Canadian Politics

A01(c) - Identity and Political Behaviour in Canada

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 08:30am to 10:00am | Location:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Mark Williamson (Toronto Metropolitan University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Dietlind Stolle (McGill University)

In recent years, Canadian political science has devoted increasing attention to the role of identity attachments in shaping political attitudes and behaviours. How are political identities formed and when are they salient to voters? What are the consequences of politicized identities for democracy and inclusivity? This panel brings together leading experts to present and discuss recent research on these questions. The panelists offer insights into patterns of political socialization: Brie and Jarvis describe the role of public school history curricula in shaping regional identities across Canada, while de Rooij and Coulombe investigate the persistent effects of immigrants’ pre-migration ideologies on their partisan identification in the Canadian political system. Questions of race and racism also motivate several of the papers. Snagovsky tests the extent to which whites’ identification with their racial ingroup predicts vote choice not just in Canada, but in other Westminster democracies. Williamson looks at how American racism encourages Canadian feelings of exceptionalism, which undermines efforts to pursue racial justice in Canada. The papers employ various methodologies, including computational text analysis, novel survey instruments and experimental interventions. Dietlind Stolle, a scholar at the forefront of identity research, will discuss the papers. This panel will appeal to those who have an interest in both how identities develop and change, and also how those identities influence political behaviour in the Canadian context and beyond.

Diverging Narratives: The Salience and Semantics of Historical Figures across Canadian History Curricula: Evelyne Brie (Western University), Gabriel Jarvis (Université du Québec à Montréal)
Abstract: Historical training in schools plays a pivotal role in shaping individual identities. This paper examines how diverging historical narratives across Canadian provinces might influence collective consciousness and inter-group relations in the country. We analyze textual data from all the pre-university Canadian history curricula implemented by provincial governments in 2023 (n=70,433 words). Employing diverse textual analysis methods, we evaluate the semantic content associated with all historical figures mentioned in the dataset. Preliminary findings indicate substantial inter-province disparities in the portrayal of different groups, when compared with baseline historical data collected from Wikipedia. Indeed, representatives of “national groups” (i.e. English-speakers, French-speakers and First Nations) are covered with markedly different semantics depending on the nature of their historical symbolism. Moreover, while women and immigrants are typically depicted in a positive light, with a focus on their respective accomplishments, discussions about First Nations concentrate predominantly on their group-level grievances. Outside of Quebec, we also observe a minimal coverage of francophones and of key figures from the French North-American regime. Overall, these results suggest that the marked differences in historical education observed among provinces mirror, and could potentially exacerbate, regional tensions within the country.

Immigrants’ Political Ideology and Party Identification Pre- and Post-migration: Eline de Rooij (Simon Fraser University), Maxime Coulombe (Western University)
Abstract: This paper asks to what extent individuals’ political ideology and party identification transfer from one country to another. Disagreement exists in the literature about whether political attitudes and behaviors are formed early in life and are resistant to change, or are highly adaptable in response to political experiences in a new context and as a migrant. We use data from the 2021 Canadian Election Survey and from our own survey data of recent immigrants to Canada, both of which include measures of self-assessed pre- and post-migration political ideology and party identification. We show how new Canadian residents report a greater preference for Canadian political parties to the left of the parties they preferred pre-migration. This finding is in line with the literature on immigrants’ vote choice that shows a preference of parties on the left of the political spectrum among immigrants, but sharply contrasts with our second finding: new Canadian residents simultaneously report a shift to the ideological right post-migration. We discuss the implications of these findings for the literature.

White Identity and Voting Behaviour in Westminster Democracies: Feodor Snagovsky (University of Alberta)
Abstract: Across many Western liberal democracies, whiteness is becoming politicized, and politicians are increasingly employing the rhetoric of white identity and grievance for electoral advantage. Although American elites have successfully exploited white in-group identity, existing research has largely ignored how white identity affects voting behaviour outside the United States. The US-based literature finds that white respondents with a strong sense of attachment to their racial in-group prefer to be represented by white elected officials and by Republicans. This paper asks: does white identity also affect vote choice in other majority-white democracies? Using an original survey of voters in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, this paper examines the extent to which voters in those contexts prefer white elected officials and representatives from conservative parties. The results inform our understanding of how white identity can affect institutional outcomes in democracies outside the United States.

Canadian Exceptionalism and Attitudes toward Racial Justice: Mark Williamson (Toronto Metropolitan University)
Abstract: According to public opinion data, Canadians overwhelming believe that racism is less of an issue in their own country than it is in the United States. Yet racial disparities in socioeconomic indicators, as well as minorities’ own reports of discrimination, are not as different across the two countries as popular perceptions would suggest. What explains this misperception? I argue that a national mythology promotes the idea that racism either does not exist or is significantly less prevalent in Canada, especially when compared against the United States. This sense of exceptionalism creates a significant, but understudied, barrier to educating Canadians about racial inequality and motivating their support for policies promoting racial justice. Drawing on an original survey, I develop a novel measure of Canadian exceptionalism on racial issues. I summarize the prevalence of these exceptionalist attitudes and clarify their relationship with political preferences, including support for police reform and affirmative action. I also test an informational intervention aimed at disrupting exceptionalism by drawing explicit comparisons between the history of anti-Black racism in Canada and the U.S.. Respondents are randomly assigned to a video and textual treatment that either (a) highlights Canada’s little-known history of slavery, school segregation and racial discrimination or (b) celebrates Canada’s official multiculturalism policy and its historic role as a safe haven for escaped slaves from America. The results of this experiment help unpack the puzzle of misperceptions of racism in Canada and inform efforts to better educate citizens about racial justice.