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Author Topic: The religious cleavage in Canadian vote choice: The Liberal-Catholic connection  (Read 4497 times)
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« on: December 04, 2011, 08:26:59 pm »

I'd be grateful if anyone would take the time to read my term paper for my political participation class. Footnotes, 70 in all, removed.

Religion is a political issue, and politics has been influenced and continues to be influenced by religious considerations.  However, in Canada, religion has become relatively unimportant in politics and political campaigns are hardly focused on religious issues or on the faith of candidates.  Besides the debate on religious schools, pure religious conflict has not been prevalent in Canadian history.  In recent years, if anything, there has been a trend towards secularization in Canada: in 2001, only 20% of Canadians over 15 attended weekly church services.  In this context, the continued presence of a religious cleavage in voting behaviour in Canada is puzzling, even though critics claim its relevance is weakening.  The traditional vision of the religious cleavage in voting behaviour has been that Roman Catholics tended to vote Liberal, Protestants tended to vote for the Conservatives and those with no religion favoured the NDP.  Of these three religious-voting links, the connection between Catholic and voting for the Liberal Party has been the most important and remains the most relevant in the study of vote choice. Even in 2008, Catholics were still more likely to vote Liberal than non-Catholics (by 5%).  This paper will argue that the link between religion and voting behaviour outside Quebec, in particular the Catholic-Liberal connection, has not been definitely explained but remains important to understanding voting behaviour in Canada and has had a significant impact on Canadian politics. This paper will explore the history and nature of the ties between Catholicism and voting Liberal, analyze the main theories about the persistence of this cleavage and place the Canadian example in a comparative context with the nature of religion and voting behaviour in the United Kingdom.
   The most significant connection between religion and voting behaviour in Canada has been the Catholic-Liberal connection, observed since at least the 1940s. Catholics voted for the Liberal Party in greater numbers than non-Catholics in all elections between 1974 and 2006.  The connection, albeit weakened in recent years, remains relevant. In 2004, the probability of voting Liberal was 10 points higher among Catholics than among non-Catholics.  While the Protestant-Conservative connection had become more tenuous as early as 1974, the Catholic-Liberal connection remained strong even in a Liberal defeat like 1984, where 15 points separated Catholics from Protestants in their vote for the Liberal Party.  In his study of the Liberal Party’s victory in the 2000 federal election, André Blais insisted on the importance of the Catholic connection in the Liberal Party’s recent successes. He stated that “it would be impossible to understand the Liberals’ victory without recognizing the extent to which their strength outside Quebec hinges on the support of Catholics and Canadians of non-European origin.”  Calling the religious cleavage ‘critical’, Blais, in averaging all elections between 1965 and 2000, says that the likelihood of a person voting Liberal in Ontario and the Maritimes increases by a full 18 points if that person is Catholic.  Although his analysis was prior to the string of Liberal defeats in the twenty-first century, he concludes that this is not an archaic factor either: the propensity to vote Catholic prior to 1990 was 19 points higher, and still 16 points higher after 1990.  In western Canada, being Catholic is less significant but still increased one’s likelihood of voting Liberal by 12 points. Religion was crucial everywhere in English Canada.  
   The conclusions about the importance of the Liberal-Catholic connection reached by Blais and others are not new. A 1972 study of elections between 1949 and 1968 found that, for the Liberal Party, religion was the variable which discriminated most.  In his study of the 1953 federal and 1955 provincial election in Kingston, John Meisel revealed that, in 1953, Catholics in Kingston had given 83% of their votes to the Liberal candidate.  He also found that Protestants, especially adherents of the United Church of Canada, had a significant bias in favour of the Conservatives.  In a study of the 1962 federal election in Hamilton, Grace Anderson observed that religious affiliation was the single most important variable. She also confirmed the strong Liberal-Catholic link and a Conservative bias in the voting behaviour of Protestants.
   In recent years, the relevancy of this connection was put into question by the weak Liberal showings amongst Catholics in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections. Indeed, between 2000 and 2008, Catholic support for the Liberal Party dropped by a massive 24 points to the point that in 2008 Catholic voters clearly preferred the Conservative Party over the Liberal Party. The probability of voting Liberal was 15 points higher among Catholics than non-Catholics, but only 5 points higher in 2008.  The erosion of the Liberal vote with Canadians of Catholic faith has led some to examine the sources of this decline. Laura Stephenson, surprisingly, discovered that it was not the younger Catholics (generation X) but rather baby-boomer Catholics who had turned away from the Liberal Party.  The reasons for this shift are not established, but it was not the younger generations who led to the weakening of the Liberal-Catholic connection and the weakening was not a result of generational change.
   One of the most surprising aspects of the Liberal-Catholic connection is that Catholics who attend Church most often are in fact the strongest supporters of the Liberal Party. Already in 1962, Grace Anderson had observed that Catholics claiming a high rate of Church attendance expressed a 62% voting preference for the Liberals, while those of low church-attendance expressed a similar preference only in 39% of the cases.  Similarly, Blais discovered that the likelihood of voting Liberal was 19 points higher among ‘religious’ Catholics than among non-Catholics, and only 12 points higher among ‘non-religious’ Catholics than among non-Catholics.  Only John Meisel reached somewhat different conclusions, although it is true with small data and a different method. In the 1955 provincial election in Kingston, he had seen that Catholics ‘closer’ to the Church (priests, nuns, staff in Catholic hospitals) had been more likely to vote Conservative.
   Religion is an especially important factor in determining voting behaviour in Atlantic Canada, but it is important to note that curiously in Newfoundland, the religious pattern find itself reversed. Catholics are more likely to vote Conservatives, and Liberals are more likely to vote Protestant. This curious state of affairs can be linked to Newfoundland Catholic’s fear in 1948 that their denominational schools would be threatened by entry into Confederation, a position which was defended in Ottawa by the Liberal Party.  Believing that Confederation would entail the end of separate religious schools, Newfoundland Catholics voted heavily against Confederation in 1948.  The sectarian nature taken by future Liberal Premier Joey Smallwood’s campaign in favour of Confederation  and the heavy funding he received from the federal Liberal Party likely are the historical roots of Newfoundland’s curious upside-down religious divide in politics.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2011, 08:29:58 pm by VICTORY 10.06.11 »Logged
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« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2011, 08:27:22 pm »

