Public Opinion and Policy Making in Canada 1994–2001

Article (PDF Available)inCanadian Journal of Political Science 37(03):505 - 529 · September 2004with 129 Reads
DOI: 10.1017/S0008423904030094
Abstract
This study examines the consistency between public opinion and public policy during the period 1994–2001 by matching responses to national survey questions on 230 issues with enacted policy proposals on the same issues. Policy outcomes were consistent with majority opinion 49 per cent of the time. This represents a significant drop from 69 per cent during the Mulroney years (1985–1993). Low opinion-policy consistency since 1994 is primarily attributable to divergences between public majorities that are increasingly supportive of a change toward the right and the policies of Jean Chrétien that are more leftist and status quo oriented than those of his predecessor. We argue that these divergences go largely unnoticed by the public because they tend to occur on low-profile issues. On the other hand, the evidence suggests a much tighter correlation between opinion and policy on a small number of high-profile issues of which the public is much more aware, thereby creating the appearance of attentiveness to Canadian public opinion.
Public Opinion and Policy Making in Canada 1994-2001*
François Petry
Department of Political Science
Université Laval
Quebec, QC G1K 7P4
and
Matthew Mendelsohn
Department of Political Studies
Queen’s University
Kingston, ON K7L 3N6
Forthcoming in the Canadian Journal of Political Science vol. 37 (4)
1
Résumé. En faisant correspondre les décisions sur 230 enjeux de politiques publiques avec les
résultats de sondages nationaux sur ces mêmes enjeux, cet article cherche à quantifier le degré de
consistance entre l’opinion publique et la politique gouvernementale entre 1994 et 2001. Les
calculs révèlent que seulement 49 pour cent des décisions du gouvernement de Jean Chrétien sont
allées dans le même sens que l’opinion publique, en nette diminution par rapport aux 69 pour
cent observés pendant la période Mulroney (1985-1993). La baisse de consistance depuis 1994
est principalement attribuable à la divergence entre une opinion publique de plus en plus
favorable au changement et idéologiquement orientée à droite et la politique du gouvernement de
Jean Chrétien sensiblement plus résistante au changement et idéologiquement plus à gauche que
celle de son prédécesseur. Le public a tendance à ignorer le manque de corrélation entre l’opinion
et les politique gouvernementales parce que les enjeux en question sont relativement peu
importants. Par contre, il semble que la corrélation entre l’opinion et les politiques soit beaucoup
plus forte dans un petit nombre d’enjeux importants que le public reconnaît, créant ainsi
l’apparence d’un gouvernement attentif aux souhaits de l’opinion publique canadienne.
Abstract. This study examines the consistency between public opinion and public policy
during the period 1994-2001 by matching responses to national survey questions on 230 issues
with enacted policy proposals on the same issues. Policy outcomes were consistent with majority
opinion 49 per cent of the time. This represents a significant drop from 69 per cent during the
Mulroney years (1985-1993). Low opinion-policy consistency since 1994 is primarily attributable
to divergences between public majorities that are increasingly supportive of a change toward the
right and the policies of Jean Chrétien that are more leftist and status-quo oriented than those of
his predecessor. We argue that these divergences go largely unnoticed by the public because they
tend to occur on low profile issues. On the other hand, the evidence suggests a much tighter
2
correlation between opinion and policy on a small number of high profile issues of which the
public is much more aware, thereby creating the appearance of attentiveness to Canadian public
opinion.
3
“Politicians and policy makers become tightly bound to the
unreflective whims of constituents mobilized by special
interests…; decisions on highly technical matters of public
policy are…made by leaders glued to polling results.”
Thomas Homer-Dixon, 2000.
There is a firmly embedded assumption in the popular folklore of politics that politicians are
highly attentive to public opinion. This folklore takes two contrary forms, one which evinces that
political leaders “pander” to the public by heeding their every whim, another which contends that
political leaders use polls to help craft their messages and present their programmes in ways that
are acceptable to the public. In both the government responsiveness and public support scenarios,
the resulting relationship between public opinion and public policy should be the same: a tight
correlation between the expressed wishes of the public as measured by polls and the decisions of
public officials. Yet this presumed relationship stands in stark contrast to the large number of
specific cases in which public opinion and public policy are inconsistent. Recent examples of
opinion-policy inconsistency are available in both the United States (the impeachment of
President Clinton, tobacco legislation, campaign finance reform, U.S. involvement in peace-
keeping operations) and Canada (capital punishment, the Canada-US and then the North
American Free Trade Agreements, the Goods and Services Tax, compensation to hepatitis C
victims, gun control, privatized health care, euthanasia, and the Young Offenders Act).
This article attempts to resolve the apparent dilemma of presumed attentiveness to public
opinion and the frequent lack of a correlation between opinion and policy. We do so through an
exhaustive search, summary and quantitative analysis of survey results and policy outputs over
4
the period 1994-2001. By using data on how individual survey respondents voted at the last
election, we are able to show that the low correlation is in large part the result of ideological
divergences between conservative public majorities supporting the right side of low profile issues
and more liberal government policies that are on the left side of the same issues. We argue that
due to their low profile nature, these divergences go largely unnoticed by the public. On the other
hand, the evidence suggests a much tighter correlation between opinion and policy on a small
number of high profile issues of which the public is much more aware, thereby creating the
appearance of attentiveness to public opinion.
Theoretical Expectations Regarding the Correlation
Between Opinion and Policy
Research on the relationship between public opinion and policy, particularly in the United States,
often presumes that public opinion is an autonomous and rational force responding in sensible
ways to changes in the political and economic environment, that policy makers are responsive to
this autonomous force, and that it can be fairly accurately measured using polls (Geer, 1996; for a
review see Shapiro and Jacobs, 1989). More critical perspectives challenge the theory of
government responsiveness by focusing on the frequent instances in which opinion and policy
diverge. Some scholars have even rejected the entire enterprise of searching for some kind of
correlation between opinion and policy. They have suggested that mass opinion as measured by
polls is so unstable, so affected by measurement error such as question wording and order effects
(Achen, 1975; Converse, 1964), or so easily influenced by changing context (Kuklinski and
Quirk, 2000; Zaller and Feldman, 1992) that to speak of “public opinion” at all may be a
misnomer, and therefore to presume that public officials can sensibly respond to or manipulate
5
such a slippery entity is a mistake. However, in both Canada, Europe and the United States, there
is ample evidence that despite these legitimate methodological and theoretical critiques, when
individual opinions are aggregated and tracked over time, collective opinion looks far more stable
and reasonable than individual responses to survey questions, and demonstrates consistent
correlations with policy and changes in the environment (Bélanger and Petry, 2002; Feld and
Groffman, 1988; Isernia et al. 2002; Johnston, 1986; Page and Shapiro, 1992).
Another reason as to why policy might diverge with opinion as measured by polls is that,
although elected officials may try to be respond to public opinion, they do not think that polls
accurately represent the real state of public opinion. They may therefore rely on other indicators
or interpretations of public opinion that they find more useful than polls to assess where majority
opinion stands on an issue.1 There is always the possibility that these other indicators or
interpretations are at variance with poll results. In a similar vein, Noelle-Neumann (1984) points
out that public opinion has the power to induce self-censorship among ‘deviant’ individuals. This
so called “spiral of silence” explains why publicly expressed opinion as measured by polls might
be out of step with private views on issues or even actual voting intentions.
Another argument in support of non-responsiveness emphasizes the autonomy of the state
from public opinion, which allows politicians to ignore or deviate from mass preferences and get
away with it. These deviations may reflect the greater influence of organized interests—party
activists, interest groups, business associations—on policy makers, a process characterized by
Brooks as democratic frustration (Brooks, 1985). The responsible party model is a variant of this
view, in which government decision makers formulate policy on the basis of their own, often
strongly held, policy preferences, and these may come into conflict with public majorities that
support the policies proposed by opposition parties, thereby prompting non-responsiveness.2
6
Non-responsiveness by government may depend in part on institutional factors. The American
context of weak parties, frequent elections, and representatives responsible to their electorates
rather then their party leadership may be particularly favorable to the establishment of a close
link with mass opinion. But one cannot presume that the strong opinion-policy relationships
identified in the US literature will reproduce themselves in Canada. Strong party discipline and a
Westminster system of government may have contributed to insulate cabinet decision making
from Canadian public opinion.
