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Opinion Representation and Policy Feedback: Canada in Comparative Perspective

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2005

Stuart N. Soroka
McGill University
Christopher Wlezien
Oxford University


Abstract. Work exploring the relationship between public opinion and public policy over time has largely been restricted to the US. However, a wider application of this line of research can provide valuable insights into whether and how representation varies across political systems. This paper takes a step in this direction using a new body of data on public opinion and government spending in Canada. Analyses reveal that the Canadian public notices and responds (thermostatically) to changes in public spending in particular domains, and also that Canadian policymakers represent these public preferences in spending. The extent and nature of public responsiveness and policy representation varies across domains. Relationships are more pronounced in certain domains, and they are more ‘specific’ in some domains and more ‘global’ in others. The findings generally accord with the results of similar work in the US and the UK, although the details differ in important ways. Indeed, the differences are strongly suggestive about the structuring role of institutions.

Résumé. Les travaux portant sur la relation entre l'opinion publique et les politiques publiques se sont longtemps limités surtout aux États-Unis. Cependant, l'élargissement de cette piste de recherche peut fournir de précieuses connaissances sur les variations de la représentation au sein des systèmes politiques. Cette étude s'oriente dans cette direction en utilisant un nouveau corpus de données sur l'opinion publique et les dépenses du gouvernement au Canada. Les analyses révèlent que, dans certains domaines, la population canadienne observe les changements liés aux dépenses publiques et y réagit (de façon thermostatique) et que les décisionnaires canadiens traduisent les préférences de la population dans les dépenses. La portée et la nature de la réceptivité de la population ainsi que la représentation des politiques varient d'un domaine à l'autre. Les connexions sont plus étroites dans certains domaines, plus “ spécifiques ” dans d'autres et enfin, plus “ globales ” dans d'autres encore. En général, les résultats sont en accord avec ceux des travaux similaires menés aux États-Unis et au Royaume-Uni, malgré des différences importantes sur certains points de détail. En fait, les différences sont très évocatrices du rôle structurant des institutions.

Research Article
© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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