RICHARDSON, Texas (May 26, 2004) – Prominent political scientists from The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) and Duke University received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to survey Canadian voters – just in time for a federal parliamentary election in Canada on June 28, called last Sunday by Prime Minister Paul Martin.
“With a national election just five weeks away, time is of the essence for our project,” said Dr. Harold D. Clarke, Ashbel Smith Professor of Political Science in UTD’s School of Social Sciences. “We hope to begin conducting interviews of Canadian voters as soon as this coming weekend.”
Clarke, who is editor of the prestigious political journals Electoral Studies and Political Research Quarterly, has conducted landmark research of national elections in his native Canada, as well as in Britain. He and fellow Canadian Dr. Allan Kornberg, the Norb F. Schaefer Professor of Political Science at Duke and a longtime collaborator of Clarke, won $156,000 in funding from the NSF for a project titled “Electoral Choice and Political Support in Contemporary Canada: Changing Choices and Rival Models.” The pair will be assisted by Duke Ph.D. student Tom Scotto, who was awarded an NSF doctoral fellowship to help fund his research. Next year, Scotto will work on the project while a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Toronto.
Word of the NSF’s approval of their project came just days before the Canadian prime minister called for a federal election amid a growing scandal involving missing public funds and poll results showing declining popularity for the Liberal Party, which has been in power in Ottawa for nearly 11 years.
The study calls for 2,500 people throughout Canada to be interviewed by telephone, both before and after the election. Interviewees also will be sent a follow-up questionnaire via mail.
The surveys will be conducted by Canadian Facts, a Toronto-based marketing research firm, using a set of questions designed by Clarke and Kornberg.
According to Clarke, the purpose of the study is not to forecast who will win the election, but to understand voting behavior and the election outcome. "We plan to focus on several important issues – party choice and election turnout – and why voter make the choices they do,” said Clarke.
Voter turnout for national elections in Canada, traditionally in the 75 percent range, has declined sharply, Clarke said. In the 2000 election, only 61 percent of registered voters came to the polls, and estimates for the upcoming contest forecast turnout as low as 10 points below that.
“We want to find out what factors are at work behind these statistics,” he said.
Next month’s election comes amid a changing electoral landscape in Canada. Clarke believes there are much greater ideological differences between the two major political parties – the Liberals and Conservatives – than existed until recently. In addition, the so-called “sponsorship scandal,” in which hundreds of millions of dollars worth of questionable government contracts were awarded to politically connected advertising firms, looms large, threatening to undermine Liberal support. How to fund Canada's national health care program is another important issue.
Clarke views the province of Ontario, a Liberal stronghold, as a key battleground in the June 28 contest. If Liberal candidates do well there, he believes the party will likely hold onto a majority of seats at the federal level.
Canada has a parliamentary system of government, much like that of Britain. Voters select among candidates from local election districts to represent them in Ottawa. If one party gets a majority of seats in the House of Commons, it wins the right to choose the prime minister and other key government officials. However, if no party wins a majority, then a coalition government would be formed, with two or more parties sharing power through a negotiated arrangement.
Clarke has conducted studies of every federal election in Canada since 1974. He and Duke’s Kornberg have co-authored numerous books and articles on elections and political support in Canada. Their most recent book, with Canadian political observer Peter Wearing, is A Polity on the Edge: Canada and the Politics of Fragmentation.
Clarke was one of four political scientists who earlier this year won government grants totaling more than $2 million to study the upcoming general election in Britain and conduct public opinion surveys of the British electorate. A second UTD faculty member, Dr. Marianne C. Stewart, is part of that research group.
The University of Texas at Dallas, located at the convergence of Richardson, Plano and Dallas in the heart of the complex of major multinational technology corporations known as the Telecom Corridor®, enrolls more than 13,700 students. The school’s freshman class traditionally stands at the forefront of Texas state universities in terms of average SAT scores. The university offers a broad assortment of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. For additional information about UTD, please visit the university’s web site at www.utdallas.edu.