Canadian Politics

A14(d) - Partisanship and Polarization in Canada

Date: Jun 13 | Time: 03:30pm to 05:00pm | Location:

Polarization and Social Media Usage in Canada: Rafael Campos-Gottardo (McGill University), Simon Kiss (Wilfrid Laurier University)
Abstract: Social media is routinely invoked in public discourse as a culprit in higher levels of political and affective polarization. These increased levels of polarization have led to increasing calls for the regulation of some social media websites and implicated them in increasing levels of instability (Napoli 2019). However, the social scientific literature is much more sanguine (Tucker et al. 2018), implicating elite polarization and increasingly partisan news instead. Moreover, most of these studies were conducted in the United States with limited evidence indicating whether this relationship also exists in Canada (Kubin and Von Sikorski 2021). Therefore, this paper examines the relationship between self-reported social media consumption, online news consumption and both types of political polarization in Ontario. Data are drawn from the 2018 Ontario Provincial Election Survey, commissioned by the Laurier Institute for The Study Of Public Opinion And Policy. Measures of affective and policy polarization are drawn from Wagner (2021) and Polacko (2022). Consistent with Dubois and Blank’s (2018) findings on echo chambers, the results show that the impact of social media usage on polarization is fully mediated by political interest, whereby individuals who are more interested in politics seek out online news sources more readily than individuals who are less interested in politics. These individuals are also more polarized. These findings indicate that despite the conventional wisdom that consuming news from social media increases political polarization, this relationship does not seem to hold in the Ontario context.

Public Attitudes Towards Immigration in Canada: Decreased Support and Increased Political Polarization: Mehdi Mohamadian (BC Health), Mohsen Javdani (Simon Fraser University), Maxime Heroux-Legault (UBC-Okanagan)
Abstract: We use Canadian Election Studies surveys from 1988 to 2019 to investigate the evolution and determinants of attitudes towards immigration. We find that while there was a consistent and significant decline in anti-immigrant sentiments until mid-2000s, in 2008 this trend shifted to a steady increase in relatively more negative attitudes towards immigration. We use a rich set of individual, provincial, and local variables to understand factors that shape these attitudes. While we find that economic factors have some impact on attitudes towards immigration, our results suggest that sociopsychological issues rooted in identity, culture, ethnicity, and political ideology play a significantly more important role. We also document a growing divide in attitudes towards immigration by political party identification which started to emerge in 2006. Our relative importance analysis suggests that among different factors studied, party identification is the most important in explaining variations in attitudes since 2006.

Density, partisanship, and polarization: Multi-scale electoral patterns in Canada 2000-2021: Benjamin Forest (McGill University), Christopher Yurris (McGill University)
Abstract: Scholars have observed an increasingly strong relationship between population density and partisan support in the United States, with Democratic support coming from higher-density urban counties and Republican support from lower-density rural ones. We analyze the density-partisan relationship in Canada with an original data set consisting of election returns by polling division for the eight Federal elections between 2000 and 2021. The large number polling divisions in Canada (over 50,000) permit analyses from the micro-scale of the precinct (200-500 people) to the level of districts (up to about 100,000 people). In addition to the fine geographic detail provided by these data, Canada’s multi-party system permits a more systematic, nuanced analysis than the American case. The preliminary results show that the centre-left Liberal Party follows pattern similar to the Democratic Party in the U.S., but other Canadian parties do not display strong density-partisan relationships.

Angry? Upset? You are not my co-partisan!: Blake Lee-Whiting (University of Toronto), Peter Loewen (University of Toronto), Thomas Bergeron (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Partisan identities shape our everyday lives and how we perceive strangers, influencing various measures of polarization and inter-group relations. Considering the effects of polarization, how do people in Canada sort strangers politically? Drawing from findings in psychology, we argue that people politically categorize strangers by linking partisan identity to faces. To test this theory, we conducted four studies with 1,199 respondents in Canada using faces randomly drawn from the Chicago face database. In Study 1, we find that faces which display negative emotions are more likely to be categorized as out-partisan, and faces with positive emotions as in-party. Study 2 replicates these results but asks respondents to assign faces as supporters of Canadian party leaders, rather than Canadian parties. Study 3 demonstrates that these biases also influence the categorization of fictional political candidates into Canadian political parties. Study 4 indicates that the valence of emotions shown by faces shape perceived electoral success, but not personal electoral support. These findings shed light on the processes through which individuals form political perceptions of strangers, and the intricate ways in which partisan identity influences social interactions.