures, 79 percent of Americans and 65 percent of Canadians favour closer cooperation rather than separate policies (figure 4).

On these issues of the border, there is a striking disconnect between the American people and their legislators, who prefer a cookie-cutter approach to managing the Canadian and Mexican borders. Americans understand, even if their elected officials don’t, that the issues are very different. Illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other criminal activities simply don’t occur along the Canadian border. But 300,000 people cross the Canada-US border every day, along with $1.5 billion of merchandise trade, in the world’s largest bilateral commercial relationship.

We also found that Canadians and Americans are closely aligned on values questions. For example, 50 percent of Canadians and 53 percent of Americans see similarities between the two countries on human rights (figures 5a and 5b).

In Canada, this is a sharp increase from 2005, when only 26 percent of Canadians saw similarities on this question. Those numbers reflect human rights controversies of the George W. Bush years, on issues such as the Guantanamo prison and torturing of detainees in Iraq.

There is no doubt that Canadians spend much more time thinking about bilateral relations than Americans. But when prompted, Americans also realize that Canada is not only their neighbour, business partner and best friend, but that we share democratic values (question 8).

In other words, the feeling is mutual.

Photo: Shutterstock

Nik Nanos
Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist and founder of Nanos Research and an adjunct research professor at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs.

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