Indigenous Peoples and Affinity Voting in Canada
This is the pre-proofread version by the Canadian Journal of Political Science.
Official version: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423918000574
Suggested reference : Dabin, Simon, Jean-François Daoust and Martin Papillon. 2018
“Indigenous Peoples and Affinity Voting in Canada.”. Canadian Journal of Political Science.
First view: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423918000574
Studies interested in indigenous voting in Canada tend to focus on socio-economic, cultural and
political factors that explain their lack of electoral participation. While highly relevant given
Canada's ongoing reality as a settler-colonial state, these studies are of limited help to make
sense of recent increases in electoral engagement in indigenous communities across the country.
Using data from four elections between 2006 and 2015, this study focuses instead on why some
indigenous individuals vote and how they vote. Our analysis suggests that one of many possible
reasons for the recent surge in indigenous turnout has to do with who is running for elections.
Higher voter turnout in indigenous communities corresponds with a higher proportion of
indigenous candidates. This is consistent with the literature on affinity voting. We also suggest
that political parties who present an indigenous candidate will receive more votes in
constituencies with a high proportion of indigenous voter.
Les études qui portent sur le vote des Autochtones au Canada tendent à se focaliser sur
l’abstention électorale et les facteurs socio-économiques, culturels et politiques qui l’expliquent.
Bien que ces études soient pertinentes, notamment dans le contexte colonial de l’État canadien,
elles ne permettent pas d’expliquer l’augmentation récente de la participation électorale dans
certaines communautés à travers le pays. À partir de données recueillies pour les quatre élections
fédérales entre 2006 et 2015, cet article s’intéresse au pourquoi et au comment du vote
Autochtone. Notre étude démontre, parmi d’autres explications possibles, que le taux de
participation autochtone est lié à l’identité du candidat qui se présente dans la circonscription.
Ainsi, plus la proportion de candidats autochtones est grande, plus le taux de participation sera
élevé. Ces résultats sont consistants avec la littérature sur le vote affinitaire. Nous démontrons
également que les partis politiques qui présentent un candidat autochtone recevront plus de votes
dans les circonscriptions avec une forte proportion d’électeurs Autochtones.
Dabin Simon, PhD candidate, Département de Science Politique de l’Université de Montréal
firstname.lastname@example.org, H3C 3J7
Daoust Jean François, PhD candidate, Département de Science Politique de l’Université de
Montréal, email@example.com, H3C 3J7
Papillon Martin, Associate Professor, Département de Science Politique de l’Université de
Montréal, firstname.lastname@example.org, H3C 3J7
Long denied some of the most basic rights of citizenship, including the right to
vote, Indigenous peoples still have to this day an ambiguous relationship with the democratic
institutions of the Canadian state.
While some see the value of engaging in electoral politics
at the federal and provincial levels in order to change settler institutions from within, others
see participation in the electoral process as an abdication of their status as distinct nations and
as an indirect recognition of settler-colonial sovereignty on their lands and communities
(Bonspiel, March 2, 2018). This latter view is supported by a number of indigenous
intellectuals, who see the act of voting as a form of assimilation (Alfred, 1999).
Indigenous electoral participation at the federal and provincial levels in Canada reflects
this ambiguity. While in some regions of the country and in some communities, voting is
comparable to the Canadian average, the overall pattern has historically been one of very
low turnout and limited engagement in electoral politics (Bargiel, February 17, 2017).
Things, however, appear to be changing.
The 2015 Canadian federal election saw an unprecedented mobilization in indigenous
communities to get people to vote. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN), the main
organization representing on-reserves Indigenous peoples in Canada, openly encouraged
members of First Nations to vote
. Without taking a specific partisan stand, the AFN was
openly critical of the outcoming government and targeted 51 constituencies where it
believed a mobilization of the indigenous vote could make a difference. It was not the first time
the AFN encouraged its members to vote. The Assembly works closely with Elections Canada
in order to facilitate turnout in First Nations communities since 2006 (Sadik, 2009).
However, the scale of the 2015 mobilization was never seen before. More spontaneous
We thank the Research Chair in Electoral Studies (Université de Montréal) for the precious feedback received on
an earlier version of this paper, especially Jean-François Godbout, Ruth Dassonneville, André Blais and Patrick
Fournier. A version of this paper was also presented at the 2016 annual conference of the Société québécoise de
science politique. We thank the participants for their helpful comments.
