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Working papers

Working papers

Who has School Spirit? Explaining Voter Turnout in Canadian School Board Elections
Jack Lucas and Michael McGregor
Paper under review

In many Canadian provinces, school board elections are held at the same time as elections for municipal council. While we know little about Canadian municipal elections in general, we know even less about down-ballot elections, such as those to select school board trustees. To date, there have been no academic studies of school board turnout – and almost no research on school board elections more generally – in Canada.

This study thus represents the first scholarly examination of the correlates of voter turnout in Canadian school board elections. Using individual-level survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study, it considers two questions.  First, what are the sociodemographic, attitudinal and contextual correlates of voter turnout in Calgary school board elections? Second, do these correlates vary according to school board (public versus separate/Catholic)? Catholic education is constitutionally protected in the province of Alberta (as it is in many other provinces), and we expect turnout patterns to vary by board. The results of this study will have implications for school board elections across Canada, and for the study of down-ballot elections more generally.


Party Cues, Ballot Order and Local Elections: The 2017 Elections in Montreal and Quebec City
Cameron Anderson and Michael McGregor
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

Low levels of information can pose a problem for the quality of collective electoral decisions. This problem can be even more significant in non-partisan and low visibility elections (such as down-ballot municipal contests). Existing research on Canadian local elections shows that, the absence of clear cues for voters, ballot ordering can result in serial position effects that bias the vote choices of electors towards (or against) certain candidates based on their order of appearance on the ballot (Tessier and Blanchet 2015). 

This paper examines the intersecting effects of party cues and ballot ordering, and considers whether these effects vary by the profile of an election. We build upon existing work in several ways.  First, in contrast to previous work on municipal ballot order effects in Canada, we use individual-, rather than aggregate-level data. Second, we take an experimental, rather than a purely observational approach. Using data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study, we employ a 2x2 experimental design in which we alter the presence of party cues and candidate positions on the ballot paper (alphabetical versus reverse-alphabetical). Finally, we account for the profile of electoral contests. Project data include longitudinal survey data from roughly 4,000 electors in Montreal and Quebec City, the two largest cities in the Canadian province of Quebec. These cities allow us to differentiate ballot effects for high profile mayoral races in contrast to less visible council races in both cities.  Municipal elections in Montreal also hold a borough mayoral race that allows an additional test of the ordering and partisan cue tests.   The results of this study will serve to highlight the importance of ballot construction in low-information elections.


Does the Left-Right Axis Matter to Understanding Municipal Elections?
Jérôme Couture, Sandra Breux, & Anne Mévellec
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

This paper will examine the relevance of the right-left axis in the last municipal election in Quebec City and Montreal. It locates itself within the literature on the role of ideological preferences at the municipal level. This literature generally shows that classic ideological cleavages are of little importance in municipal elections. Yet, in both Quebec City and Montreal, municipal political parties self-identify as either belonging on the right of the political spectrum (Quebec 21) or on the left (Montreal Project). And as for other parties, one can easily locate them at a particular place on the political spectrum. Our research question, therefore, is as follows: did left-right ideology have an impact on voting behavior in Quebec City and Montreal in 2017? To answer this question, we will use data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study. We will confront ideology with other explanatory factors of the vote such as partisan attachment, socio-demographic factors, satisfaction with the outgoing administration and gender.


Setting the Record Straight: Identifying the Correlates of Straight-Ticket Voting in Quebec Municipal Elections
Charles Tessier and Michael McGregor
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

The concept of party identification has been thoroughly studied in Canada. All of this work is focused, however, on the federal and provincial levels, where party systems are firmly established. Municipal elections present a completely different story. Elections in most Canadian cities are non-partisan, and in the province of Quebec (one of the few places where political parties are present) parties tend to be transitory in nature – they are often created by mayoral candidates and rarely survive the departure of their founders. Since such parties tend not to be based around an ideology, and are short-lived, it is difficult for voters to develop long-lasting party loyalties. At the same time, the local level is the only one in Canada where concurrent elections are held. In cities in Quebec, voters cast at least two ballots, and often more. In many instances, ‘down-ballot’ candidates carry a party label and are associated with a mayoral candidate.