The existence of a strong Liberal-Catholic connection has been established, but nobody as yet come up with a universally accepted explanation for why this curious pattern has existed and especially why it remains relevant to this day. The most basic explanation attempted by some is that Catholics vote Liberal simply because they agree with the Liberal Party on issues. However, André Blais concluded that there is actually little difference in political opinion between Catholics and non-Catholics.  Testing thirty issues, he found religion to have an impact in only 9 of them and a significant impact in only one case. In fact, Catholics were observed to be more conservative on abortion and same-sex marriage, an issue position which should tend to enhance support for the Conservatives.  The little relevancy of issues such as same-sex marriage on the Catholic-Liberal connection was again proved by Laura Stephenson. She concluded that issue disagreement between Catholics and the Liberal Party was not enough to keep Catholics from supporting the Liberal Party in the 2004 and 2006 elections.  In fact, moral disagreements had so little to do with the changing voting preferences of Catholics that there was still a positive link between voting Liberal and Catholics opposed to same-sex marriage.  Most shockingly, anti-same-sex marriage Catholics were still more likely to vote Liberal than non-Catholics who supported same-sex marriage!  Even Catholics who were more politically aware (sophisticated) were not any more likely to integrate issue contradiction between their faith and voting Liberal. Surprisingly, she discovered that it was a secular issue (sponsorship scandal) which could sway high sophistication Catholics away from voting Liberal.
   Laura Stephenson’s analysis of issue disagreement between Catholics and the Liberal Party indicated that the link was not religious in nature. If there is any agreement on the causes of the Liberal-Catholic connection it is that the link is no longer based on religious issues. John Meisel noted in his study of religion and voting behaviour in Kingston in 1953 and 1955 that Catholics made no reference to their faith in explaining their vote.  Ironically, Protestants who voted Conservatives were far more likely to cite anti-Catholic or anti-French reasons to explain their vote.  They often claimed that the Liberals leaned towards Roman Catholics or that the party was overly dominated by one church faith.  Therefore, Catholics made little reference to their faith in explaining their vote, meaning that the religious cleavage was due less to religion than something else.
   Based on this conclusion, William Irvine thought he had discovered the key to explaining the religious cleavage in Canadian elections. The religious differences persisted through families perpetuating old cleavages. In cases where family transmission of political identity was absent, the religious cleavage became minimized or overshadowed.  Those who inherited their religious and partisan loyalties felt little connection within the two and unlikely to make visceral connections between the religious and partisan aspects of their identity.  What it all came down to, according to Irvine, was whether or not one’s ancestors were Catholic Liberals. Irvine’s analysis shows the importance of family traditions on vote choice, a comment which has been made by others including John Meisel.
Richard Johnston, however, claimed that the persistence of a religious cleavage must be renewed by extra familial forces. Irvine treated inherited loyalties as the product only of intra familial socialization pressures, but Johnston logically suggested that inheritors would have experienced extra familial pressures and non-inheritors would have experienced some socialization pressures within their families as well.  While inheriting a partisan loyalty is possible, it cannot help explain the persistence of the religious cleavage.  Maintaining a cleavage, he concluded, required the intervention of social forces outside the family.  The cleavage, he claimed, might be renewed by “live social forces” such as the debate over separate schools in Ontario in the 1980s.  However, John Meisel’s findings suggested that separate schools had a minimal impact on voting only for Protestants, and not for Catholics.
   Johnston suggested that the cleavage might be caused by what he styled a “countervailing ethnic ethos” amongst Catholics which produced their attachment to the Liberal Party. Growing up Catholic, he claimed, produced a different view of the character of Canadian nationality where Canada seemed more French and less British than it did to non-Catholics.  Blais, however, disagreed with Johnston’s argument based on different concepts of nationality. His issue-position analysis had found that Catholics outside Quebec were not any more likely to say that more should be done for Quebec or to support more immigration.  Gidengil, however, built on Johnston’s idea of a countervailing ethos and suggested that different religions are associated with very different ideas about questions of individual responsibility, state authority, societal organization, hierarchy and the extent of the temporal sphere.  In this way, she claimed, values can endure even when religious beliefs themselves have become far less important.
   John Meisel and others in the 1950s and 1960s pointed out that Protestants often cited anti-Catholic reasons to explain their non-Liberal vote. Such a view insinuated a belief that the Liberal Party was the Catholic Party. While this argument is no longer presently featured in the debate, Blais explored the veracity of such a connection. While Liberal leaders and candidates were in vast majority Catholic, the religious cleavage was not any weaker in cases (such as 1965) where the Liberal leader was not Catholic, or when the Conservative leader was Catholic or when the Liberal candidate was not Catholic.
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« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2011, 08:27:53 pm »

