Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-8cclj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-30T03:03:48.374Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The Urban-Rural Divide in Canadian Federal Elections, 1896–2019

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 November 2021

David A. Armstrong II
Department of Political Science, Western University, Social Science Centre Rm 4154, London, ON N6A 5C2, Canada
Jack Lucas
Department of Political Science, University of Calgary, 2500 University Dr. NW, Calgary, AB T2N 1N4, Canada
Zack Taylor*
Department of Political Science, Western University, Social Science Centre Rm 4154, London, ON N6A 5C2, Canada
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Using a new measure of urbanity for every federal electoral district in Canada from 1896 to the present, this article describes the long-term development of the urban-rural divide in Canadian federal elections. We focus on three questions: (1) when the urban-rural divide has existed in Canada, identifying three main periods—the 1920s, the 1960s and 1993–present—in which the urban-rural cleavage has been especially important in federal elections; (2) where the urban-rural divide has existed, finding that in the postwar period the urban-rural cleavage is a pan-Canadian phenomenon; and (3) how well urbanity predicts district-level election outcomes. We argue that the urban-rural divide is important for understanding election outcomes during several periods of Canadian political development, and never more so than in recent decades. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for research on urban-rural cleavages, Canadian electoral politics and Canadian political development.



À l'aide d'une nouvelle mesure de l'urbanité pour chaque circonscription électorale fédérale au Canada de 1896 à aujourd'hui, cet article décrit l'évolution à long terme de l'urbain-rural dans la politique électorale fédérale canadienne. Nous nous concentrons sur trois questions : (1) quand le clivage urbain-rural a existé au Canada, en identifiant trois périodes principales—les années 1920, les années 1960 et de 1993 à ce jour—au cours desquelles le clivage urbain-rural a été particulièrement important dans les élections fédérales; (2) où le clivage urbain-rural a existé, en constatant que dans la période d'après-guerre, le clivage urbain-rural est un phénomène pancanadien; et (3) dans quelle mesure l'urbanité prédit les résultats des élections au niveau des circonscriptions. Nous soutenons que le clivage urbain-rural est important pour comprendre les résultats électoraux au cours de plusieurs périodes du développement politique canadien, et jamais autant qu'au cours des dernières décennies. Nous concluons en discutant des implications de nos résultats pour la recherche sur les clivages urbains-ruraux, la politique électorale canadienne et le développement politique du Canada.

Research Article/Étude originale
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Canadian Political Science Association (l’Association canadienne de science politique) and/et la Société québécoise de science politique

