UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Political participation on the prairies : historical institutionalism and the economic determinants of voter turnout in Alberta and Saskatchewan James, Hammond


Turnout at Canadian elections has been declining considerably since the 1980s yet much of the literature on turnout is dominated by behaviouralism which offers value in predicting the voting behaviour of individuals but struggles to account for long-term trends at the aggregate level. This is particularly pressing in Canada where turnout differs substantially between provinces, nowhere more so than between Alberta and Saskatchewan whose political differences, despite their similarities elsewhere, illustrates the regionalized nature of politics in Canada. This paper will seek to apply the two most prevalent theoretical understandings of regionalism, formal institutional approaches and political culture approaches, to demonstrate that neither offers entirely adequate explanations when tested against such challenging cases. Instead it will be argued that to resolve the undetermined causal logic of these approaches to understand turnout in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the historical agricultural development of the provinces must be examined to understand the formation of cleavages along class and ownership of land that continue to determine political behaviour. Such a re-conceptualization will be presented through the lens of historical institutionalism, which argues that historical economic processes create informal institutions, as norms and rules of behaviour, that are relatively static and durable in the face of subsequent change but continue to frame perceptions and guide decision making, thereby determining the political behaviour of individuals. By considering the historical sources of political differences in Canada and how these attitudes emerged through relationships of power and economic exploitation with other parts of the country, it is hoped that more productive steps can be taken to begin rebuilding trust in state institutions and creating the conditions for the evolution of new norms which may foster greater participation.

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