Religious factors can no longer explain the Liberal-Catholic connection. Most of the various explanations advanced by John Meisel, William Irvine, Robert Johnston and Elisabeth Gidengil all have in common an emphasis on the importance of family or community. If a common theme can be made out in their contradictory explanations it is that religious influence takes root not through religious association but through religious subcommunity where family and friendships are (or were?) relatively homogeneous.  John Meisel had concluded that the political preferences of one’s co-religionists were important, especially in elections with no great issues.  Robert Johnston had insinuated something similar in his comments about Catholic schools. Young Catholics interact mainly with fellow Catholics, creating decisive consequences later in life for mate selection or family formation.
   The religious cleavage is not an issue only in Canada. Religion has an important impact on individual’s voting behaviours in other countries, most notably in Europe. To better understand the nature and reasons for the Liberal-Catholic connection it is useful to place the Canadian scenario in the broader context by looking at the religious cleavage in Britain, which has had a deep historical impact on Canada and where the nature of the cleavag is similar.
   In Britain, the religious cleavage is similar to the one found in Canada and the academic debate has, like in Canada, tended to de-emphasize religion as a potent factor. Traditionally, the Conservatives were seen as the Anglican Party while the Liberal Party (and later the Labour Party) had gained the preferences of both Nonconformist Protestants and Roman Catholics (who are largely Irish).  British society had been marked by centuries of hostility to Catholicism. Employers in the past hired based on religious denomination, but as recently as 1995 a certain lingering of caution and even suspicion towards Catholicism and the aspect of Papal authority remained in Britain. Canada, in the past, was similar in its hostility to Catholicism.  In 1911, for example, the Canadian Conservatives in Ontario had campaigned on an anti-Catholic platform which included statements such as “the Catholics get what they want amongst themselves in Quebec, and they should not invade Ontario.”  Given the importance of tradition in voting behaviour, and considering that Catholics have tended to give Conservative leaders negative ratings , a part of the explanation could be a continued tendency amongst Catholics in Canada to view the Conservatives as “anti-Catholic” more than any tendency to view the Liberals as a “Catholic Party.”
   The British religious cleavage, similar to Canada, has become a cleavage between Catholics and Anglicans. Roman Catholics are strongly Labour, who had, on average, a 23 point advantage in support from Catholics in all elections between 1959 and 1997.  In 1997, for example, Labour received a staggering 72% among Catholics. As in Canada, church-attending Catholics exaggerated even more the political preferences of their co-religionists. In 1992, 57% of church-attending Catholics voted Labour compared to 49% among those who never attended church. Similarly, those Anglicans who regularly attended church were more likely to vote Conservative than those who did not. 
David Seawright suggested two main reasons for the Catholic-Labour link in Britain. Firstly, as immigrants they entered the labour market at the lowest step of the social ladder and were thus prone to support the party which offered ameliorative policies. Second, as they were largely Irish, Catholics rejected the Conservatives’ hostility towards Irish Home Rule.
While the second reason cannot be used in Canada, Irvine had noted that Catholics were usually paid less than non-Catholics in similar professions, indicating that they could also be at the lowest step of the social ladder.  The links between ethnicity and the British religious cleavage could indicate that the religious cleavage in Canada is actually a proxy for ethnic differences; with Catholic immigrant groups being more likely to vote Liberal for non-religious reasons or that the religious cleavage is only proxy for French-English differences. On the latter claim, it is clear that religious is not a cover for English-French differences: Irvine observed that French-Canadians became less Liberal than English-Canadian co-religionists.  However, beyond this, there is a lack of evidence for the claim that religion is a surrogate for ethnicity,  though Anderson in her 1960s study of Hamilton had concluded that religion was of far more significance than ethnicity , a conclusion reached by Irvine as well.
