Voting and elections are the most basic elements of democracy. Since 1965, the understanding of electoral democracy in Canada has been greatly enhanced by the Canadian Election Study, a large-scale survey of citizens conducted each election year.

Throughout its long history, the CES has been a rich source of data on Canadians’ political behaviour and attitudes, measuring preferences on key political issues such as free trade with the US, social spending and Quebec’s place in Canada; political actors, such as parties, party leaders and the government; and social concerns, such as women’s place in the home, support for immigration, and attitudes toward gays and lesbians; as well as political preferences and engagement. These data provide an unparalleled snapshot and record of Canadian society and political life.

The CES is thankful for our partnership with the Consortium on Electoral Democracy (C-Dem).

What’s new?

Since 1965, the CES has continually incorporated innovations to keep pace with context and academic interests. These include the “rolling cross section,” allowing for the analysis of campaign dynamics; changes in survey modes—such as the shift from face-to-face to random digit dialing surveys; panel studies; and the incorporation of online samples.

To build on the rich history of the CES, it is important to continue innovating. In collaboration with the Consortium on Electoral Democracy, we are fulfilling three specific research goals:

1. Better studying the heterogeneity of Canadian electors

Canada is a diverse society, and electoral behaviour is not uniform. We do not know much about how Canadian political behaviour differs between groups, such as young people, aboriginals, immigrants and the LGBTQ community, or even the impact of locality on voters. The most recent CES studies allow for a more fine-grained analysis of barriers to electoral participation and preferences at the micro-level than previous studies have been able to provide by virtue of their size. Prior to 2019, CES datasets had approximately 4,000 respondents across the country. In 2019, for example, the attitudes of over 37,000 respondents were gathered.

2. Studying attitudes & behaviour in nonelection years

Canadians do not learn anew each election cycle. There is a vast difference in salience and information during non-election years. CES data is now complemented by “Democracy Checkup” surveys conducted annually. These surveys replicate many CES questions and enable researchers to better account for dynamics in preferences and behaviour over the complete cycle of a government.

3. Studying provincial elections with a common format

Canadians are governed by two constitutionally entrenched levels of government, with separate responsibilities and domains but no clear hierarchy between them. Research into the criteria and attitudes that matter in each context is limited by the availability of comparable data. The Consortium on Electoral Democracy is running studies of provincial elections between 2020 and 2023 that mirror the format of the CES. These will facilitate significant knowledge mobilization and potential policy change. These studies can facilitate more rigorous comparison between provincial contexts and across levels of government.