The purpose of this study is to identify the correlates of straight ticket voting in the 2017 municipal elections in Montreal and Quebec City.  Using survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study, we consider how sociodemographic and attitudinal characteristics affect whether voters support the same party in mayoral, council and borough mayoral races. Our results will provide insight into the decision making calculus of Canadian voters in low information contexts, as well as the understudied role of partisanship at the local level.


Language and (not) Voting: 2017 Municipal Elections in Montreal
Cameron Anderson and Laura Stephenson
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

In electoral contexts characterized by politicized sociodemographic difference, we know that the bases of such difference can have prominent effects on participation and vote choice.  For instance, a range of comparative and cross-national work demonstrates that the presence of linguistic heterogeneity undermines turnout in elections (e.g. Anderson and Paskeviciute 2006; Kaniovski and Mueller 2006; Sandovici and Listhaug 2009).  Similarly, past work finds evidence for ethnic affinity voting such that voters are more likely to vote for candidates from their own ethnic group (Goodyear-Grant and Tolley 2017; Bird et al. 2015).  Both of these research trajectories demonstrate the importance of politicized sociodemographic differences on electoral participation and choice. 

Building off of these insights, this paper will address both of these questions through looking at the 2017 municipal elections in Montreal, Canada.  Using both subjective perceptions and objective conditions of linguistic heterogeneity, we will estimate the effects of linguistic heterogeneity on turnout in the mayoral and council elections in Montreal.  Additionally, because Montreal is such a linguistically diverse city, we will consider the extent to which linguistic affinity voting serves to shape vote choice in both the mayoral and council races.  The paper will utilize data from a multi-city study of Canadian municipal elections in 2017 and 2018 that includes campaign and post-election surveys of Montreal voters.


Madam Mayor: Gender, Montréal and the Election of Valérie Plante
Erin Tolley and Mireille Paquet
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

In the 2017 municipal elections, Valérie Plante surprised many when she defeated incumbent Denis Coderre and became Montréal’s first female mayor. Although conventional wisdom suggests that municipal governments will be most open to female candidates, research suggests that election rates are roughly the same at all three levels of government (Tolley 2011), with the most recent data showing that women hold just 18% of all mayoral positions in Canada (FCM 2015). Plante’s election thus provides a backdrop for interrogating questions about gender, political leadership, and municipal politics. The City of Montréal is an important case study given a history of feminist organizing in Québec and the province’s distinct trajectory of female inclusion in electoral politics (Tremblay 2010). This chapter is organized in three parts. First, we situate Plante’s election in a historical context, highlighting key moments in the city’s politics, with a focus on women’s political organizing and activism. Second, we present data from a survey of Montréal electors in the lead-up and close of the 2017 campaign that allows us to examine the correlates of support for Plante. Was gender a deciding factor in Plante’s victory, or was this a disenchanted electorate turning against a known commodity and choosing the next best option? We look at which voters were most likely to support Plante, how they evaluated her in comparison to her competitors, and what role feminist orientation played in their decisions. Finally, we look at the implications of Plante’s election for municipal politics in Montréal and gender politics more broadly. Is Plante a standard-bearer for a new wave of women leaders, or should we be more sanguine about her victory?  We argue that while Plante’s victory is significant, we should not be to quick to proclaim that we have arrived at a new frontier in gender politics.


Campaign Effects in Two Municipal Elections
Randy Besco and Scott Matthews

Do election campaigns shape electoral outcomes in important ways, or do elections simply register longstanding political tendencies that are (mostly) unaffected by parties’ and candidates’ efforts to persuade and mobilize voters? The question has been central to the modern study of voting behaviour, but has never been systematically examined in the context of municipal elections. This paper deploys the panel component of the CMES samples in Montréal and Québec City to characterize “campaign effects” in municipal elections. Does the progress of the campaign increase voters’ political interest and attention? Does the campaign stimulate voter learning about candidates and the issues? Do campaigns shape the set of issues that is influential for voters on Election Day? Our analysis provides answers to these, and other, key questions and, in this way, speaks to the function and democratic significance of election campaigns at the municipal level.