   The religious cleavage in Canada has become less relevant in recent years, especially in wake of the recent federal elections which saw the Liberal-Catholic connection weakened to the point where its relevance could be questioned. Conventional wisdom is increasingly that social background is no longer relevant to vote choice.  However, the religious cleavage remains a relevant and important part of the explanation behind voting behaviour in Canada. The religious cleavage is more than a mere curiosity, in fact it has had a deep impact on Canadian politics. Because the likelihood of voting Liberal was 18 points higher among Catholics in Blais’ study, he concluded that the Liberal advantage – at the time of his study – would have disappeared in both Ontario and the Maritimes in the absence of a distinctive Catholic vote.  There are conflicting explanations for the existence of this cleavage, but it remains relevant to vote choice.  Blais was entirely correct in stating that it is impossible to understand the electoral success of the Liberal Party in the post-war era without recognizing the extent to which their strength outside Quebec was due to the religious cleavage.  Similarly, it would be just as hard to understand the defeat of the Liberal Party in 2006, 2008 and 2011 without realizing the impact that the weakening of the Liberal-Catholic connection as had on the Liberal Party’s electoral fortunes.  From receiving over 50% of the Catholic vote in 2000, the Liberal Party has shrunk to just 30% of the Catholic vote in 2008.  Clearly the religious cleavage plays a significant part in explaining the varying fortunes of the Liberal Party.
   Although the collapse of the Liberal-Catholic connection could throw into question the relevance of the religious cleavage, there is another emerging religious cleavage with just as significant impacts: the Evangelical Protestant-Conservative connection. In 2004, the probability of voting Conservative was nearly 16 points higher amongst Evangelical Protestants – even higher than the probability of voting Liberal amongst Catholics!  Hence, we should not be too quick to wash off the religious cleavage as an archaic anachronism.
   The religious cleavage, in particular the Liberal-Catholic connection, has had a deep impact on Canadian politics and the study of voting behaviour in Canada. Throughout most the post-war era in the twentieth century, the likelihood of voting Liberal if an individual was Catholic was extremely significant – on average 18 points. However, the curious Liberal-Catholic connection has never been explained. William Irvine theorized that the link could be pinned down almost entirely on family socialization. Richard Johnston doubted family socialization could explain it all and argued that to be maintained a religious cleavage needed to be renewed by forces outside the family. His explanation for the cleavage was the existence of a special Catholic “ethos”, an explanation similar to Elisabeth Gidengil’s conclusion that different religious denominations informed different views about society and differing values. It is clear, however, that the Liberal-Catholic connection is not built on religious grounds any longer, and that an explanation must be rooted in the importance of family, traditional and religiously homogeneous social circles and subcommunities. Exploring the religious cleavage in Britain, finally, revealed a similar distinctive Catholic vote, one whose explanations could be have implications in Canada The religious cleavage remains crucial to understanding Canadian politics and continues to play a large role in voting behaviour in Canada. It would be a mistake to wash off the religious cleavage, in particular the Catholic-Liberal connection as a relic of the past.
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« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2011, 08:28:53 pm »

