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Lecture 6

POL101Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 6: Collective Action

Political Science
Course Code
Charles Hoffman

of 4
April 04/12
Reasons to doubt government policy
-Challenged with measuring the public opinion and comparing it to
government policy
oOpinion may be responding to policy
oOpinion is fraught with measurement error
oPeople with deviant views may self-censor because their views are
oIn Canada, strong party discipline, infrequent elections, and
parliamentary tradition may insulate decision-making from public
Two articles with different methods for measuring both policy preferences and
government policy outputs examine these questions:
-Petry and Mendelssohn look at a range of different policies and peoples
support/opposition to change in existing policy.
-Soroka and Wlezien look at government spending and support/opposition to
more/less spending
Petry and Mendelssohn
-Focus on Chretien years: 93-00
oCompare to Mulroney and Trudeau eras, some of which were from
previously published studies
-Looked at preferences to see if they support status quo or a change
-Then looked at policy outputs to see if government was consistent by
maintaining status quo or changing policy
-Method probably underestimates consistency since occasional polls tend to
focus on contentious issues (where, presumably, opinion does not match
-Mulroney era was marked by high level of consistency between opinion and
-Chretien: just under 50% of all policies were consistent with public opinion
Why a decline in consistency under JC?
-Methodological reasons (more survey questions)
-People wanted more change than inert government was providing
oGovernment inertia compounded by early elections in ’97 and ‘00
oSupreme Court nullified legislation supported by majority using Charter
of Rights and Freedoms
Similar to US court constitution that protects political minorities
from majorities
-Canadians shifted to the right
oSo. Opinion was very close to Mulroney and more distant from the
Liberals under Chretien
Inconsistencies appeared more frequently when public was to
the right of the liberal governments stances
Chretien government paid careful attention to Liberal supporters
more so that opinion of all Canadians
oDuring Chretien years, opposition on right was divided in addition to
the NDP on the left
Chretien was not very vulnerable to losing elections to a divided
oMany differences in opinion between gov’t and citizens were on
low=profile issues
Congruence/consistency on high profile, salient issues
-Parties and their supporters and/or interest groups can influence policy on
less salient ussues in ways that leads to policies being inconsistent with
public opinion
-Big issues would be hard for government to ignore- and the PCs, liberals, and
the Bloc have all struggled recently
-Elections, parties and party competition matters
Soroka and Wlezien
-Pertinent question for today, as economy sputters
-When times are bad, what to citizens want: more or less government
-Canadian government responds much of the time to public opinion
-Responsiveness varies by government
-Public opinion responds to government policies and economic coniditons
oNeed not have referenda to ensure responsiveness
Parties and electoral competition play an important role in responsiveness
-If no change of losing an election, government has freer reign
-Who votes and how one votes is important
-Interest groups do not seem to pervert government policy away from public
-Petry and Mendelssohn discuss differences in issue salience, which interest
groups can influence
oMobilization does not occur on all issues, causing some to be neglected
(collective action challenges)
Local dimension
-Local politics are not evaluated, but last week see ways that interest groups
do influence policies and politics in the absence of strong parties
-Subways vs. LRT debate illustrates ways that coalitions form and shift on key
-Although we started by looking at individual opinions, it’s never about one
-Politics is about how one persons opinion and behaviour relates to others
-Key concepts:
oCollective action and collective goods
Choices and deliberation
-Choice of how to choose can affect the quality of deliberation process and the