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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social cleavage and the party pie : the relationships between social heterogeneity and party systems in Canadian provinces Tanaka, Kashi


One of the purposes of political parties is to reduce a heterogeneous polity into a few political elements. This thesis determines if there is a relationship between political parties and social cleavages in Canada. I have used provincial election results and census data from 1956 to 1991. Electoral results are converted into two measures of party system size, the effective number of parties (the number of significant parties in a legislature) and the competitive number of parties (the number of relevant parties in an election). Social heterogeneity is measured by converting census data into a series of indexes that measure the ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity. 1 also examine the affect of rural/urban and centre periphery cleavages in provincial politics. I have found that there is a significant relationship between social heterogeneity and party system size in Canada. Of the cleavage structure examined, ethnicity is positively correlated with party system size and the size of a province's rural population is negatively correlated with party system size. Curiously, religion and language have mixed affects; religion is positively correlated with the number of parties that get elected but negatively correlated with the number of parties that win seats. Similarly, the size of a provinces French speaking population has a positive relationship with the number of parties that win seats but a negative relationship with the vote distribution among parties. There are two important conclusions in this thesis. First, there is substantial evidence that social heterogeneity influences party systems size in Canadian provinces. This result challenges institutional explanations which suggest that party systems in polities that use plurality electoral systems which elect single members will not be affected by social diversity. My second conclusion is the identification of a largely untouched area of research on provincial party systems. European theorists have used social structural approaches for fifty years to explain how societies and political parties co-evolve. This thesis proves that this approach has an important role to play on this side of the Atlantic.

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