Bibliography
Anderson, Grace M. “Voting Behaviour and the Ethnic-Religious Variable: A Study of a Federal Election in Hamilton, Ontario.” The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science 32.1 (1966): 27-37. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/139946>.

Blais, André. “Accounting for the Electoral Success of the Liberal Party in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 38.4 (2005): 821-824. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/25165882>.

FitzGerald, John E. “Archbishop E.P. Roche, J.R. Smallwood, and Denominational Rights in Newfoundland Education, 1948.” Historical Studies 65 (1999): 9-27. Canadian Catholic Historical Association. Web. <http://www.umanitoba.ca/colleges/st_pauls/ccha/Back%20Issues/CCHA1999/FitzGerald.htm>.

Gidengil, Elisabeth, André Blais, Joanna Everitt, Patrick Fournier and Neil Nevitte. “Back to the Future? Making Sense of the 2004 Canadian Election outside Quebec,” Canadian Journal of Political Science 39.1 (2006): 1-25. Web. <http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=414869>.

Gidengil, Elisabeth, Patrick Fournier, Joanna Everitt, Neil Nevitte and André Blais. “The Anatomy of a Liberal Defeat.” CPSA 2009 Ottawa Meeting Paper (2009): 1-25. Web. <http://www.ces-eec.org/pdf/Anatomy%20of%20a%20Liberal%20Defeat.pdf>.

Gidengil, Elisabeth. “Canada Votes: A Quarter Century of Canadian National Election Studies.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 25.2 (1992): 219-248. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3229444>.

Girvin, Brian. “The political culture of secularization.” Religion and Mass Electoral Behaviour in Europe. Ed. David Broughton. London: Routledge, 2000. 7-27.