Blurred Lines: Cross-Level Influences on Municipal Vote Choice in Montreal and Quebec City
Laura Stephenson and Michael McGregor
Paper presented at APSA conference 2018

In federal societies, research has shown that party loyalties at one level can affect partisan attitudes at another (Clarke and Stewart 1987; Stewart and Clarke 1998).  This situation can undermine the accountability function of elections, creating a situation in which candidates are evaluated on the basis of factors outside of their control. This paper considers the extent to which cross-level partisan influences travel to the local level. In recent work on an ostensibly non-partisan municipal election in Toronto (McGregor et al. 2016; Stephenson et al. forthcoming), we found that voters were heavily influenced by their perceptions of the links between candidates and parties at other levels of government.  Municipal vote choices are affected by federal-level partisanship of electors, and evaluations of the performance of incumbents are biased by the perceived partisan compatibility of individual electors and sitting politicians.

We extend this line of research by moving to different contexts, the 2017 municipal elections in Montréal and Québec.  Both cities have local political parties that do not align with those at either the federal or provincial levels. In fact, in the province of Quebec, federal, provincial and municipal party systems all differ from one another.  We consider how this partisan incongruity conditions the effects of federal and provincial partisan attitudes upon vote choice and attitudes towards mayoral candidates at the local level. We consider this question using data gathered through the Canadian Municipal Election Study, a large-N survey of roughly 2,000 respondents in each city. Our study speaks to how multi-level governance affects the decision-making of governments, and raises the question of whether politicians can ever really be judged on their own merits, free of the influence of elector attitudes towards other orders of government.


Retrospective Voting in the 2017 Montreal and Quebec Municipal Elections: The Roles of Sociotropic Economic Evaluations and Patrimony
Éric Bélanger and Charles Tessier
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

Economic voting has been extensively studied in Canada, both at the federal and at the provincial levels. It is much less the case, however, in the context of municipal elections, mainly because of a lack of appropriate individual-level survey data. Yet, given the importance this theory has in our understanding of provincial and federal elections, it could be argued that economic voting is essential to understanding municipal elections in Quebec. Therefore, the objective of this paper is to use the Canadian Municipal Election Study (CSES) data to investigate the role and impact of economic voting in the 2017 municipal elections in Montreal and Quebec City. More specifically, the analyses will explore two ways of modelling the relationship between vote choice and economic perceptions. First, using the respondent’s sociotropic evaluations of the economy, and second, using their reported economic assets to verify if an individual’s patrimony influences his or her voting decision.


Nationalism and Local Elections
Jean-François Daoust
Paper presented at 2018 CMES conference

Nationalism issues such as Quebec independence or linguistic rights have dominated modern Quebec politics at the provincial and the federal levels for decades. Although the relationship between nationalism and vote choice at these two level of governance is both strong and enduring, we do not know whether such a relationship exists at the local (municipal) level. To explore this possibility, I study the cases of the 2017 mayoral elections in Montreal and Quebec City. First, I consider whether citizens associate the candidates with political parties from the provincial and federal levels. If there is a congruence between the voter’s position on the national question and the perceived affiliation of a candidate, she should be more likely to vote for this candidate. Second, I analyze whether attitudes toward Quebec independence and linguistic issue are significant determinants of vote calculus at the mayoral level.

Economic Evaluations, Attributions of Responsibility, and Voter Turnout in Local Elections
Cameron Anderson and Michael McGregor
Paper presented at 2019 MPSA conference

There is a large body of research on the relationship between economic evaluations and turnout. The literature features a debate between those who argue that economic adversity increases turnout and those who find that it decreases participation. At the same time, it has been argued (Arceneaux, 2003) that the relationship between economic evaluations and turnout is mediated by attributions of responsibility for economic conditions. The purpose of this study is to consider the relationship between economic evaluations, attributions of responsibility for those conditions, and voter turnout at the municipal level in Canada. This is a level of government where many would expect minimal economic impact of elected officials and where turnout is quite low. To do so, we draw upon Canadian Municipal Election Study (see survey data from eight major Canadian cities, collected in 2017 and 2018. The paper considers a series of three questions. Is there a relationship between economic evaluations and turnout local elections? Is the relationship between economic considerations and turnout mediated by attributions of responsibility to the municipal government? Last, we consider whether the answers to first two questions apply to ballot roll-off, an indicator of turnout in city council elections. Early results suggest that the answers to these research questions may vary conditional on objective economic conditions.