The democratic frustration perspective presumes that opinion would correlate with policy
if only policy makers were responsive. This notion can be challenged by arguing that correlations
between opinion and policy in no way provide evidence that policy makers are responsive.
Correlations could just as easily be interpreted as evidence of a counterfeit consensus, whereby
policy makers are able to lead members of the public away from their true interests by endorsing
elite programmes. Under such a scenario, where public opinion is the dependent rather than the
independent variable in the equation, any correlation between policy and mass opinion is a
hollow imitation of the theory of democratic responsiveness (Margolis and Mauser, 1989). Seen
in this light, the absence of correlation between opinion and policy would presumably imply that
the public is capable of resisting government efforts at manipulation.
At this point of the discussion, it should be clear that both the government responsiveness
and the counterfeit consensus perspectives are caricatures of how opinion and policy are actually
related. A more balance view holds that the relationship between opinion and policy is
reciprocal, with neither clearly leading the other.3 Politicians do not conduct polls to blindly
follow, nor to grotesquely manipulate, but are doing both simultaneously in ways that are not
easy to categorize as either “following” or “leading” public opinion. A similar idea is at the root
7
of constructivist studies of the opinion-policy nexus (Herbst, 1998; Glasser and Salmon, 1995;
Mendelsohn, 1998). Scholars in the constructivist tradition suggest that “public opinion” does not
exist, except in the perceptions of decision makers, the media, and the public itself. The
conversation between the media, elites, and the public constructs an understanding of the state of
public opinion, which becomes largely accepted as conventional wisdom. In such a scenario, one
would expect to find correlations between opinion and policy outputs, not because decision
makers are leading or following opinion, but simply because perceptions and rhetoric about
public opinion converge into a coherent common narrative
The broad theoretical perspectives outlined above provide us with the beginnings of a
roadmap, but much of the detail remains missing. Many questions emerging from this theoretical
review require the use of such qualitative methods as archival research, interviewing elite
informants, and participant observation. There are however pressing questions which can be
appropriately addressed in a quantitative inquiry such as this one: Under what circumstances are
opinion and policy correlated? How has the correlation evolved over time? Why has consistency
declined in recent years? To answer these questions, it is useful first to remember that poll results
only measure “mass opinion” and that they may not be a good indicator of other attributes of
public opinion. Second, it is also useful to distinguish between various aspects of “mass opinion”:
its existence, its direction, and its magnitude or intensity (Schuman and Presser, 1981). Previous
work is often insufficiently subtle to recognize that the impact of mass opinion on policy is likely
to depend on the size of public majorities, and on the conviction that it really exists and does not
simply reflect “non-attitudes”. Once we accept such a conceptualization, it is not surprising that
different kinds of “public opinion” will impact differently on policy, depending on the
circumstances. Geer (1996) parsimoniously suggests that political leaders will respond to mass
8
opinion as measured by polls on high profile issues, but will be free to respond to other
definitions of public opinion on lower profile issues.
Third, mass opinion is more likely to influence policy if public majorities and government
policies follow the same ideological direction on issues than if one takes a left and the other a
right direction. A government of the left is expected to follow public opinion more closely if
public majorities support left policies than if they support right policies. Ideological
considerations are relevant here because the change of government from Brian Mulroney to Jean
Chrétien coincided with a clear ideological shift to the left as far as federal policies were
concerned. There is no evidence, however, that a similar shift to the left occurred in Canadian
public opinion since 1994. It is therefore important to examine whether consistency has depended
on the left-right ideologies of successive governments.
Reviewing the Comparative Evidence
A number of different methodological choices are possible in order to determine quantitatively
the conditions which facilitate an opinion-policy nexus. In the US, dyadic studies have examined
the state of constituency opinion and the voting behaviour of individual legislators in an attempt
to quantify the impact of mass opinion and other factors on legislators’ decisions (see for
example Bartels, 1991; Wetstein, 1996, and Burstein, 1998). This type of study is well-suited to
an American congressional system, but has little to offer in Westminster style systems.
Another approach that is better suited to the Canadian case, consists of comparing actual
government decisions (rather than individual legislators’ voting) with measures of public opinion
on a large number of issues. One group of studies within this approach looks for opinion-policy
congruence by tracking over time summary measures of mass opinion and policy outputs. The
9
seminal study within the congruence tradition was that of Page and Shapiro (1983), who tracked
policy preferences on 231 separate issues between 1935 and 1979 and compared them to trends in
policy decisions over the same period, and concluded that there was congruence 66 per cent of
the time, with opinion usually leading policy decisions. Studies of congruence need not look at
questions on an issue by issue basis. For example, Stimson, McKuen, and Erickson (1995)
constructed highly aggregated liberal-conservative trends in the public mood and law making by
Congress and the Presidency since the 1950s, and found that as the public mood shifts to a more
liberal position, more liberal legislation is passed into law.
A second group of studies look for consistency rather than congruence. These studies do
not track opinion over time but instead examine issues at a single point in time, dichotomizing
public preferences as supporting either the status quo or change, and examining subsequent
policy outputs to see if government decisions are consistent with mass opinion. Evidence of
consistency is established when the public supports change and the government follows, or when
the public supports the status quo on a given issue and the government takes no action on that
issue. Monroe (1998) found a consistency rate of 55 per cent in the US in the period 1980-1993, a
drop of 8 points relative to his earlier study over the 1960-1975 period (Monroe, 1979).
Comparable rates have been found in other countries. In a series of comparative studies on the
US, Canada, Great Britain, France, and West Germany, however, Brooks (1987; 1990) finds
consistency rates that are approximately 20 percentage points lower than other authors.4
One alleged advantage the congruence approach has over the consistency approach is that
it can tell us whether shifts in mass opinion occur prior to changes in government policy or not.
Examining the temporal order of change in opinion and government decisions may, therefore,
offer some clue about the direction of causality in the opinion-policy relationship (something the
consistency approach alone cannot do). However, the congruence approach has several
10
drawbacks that lead us to adopt instead the consistency approach in this research. Since it must
rely on repeated identical survey questions only, the congruence approach automatically excludes
issues for which repeated polls are not available. This is a problem because repeated polls
normally represent only a small subset of all available polls. Another problem with the
congruence approach is that, if there is no change in the distribution of opinion over time, it is not
possible to determine congruence. Taking sampling error into account, many instances of opinion
changes are too small to be statistically significant. These instances must be eliminated from the
analysis. Consequently, the sample of usable repeated surveys is likely to be too small to be able
to draw meaningful statistical inference from change in public opinion. To illustrate the
difficulties and limits of the congruence approach, consider that, out of a population of more than
800 surveys, there were only 55 usable instances of opinion change in this study. And out of
those instances of opinion change, we found only nine unambiguous cases of opinion leadership
(either by the masses or by government).5 In the remaining 46 cases, the congruence approach
was too blunt to precisely determine the causal direction of the opinion-policy relationship.
Whether opinion influences policy or policy influences opinion is doubtless an important
issue. However, we do not think that the quantitative method we use in this essay is appropriate
to the task. Page and Shapiro (1992, 26-27) themselves have acknowledged the futility of trying
to measure the temporal congruence between changes in opinion and policy even in the ideal
situation where there is a large number of usable cases. In this article, we assume that opinion
precedes policy without attempting to establish a causal direction by way of the congruence
approach or any other method.6 This task will be left for a later study, with a different—
qualitative—methodology.
11
The Study
Cases were selected for analysis as follows. Available published national survey data from
November 1993 through 2000 were inspected for items matching federal policy actions. The data
were found in the online survey archives of The Centre for the Study of Democracy at Queen’s
University, the Social Science Data collection at Carleton University and the Library of the
University of British Columbia. The survey items came from five reputable polling institutions:
Gallup, Angus Reid, Environics/CROP, Decima, and Pollara. Only those polls dealing with
public preference on an identifiable question of national policy were used in the analysis. This
raises the question of what exactly constitutes national policy questions as opposed to provincial
or local issues. A number of survey items deal with functions carried out primarily at the
provincial level, including education, health and social welfare. But the reality of Canadian
federalism is that it is very often the case that federal legislation, regulations or court decisions
can make policy changes implied in the questions about these provincial functions. The reason
why national survey questions about provincial functions are asked is precisely because the issue
has policy ramifications at the federal level. Consequently, provincial issues were included in the
analysis to reflect the realities of Canadian federalism, but only federal policy decisions were
considered in the outcome.
