What really matters to Torontonians?


Socio-political issues that matter to Torontonians can spark local debates, on- and off-line but what does the subconscious brain say? Since the subconscious is the part of the brain where decisions are made, Brainsights deployed its audience brain measurement platform to better understand what issues really matter to Toronto voters ahead of the municipal election on October 22nd.

Our Methodology:

Brainsights measured the unconscious brain activity of Toronto voters  as they watched a variety of issue-based YouTube videos and news clips (see two examples below). Each moment of each video was tagged based on the issue (the Economy, Urban Development, Affordable Housing, Transit, Homelessness, etc), sub-issue (sustainability, technology, government policy, etc), and tone (emotional, informational), among others.

Using electroencephalography (EEG) Brainsights measures voter brain response to each of these issues at the millisecond level, recording their attention levels, how much the issue resonates with them, and what they store to memory. We then aggregated this data, averaged it across all the issues analyzed, and calculated the relative importance of these issues based on voter brain response.

The results are visualized in the infographic below and placed in the windows of our office, on King Street at Peter in downtown Toronto.

What we discovered:

When we looked at the brain data in totality, we saw a pattern emerge around equality and inequality. The issues that mattered to Torontonians related to the economy, sustainable development and affordability in the city.

But there were important nuances in the neural responses. For instance, on the topic of Affordable Housing, overall Toronto voters found the issue 10% less important than the average issue. This puzzled us - for years, the headlines have read that Toronto is approaching New York and London levels of living costs, powered by a booming real estate market. Digging deeper, however, we revealed much greater polarization in neural response based on how Affordable Housing was portrayed. The key difference revolved around personal stories versus government policy. Stories of rent increases, evictions and how people get by, were much more emotionally resonant for Torontonians than reports of government policy. We saw similar trends regarding homelessness and transit affordability.

While these findings raise questions of which mayoral candidates can solve these challenges and build a more equitable Toronto, it also underlines the power of emotions in driving political decision-making, and should act as a caution for voters heading to the polls this October 22nd: understand the role your emotions play in the decisions you make.

Stay curious, stay informed. Use Your Brain.

Other Political Reading:

Interested in our political work and infographics? Check out our previous work from the Ontario Provincial Debate.