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(In)Significant Elections? Federal By-elections in Canada, 1963–2008

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2010

Peter John Loewen*
University of Toronto
Frédérick Bastien*
Université Laval
Peter John Loewen, Department of Political Science, University of Toronto at Mississauga, Mississauga ON, L6L 1C6,
Frédérick Bastien, Département d'information et de communication, Université Laval, 1055 avenue du Séminaire, Québec QC, G1V 0A6,


Abstract. Despite the development of electoral studies in Canada, by-elections have received little attention from researchers. We believe that these are important political events. This research note examines the 121 federal by-elections held between general elections from 1963 to 2008. Our analysis indicates that turnout in by-elections is driven by the larger societal determinants of turnout and not the characteristics of each race. We also find that the support of the government party in a by-election is affected by changes in national opinion towards the government, but only in the third-party system. We find that minor parties and independent candidates perform better in by-elections than in general elections. And we find no difference in the re-election rates of by-election winners and those who enter parliament through general elections.

Résumé. Malgré le développement des études électorales au Canada, les élections partielles ont reçu très peu d'attention de la part des chercheurs. Nous croyons qu'il s'agit pourtant d'événements importants dans la vie politique canadienne. Cette note de recherche examine les 121 élections partielles fédérales survenues entre les élections générales de 1963 à 2008. Notre analyse indique que le taux de participation aux élections partielles est davantage influencé par des déterminants sociétaux que par des caractéristiques propres à chacune. Nous constatons aussi que les fluctuations de l'opinion publique canadienne à l'égard du gouvernement influençaient la performance du parti gouvernemental lors des élections partielles avant le réalignement partisan de 1993, mais que ce n'est plus le cas dans le système partisan actuel. Nous observons également que les petits partis et les candidats indépendants enregistrent de meilleures performances lors des élections partielles et qu'il n'y a pas, aux élections générales qui suivent, de différence notable entre le taux de réélection des gagnants aux élections partielles et celui des autres députés sortants.

Research Note
Copyright © Canadian Political Science Association 2010

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