Canadians Largely Ignorant of Impact of Space Program But Proud of Accomplishments Says Ipsos Poll

Credit: Ipsos.

There’s good news and bad news in a new poll conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the Don’t Let Go Canada Coalition. Canadians are largely ignorant of how the space program affects their lives, but proud of what they are aware of.

In a world overflowing with information, it comes as no surprise that Canadians “knowledge of Canada’s history, accomplishments and current areas of leadership in space is low” as was outlined at the top of the executive summary in the Ipsos poll.

According to Ipsos, the data collected was obtained in two parts:

  1. A telephone survey of a random and representative sample of n=1,602 Canadians aged 18+, fielded between June 7th and 21st, 2018.
  2. A series of 8 focus groups conducted in 4 key markets across the country – Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, between June 27th and July 5th, 2018.

The good

Enthusiasm about space is stronger than in the past.

  • Some four in five Canadians are proud of our activities in space (79%) and think that Canadian success in advanced space technologies contributes to our knowledge economy, innovation, and economic competitiveness (78%). This compares to 71% for both measures in a 2005 Phoenix SPI survey conducted for the Canadian Space Agency. And fully three quarters (76%) think that our space activities inspire youth in science and engineering (compared to 65% in 2005).
  • 88% support or strongly support developing the information technology or artificial intelligence sector; 88% the robotics sector; 80% the defence sector; and 84% the space sector – which is a significant increase from a 2007 Praxicus survey (64%).

Canadians support investment in the space sector and many reject the notion that Canada is too small a country to be active in space.

  • A strong majority think that increasing investments in space including satellite communications (81%), space science (73%), space robotics (71%), and international space missions (67%), would be a good decision.
  • Three quarters (75%) disagree – including 47% strongly – that Canada is too small a country to participate in the space economy with countries like the USA, United Kingdom, France, and Italy.
  • Nine in ten agree maintaining leadership in space robotics, like the Canadarm, is important for Canada.
  • The vast majority (85%) of Canadians would like to see Canada maintain a role in a new Moon mission.

The bad

Primacy of spending in space is not a given.

  • Half of Canadians (53%) agree Canada should spend less in the space sector because we have other greater priorities.
  • 71% agree that a number of scientific programs offer greater value and more tangible benefits to taxpayers than does pursuing space exploration.

Few are aware Canada’s space budgets are decreasing.

  • A plurality of Canadians believes that about the same amount of money is being invested as was five years ago in developing satellite communications (48%), space robotics (50%), and international space mission (55%). Among those who think spending has changed, more feel that the amount in satellite communications is increasing (28% increasing vs. 10% decreasing), and as many believe that spending in space robotics is increasing as those who believe it is decreasing (18% respectively).

Many believe Canada is falling behind other countries in space, and this is concerning.

  • Four in ten Canadians believe Canada is falling behind other countries in achievements in space. This is nearly twice the number who believe we are falling behind in the information technology/AI sector or robotics sector.
  • Nearly four in five (78%) Canadians are more likely to support increased investments in Canada’s space technology when they hear that if we stop investing in space technology we risk losing our best and brightest to other countries.

Canadians are ignorant

In the focus groups, one of the primary takeaways was how ignorant Canadians really re about space. The Ipsos report said;

Canadians do not know much about what Canada is doing in space. This causes many to be unsure about what the concrete benefits of space are, despite great pride in past achievements. Once told about achievements in space like Canadian leadership in satellite communications, Earth observation, and space robotics, Canadians are excited about our achievements, and believe there should be more attention and awareness of these and their benefits to Canada.

What this says is that the government public messaging system, including at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), isn’t getting through to the general public. And it isn’t for a lack of effort, especially on CSA’s part. What is clear though, is that an updated messaging strategy is needed.

And it’s not like Canadians won’t respond positively when they know the facts. Ipsos in its focus groups tested different messages. The results were positive.

All tested messages increase support for investment in space. Linkages to medical discoveries and environmental benefits are the strongest drivers, making a majority of Canadians much more likely to support increased investments in space (58% and 56% respectively say hearing message makes them much more likely to support).

Ipsos presented their results at an event hosted by iPolitics for the Don’t Let Go Canada Coalition on Monday, September 17. Here is the video of the event.

Posted by IPolitics on Monday, September 17, 2018

Reaching Canadians

If the survey results tell us anything, it’s that the message of what Canada’s space program means to them beyond being proud of our astronauts and the Canadarm, isn’t reaching them. That’s a problem for government and the organizations working and teaching in the space sector. There’s no easy solution, but getting key messages out there would help. That means in part, advertising.

Sources with the Don’t Let Go Canada Coalition, which is largely being led by MDA, have told SpaceQ that while Coalition members have contributed funds to the campaign, this type of campaign is expensive, and that the Coalition is being selective in how its budget is being spent.

I asked one source if the campaign would include television and radio ads to reach a broader audience. The response was no. The Coalition has spent money in newspapers, online including on websites, newsletters, social media and podcasts (including SpaceQ), and targeted areas like the Ottawa region, with billboards and ads on buses.

While social media can be very effective, campaigns require constant attention, meaning people working the different platforms. As an example, SpaceQ checked to see if the campaign hashtag #DontLetGoCanada was trending on Twitter in any major city or nationally. Not as of yet, however for those with tailored trends set, they could have seen it trending as I did.

Below is the full report by Ipsos.

IPSOS -Canada Belongs in Space Research Report - Sept 2018

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 18 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 25 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.