Well over 800 polls were found, most of which did not meet the pre-established criterion.
A small number of polls asking respondents to explicitly approve or disapprove recently adopted
governmental decisions were excluded because they contradict the posited temporal sequence
between opinion and policy. Polls appearing repeatedly in identical form were considered as
separate cases unless they appeared within the same calendar year, in which case they were
averaged and treated as one poll. This was to avoid the possibility of coding public opinion as
12
both consistent and inconsistent for the same issue. Sampling error was also taken into account.
Since the samples used in the surveys have a 3 per cent margin of error, all polls indicating a
difference between majority and minority opinion falling within the 6 per cent range were
excluded from the analysis. Only those polls that give respondents a dichotomous choice of
agreeing or disagreeing with a specific policy statement were kept in the analysis. Polls that give
respondents more than two preference alternatives (e.g., increase, maintain or decrease the level
of programme spending) were therefore eliminated because they cannot be operationalized within
this dichotomous framework. After elimination, 230 cases remained, substantially more than
those reported during the governments of Brian Mulroney (162) and Pierre E. Trudeau (186) in
Petry (1999).
The next step was to record government policies in a similar dichotomous fashion on the
same issues. The record of federal actions on each case was inspected from November 1993
through November 2001 using the following archival sources: Canadian News Facts; The
Canadian Annual Review of Politics and Public Affairs; Facts on File; The Official Report of the
House of Commons Debates; the annual reports of federal ministries and agencies; and various
volumes of How Ottawa Spends? The objective was to classify policy outcomes as having
resulted in the policy change implied by the survey or as maintaining the status quo within a
twelve-month period following the date of the survey. This was not as problematic as one might
suppose because survey items typically deal with specific policy proposals that are under
consideration at the time. For government spending cases, the amount of money allocated had to
shift by at least five percent from the previous year (after adjusting for government inflation) in
the direction implied by the survey question to qualify as a policy change. Otherwise, it was
reported as maintaining the status quo. Issues that did not permit a clear cut classification were
13
submitted to the judgement of policy experts. A few instances where it was not possible to
satisfactorily determine the policy outcome were excluded from the analysis.
Findings
Table 1 presents a first look at the findings by comparing the state of mass opinion, dichotomized
into majorities for change and majorities for the status quo, and actual policy outcomes in the
subsequent twelve-month period. We report results for the Chrétien, Mulroney and Trudeau eras
separately.7 The Chrétien period exhibits a consistency rate of 49 per cent, significantly lower
than the 69 per cent rate during the Mulroney period and a little lower than the 52 per cent during
the Trudeau period. Measures of association (gammas) between majority sentiment and policy
outcomes vary from .35 under Trudeau, .79 under Mulroney, to a bare .19 under Chrétien.
Tables 1 about here
Several empirical points should be underlined. First, consistency under Chrétien looks unusually
low only when compared with consistency during the Mulroney era, but is in line with
consistency during the Trudeau era.8 Viewed in this light, the low consistency achieved by the
government of Jean Chrétien appears less puzzling than the unusually high consistency achieved
by the government of Brian Mulroney. Second, there were quite dramatic fluctuations in
responsiveness between 1968 and 2001, apparently linked to partisan turnover (the Liberals being
less responsive than the Conservatives). The variation in consistency over time is not unique to
Canada, with significant variations over time in the US (Monroe, 1998,13-14) and very large
variations in Germany (Brettschneider, 1996, 300). The question here is: what explanatory factors
14
account for the decrease in consistency between the Mulroney and Chrétien governments?
It is possible that the change in the level of consistency between the Mulroney and the
Chrétien periods is simply an artifact of change over time in the distribution of issues. There may
have been, for instance, a larger proportion of low consistency issues raised by surveys during the
government of Jean Chrétien as compared to the government of Brian Mulroney. The relative
number of surveys on high consistency issues may also have dropped since 1993. To examine
this possibility, Table 2 presents the level of opinion-policy consistency under Chrétien and
Mulroney, broken down by issues. From the Table, we see several low consistency issues that are
new to the Chrétien government (Privatized Health Care; Young Offenders). Other low
consistency issues, while not entirely new, have taken on more importance in recent opinion polls
(Mercy Killing; Tough on Crime; Workfare). Furthermore, some high consistency issues
(Economic Regulation; Quebec/Canadian Unity) have received less attention in recent polls. On
the other hand, we also see high consistency issues that were raised more often in recent surveys
than during the previous government (Government Cuts; Deficit Reduction; Sexual Orientation
Issues). Consistency during the Chrétien years is lower in roughly similar proportions across
pretty much the whole issue spectrum. The only exception is the crime issues complex where the
level of consistency under Chrétien (17%) is half the level of consistency under Mulroney (33%).
On balance, pending a more accurate assessment by way of multivariate regression analyses,
there is no clear evidence from Table 2 that the distribution of issues under Chrétien is skewed
toward low opinion-policy consistency when compared with the distribution of issues under
Mulroney.
Table 2 about here
15
Aside of methodological considerations, there are substantive reasons as to why consistency may
have declined after 1993. One explanation of lower consistency under Chrétien is that there was
an increase in government bias against policy change in recent years. Previous research has
uncovered what appears to be a general government bias against change and in favour of the
status quo in policy making (Brettschneider, 1996, 301; Monroe, 1998, 18). Given this general
bias, government will appear more responsive—and consistency will be more likely-- when
public opinion favours the status quo as compared to when public opinion supports a policy
change. Based on this, we hypothesize that inconsistency will occur more frequently when the
public supports change and the government opts for the status quo than when the public prefers
the status quo and the government favours change. Table 1 indeed shows that inconsistency is far
more frequent overall when the public supports change but none is forthcoming from the
government (95 + 32 + 80 = 207 cases overall), than when the public supports the status quo and
government initiates change (22 + 18 + 10 = 50 cases overall), suggesting that there are
institutional forces which lead to government inertia and resistance to change, even when the
public is supportive. There is, in other words, a bias against change and in favour of the status
quo in policy making, which is consistent with German and American findings.9 This bias can be
quantified by taking the percentage of times a public majority who favored the status quo
received that result and subtracting from it the percentage of times in which the public favoured
policy change and actually experienced that outcome. From Table 1 we see that there is a bias
against change in policy making under Trudeau, Mulroney and Chrétien, but the bias is
substantially smaller under Mulroney (71-68=3) than under Trudeau (69-48=21) and especially
Chrétien (68-41=27). Indeed the bias under Mulroney is almost 0. So, even though there is a
general government bias against change in policy making, its intensity has varied quite
16
dramatically across governments, and this variation in bias could explain part of the variation in
consistency.10
Why was there greater inertia and resistance to change during the government of Jean
Chrétien than during the government of Brian Mulroney? One reason may be that they had
markedly different leadership styles. Brian Mulroney was prime minister at a time of profound
socioeconomic transformations, and took a number of important initiatives that reversed the
policies pursued by his predecessor Pierre E. Trudeau and radically transformed the political
landscape (Free Trade Agreement, GST, closer ties with the US). By contrast Jean Chrétien
deliberately avoided fundamental changes. His stay in office was characterized by prudent
management.11 The difficulty in making policy changes during the Chrétien government was
compounded by the fact that the elections of 1997 and 2000 were called early, thereby forcing
important laws to die in the order paper when Parliament was dissolved. Another factor was the
use of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by an increasingly activist Supreme Court to undercut
or nullify legislation that was sometimes supported by a majority of Canadians (Hiebert, 1999).
Greater government inertia probably may explain in part why the Chrétien government had a
larger bias against policy change (and was ultimately less responsive) than the Mulroney
government. However, it is difficult to argue that the large bias against policy change (and the
low consistency) during the Trudeau government was also due to inertia and resistance to change.
Government resistance to change, however real in recent years, cannot explain alone all the
variation in consistency across successive Canadian governments.