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alford, Robert R. 1964. “The Social Bases of Political Cleavage in 1962.” In Papers on the 1962 Election, ed. Meisel, John. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
Bakvis, Herman. 1988. “Regional Ministers, National Policies and the Administrative State in Canada: The Regional Dimension in Cabinet Decision-Making, 1980–1984.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 21 (3): 539–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blake, Donald E. 1984. Canadian Census and Election Data, 1908-1968 (ICPSR 39). Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor]. Scholar
Bloomfield, Elizabeth, Bloomfield, Gerald and McCaskell, Peter. 1983. Urban Growth and Local Services: The Development of Ontario Municipalities to 1981. Guelph, ON: Dept. of Geography, University of Guelph.Google Scholar
CCRI. 2009. “Population by Census Subdivisions, 1871–1951” (table). Available at “CCRI Published Summary Tables 1911–1951.” Scholar
Cramer, Katherine J. 2016. The Politics of Resentment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cutler, Fred and Jenkins, Richard W.. 2002. “Where One Lives and What One Thinks: Implications of the Rural-Urban Cleavage for Canadian Federalism.” In Canada: The State of the Federation 2001, ed. Telford, Hamish and Lazar, Harvey. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.Google Scholar
Deuskar, Chandan. 2015. “What Does ‘Urban’ Mean?” Sustainable Cities (blog). World Bank, June 2. Scholar
Flanagan, Thomas. 2007. Harper's Team. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.Google Scholar
Flanagan, Thomas. 2009. Waiting for the Wave. 2nd ed. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.Google Scholar
Gamm, Gerald and Kousser, Thad. 2013. “No Strength in Numbers: The Failure of Big-City Bills in American State Legislatures, 1880–2000.” American Political Science Review 107 (4): 663678. Scholar
Gimpel, James G., Lovin, Nathan, Moy, Bryant and Reeves, Andrew. 2020. “The Urban-Rural Gulf in American Political Behavior.” Political Behavior 42 (4): 1343–68. Scholar
Godbout, Jean-François. 2020. Lost on Division: Party Unity in the Canadian Parliament. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hare, Christopher, Armstrong II, David A., Bakker, Ryan, Carroll, Royce, Poole, Keith T., Bakker, Ryan, Carroll, Royce and Poole, Keith T.. 2015. “Perceptions Using Bayesian Aldrich-McKelvey Scaling to Study Citizens’ Ideological Preferences and Perceptions.” American Journal of Political Science 59 (3): 759–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herron, M. 1999. “Postestimation Uncertainty in Limited Dependent Variable Models.” Political Analysis 8 (1): 8398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ibbitson, John. 2021. “Erin O'Toole's Conservatives Target Suburban Voters in Election Platform of Thoughtful Populism.Globe and Mail, August 16.Google Scholar
ILO (International Labour Office). 2018. “Rural-Urban Labour Statistics.” Room document 3. 20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, Geneva, October 10–19. Scholar
Irvine, W. P. 1964. “An Analysis of Voting Shifts in Quebec.” In Papers on the 1962 Election, ed. Meisel, John. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
Johnston, Richard. 2017. The Canadian Party System: An Analytic History. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
Johnston, Richard, Blais, André, Brady, Henry E. and Crête, Jean. 1992. Letting the People Decide: Dynamics of a Canadian Election. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press.Google Scholar
Lieberman, Robert C. 2009. “The City and Exceptionalism in American Political Development.” In The City in American Political Development, ed. Dilworth, Richardson. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Lipset, Seymour Martin. 1950. Agrarian Socialism. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lipset, Seymour Martin and Rokkan, Stein. 1967. “Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction.” In Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives, ed. Martin Lipset, Seymour and Rokkan, Stein. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
McGrane, David, Berdahl, Loleen and Bell, Scott. 2017. “Moving beyond the Urban/Rural Cleavage: Measuring Values and Policy Preferences across Residential Zones in Canada.Journal of Urban Affairs 39 (1): 1739. Scholar
Meisel, John. 1962. The Canadian General Election of 1957. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meisel, John. 1964. “An Analysis of the National Results.” In Papers on the 1962 Election, ed. Meisel, John. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nemerever, Zoe and Rogers, Melissa. 2021. “Measuring the Rural Continuum in Political Science.Political Analysis 29 (3): 267–86. Scholar
Ogorzalek, Thomas. 2018. The Cities on the Hill: How Urban Institutions Tranform National Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Regenstreif, Peter. 1965. The Diefenbaker Interlude. Don Mills: Longmans.Google Scholar
Rodden, Jonathan A. 2019. Why Cities Lose: The Deep Roots of the Urban-Rural Political Divide. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés. 2018. “The Revenge of the Places That Don't Matter (and What to Do about It).” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 11 (1): 189209. Scholar
Sauerzopf, Richard and Swanstrom, Todd. 1999. “The Urban Electorate in Presidential Elections, 1920–1996.” Urban Affairs Review 35 (1): 7291. Scholar
Sayers, Anthony M. 2013. “City Ministers: The Local Politics of Cabinet Selection.” In Parties, Elections, and the Future of Canadian Politics. Vancouver: UBC Press.Google Scholar
Scala, Dante J. and Johnson, Kenneth M.. 2017. “Political Polarization along the Rural-Urban Continuum? The Geography of the Presidential Vote, 2000–2016.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 672 (1): 162–84. Scholar
Scott, Allen J. 1986. “Industrialization and Urbanization: A Geographical Agenda.Annals of the Association of American Geographers 76 (1): 2537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sevi, Semra, Arel-Bundock, Vincent and Blais, André. 2019. “Do Women Get Fewer Votes? No.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 52 (1): 201–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simmel, Georg. (1903) 1964. “The Metropolis and Mental Life.” In The Sociology of Georg Simmel, ed. Wolff, Kurt H.. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Strange, William C. 2016. “Urban Agglomeration.” In The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.Google Scholar
Taylor, Zack. 2021. “The Political Geography of Immigration: Party Competition for Immigrants’ Votes in Canada, 1997–2019.” American Review of Canadian Studies 51 (1): 1840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Treier, Shawn and Jackman, Simon. 2008. “Democracy as a Latent Variable.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (1): 201–17. Scholar
USDA (US Department of Agriculture). 2020. “Rural-Urban Continuum Codes.” Washington, DC: Economic Research Service. Scholar
Walks, R. Alan. 2004a. “Place of Residence, Party Preferences, and Political Attitudes in Canadian Cities and Suburbs.” Journal of Urban Affairs 26 (3): 269–95. Scholar
Walks, R. Alan. 2004b. “Suburbanization, the Vote, and Changes in Federal and Provincial Political Representation and Influence between Inner Cities and Suburbs in Large Canadian Urban Regions, 1945–1999.” Urban Affairs Review 39 (4): 411–40. Scholar
Walks, R. Alan. 2013. “Suburbanism as a Way of Life, Slight Return.” Urban Studies 50 (8): 1471–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wallis, Allan D. 1994. “The Third Wave: Current Trends in Regional Governance.” National Civic Review 83 (Summer/Fall): 290310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weber, Max. 1958. The City. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
Winearls, Joan. 1972. “Federal Electoral Maps of Canada 1867–1970.” Cartographica: The International Journal for Geographic Information and Geovisualization 9 (1): 124. Scholar
Wirth, Louis. 1938. “Urbanism as a Way of Life.” American Journal of Sociology 44 (1): 124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wolman, Harold and Marckini, Lisa. 1998. “Changes in Central-City Representation and Influence in Congress since the 1960s.” Urban Affairs Review 34 (2): 291312. Scholar
Young, Walter D. 1969. The Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932–61. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Armstrong et al. supplementary material

Armstrong et al. supplementary material

Download Armstrong et al. supplementary material(PDF)