First Nations are one of three groups of Indigenous peoples officially recognized in Canada, with the Inuit and
the Métis. The three have historically and institutionally distinct relations with the state. We make the distinction
between these groups and their status when relevant. It is also important to acknowledge that indigenous
individuals themselves tend to identify with their specific nation or community rather than with the legal
categories ascribed to them by the settler state.
yet highly visible efforts to encourage indigenous youth to go vote also sprang up in social
media (Talaga, 2015). Political parties also put non negligible efforts to mobilize the
indigenous vote: a record 54 indigenous candidates ran for office (Fontaine, December 10,
In the days following the elections, indigenous leaders and organizations like the
AFN adopted a celebratory tone: the governing party was defeated, replaced by a potentially
much more friendly Liberal party under the leadership of Justin Trudeau. More importantly
however, they celebrated an unprecedented mobilization in indigenous communities, where
voting appeared to have skyrocketed. Media reports, citing electoral officials and local
indigenous leaders, suggested a surge of at least 20 per cent for on- reserve voting. In
some communities, the number of cast ballots apparently went up more than 200 per cent
compared with the previous elections in 2011 (Puxley, 2015). Elections Canada confirmed
it ran out of ballots in some indigenous communities (Talaga, 2015).
This surge in indigenous voting raises several questions for students of indigenous
politics and electoral behavior. How can we explain this apparent shift from alienation to
engagement amongst many indigenous voters? By and large, studies interested in indigenous
voting in Canada tend to focus on the socio-economic, cultural and political factors that
explain their lack of electoral participation (Fournier and Loewen, 2011; Harell et al., 2010;
Ladner and McCrossan, 2007). While highly relevant in the context of a historically low
participation rate, these studies are of limited help to make sense of more recent patterns
of electoral engagement. Scholars have theorized some of the reasons why
Indigenous peoples tend to vote less, but we know little of the voting patterns and
motivations of those who actually do vote.
This study proposes a rare exploration of indigenous voting behavior in Canada by
focusing on voter turnout and vote choice in indigenous communities in recent federal
elections. If indigenous individuals did actually vote in greater number in the 2015 federal
elections, how did they vote and what motivated their vote choice? Without dismissing the
importance of the AFN’s call to vote and related social media campaigns, we hypothesize
that one factor motivating indigenous individuals to vote has to do with who is running
for elections. Higher voter turnout in a number of indigenous communities, we argue,
corresponds with a higher proportion of indigenous candidates. This is consistent with the
literature on affinity voting (Besco, 2015; Bird et al., 2011; Goodyear-Grant and Tolley, 2017),
which suggests historically disadvantaged groups tend to vote more when there is a candidate
they can identify with. Based on the affinity voting model, we also test the hypothesis that
political parties who present an indigenous candidate will receive more votes in constituencies
with a high proportion of indigenous voters.
After discussing the impact of settler-colonial policies on indigenous citizenship and
voting patterns, we introduce the affinity voting model and the dataset against which we are
testing our hypotheses. In the absence of easily accessible and precise enough pan-Canadian
data on indigenous voting patterns, we test the affinity voting hypothesis using pooled data
from Elections Canada covering five elections (2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015). We created a
dataset of 734 voting boxes where 95 per cent or more of the electorate identifies itself
as an indigenous person, based on census data. While this dataset is not fully representative
of the entire indigenous population in Canada, it allows for a relatively fine-tuned analysis of
voting patterns in specific areas of the country where Indigenous peoples form a large
majority of the electorate. Our analysis suggests that indigenous voting patterns are strongly
influenced by presence of indigenous candidates on the ballot. While this is not in itself a
sufficient explanation to account for indigenous participation in the 2015 federal elections, it
nonetheless suggests that the unprecedented number of indigenous candidates did have an
impact on voting patterns. We conclude with some remarks on the policy implications of
these results and, more broadly, for our understanding of changing patterns of indigenous
citizenship in Canada.
Indigenous Peoples and the Franchise: An Ambiguous Legacy
Although there are significant regional variations (Ladner and McCrossan, 2007;
Howe and Bedford, 2009), indigenous individuals in Canada vote less than the average
population. Voting is especially low at the federal and provincial levels, with a federal
electoral turnout on reserves estimated at an average of 44 per cent between 2004 and 2011,
compared with 61 per cent for all Canadians (Bargiel, February 17, 2017).
There are many explanations for this disengagement, but colonial history figures
front and center in many of them.