A more valid explanation of the recent decline in opinion-policy consistency finds its
origin in the ideological divergence between public majorities and government policies. There is
evidence from case studies that the Canadian public has been for some times now more
conservative than policy makers on a variety of issues such as wiretapping (Fletcher, 1989),
17
election rules (Blais and Gidengil, 1991, gun control (Mauser and Margolis, 1992), and
unreasonable search and seizure (Fletcher and Howe, 2000), and there is no reason to believe that
this trend has reversed in recent years. In fact, experts argue that Canadian values have undergone
a shift to the right during the 1990s (Neville et al., 2000; see also Soroka and Wlesien, 2003). At
the same time, it is a truism that many federal policies shifted to the left under Jean Chrétien
relative to Brian Mulroney. So the gap between the ideologies of the Canadian public and the
federal government, which was small under Mulroney, has increased under Chrétien. This
suggests that inconsistency has increased in recent years as a result of a combination of the public
supporting the right position on many issues and the government of Jean Chrétien opting for the
left position on the same issues.
To test whether or not ideological divergences between the Canadian public and the
federal government could be at the origin of the observed increase in inconsistency, we assigned
a right or left position to public majorities based on how individual survey respondents voted at
the last election.12 We could obtain the data on how individual respondents voted in 123 surveys
in our sample of 230. We ran a series of logistic regressions in which the dependent variable is
the change vs. status quo direction of individual opinion and the independent variables are
dummies for individual party support at the last election. Cases in which majority opinion is
positively and significantly associated with a vote for the Progressive Conservative party and/or
the Reform party, and negatively associated with a vote for the New Democratic party are
reported as public majorities in support of the right. When the change vs. status quo direction of
public majorities is positively associated with a vote for the New Democratic party, and
negatively associated with a vote for the Progressive Conservative party and/or the Reform party
we report a public majorities in support of the left.13 After elimination of 21 cases in which the
difference between the left and right direction of public opinion was not statistically significant,
18
we were able to record 102 cases of “bipolar” public majorities, where a valid measure of the
ideological direction of mass opinion could be recorded in addition to the change vs status quo
dichotomization.
Table 3 cross-tabulates the direction of mass opinion, dichotomized into right and left
public majorities, and subsequent consistent or inconsistent government actions. We report
results only for the Chrétien era because the data about how survey respondents voted in the last
election were too scarce for the Mulroney and Trudeau eras to generate reliable statistical results.
The data show that inconsistency is far more frequent overall when public majorities take a right
position on issues and the government adopts a left position on the same issues (36 cases overall),
than when the public supports a left position and government prefers a right position (15 cases
overall). It appears, therefore, that, aside of its reluctance to initiate policy changes desired by the
public, the government of Jean Chrétien took a more leftist position than the Canadian public on
many issues.
Tables 3 and 4 about here
Is there a relationship between government biases against change and against the right? The
answer is found in Table 4 which cross-tabulates the ideological direction of public majorities,
dichotomized into right or left positions, and the change vs. status quo dichotomy. The data
indicate that there is a strong association between public majorities for change and support for
right wing positions on issues. Rightist public majorities are approximately three times more
likely to support change (41 cases) than the status quo (14 cases). The evidence suggests that
public majorities in support of policy change are much less likely to get what they want from the
19
government, especially if the policy changes public majorities support have a more right wing
flavour than what the government is ready to deliver.
A more accurate understanding of consistency during the government of Jean Chrétien
can be obtained by using a multivariate analysis. Table 5 presents six multivariate logistic
regression models of consistency. The dependent variable takes the value 1 when policy is
consistent with opinion and 0 otherwise. There are four control variables in the models. It is
expected that a large majority regarding an issue will carry more weight than a bare majority.
Consequently opinion-policy consistency should correlate positively with the extent of majority
opinion. The variable is expressed as the difference between majority and minority opinion
percentages on each poll. We also record the number of undecided respondents in the poll, a
measure, albeit an imperfect one, of how salient the issue is to the public and how “real” their
expressed opinions therefore are. Issue saliency is measured by the inverse proportion of
respondents answering “don’t know” or “no opinion” to survey questions. The higher the value of
the indicator, the higher the saliency. Governments should feel more pressure to respond to issues
that are salient to the public. Consequently, we hypothesize that consistency correlates positively
with the measure. The models also include a dummy variable for seven newly introduced issues
during the government of Jean Chrétien. Issues reported twice as often or more under Chrétien as
compared to Mulroney are coded 1. They are: government cuts, deficit reduction, privatized
health care, gun control, sexual orientation, mercy killing, and young offenders (see Table 2).
Other issues are coded 0. We hypothesize that the coefficient for new issues is negative.
We also look at the electoral cycle. It is generally expected that a party will try to pass key
policies at the beginning of its term in office, in the year following an election, especially those
policies on which it has been elected and that are supported by public majorities. Once it has
passed its key policies, the governing party will be faced with issues that enjoy less popular
20
support. New issues can also arise at that time that are not necessarily popular. We should,
therefore, expect higher levels of consistency in the year immediately following an election. On
the other hand, politicians have an incentive to respond to public opinion because they will be
held accountable for their actions at election time. As elections become nearer, there might be
greater pressure to respond to public preference on the part of the government. Consequently, we
should expect that consistency will increase again as elections become nearer. Here we
hypothesize a curvilinear relationship between consistency and elections, and we operationalize
the electoral cycle variable as a dummy taking the value 1 if a survey is administered in the years
immediately before and immediately after an election, and 0 otherwise.14
Models 1 and 2 measure the effect of the variable for change on consistency during the
period 1968-2001. The variable is a dummy coded 1 when majority opinion prefers change and 0
when the majority prefers the status quo. We hypothesize that change correlates negatively with
consistency. We know from the previous discussion that the Mulroney government was less
biased against policy change than the Trudeau and Chrétien governments, and consistency was
substantially higher during the Mulroney years as a consequence. We therefore hypothesize a
significantly positive coefficient for the Mulroney variable in the additive model (1) and for the
change × Mulroney term in the interaction model (2).
Table 5 about here
From the additive model (1), we see that the estimate for the change variable is significant and in
the correct direction. All other things being equal the predicted odds ratio of consistency when
majority opinion supports change is e-0.75 = 0.46, less than half the odds of consistency when
majority opinion supports the status quo. The coefficient for the Mulroney government variable is
21
significantly positive as predicted. The odds of consistency under Mulroney are twice the odds of
consistency under Trudeau. The coefficient for the change × Mulroney variable in the interaction
model (2) is positive and significant. This must be compared with the significantly negative
coefficient for the change variable(-1.08) which represents the effect of change on consistency
during the Trudeau years. Despite its overall negative effect on consistency, change is
significantly more likely to be associated with consistency under Mulroney than under Trudeau.
The coefficient for change in interaction with Chrétien is negative but not statistically significant,
suggesting that there is not much differences in the effect of change on consistency between the
Chrétien and Trudeau eras.
The coefficient for the extent of majority opinion is of correct sign and statistically
significant, indicating that a greater consensus in mass opinion in favour of a particular direction
produces more responsiveness from the government. This result is directly relevant to the issue of
the use of polls by government decision makers. One side of the issue argues that decision
makers trust polls as accurate reflection of public opinion and often use them to gage the
direction of public opinion. The other side argues that decision makers don’t trust polls and that
the will often construct a view of public opinion more consistent with their own preferences and
those around them than of the actual state of mass opinion. What our finding shows is that such
willful blindness is less possible when the extent of the majority in favour of a particular
direction is very large. The estimates for issue salience are not significant, though we interpret
this as evidence of the weakness of our measure.15 The coefficient for new issues is of correct
(negative) sign but it is not statistically significant, suggesting that the new issues that were
surveyed after 1993 are not skewed toward inconsistency. The electoral cycle variable of the
correct sign but it is not significantly different from 0, suggesting that responsiveness is unrelated
to the timing of public opinion surveys in relation to elections.
22
The next four models only consider the determinants of consistency during the Chrétien
years. Models 3 and 4 measure the impact of the conservative public ideology on consistency in
addition to, and in interaction with, the change vs. status quo direction of mass opinion. From the
additive equation of model 3, we see that public majorities that support the right have a negative
and significant impact on consistency. All other things being equal the predicted odds ratio of
consistency when majority opinion supports the right side of an issue is e-0.64 = 0.42, indicating
that public support for the right reduces the odds of consistency by more than half. The
significantly negative coefficient for the change × ideology variable in model 4 suggests that
there is a strong interaction between the two variables. Public majorities for change and public
majorities in support of the right powerfully combine their effects to lower opinion-policy
consistency.
