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The Effects of Information and Social Cleavages: Explaining Issue Attitudes and Vote Choice in Canada

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2007

Amanda Bittner
University of British Columbia


Abstract. This paper examines the relationship between social group identity and the level of political information in explaining Canadians' issue attitudes and vote choices. Traditional accounts of Canadians' partisan political leanings have placed a great deal of emphasis on social group identity in explaining attitudes. However based on data from the Canadian Election Studies from 1988–2004, it is argued that both social group identity and information influence the nature of vote choice and public opinion in Canada. In fact, the level of voter information has two contradictory effects on the political attitudes of different social groups. In some cases voters' level of information reduces the role of social group identity in explaining attitudes and vote choices; information acts to bridge the differences between different social groups (for example Catholics/non-Catholics and urban/rural Canadians). In other cases, voters' level of information acts to amplify the importance of social group identity in predicting attitudes (for example women/men and religious/nonreligious). These findings suggest that not only is social group identity a less effective predictor of attitudes than has traditionally been thought but that there are also significant underlying differences between the so-called “old” and “new” cleavages in Canada when it comes to understanding their impact on political values.

Résumé. Cet article examine le lien qui existe entre l'appartenance à un groupe social donné et le niveau d'information politique lorsqu'il s'agit d'expliquer l'attitude des Canadiens et des Canadiennes devant certaines questions d'intérêt politique et leur choix de vote. Les analyses traditionnelles des tendances partisanes au Canada mettent surtout l'accent sur l'appartenance à un groupe social particulier pour expliquer les positions. Toutefois, en nous fondant sur les données des Études électorales canadiennes de 1988 à 2004, nous soutenons que l'appartenance au groupe social tout comme le niveau d'information exercent une influence sur le choix de vote et sur l'opinion publique au Canada. En réalité, le niveau d'information des électeurs produit deux effets contradictoires sur la position politique de groupes sociaux différents. Dans certains cas, le niveau d'information des électeurs affaiblit le rôle du groupe social dans l'explication des positions et des choix de vote; il permet d'outrepasser les distinctions de groupe social (par exemple catholiques vs non-catholiques et Canadiens en milieu urbain ou en milieu rural). Dans d'autres cas, le niveau d'information amplifie l'importance du groupe social comme facteur permettant de prédire les positions (par exemple femmes vs hommes et électeurs religieux ou non religieux). Ces découvertes suggèrent que pour prédire les positions politiques, le groupe social est un indicateur moins fiable que ne le supposent les analyses traditionnelles. De surcroît, il existe d'importantes différences sous-jacentes entre les soi-disant “anciens” et “nouveaux” clivages au Canada lorsqu'il s'agit d'interpréter leur incidence sur les valeurs politiques.

Research Article
© 2007 Cambridge University Press

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