A07(b) - Is Canada Polarizing?
Date: Jun 4 | Time: 03:15pm to 04:45pm | Location: SWING 309
Chair/Président/Présidente : Alex B. Rivard (University of British Columbia)
Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Scott Matthews (Memorial University)
Session Abstract: Much has been written – by scholars and the media alike – about increasing polarization in the US. Is Canada also polarizing? This panel unpacks this question by examining over-time trends among Canadian voters, party activists, and politicians. Each paper explores a different aspect of polarization: partisan sorting and party polarization on sexuality politics; the effects of polarization on leader evaluations; polarization in the speaking patterns of parliamentarians; and affective polarization among Canadian voters.
Partisan Sorting and Party Polarization in Canada: The Cases of Abortion and Same-Sex Marriage: Elizabeth Baisley (Princeton University)
Abstract: Over the past several decades, Canadian parties have become more ideologically distinct. This paper draws on work on American politics to offer a model for the study of partisan sorting and party polarization in Canada. It uses the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage (1970s-present) as unique opportunities to examine dynamics of partisan sorting and party polarization in Canada across three levels: voters, party activists, and politicians. This paper shows that Canada does not look so dissimilar from the US when it comes to partisan divisions on these issues. Over time in both countries, voters, party activists, and politicians have come to look increasingly distinct on abortion and same-sex marriage. Furthermore – despite important cross-country differences in political institutions – the dynamics of partisan sorting and party polarization have been remarkably similar in both countries. This paper contributes to the study of 1) partisan sorting and polarization in Canada, 2) abortion and LGBT politics in Canada, and 3 partisan sorting and polarization in the US.
Party Polarization and the Changing Dynamics of Leader Effects: Amanda Bittner (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
Abstract: For years, scholars have noted the importance of perceptions of party leaders in the minds of voters when they head to the ballot box (e.g. Bittner 2011, Johnston 2002). Evaluations of leaders are shaped by perceptions of leaders’ character and competence and by a “partisan stereotype.” Partisanship cannot be ignored, as it provides a lens through which voters experience elections. Cross-national research suggests that, not surprisingly, partisans tend to be more positive about their own leaders, and they tend to evaluate the leaders of other parties more negatively. Recent scholarship points to the increasing partisan polarization in the American context, as Republicans and Democrats are more different than ever before in their perceptions of campaigns, parties, and political issues (Hetherington, 2009; Iyengar & Westwood, 2015; Lupu, 2015; Vegetti, Fazekas, & Méder, 2017; Westfall, Van Boven, Chambers, & Judd, 2015). What we don’t know yet is whether polarization has influenced the dynamics of leader evaluations over time. Have partisans changed the way they evaluate leaders? Are they increasingly divergent in their evaluations of leaders across parties? This paper assesses the role of leaders in the US and four parliamentary democracies (Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia) over time. Combining data from the election studies of these five countries from the 1960s to the present, this paper will help to determine two things: first, whether party polarization is experienced outside of the American context; and second, whether polarization has had an impact on the nature of voters’ evaluations of leaders over time.
Measuring Polarization in the Canadian House of Commons, 1901-2018: Christopher Cochrane (University of Toronto), Ludovic Rheault (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Canadians of different political stripes believe different things, harbor different values, and dislike each other a lot more than they used to. The ideological poles of party agendas have also moved apart over the past few decades. This paper examines in an historical perspective the degree to which political polarization appears in the speaking patterns of parliamentarians in the Canadian House of Commons. We draw on tools from the field of Natural Language Processing to propose new measures of polarization in speech, and we use these tools to analyze digitized record of floor debates in the House of Commons (www.lipad.ca). We argue that word embeddings – coefficients from neural networks predicting the use of words in context – are well suited to capturing ideology, and we use these embeddings to produce scaling estimates of ideological placement among parliamentarians. The results show, first, that these scaling estimates are credible measures of ideology, and, second, that the pattern of growing polarization is indeed reflected in the speaking patterns of parliamentarians.
Affective Polarization in the Canadian Party System, 1988-2015: Richard Johnston (University of British Columbia)
Abstract: Over recent decades, the Canadian party system appears to have polarized. Liberal and Conservative platforms have diverged, mostly as the Conservatives have pulled to the right (Cochrane 2010; Johnston 2017). Self-reports of left-right location among supporters have also diverged, although the pattern here is murky (Johnston 2014). On substantive issues in redistribution, the pattern is quite clear (Kevins and Soroka 2018). Critical to the change was the emergence of Reform in the 1990s and then its reverse takeover of the Conservative label. The issue is complicated by the system’s historic domination by a party of the centre (Johnston 2008) and that party’s policy convergence on the NDP. This paper asks whether these patterns find a parallel in the domain of affect. Specifically, do supporters of each party like other parties less now than before? To explore this question, I use feeling thermometer data (or equivalent) from every Canadian Election Study from 1988 to 2015.