Models 5 and 6 examine whether consistency during the Chrétien government is higher
when public majorities are positively associated with a vote for the Liberal party. The variable for
Liberal support is coded 1 whenever public majorities (whether in favour of change or the status
quo) are positively and significantly associated with Liberal vote in the last election, and 0 when
public majorities are negatively associated with Liberal support. Cases in which the association is
not statistically significant are eliminated from the sample. Note that a public majority in support
or against the Liberal party can also be a bipolar public majority. We could identify 99 cases (out
of 123 cases that report the respondents’ vote at the last election) in which public majorities were
significantly associated with a vote for or against the Liberal party at the last election.
We expect that the Chrétien government is more responsive to public majorities that
support the Liberal party. We also expect that Canadians who voted for the Liberals in the last
election will support the policies of the Liberal government more often than those who voted for
the opposition or abstained. It is therefore hypothesized that the coefficient for the Liberal
23
support variable will be positive. From model 5, we see that the additive effect of Liberal support
is statistically significant and positive. The odds of consistency are multiplied by approximately
four when a public majority is positively associated with Liberal support. However, the
coefficient for the change × Liberal interaction variable in model 6 is not statistically significant.
This suggests that the effect of the variables for change and Liberal vote on consistency is
additive rather than multiplicative. The Chrétien government is significantly more responsive to
public majorities that support the Liberal party whether they prefer policy change or the status
quo. Note also that models 5 and 6 offer the best fit (R2 =.25). This is a testimony of the powerful
impact of public ideology on government responsiveness.
Conclusion
In this research, we attempted to provide convincing explanations as to why the government of
Jean Chrétien was so much less responsive to majority opinion as measured by polls than the
Mulroney government. It is now time to summarize our main findings and discuss their
implications.
The analysis shows that lower responsiveness during the government of Jean Chrétien
cannot be attributed to methodological reasons alone. There are also substantive explanations of
the decline in consistency after 1993. Low responsiveness during the Chrétien government is
associated with an increased bias against change in policy making as compared with the
Mulroney government. The data suggest that the Chrétien government was significantly less
responsive when mass opinion favoured a change of policy than when it supported already
existing policy. Remarkably, there was no such bias against change and in favour of the status
24
quo in policy making during the government of Brian Mulroney. The Mulroney government
deferred to mass opinion more often when the public favoured policy change.
The increase in government resistance to change cannot explain all the difference in
consistency from Mulroney to Chrétien, however. Another explanation for the observed variation
in consistency is ideology. There is evidence that public majorities have supported the
conservative side on a large number of issues throughout the period of analysis. It is no
coincidence, therefore, that public opinion was highly consistent with the conservative policies of
the government of Brian Mulroney, and that the election of the more liberal government of Jean
Chrétien has led to lower consistency after 1993. The data also show that public majorities that
were associated with Liberal party support were more likely to get what they wanted from the
Chrétien government, irrespective of whether that was a policy change or the status quo. The
Chrétien government appears to have been especially unresponsive on issues that were favoured
by opposition parties’ supporters. This suggests that officials in the Chrétien government made a
distinction between the opinion of all Canadians and a Liberal public opinion, and that they were
prepared to be more responsive toward the latter because it was more important to them. The
finding could also be interpreted to mean that public majorities made out of many Canadians who
had voted for the Liberal party at the last election were more likely to support the policies of the
Liberal government.
Our diagnosis is of course limited by the quantitative nature of our design. This research
raises several important questions that cannot be answered in full at the moment because we
could not address them satisfactorily with a quantitative framework. Only further qualitative
research will permit to decide these questions.16 First, we have interpreted low consistency as if it
meant that the Chrétien government was unresponsive to public opinion. An entirely different
interpretation of low consistency during the Chrétien period is of course possible. This would be
25
not because of the Chrétien government’s unresponsiveness—i.e., democratic frustration—but
because the Mulroney government was more successful at persuading the public to support its
policy positions—i.e., counterfeit consensus. It is also likely that institutional factors had an
impact on low consistency although we could not test this impact empirically. The Liberal
government of Jean Chrétien has governed in a period of unique division on the opposition
benches and the perceived lack of a credible alternative government. Such a situation may have
contributed to a lack of responsiveness, with the governing party feeling less vulnerable and less
inclined to be highly responsive to mass opinion.
Another limit we faced in this quantitative analysis was that we could only measure
consistency on equally weighted issues, although some issues clearly have a higher profile than
others. We think that high profile issues considerations are directly relevant to the apparent
paradox of presumed attentiveness to public opinion and actual low responsiveness that was
raised in the introduction. Actually, there is a further enigma involved here. If the policies of the
Chrétien government were unresponsive to mass opinion or—using the alternative formulation—
if a majority of the Canadian public do not support the policies of their government on a large
number of issues, why then do Canadians keep reelecting the same party in government? Is it
because Canadians are unaware that their government is unresponsive? We think that the answer
depends largely on whether the issue is high profile or not. Recent electoral research suggests that
Canadians are indeed aware when government is or is not responsive on high profile issues and
rewards or punishes the government accordingly. Nevitte et al. (2000) show that government
responsiveness on high profile issues such as deficit reduction generated extra support for the
Liberal government in the 1997 election, and government non-responsiveness to public opinion
on high profile issues such as keeping the GST cost the government some votes in the same
26
election. Consequently, government officials have an incentive to be responsive to mass opinion
as measured by polls on high profile issues. But on other, less important issues, whether the
government is responsive or not--or whether Canadians agree or disagree with government
policy--does not seem to have a perceptible effect on electoral support. We interpret this to mean
that the Canadian public is either unaware of or unmoved by government non-responsiveness on
lower profile issues. Since they anticipate that non-responsiveness on low profile issues is
unlikely to cost them votes at the next election, government officials will be free to be non-
responsive or to respond to their own definitions of public opinion on lower profile issues.
A related explanation as to why Canadians keep reelecting the Liberals in power despite
government lack of responsiveness is that their assessment of government performance on high
profile issues at election time is disconnected from their opinion of the day to day low profile
decisions of the Chrétien government. A majority of Canadians did indeed support Jean Chrétien
on its two most vital initiatives (deficit elimination and Canadian unity) whereas they were more
ambivalent on lower profile issues. Interestingly, the pattern of public support (or government
responsiveness) on high vs. low profile issues is reversed under the Brian Mulroney. Whereas the
Canadian public supported most of its day to day decisions, the two most important measures
enacted by the Mulroney government (the Free Trade Agreement and the Good and Services
Tax) were never popular with the masses. The evidence suggests a counterintuitive negative
correlation between government popularity (and attentiveness) on high profile issues and
government responsiveness on lower profile issues. The more responsive government of Brian
Mulroney was also less popular than the less responsive government of Jean Chrétien. However,
the expected positive correlation is reestablished when consistency is redefined based on high
profile issues only. Government popularity has perhaps less to do with responsiveness to mass
opinion on day-to-day issues than to public preference on high profile issues.
