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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Examining electoral accountability through the dynamics of government support : party popularity, the economy and political context Pickup, Mark


Evidence of electoral accountability in Canada, in terms of the performance of the economy, has been contradictory and weak. This dissertation demonstrates that this confusion is largely a product of methodological flaws in the modelling of economic popularity. These flaws are corrected through the development of a unique structural approach. The basis of this structural approach is the use of the state-space form of time series modelling. In this approach, the observed values of popularity are regarded as being made up of distinct unobserved components and measurement error. The unobserved components driven by the changing political context in which economic popularity operates are each modelled separately, revealing the dynamics of this political context and accounting for the nonstationarity produced by these dynamics. The dynamics of measured popularity produced by measurement errors that correlate and cycle with time are explicitly modelled. This accounts for the nonstationarity produced by the dynamics of measurement error variances. The unobserved components also include a stationary process. This stationary component is extracted from the nonstationary dynamics by the state-space model. By modelling the impact of economic conditions directly through this component, it is appropriate to use modelling techniques that assume stationarity. Accordingly, the Box-Jenkins approach is adapted and applied to determine the correct lag and error structure for the state-space economic popularity models. When this approach is applied to Canadian federal party popularity data between 1957 and 2000, important political contextual dynamics are revealed. These dynamics include trending and inter-election cycling in popularity, election effects, leadership effects, national crises effects, and period-specific dynamics. Economic effects are also clearly demonstrated. Since 1984, the popularity of the party in government has been strongly affected by economic conditions - in particular, inflation and economic growth. Therefore, it is fair to conclude that governments, in a very real way, have at times been held accountable for the outcomes of their economic policies and that electoral accountability often operates as we expect it to. Suggestions are made for further analysis to examine the outstanding question: why is it that electoral accountability does not always operate as expected?

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