Voters and nonvoters in canadian federal elections
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Voters and Nonvoters in Canadian Federal Elections. Michael D. Martinez University of Florida Turnout in Canadian Elections.

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Voters and Nonvoters in Canadian Federal Elections

Michael D. Martinez

University of Florida

Turnout in Canadian Elections

Source: Michael D. Martinez. 2007. “Turning Out or Tuning Out? Electoral Participation in Canada and the United States.” In David Thomas and Barbara Boyle Torrey (eds.), Canada and the United States: Differences That Count. (Third Edition. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press). Chapter 16, p. 356.

Why has turnout declined in Canada?

  • Generational (non-)replacement

    • Pammett and LeDuc (2003, report to Elections Canada)

  • Younger voters particularly affected by decline in competition in local ridings

    • Johnston, Matthew, and Bittner (2007, Electoral Studies)

Possible concerns about non-voting

  • Do the unequal proclivities to vote on the part of some groups in society skew the policy preferences that are represented in government?

  • Is low turnout indicative of declining political support for the regime?

Previous literature – Policy Skew?

  • Some differences, but not much

  • United States

    • Wolfinger and Rosenston (1980, Who Votes?)

    • Bennett and Resnick (1990, AJPS)

    • Gant and Lyons (1993, APQ)

    • Verba, Schlozman, and Brady (1995, Voice and Equality)

  • Canada

    • Rubenson, Blais, Fournier, Gidengil, and Nevitte (2007 Electoral Studies)

    • Martinez and Gill (2006, CJPS)

Previous Literature – System Support

  • Some differences between voters and nonvoters, but not much.

    • Bennett and Resnick (1990, AJPS)

  • Differences among voters

    • Anderson and LoTiempo (2002, BJPS)

    • Anderson et al. (2005, Losers’ Consent)

    • Banducci and Karp (2003, BJPS)

    • Craig, Martinez, Gainous and Kane (2006, PRQ)


  • Do nonvoters and voters in Canadian elections differ in policy preferences, not controlling for demographics?

  • Do nonvoters and voters for “losing” parties differ in their level of system support?

  • Data from the 1997 and 2006 Canadian Election Studies.

How much do you think should be done for Quebec: more, less or about the same as now?

Society would be better off if more women stayed home with their children.

The government should leave it entirely to the private sector to create jobs.

Over the past year, has Canada's economy gotten better, gotten worse, or stayed about the same?

Summary of Issue Differences

Summary of Issue Differences

Do nonvoters and voters in Canadian elections differ in policy preferences?

  • No, nonvoters and voters in both 1997 and 2006 look pretty similar to one another in terms of their issue preferences.

  • Moreover, the attitudinal biases in voter participation that are evident do not appear to be especially stable over time in Canada.

System Support by Vote Choice, 1997

System Support by Vote Choice, 2006

System Support by Vote Choice, 2006

Expected Values for “typical” respondent by Vote Choice, 2006

Do nonvoters and voters differ in their level of system support?

  • Most nonvoters, like most voters, were somewhat satisfied with the way democracy works in Canada, despite skepticism about the responsiveness of the government and the honesty of its officials.

  • As in other democracies, “winners” were more supportive than “losers”, but nonvoters’ beliefs were not all that different from those of “losers.”

  • In a sense, these findings suggest that the decline in turnout in Canada does not appear to be an exit strategy on the part of the extremely disaffected, and they complement Johnston, Matthews, and Bittner’s (2007) conclusion that the lack of a competitive pull may be at the root of generation Y’s failure to enter.

Is the decline in turnout inconsequential?

  • No, electoral outcomes can vary, under some conditions, under higher or lower levels of turnout.

  • Moveover, the political institutions of liberal democracies ideally balance majoritarianism with the freedoms to express intensely held preferences.

  • Higher turnout may one of several signals to elected representatives that the public is watching, and encourage them to be more attentive to its needs and faithful to its wishes.

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