27
TABLE 1
CONSISTENCY AND MAJORITY PREFERENCE FOR POLICY CHANGE 1968-2001
The Chrétien Era (1994-2000)
Majority Preference (%)
Policy Outcome Change Status quo
Row Total
Consistent
67 (41%)
46 (68%)
113 (49%)
Inconsistent
95 (59%)
22 (32%)
117 (51%)
Column Total 162 (100%) 68 (100%) 230 (100%)
Gamma = + .19
The Mulroney Era (1985-1993)
Majority Preference (%)
Policy Outcome Change Status quo
Row Total
Consistent
68 (68%)
44 (71%)
112 (69%)
Inconsistent
32 (32%)
18 (29%)
50(31%)
Column Total 100 (100%) 62 (100%) 162 (100%)
Gamma = +.79
28
The Trudeau Era (1968-1983)
Majority Preference (%)
Policy Outcome Change Status quo
Row Total
Consistent
74 (48%)
22 (69%)
96 (52%)
Inconsistent
80 (52%)
10 (31%)
90 (48%)
Column Total 154 (100%) 32 (100%) 186 (100%)
Gamma +.35
29
TABLE 2
CONSISTENCY BROKEN DOWN BY ISSUES 1984-1993 AND 1994-2001
1984-1993 1994-2001
N Consistent % Consistent N Consistent % Consistent
External Relations
Relations With the US 14 9 64 4 2 50
Diplomacy 2 2 100 4 3 75
National Defence 5 4 80 4 3 75
Peacekeeping 3 2 67 5 2 40
Foreign Aid 4 2 50 5 1 20
Total External Relations 28 19 68 22 11 50
Economic & Labour
Economic Regulation 7 6 86 3 3 100
Privatization 13 11 84 5 3 60
Environ. Protection 4 3 75 7 5 71
Immigration 6 4 67 9 4 44
30
Highway Safety 2 2 100 4 3 75
Job Creation 3 2 67 3 2 67
Total Eco. & Labour 35 28 80 31 20 65
State & Government
Election Rules 5 3 60 7 2 29
Govern. Cuts 4 3 75 13 11 85
Deficit Reduction 1 0 0 10 8 80
Parliament 3 3 100 3 3 100
Quebec/Canadian Unity 10 7 70 5 5 100
Total State & Government 23 16 70 38 29 76
Health & Welfare
Welfare Spending 4 3 75 3 2 67
Privatized Health Care 2 0 0 15 2 13
Workfare 5 1 20 8 2 25
Total Health & Welfare 11 4 36 26 6 23
Civil Rights & Liberties
31
Drug Tests 2 0 0 4 2 50
Censorship & Prohibition 11 10 91 8 4 50
Gender Equity 4 3 75 6 4 67
Gun Control 3 2 67 11 7 64
Abortion 3 2 67 5 3 60
Sexual Orientation Issues 2 2 100 19 12 63
Total Civil Rights & Liberties 25 19 76 53 32 60
Crime Issues
Mercy Killing 5 2 40 14 2 14
Tough on Crime 5 2 40 7 2 29
Young Offenders 2 0 0 21 3 14
Total Crime Issues 12 4 33 42 7 17
Miscellaneous 28 22 76 18 8 44
Grand Total 162 112 69 230 113 49
32
TABLE 3
CONSISTENCY AND MAJORITY PREFERENCE FOR THE RIGHT SIDE OF ISSUES
1993-2001
Majority Preference (%)
Policy Outcome
Right Left
Row Total
Consistent
19 (34%)
32 (67%)
51
Inconsistent
36 (66%)
15 (33%)
51
Column Total 55 (100%) 47 (100%) 102 (100%)
33
TABLE 4
MAJORITY PREFERENCE FOR CHANGE AND FOR THE RIGHT SIDE OF ISSUES
1993-2000
Right
Left
Row Total
Change
41 (75%)
25 (53%)
66
Status quo
14 (25%)
22 (47%)
36
Column Total 55 (100%) 47 (100%) 102 (100%)
TABLE 5
MULTIVARIATE LOGISTIC ANALYSES OF CONSISTENCY
Explanatory Variables (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Extent of Majority Opinion .01a 1.03 .02a 1.03 .01a 1.03 .02a 1.3 .01 1.01 .01 1.01
Issue Saliency .00 1.01 -.000 .99 .000 1.00 .001 1.01 -.001 .97 -.001 .98
New Issues -.39 .67 -.33 .72 -.45 .63 -.40 .66 -.39 .67 -.44 .63
Electoral Cycle .29 1.33 .32 1.38 .38 1.46 .35 1.43 .28 1.32 .30 1.37
Change -.75c .46 -1.08c .35 -1.13c .33 .15 1.18 -1.00b .38 -1.12b .34
Right Ideology -.64b .42 .51 1.70 -.48 .67 -.71a .43
Change × Right Ideology -1.76b .18
Mulroney .70 2.00
Chrétien -.07
.95
Change × Mulroney .88c 2.45
Change × Chrétien -.25 .75
Liberal
1.35c 3.88
1
Change ×Liberal .66 1.80
Constant .25
1.52 1.10c 2.51 1.31b 3.33 .115 1.18 .36 1.40 .42 1.52
Percentage Correct 66 65 70 69 69 .69
Chi-Square for Covariates 36.26 37.65 15.5 5 19.98 28.05 29.45
Nagelkerke R2 .11 .12 .16 .18 .25 .25
N 578 578 102 102 99 .99
Note: The figure in each cell gives the logistic regression estimate. The italicized numbers are the odds ratios.
a p<0.10
b p<0.05
c p<0.01
2
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ENDNOTES
* This study was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
We wish to thank Mélisa Leclerc and Guillaume Laperierre for their research assistance and the
anonymous referees for their suggestions.
1 For example, Entman and Herbst (2001) see public opinion as made up of four referents: mass
opinion refers to the aggregate of individual opinions found in polls; activated opinion includes
the opinion of engaged, organized and informed groups and individuals, including lobbies and
experts; latent opinion is shaped by underlying beliefs behind opinions and is where the
collective stance ends up after debate; perceived majorities are the perceptions of the mass
audience, journalists, and political actors of where majority opinion stands on an issue.
2As Schedler (1999) points out, the responsible party model also implies that policy makers
should not shift previously announced policy positions in response to changing public opinion for
fear of appearing untrustworthy and morally inconsistent, even at the cost of non-responsiveness.
3 For example Jacobs (1993) argues that the growth of a public opinion apparatus within the
executive branch of the American and British governments originally intended to help manipulate
popular preferences through public relations campaigns has in fact backfired and increased policy
makers' interest in tracking and responding to public opinion. He calls this the "recoil effect."
Another example is Wlesien’s work (1995; 1996) on the ‘thermostatic’ opinion-policy dynamics,
where he finds that US policy makers respond to public preferences and that the public responds
1
to changes in policy. See Soroka and Wlesien (2003) for evidence of a thermostatic opinion-
policy relationship in Canada.
4 Petry (1999) reports a consistency rate of 60 per cent in Canada over the period 1968-1993.
Brettschneider (1996) finds that government actions in post-war Germany are consistent with
majority opinion 71 per cent of the time. He also finds that changes in public opinion and
government decisions are congruent 65 per cent of the time. The lower consistency rates found
by Brooks are explained, in large part, by differences in methodology and the time-periods
5 There were five cases of mass opinion leadership involving deficit reduction; lower government
spending on foreign aid; forbidding doctors from charging user fees, banning adds for cigarettes,
and legislation to protect gays and lesbians. Four cases of leadership by the government involved
regulating the sale of firearms, TV programmes censorship, healthcare spending, and cutting the
number of public employees. Another illustration of the limits of the congruence approach is
Brettschneider’s study of the opinion-policy relationship in Germany. He starts with a sample of
331 usable polls (from a population of more than one thousand public opinion surveys). He finds
94 instances of measured opinion change in the sample (remember this is over the period 1949-
1990—forty years). Out of these 94 instances of opinion change, he finds 14 cases of “mass
opinion leadership” when opinion changed first and congruent government activities followed. In
most of the remaining 77 instances, he finds that it is impossible to determine the direction of the
relationship. So, in the end, out of a population of more than one thousand polls, he is able to
infer leadership of mass opinion over policy in only 14 cases.
6 As a consequence, consistency is interpreted as government responding to public opinion rather
than public opinion supporting government. Whether consistency is interpreted one way or the
other has some minor influence on methodological choices (the selection of cases and
2
independent variables for example). However, formulating consistency in terms of opinion
support rather than government responsiveness does not fundamentally alter our overall
conclusions.
7 The data analyzed here are accessible on the Web site of the Centre for the Analysis of Public
Policy at Université Laval at www.capp.ulaval.ca.
8 Variation in consistency across governments is not due to methodological differences. We used
identical methods for data collection and analysis during all three periods. Cases (surveys and
decisions) associated with the Clark (1979), Turner (1984), and Campbell (1993) interludes are
deleted from the analysis.
9 The number of cases in which opinion supports change while government supports the status
quo is typically higher in Canada than in the U.S. There is a methodological reason, involving
repeated polls, for the discrepancy. We consider repeated polls as separate cases and compare
policy outcomes with majority opinion on each case, while Monroe treats repeated polls as one
poll and reports only the earliest survey in the series. Our method reduces consistency relative to
Monroe’s method because repeated polls have a tendency to target issues in which the public
supports change and government favours the status quo (this is presumably why pollsters keep
repeating polls). However, the methodological bias against consistency resulting from counting
repeated polls as separate cases is not as severe as one might expect. When repeated polls are
counted as one case, consistency rises to 55 per cent under Trudeau, 70 per cent under Mulroney
and 53 per cent under Chrétien. Thus, the increase in consistency is very modest. More
importantly, the relative magnitude of the variation in consistency across governments remains
basically the same irrespective of the method used.
3
10 Public majorities supported change more often during both the Trudeau (83 percent favouring
change) and the Chrétien (70 percent) eras than in the Mulroney era (62 percent).
