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Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canadian Federal Elections: A New Survey of Non-voters


6. Effectiveness of the Vote and Competitiveness of Political Parties

At earlier points in this report, we have seen the results of measures of these two related concepts. The factor analysis in Table 15 showed that opinions about the degree of competitiveness of the political parties in the country as a whole, and in the respondent's electoral district were closely related (they formed factor 3). Similarly, respondent opinions as to whether "your vote would make a difference" in the country as a whole or in the particular electoral district form the major part of factor 2. In the ensuing regressions, these two factors were used as predictors of voting/not voting in recent elections (tables 1720). There, feeling that the vote mattered (combined in the factor with "civic duty") was a statistically significant predictor of having voted, but the rating of the competitiveness of political parties was not.

It is useful to examine these items a little more closely here, since they capture the way the political situation in Canada was rated by Canadians at the time of the 2000 election. It has been pointed out by many observers that the "regional dominance" of certain parties creates an overall impression of non-competitiveness nationwide. In addition, there are a large number of ridings in all parts of the country where the gap between the first- and second-place finishers is substantial enough that potential voters might not have felt their vote would count for much in deciding the outcome. Of course, those with high levels of political interest or "civic duty" were likely to cast a ballot regardless of the competitive situation at the time, but voters with more marginal feelings may have felt that there wasn't much point to it.



Table 31 "Did your vote make a difference in the country?" (percentages)


  Voted in 2000? Total
Yes No
A lot
14.4
7.0
10.4
Some
22.7
18.9
20.6
A little
34.9
33.4
34.1
None
28.0
40.8
34.9
 
100.0
100.0
100.0
V = .116    p < .000



Table 32 "Did your vote make a difference in the riding?" (percentages)


  Voted in 2000? Total
Yes No
A lot
23.1
10.1
16.2
Some
32.3
22.9
27.3
A little
26.1
34.4
30.5
None
18.5
32.7
26.1
 
100.0
100.0
100.0
V = .243    p < .000



Table 33 "Were parties competitive in the country?" (percentages)


  Voted in 2000? Total
Yes No
Very competitive
21.2
20.5
20.8
Somewhat competitive
39.5
42.8
41.2
Not very competitive
29.1
20.9
24.8
Not at all competitive
10.3
15.9
13.2
 
100.0
100.0
100.0
V = .116    p < .000



Table 34 "Were parties competitive in the riding?" (percentages)


  Voted in 2000? Total
Yes No
Very competitive
16.6
14.7
15.7
Somewhat competitive
40.9
41.7
41.3
Not very competitive
31.4
25.4
28.3
Not at all competitive
11.1
18.2
14.7
 
100.0
100.0
100.0
V = .111    p < .000



Tables 31 and 32 show that a substantial majority of the sampled respondents believed their vote would make little or no difference in either the country as a whole, or their own electoral district. This feeling that their vote would not matter was stronger in the larger arena of the whole country, as we might expect given the large number of votes involved. More telling, perhaps, are the figures for the respondent's own riding. Here, the feeling that their vote would make no difference is particularly strong in those who did not vote (Table 32). The table shows that two thirds of non-voters felt their votes would make little or no difference in their local constituency contest, as opposed to less than half (44.6 percent) of those who voted who felt this way. In some ways, it is a testament to Canadians' feelings of civic duty that so many people voted despite feeling their vote would have little chance of making a difference in the outcome.

While we have seen that, overall, many in the public feel that their votes would not make much difference in the outcome, this opinion is not generally matched by negative judgments about party competitiveness. Tables 33 and 34 show that substantial majorities, even of non-voters, felt that the parties were competitive, although more people were likely to choose the alternative "somewhat competitive" rather than "very competitive". The meaning of "somewhat competitive" is open to speculation; it may not indicate a particularly high level of perceived party competition.

A further exploration was undertaken of potential correlates of these attitudes (data not shown). In the case of both feelings about the effectiveness of the vote and feelings about the competitive level of the parties, the main significant predictors were the factor scores measuring attitudes of inefficacy, trust and party support (see tables 1720, predictors 10 – 12). We already know these factors are intercorrelated, so this finding does not add appreciably to our knowledge at this point.