Harold D. Clarke and Allan Kornberg, "Partisan
Dealignment, Electoral Choice and Party-System Change in
Canada," Party Politics, (October 1996), 455-478.
This paper investigates the conditions under which
significant changes can occur in the structure and
composition of the national party system of a mature
democracy. Although numerous surveys conducted since the
mid-1960s have revealed that the strength and stability of
individual-level support for major political parties have
eroded substantially in several western democracies(e.g.
Sarlvik and Crewe, 1983; Dalton et al., 1984; Franklin et
al., 1992),some analysts (e.g. Bartolini and Mair, 1990:ch.
11) have contended that basic long-term trends are toward
the stabilization rather than the destabilization, of the
party systems of such countries. Pace these latter claims,
this paper argues that, given a conjunction of facilitating
conditions, the party system of a contemporary mature
democracy can undergo rapid, large-scale change. These
conditions are:(1) persistent dissatisfaction with a system
of parliamentary representation; (2) weak and unstable
partisan attachments; (3) widespread, generalized discontent
with party-system performance, and (4)negatively valenced
economic issues or other short-term forces that work
strongly to erode support for a governing party or governing
party coalition. The operation of these conjoined conditions
is illustrated by analyses of party support in the most
recent(October 1993) Canadian national election.
Figures and Tables:
Figure 1: Conservative, Liberal and NDPsupport, November
Figure 2: Evaluations of the national economy, 1988-93.
Figure 3: Evaluations of government's economic performance,
Table 1: Evaluations of Canadian politics parties, 1991 and
1993 national surveys (%).
Table 2: Most important issue and party closest, 1993
Table 3: Party leader images, 1988-93 national surveys.
Table 4: Probit analyses of voting in the 1993 federal
Table 5: Probabilities of voting Conservative in 1993 by
alternative assumptions about leader popularity and
Figure 4:Stability of federal party identification, 1974-93
national inter-election panels.
Some observers would argue that such a party system is long
overdue. Canadian society has always been characterized by
deep, reinforcing, social, economic and regional/ethnic
cleavages which the traditional party system has generally
failed to ameliorate (Schwartz, 1974: ch. 11; Meisel, 1991a,
1991b). A new multi-party system with a strong regional
component in its choice set would better reflect the
realities of this divided and complex society,would provide
better representation of the interests of major social
groups and, arguably, would significantly enhance the
quality of Canadian democracy. However, whether these
improvements in representation would be purchased at the
cost of effective governance - another quality highly prized
by citizens of mature democracies, including Canadians -
remains to be seen.