11 The passage of important measures in the environmental and social policy fields in the final
year of Jean Chrétien’s mandate (not recorded in this study) represented a reversal of his earlier
record.
12 Many Canadians have difficulties recognizing ‘left’ from ‘right.’ However, electoral studies
have shown that Canadian citizens organize their political values along clearly identifiable left-
right dimensions, no matter how they chose to call them.
13 Scores for Liberal party and Bloc Québécois votes were ignored in the calculation. See below
for further analyses incorporating a variable for Liberal party vote. We did not include other
attributes (socio-economic status, occupation, sex, religion) of individual survey respondents for
lack of relevant theoretical link with our research problem.
14 We wish to thank the anonymous referee who pointed out the correct way to operationalize the
electoral variable.
15 A high proportion of “don’t know” responses may be a sign of low salience, but it may also be
a sign of indecision on salient and contentious issues.
16 We are currently pursuing such qualitative research involving elite interviews and tracing the
opinion-policy relationship on an issue-by-issue basis using the case study method. For
preliminary results of this research, see Mendelsohn and Petry (2001).
  • Article
    To clarify why research examining the responsiveness of governments to public opinion produces mixed results, the authors focus on issues involving contested moral values that are known to be highly salient to the public and hence more likely to be linked to public policy. Canada and the United States, where the same issues have emerged, allow them to isolate the factors resulting in majoritarian congruence, where policies follow public opinion. The authors attribute finding even less congruence than previous research to the dominance of the courts in ruling on morality issues, although they also find a greater role for the legislature in Canada. The authors raise the possibility that the very salience of the issues inhibited political action from conflict-avoidant politicians.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    Background: The Canadian government has committed to an endgame target of less than 5% tobacco use by 2035. The aims of this study were to assess baseline levels of support for potential endgame policies among Canadian smokers, by province/region, demographic characteristics and smoking-related correlates, and to identify predictors of support. Methods: We analyzed data for 3215 adult (age ≥ 18 yr) smokers from the Canadian arm of the 2016 International Tobacco Control Four Country Smoking and Vaping Survey. We estimated weighted percentages of support for endgame measures for 6 provinces/regions of the country. We used weighted logistic regression models to identify predictors of support for 14 endgame strategies. Results: Among cigarette endgame policies, support was highest for reducing nicotine content (70.2%), raising the legal age for purchase (69.8%), increasing access to alternative nicotine products (65.8%) and banning marketing (58.5%). Among e-cigarette policies, there was majority support for restricting youth access (86.1%), restricting nicotine content (64.9%), prohibiting use in smoke-free places (63.4%) and banning marketing (54.8%). The level of support for other endgame measures ranged from 28.9% to 45.2%. Support for cigarette and e-cigarette policies was generally higher among smokers with intentions to quit and those from Quebec. Support for e-cigarette policies was generally lower among smokers who also used e-cigarettes daily. Interpretation: There is considerable support among Canadian smokers for endgame policies that go beyond current approaches to tobacco control. Our findings provide a baseline for evaluating future trends in smokers' support for innovative measures to radically reduce smoking rates in Canada.
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    Full-text available
    A strong link between citizen preferences and public policy is one of the key goals and criteria of democratic governance. Yet, our knowledge about the extent to which public policies on specific issues are in line with citizen preferences in Europe is limited. This article reports on the first study of the link between public opinion and public policy that covers a large and diverse sample of concrete public policy issues in 31 European democracies. The findings demonstrate a strong positive relationship and a substantial degree of congruence between public opinion and the state of public policy. Also examined is whether political institutions, including electoral systems and the horizontal and vertical division of powers, influence the opinion‐policy link. The evidence for such effects is very limited, which suggests that the same institutions might affect policy representation in countervailing ways through different mechanisms.
  • Article
    While extensive literatures study the responsiveness of policy to public opinion and the influence of interest groups, few studies look at both factors simultaneously. This article offers an analysis of the influence of media advocacy and public opinion on political attention and policy change for four regulatory issues over a relatively long period of time in Sweden. The data pools together measures of public support for specific policies with new data on attention to the policy issues in the Swedish parliament, policy developments over time and detailed coding of the claims of interest advocates in two major Swedish newspapers. Analyzing this data, a complex picture without a general tendency for either public opinion or media advocacy to act as dominant forces in producing policy change is revealed, although some evidence is found that the public is successful in stimulating political attention when it supports policy proposals aimed at changing the status quo.
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    Full-text available
    Recent years have witnessed an increased interest in research on advocacy success, but limited attention has been paid to the role of public opinion. We examine how support from the public affects advocacy success, relying on a new original data set containing information on public opinion, advocacy positions, and policy outcomes on 50 policy issues in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Claims by advocates are measured through a news media content analysis of a sample of policy issues drawn from national and international public opinion surveys. Our multilevel regression analysis provides evidence that public support affects advocacy success. However, public opinion does not affect preference attainment for some of the lobbying advocates whose influence is feared the most, and the magnitude of its impact is conditional upon the number of advocates who lobby on the policy issue in question.
  • Article
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    Background As public opinion is an important part of the health equity policy agenda, it is important to assess public opinion around potential policy interventions to address health inequities. We report on public opinion in Ontario about health equity interventions that address the social determinants of health. We also examine Ontarians’ support and predictors for targeted health equity interventions versus universal interventions. Methods We surveyed 2,006 adult Ontarians through a telephone survey using random digit dialing. Descriptive statistics assessed Ontarians’ support for various health equity solutions, and a multinomial logistic regression model was built to examine predictors of this support across specific targeted and broader health equity interventions focused on nutrition, welfare, and housing. Results There appears to be mixed opinions among Ontarians regarding the importance of addressing health inequities and related solutions. Nevertheless, Ontarians were willing to support a wide range of interventions to address health inequities. The three most supported interventions were more subsidized nutritious food for children (89%), encouraging more volunteers in the community (89%), and more healthcare treatment programs (85%). Respondents who attributed health inequities to the plight of the poor were generally more likely to support both targeted and broader health equity interventions, than neither type. Political affiliation was a strong predictor of support with expected patterns, with left-leaning voters more likely to support both targeted and broader health equity interventions, and right-leaning voters less likely to support both types of interventions. Conclusions Findings indicate that the Ontario public is more supportive of targeted health equity interventions, but that attributions of inequities and political affiliation are important predictors of support. The Ontario public may be accepting of messaging around health inequities and the social determinants of health depending on how the message is framed (e.g., plight of the poor vs. privilege of the rich). These findings may be instructive for advocates looking to raise awareness of health inequities.
  • Chapter
    This chapter discusses the current media literature and journalism theories to clarify the rationale for the framework of my research within the sociological field of news production. At the same time, given the conflict between the two Koreas, whether the major theoretical approaches can be applied to the examination of Korean news production will be discussed. By exploring the role of news in democratic countries, Bourdieu’s concept of ‘a field’ and the factors that influence news frames will be construed. In addition, this chapter discusses the necessity of a paradigm shift in journalism studies in the wake of the end of the Cold War, as Hallin and Mancini (Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004) state.
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    Despite the essential role of political parties, excessive partisanship is often considered detrimental for democracy in general and the functioning of parliament in particular. This article examines the multi-faceted nature of partisanship. First, a number of possible types of excessive partisanship are identified in which a specific aspect or element is taken to a heightened degree. It will be argued that partisanship may become excessive by way of its underlying worldview, electoral ends, uncivil or unethical means, universal scope, or internal culture. Second, this framework allows for a nuanced evaluation of how and why excessive partisanship is problematic for democracy. It will be shown that different hyper-partisan types have varying normative implications.
