Skip to main content

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,
Hide All
Aldrich John H. 1983. “A Downsian Spatial Model with Party Activism.” American Political Science Review 77: 974–90.
Amorim Neto Octavio and Cox Gary W.. 1997. “Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties.” American Journal of Political Science 41: 149–74.
Bakvis Herman and Macpherson Laura G.. 1995. “Quebec Block Voting and the Canadian Electoral System.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 28: 659–92.
Bardi Luciano and Mair Peter. 2008. “The Parameters of Party Systems.” Party Politics 14: 147–66.
Benoit Kenneth. 2006. “Duverger's Law and the Study of Electoral Systems.” French Politics 4: 6983.
Benoit Kenneth and Laver Michael. 2006. Party Policy in Modern Democracies. London: Routledge.
Blondel Jean. 1968. “Party Systems and Patterns of Government in Western Democracies.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 1: 180203.
Brown Robert Craig. 1975. Robert Laird Borden, A Biography. Volume I: 1854–1914. Toronto: Macmillan.
Budge Ian, Klingemann Hans-Dieter, Volkens Andrea, Bara Judith and Tanenbaum Eric. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments, 1945–1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cairns Alan C. 1968. “The Electoral System and the Party System in Canada, 1921–1965.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 1: 5580.
Caramani Daniele. 2004. The Nationalization of Politics: The Formation of National Electorates and Party Systems in Western Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Carty R.K. 1988. “Three Canadian Party Systems: An Interpretation of the Development of National Politics.” In Party Democracy in Canada, ed. Perlin G.C.. Toronto: Prentice-Hall.
Chhibber Pradeep K. and Kollman Ken. 2004. The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cox Gary W. 1987. The Efficient Secret: The Cabinet and the Development of Political Parties in Victorian England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cox Gary W. 1994. “Strategic Voting Equilibria under the Single Nontransferable Vote.” American Political Science Review 88: 608–21.
Cox Gary W. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Crunican Paul. 1974. Priests and Politicians: Manitoba Schools and the Election of 1896. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Dobell W.M. 1986. “Updating Duverger's Law.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 19: 585–95.
Downs Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
Dunleavy Patrick and Boucek Françoise. 2003. “Constructing the Number of Parties.” Party Politics 9: 291315.
Duverger Maurice. [1954] 1963. Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State, trans. North Barbara and North Robert. New York: Wiley.
Enelow James N. and Hinich Melvin J.. 1984. The Spatial Theory of Voting: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Flanagan Thomas. 1995. Waiting for the Wave: The Reform Party and Preston Manning. Toronto: Stoddart.
Irvine William P. 1979. Does Canada Need a New Electoral System? Kingston, ON: Queen's University Institute for Intergovernmental Relations.
Johnston Richard and Ballantyne Janet. 1977. “Geography and the Electoral System.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 10: 857–66.
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.
Laakso Markku and Taagepera Rein. 1979. “Effective Number of Parties: A Measure with Application to West Europe.” Comparative Political Studies 12: 327.
Lijphart Arend. 1994. Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-seven Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lipset Seymour Martin. 1954. “Democracy in Alberta.” Canadian Forum November: 175–77; December: 196–98.
Lovink J.A.A. 1970. “On Analyzing the Impact of the Electoral System on the Party System in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 3: 497516.
Miller J.R. 1979. Equal Rights: The Jesuits' Estates Act Controversy. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.
Ordeshook Peter C., and Shvetsova Olga. 1994. “Ethnic Heterogeneity, District Magnitude, and the Number of Parties.” American Journal of Political Science 38: 100–23.
Powell G. Bingham. 2000. Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Rae Douglas W. 1971. The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws. 2nd ed.New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Riker William H. 1976. “The Number of Political Parties: A Re-examination of Duverger's Law.” Comparative Politics 9: 93106.
Riker William H. 1982. “The Two-Party System and Duverger's Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science.” American Political Science Review 76: 753–66.
Sartori Giovanni. 1966. “European Political Parties: The Case of Polarized Pluralism.” In Political Parties and Political Development, ed. LaPalombara Joseph and Weiner Myron. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sartori Giovanni. 1968. “Political Development and Political Engineering.” In Public Policy, ed. Montgomery John D. and Hirschmann Albert O.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sartori Giovanni. 1976. Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith David E. 1985. “Party Government, Representation, and National Integration in Canada.” In Party Government and Regional Representation in Canada, ed. Aucoin Peter. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Taagepera Rein and Shugart Matthew Soberg. 1989. Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

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
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 16
Total number of PDF views: 90 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 255 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd November 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.