Irvine, William P. “Comment on ‘The Reproduction of the Religious Cleavage in Canadian Elections’.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 18.1 (1985): 115-117. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3227911>.

Irvine, William P. “Explaining the Religious Basis of Canadian Partisan Identity: Success on the Third Try?” Canadian Journal of Political Science 7.3 (1974): 560-563. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3231231>.

Jewett, Pauline. “Voting in the 1960 Federal By-Elections at Peterborough and Niagara Falls: Who voted New Party and why?” Voting in Canada. Ed. John C. Courtney. Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall, 1967. 50-71.

Johnston, Richard. “The Reproduction of the Religious Cleavage in Canadian Elections.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 18.1 (1985): 99-113. Web. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3227910>.

Meisel, John. “Religious Affiliation and Electoral Behaviour: A Case Study.” Voting in Canada. ed. John C. Courtney. Scarborough, ON: Prentice-Hall, 1967. 144-161.

Seawright, David. “A confessional cleavage resurrected?” Religion and Mass Electoral Behaviour in Europe. Ed. David Broughton. London: Routledge, 2000. 44-61.

Smith, Alexander. “Alexander Smith to Laurier, November 10, 1911.” The 1911 General Election: A Study in Canadian Politics. Toronto, ON: Copp Clark Publishing, 1970. 203-204.

Stephenson, Laura. “The Catholic-Liberal Connection: A Test of Strength.” Voting Behaviour in Canada. Eds. Cameron D. Anderson and Laura Stephenson. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2010. 86-106.

Stephenson, Laura. “The Liberal-Catholic Connection: Untangling the Specifics.” APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper (2009): 1-15. Web. <http://ssrn.com/abstract=1451719>.
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« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2011, 10:57:14 pm »

Hash, you've accomplished an interesting exploration, but I don't think you get any closer to explaining why Catholics vote Liberal than Meisel or Blais or Stephenson. It certainly may be correct that the connection between Catholicism and voting for Liberals hasn't been adequately explained, but it makes for a rather dull thesis. I get to the end of your paper with a clear recognition that you've done your research and that you know precisely what you're talking about, but it seems like you've made a general appraisal on the subject.

It's good that you make the connection between religious community and voting behavior. That, I think, is very important. So much of our political perceptions and values are determined by the actions we learn from our family and close friends that it's often difficult to tell in our own thought what is uniquely ours and what is determined by our upbringing. Religious community clearly is a factor in the maintenance of moral values and ideas on social issues, but I think there is also an economic and social factor there as well. Your community (whether it be a congregation or just a network of friends who don't practice but consider themselves Catholic) may be homogeneous in terms of religious affiliation, true, but odds are it's also homogeneous in terms of linguistic background, income, ethnic background and perceived social class. I wonder if Catholicism and voting Liberal might be concurrent and correlated through other common factors - without a causal relationship. A daunting challenge indeed in studying this stuff!

You haven't considered Quebec in this paper, and I understand that if you did you'd probably have to write a half-dozen more pages. But I wonder if there is any sort of Catholic solidarity that cuts across the linguistic and cultural cleavages. Weber's work on the idea of a "Protestant ethic" might be useful here.

About the example of Britain: You're right to look at the religious cleavage there, but there may be a problem in controlling your variables, since it seems that ethnic identity and social class may be concurrent with Catholicism there, and could offer better explanations as to why Catholics tend to vote Labour. Much of this comes down to the problem of identity - do voters first and foremost see themselves as Catholic, or Irish, or English-speaking, or middle class, etc.?

Overall, though, well written throughout, and very interesting to read. It's a fine paper that I just feel could benefit from more analysis - be it (ultimately determined) right or wrong.

Also, fix this from your Newfoundland section:

Quote
Liberals are more likely to vote Protestant.

Grin
« Last Edit: December 05, 2011, 08:16:35 am by De lelijke keuken »Logged
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