The Class Basis of Canadian Elections

Seminar 6

Date:            1st April, 2014

Time:           4 - 5.15pm

Venue:       Building 24, Copland, Room 1171, LJ Hume Centre

Speaker:  Richard Johnston is Professor of Political Science and Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation at the University of British Columbia. He has also taught at the University of Toronto, the California Institute of Technology, Harvard University (Mackenzie King Professor, 1994-5), and the University of Pennsylvania. He was Politics Visitor and an Associate Member at Nuffield College, Oxford, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the European University Institute, and Guest Professor at MZES, University of Mannheim. He is the author or co-author of five books, three on Canadian politics and two on US Politics. He has co-edited three other books and has written over 80 articles and book chapters. Much of his work focuses on elections and public opinion, in relation to which he was Principal Investigator of the 1988 and 1992-3 Canadian Election Studies and Research Director for the National Annenberg Election Survey (Penn), 2000-8. He is also engaged with the study of multiculturalism, diversity, and the welfare state and oversaw creation of the Equality, Security, and Community dataset. 

Paper Title:  The Class Basis of Canadian Elections

Paper Abstract:  The Canadian party system has stood out for the weakness of its class basis. Early attempts to define the problem away and arguments that accepted weakness in the class basis begged as many questions as they purported to answer. In the 1980s the research agenda just seemed to fade. The 2011 election, from which the NDP emerged in second place, has forced attention back to the question.

This paper proposes a structural account with affinities to analyses of left mobilization in other countries. On this account, social forces--the union movement, ethnoreligious and linguistic-regional groups--are important but so are local electoral equilibria that reflect party strategies operating in a federal context. Most critical has been the NDP’s inability to connect with the largest provincial concentration of union members, in Quebec. Not only did this deny the party a serious bloc of votes but it inhibited the NDP's credibility as a primary coordination point for progressive voters outside that province.

Evidence comes from labour force and electoral data, from Gallup survey data spanning the 1950s to the 1980s, and from Canadian Election Studies from 1965 to the present. For understanding federal elections, a critical counterfactual is the provincial electoral arena.

The account has obvious implications for understanding the 2011 election even as that election elucidates the sources of the NDP's earlier weakness. Beyond Canada, the case is a standing critique of neo-Duvergerian theory with its insistence that only the local level counts for strategic reckoning and that bipartism is necessarily the local pattern.



Date & time

Sat 04 Jan 2014, 12am


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