  • Book
    Full-text available
    Celem książki było zweryfikowanie czy w odniesieniu do relacji dwustronnych polska polityka zagraniczna w latach 1990-2002 charakteryzowała się stałością wyznaczanych celów i zajmowanych stanowisk. Weryfikacji poddano pięć hipotez pomocniczych dotyczących: stałości wyszczególnionych kierunków geograficznych stosunków bilateralnych oraz przyporządkowanych do nich państw, a także stałości rozkładu uwagi poświęcanej wszystkim stosunkom bilateralnym, wyszczególnionym kierunkom geograficznym oraz kluczowym państwom. W książce zastosowano metodę badania dokumentów. Podstawą teoretyczną pracy jest koncept wyrazistości kwestii (issue salience), odnoszący się do wagi i znaczenia, jaką aktor przypisuje danej kwestii na tle innych zagadnień politycznych. Przy pomocy autorskiej ilościowo-jakościowej techniki analizy treści – techniki szacowania wyrazistości (technique for salience estimation) – autorka przebadała trzynaście dorocznych informacji odnośnie do stanu polityki zagranicznej szefów polskiej dyplomacji. Zastosowana technika pozwoliła w pierwszej kolejności na wyselekcjonowanie z treści dokumentów kwestii spełniających kryteria celu lub stanowiska oraz podział tekstu na rozłączne ustępy podporządkowane zawsze konkretnemu i wyłącznie jednemu zagadnieniu. W przypadku hipotez H1 i H2 dokonano następnie jakościowej analizy treści oraz skonfrontowano wyciągnięte z niej wnioski z ówczesnym kontekstem krajowym i międzynarodowym. Z kolei w drugim etapie weryfikowania hipotez H3, H4 i H5 wyselekcjonowane cele i stanowiska uszeregowano wedle przywiązywanej do nich wagi: poprzez kryterium ilości słów oraz kryterium kolejności przywołania danej kwestii w tekście. Ostatni etap procesu polegał w tym wypadku na interpretacji otrzymanych wyników badań ilościowych w świetle najważniejszych wydarzeń międzynarodowych oraz opcji politycznej sprawującej ówcześnie władzę w Polsce.
  • Chapter
    Various social actors influence or seek to influence foreign policy. NGOs, companies, the media, ethnic groups, unions and experts all exert a degree of pressure on the government. They also interact—exchanging information, setting up coalitions and continually adapting to their environment. The government does not simply listen passively to their grievances. It is involved in social dynamics and, in turn, seeks to influence social actors. The social fabric is made up of a two-way flux of influence, which overlaps to form a complex system. Awareness of this complexity helps clarify some commonplace ideas. For instance, it is often argued that the electorate has little interest in international politics, that unpopular politicians use international crises to distract attention from domestic problems or that NGOs are altruistic by nature while private corporations are egocentric. This chapter examines such commonplace assumptions.
  • Article
    Does the parliamentary behavior of members of parliament, parliamentary parties, and government correspond with the public's preferences regarding political issues? What conditions support the emergence of congruence between public opinion and public policy? These questions are central concerns of democratic theory. In this paper, they are investigated empirically for the activities in the federal German legislature, the German Bundestag, between 1949 and 1990. For this purpose, 94 time series of public opinion polls have been combined with content analysis of more than 3,000 parliamentary documents (e.g. parliamentary questions, committee reports). If public opinion about a policy matter changes, approximately 60 percent of the respective parliamentary actions are congruent with the direction of opinion change. The congruence between public opinion and public policy is greatest for opinion changes in a conservative direction when the political status quo is supported. Even more important than the direction of opinion change is the public's majority opinion at the time of parliamentary action.
  • Article
    The responsiveness of government policies to citizens' preferences is a central concern of various normative and empirical theories of democracy. Examining public opinion and policy data for the United States from 1935 to 1979, we find considerable congruence between changes in preferences and in policies, especially for large, stable opinion changes on salient issues. We present evidence that public opinion is often a proximate cause of policy, affecting policy more than policy influences opinion. One should be cautious, however, about concluding that democratic responsiveness pervades American Politics.
  • Article
    Researchers ordinarily consider ideological consistency to be a characteristic of individuals; groups are considered to be ideological only if they are composed of ideologically oriented individuals. We show how a group as a whole can be characterized as exhibiting an ideological basis for its preferences even though many, or even most, of its members have preferences that are inconsistent with the supposed unidimensional ideological continuum. As an illustration, we show that the United States electorate of 1980 had collective preferences among the candidates Kennedy, Carter, Ford, and Reagan as if these preferences reflected an underlying left-right dimension among these candidates, despite the fact that a high proportion of individual voters had preferences among these candidates that did not fit the left-right dimension. In general, we show reasons why collectivities are likely to be more ideologically consistent than are the individuals composing them.
  • Article
    If public opinion changes and then public policy responds, this is dynamic representation. Public opinion is the global policy preference of the American electorate. Policy is a diverse set of acts of elected and unelected officials. Two mechanisms of policy responsiveness are (1) elections change the government's political composition, which is then reflected in new policy and (2) policymakers calculate future (mainly electoral) implications of current public views and act accordingly (rational anticipation). We develop multiple indicators of policy activity for the House, Senate, presidency, and Supreme Court, then model policy liberalism as a joint function of the two mechanisms. For each institution separately, and also in a global analysis of “government as a whole,” we find that policy responds dynamically to public opinion change. This responsiveness varies by institution, both in level and in mechanism, as would be expected from constitutional design.
  • Article
    This article provides the first cross-national analysis of its kind regarding inconsistency between mass public opinion and public policy. Over 340 issues are included for Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. In considering the opinion-policy relationship, the following independent variables are examined: (1) the degree of centralization of governmental authority (federal versus unitary, parliamentary versus separation-of-powers); (2) the extent of majority opinion (landslide versus bare majority); (3) the type of issue (redistributive versus non-redistributive); (4) the partisan nature of the government (social democratic versus liberal/conservative); and (5) electoral proximity (election versus non-election years). The results indicate inconsistency between opinion and policy (termed in this article "democratic frustration") in almost 60 percent of all cases for the Anglo-American polities — with even greater incongruence for redistributive issues.
  • Article
    This article analyzes the previously unresearched relationship between mass public opinion and public policy in contemporary West Germany. By studying approximately 150 cases over the last decade, the nature of German democracy is revealed in relation to the overall consistency between majority preferences and government action. The opinion-policy nexus is explored in regard to the impact of issue saliency, landslide majorities, different categories of issues (e.g., redistributive, foreign policy), and the partisan composition of the government (i.e., Social D emocratic vs. Christian Democratic). In addition, there is a cross-national comparison of results for West Germany with the author's previous research on opinion and policy in the United States, Britain, and France. The findings indicate that (like other nations studied) public opinion and public policy in Germany are inconsistent in a majority of instances and that (unlike Britain or France) the partisan composition of the government does not matter vis-à-vis the degree of policy-opinion congruence.
  • Article
    To what. extent have the policy decisions of the U.S. government been consistent with the preferences of the public? Using results of national surveys, public opinion was compared with actual policy outcomes on over 500 issues from 1980 through 1993. Overall, policy outcomes were consistent with the preferences of public majorities on 55 percent of the cases, representing a decline from 63 percent during the 1960-79 period. While this decline extended to almost all substantive policy topic categories analyzed, foreign policy decisions tended to be among the most consistent (67 percent), as in the previous two decades. Similar to the analysis of the earlier period, it appeared that a key reason for policy not being more consistent with public opinion was an inherent bias against change in the U.S. political process, a tendency that has increased over time. The reasons for this increase in bias against change, and the corresponding decline in consistency, are not entirely clear, but may be rooted in divided control of government combined with increased ideological conflict. It is interesting that when issues were categorized in terms of their salience to the public, it appeared that opinion/policy consistency was greater (and bias against change less) on those issues of highest public salience.
  • Article
    Representatives' votes on a series of defense budget roll calls in the first year of the Reagan administration's Pentagon buildup are related to constituency opinions on defense spending during the 1980 election campaign. The strong aggregate constituency demand for increased defense spending in 1980 is estimated to have added almost 17 billion (about 10%) to the total fiscal year 1982 Pentagon appropriation. The impact of constituency opinion was largely independent of specific political circumstances: differential responsiveness in districts with partisan turnover, intense district level competition, and strong presidential coattails together accounted for less than 1 billion in additional appropriations, with the remaining $16 billion attributable to across-the-board responsiveness by even the most safely incumbent representatives.
  • Article
    While the importance of the question of how often American policy decisions are in agree ment with the preferences of the mass public is clear, there have been only a few limited attempts to provide an empirical answer. The research reported here uses available pub lished national survey results and compares them with policy outcomes. Overall, about two-thirds of the cases demonstrate consistency between public opinion and public policy. There is some variation in consistency among areas of substantive policy, most notably that foreign policy decisions are more often consistent with public preference than domes tic policies. The key factor limiting the extent of consistency appears to be the failure of the political system, particularly the legislative branch, to act quickly on proposals for policy change.