Immigrants and Participation in Local Elections: A Mixed-Methods Examination of Turnout in the 2018 Ontario Municipal Elections
Rebecca Wallace, Michael McGregor, Erin Tolley, and Olivia Chow
Paper presented at 2019 CPSA conference

Understanding immigrants’ participation in Canadian elections is critical to the representation of newcomers at all levels of government. While analyses of voter turnout rates in federal and provincial elections have produced mixed evidence of a turnout gap between immigrants and non-immigrants, there is evidence that new Canadians participate in municipal elections at markedly lower rates than do their Canadian-born counterparts. This raises the question: Why are immigrants less likely than non-immigrants to participate in local elections?

Employing a mixed methods approach, the goals of this project are to determine if immigrants did indeed have relatively low rates of participation in the 2018 Municipal Elections in Ontario and, if so, to determine why this is the case. Survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study are used to compare rates of participation between immigrants and Canadian-born electors, and to compare the groups with respect to a number of well-known attitudinal correlates of turnout. We also report on the findings of a series of focus groups with immigrant electors in Mississauga (a city in which over half of residents are born outside of Canada), exploring engagement in local politics. Preliminary findings suggest that immigrants’ political priorities and interests largely lie outside the local realm, and point to concerns about the accessibility of information on local elections and challenges around finding the time to participate in immigrants’ initial years in Canada. The results of this study suggest that there is room for improvement on the part of local governments to improve participation rates among immigrants.

Do Municipal Politicians Live in their own Political world?
Scott Pruysers
Paper presented at 2019 CPSA conference

Unlike many other federations (e.g., Germany), a role as a provincial politician in Canada is not considered to be less prestigious than an MP at the federal level. It is not surprising then, to find very little evidence of a multi-level career trajectory in Canada. That is, politicians do not tend to start their careers provincially, using this experience as a stepping stone to a later entry into federal politics. Empirical examinations of the career paths of Canadian legislators suggests that less than 10% of federal MPs have served provincially.

Left out of this discussion, however, is the question of whether the municipal level is a launching pad in this country. Using original survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study, this paper explores progressive political ambition among more than 800 individuals who ran for municipal office (city council, mayor, and regional council) in 2018. We consider whether municipal candidates/politicians live in their own political world, or if they do, in fact, aspire to a future in federal or provincial politics. We are interested not only in the extent to which candidates express progressive ambition but also in uncovering the kinds of individuals who are the most likely to be interested in higher office. Here we consider factors such as sex, age, ethnicity, past experience, and party membership. The findings of this paper will provide important insight into multi-level politics in Canada, and address an important oversight in the current literature.

Explaining Support for Separate School Funding in Ontario: An Experimental Study
Adrienne Davidson, Jack Lucas and Michael McGregor
Paper to be presented at 2019 CPSA conference

The purpose of this study is determine the correlates or support for (or opposition to) the merging of public and Catholic school systems in Ontario. The existence of publicly funded Catholic schools has been constitutionally guaranteed in the province since 1867. Polls suggest, however, that opinions on the maintenance of two parallel school systems, based upon religious grounds, are divided.

Drawing upon survey data from the Canadian Municipal Election Study, this piece proceeds in three stages. First, we use survey data from 6,000 electors in London, Mississauga and Toronto to develop a comprehensive understanding of the sociodemographic and attitudinal correlates of support for merging the province’s school systems. Next, we present the results of a survey experiment, meant to examine the effect of being provided with information on school systems in other provinces. Prior to being asked their opinions on merging school systems, respondents in treatment groups were shown messages with information on provinces that have either maintained separate school systems or merged them with the public system. We conclude with a consideration of whether certain types of individuals are affected differently by experimental treatments. Our findings have implications for understanding the correlates of support for this important feature of Ontario politics, as well as the prospects (or lack thereof) of merging Ontario’s school systems.