The Study

This study explores the scope of Canada’s democratic deficit through a comparative analysis of provincial elections in all ten provinces. The project combines a range of perspectives and techniques to explain the different levels of democratic malaise among the residents of various parts of Canada. It also allows researchers an unprecedented opportunity to assess the nature of political competition and voter attitudes at the provincial level across Canada.

The study offers two key innovations in the study of democracy in Canada:

1. it involves a comparative analysis of provincial elections, extending our understanding beyond research conducted at the federal level; and

2. it invokes a new theoretical framework which integrates both the “demand” and “supply” sides of democratic deficit. A mixed-method research design is required to analyze both sides of the democratic deficit.

On the demand side, democratic values are likely to be different across Canada, such that the standards to which politicians, the media, and institutions are held to in one province may be higher or lower compared to others. As such, a series of mass surveys will be used to compare these expectations from province to province. Members of each provincial group will collaborate on a common public survey instrument, to be administered to online panels following each election campaign. Designed under the direction of Dr. Loleen Berdahl, Dr. David McGrane, Dr.Andrea Perrella, and Dr. Jason Roy, the twenty-minute questionnaire gauges the extent to which respondents’ expectations of their democracy are being met by various provincial actors and institutions. With input from other members of the Comparative Provincial Election Project team, the survey will tap residents’ attitudes toward government, public policy, politicians, the media, election administration, the nature of electioneering, and the dominant political culture. These attitudes, in turn, will be linked to the demographic characteristics of the respondents. The mass survey will allow researchers to compare the standards to which politicians, the media, and other institutions are held in each province.

Dr. Matthew Kerby will administer a series of computer deployed expert surveys which will ask participants to place each political party on multiple policy dimensions. The results will highlight similar and different party positions on multiple policy issues which, in turn, will map each province’s party system during the 2011 provincial election campaign. The data and findings generated by these surveys will help to further understand the policy space in which parties compete both within and across provinces.

Further contributing to a burgeoning global literature in political marketing, Dr. Alex Marland will conduct interviews of key campaign officials and strategists.  This allows for an assessment of the extent to which politicians and advisors are meeting the expectations set for them by members of each provincial electorate. 

The study also analyzes the content of campaign communications.  Drawing on the expertise of Dr. Jared Wesley, this examination will include a systematic comparison of platforms, press releases, websites, advertisements, videos, and other campaign materials from different parties and different provinces.  Doing so provides a balanced perspective on the performance of parties, leaders, and candidtates during campaigns, which will be assessed against the expectations and judgments of each province’s electorate.

The media also plays a leading role in setting the political agenda, framing political issues, and priming the electorate. Considering this influence, researchers will conduct a qualitative and quantitative content analysis of the campaign coverage provided by leading television and newspaper outlets in each of the five jurisdictions. Led by Dr.Shannon Sampert, this component of the study will involve the systematic coding and analysis of all political coverage published by major provincial newspapers during each provincial election campaign.

CPEP is proud to work with collaborators from across Canada, including Don Desserud (University of PEI) Lori Thorlakson (University of Alberta), Louise Carbert (Dalhousie University), Mebs Kanji (Concordia University), Joanna Everitt (University of New Brunswick), and Tracey Raney (Ryerson University).