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Polarized Pluralism in the Canadian Party System: Presidential Address to the Canadian Political Science Association, June 5, 2008

  • Richard Johnston (a1)

Abstract. The Canadian party system is an example “polarized pluralism,” whose key feature is domination by a party of the centre. Centrist domination induces centrifugal tendencies elsewhere in the system. Polarized pluralism accounts for several of the system's peculiar features: three-party competition in individual ridings, contrary to the predictions of Duverger's Law; the existence and episodic dynamics of sectional parties; boom and bust cycles in Conservative party electoral history; and the large gaps between federal and provincial outcomes within many provinces. But domination by a centrist party itself demands explanation.

Résumé. Le système canadien des partis politiques exemplifie le «pluralisme polarisé», dont l'élément clé est la force dominante d'un parti du centre. Une telle domination induit des tendances centrifuges ailleurs dans le système. Pour sa part, le pluralisme polarisé explique plusieurs éléments du système canadien : la présence de trois partis compétitifs au niveau de la circonscription, malgré les prédictions du Duverger; l'existence même et la dynamique des partis sectionalistes; l'alternance entre force et faiblesse dans l'histoire du Parti conservateur; et les grands écarts qui se présentent dans plusieurs provinces entre les élections fédérales et les élections provinciales. Dans ce contexte, la force d'un parti centriste se doit d'être expliquée.

Corresponding author
Richard Johnston, University of Pennsylvania, 208 S. 37th Street, Room 206, Philadelphia PA,19104-6215,
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
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