The three formally recognized indigenous groups in
Canada (Inuit, Métis and First Nations) have a distinctive historical relationship with the
Canadian franchise. Members of First Nations who are formally recognized as “Indians”
under the Indian Act were initially not entitled to vote, unless they “emancipated”, which
meant giving up the rights associated with their status, including benefits associated with
treaties and the right of residency on reserve. Not surprisingly, very few Status Indians
voluntarily enfranchised; it was perceived as a form of political and cultural assimilation to
the dominant society (Jacobs, 2010).
The conditions for Status Indians to access full voting rights were progressively
lifted with time. The federal franchise was first extended to Status Indian who volunteered to
serve in both world wars, and, in 1950, to any Status Indians who renounced their tax
exemption. The federal government finally recognized full and unconditional franchise to all
Status Indians in 1960 (Jacobs, 2010; Milen, 1991: 4-9). Some Canadian provinces
recognized the right of Status Indians to vote as early as 1885 (Nova Scotia) while others
delayed until the 1960s (Alberta in 1965, Québec in 1969).
For a complete historical account of Canada’s colonial policies and their ongoing legacies today, see Canada,
Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996) and Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2015)
Inuit, who live inarctic and subarctic regions are not considered Status Indians under federal
legislation. They were formally excluded from federal franchise in 1934, only to regain their
right to vote in 1950 following the federal government’s desire to assert its sovereignty in
the arctic (Bonesteel, 2006). Members of the Métis Nation, who trace their origins to the Red
River Valley and the Prairies more broadly, as well as other descendants of indigenous
individuals without federally recognized status, received the right to vote at the same time
and under the same conditions as other Canadians. They did, however, face numerous
obstacles to its exercise, notably in the form of discrimination, racism and lack of access to
polling stations (Ladner and McCrossan, 2007: 29-30).
This history of discrimination and exclusion goes a long way in explaining the
reluctance of many, especially in First Nations communities, to engage in federal and
provincial electoral politics. But as Ladner and McCrossan (2007) suggest, Canadian
parliamentary institutions also suffer from a deeper legitimacy deficit amongst Indigenous
peoples. There is an inherent tension between the act of voting in federal and provincial elections,
as citizens of Canada, and the notion that Indigenous peoples have a nation-to-nation
relationship with the Crown, established through historic treaties and alliances. While this
tension is not insurmountable (Schouls, 2009), it remains a powerful obstacle to political
participation in settler colonial institutions. The Canadian federation was created without
Indigenous peoples’ participation. It progressively assumed authority over their lands and
communities without their consent (Alfred, 2005; Asch, 2014; Borrows, 2017). To vote in
federal elections, according to Kanien’kehaka intellectual Taiaike Alfred, only serves to further
legitimize this settler-colonial regime and ultimately contributes to perpetuate the cultural,
political and economic alienation it brought about (Alfred, 1999).
This legitimacy deficit is compounded by other factors that explain lower turnout
amongst Indigenous peoples. Members of First Nations communities, especially those living
on reserves, are generally younger, poorer, and face a higher rate of unemployment than
non-indigenous Canadians (Howe and Bedford, 2009). All these factors are generally
negatively associated with turnout (Fournier and Loewen, 2011). Also, access to voting
stations in isolated communities and recent changes in voter identification requirements
are sometimes cited as complicating factors with a potential impact on indigenous electoral
participation (Sadik, 2009).
A combination of historical, political and socio-demographic explanations provides
a convincing account for lower indigenous turnout in Canada. But these analyses are of
limited help to try to make sense of recent patterns towards greater electoral engagement. Nor
are they useful to explain indigenous voters’ preferences when they vote. In shifting our
focus to indigenous voting preferences, the broader literature on the electoral behavior of
racialized groups and other minorities can be helpful. It is important to underscore that
Indigenous peoples have a unique relationship with the settler-state that cannot be reduced
to their cultural or ethnic identity. That being said, they do share with other minority groups
a sense of alienation from mainstream representation institutions (Schouls, 2009; Murphy,
Research finds that voters identifying with a minority group are more likely to vote
when there is a candidate that shares their personal features. They also tend to vote
predominantly for candidates from their own community or group (Bird et al., 2011). This
pattern is defined as ‘in-group’ or ‘affinity’ voting (Goodyear-Grant and Tolley, 2017). While
not as prominent for women (Dolan, 1998; Dolan, 2014), evidences of affinity voting are
particularly strong for ethno-cultural groups that are victims of stigmatization (Bird et al.,
2011; Besco, 2015). There are debates as to what motivates affinity voting. For some, it could be
explained by the perception that a candidate from the same group increases the likelihood
“that the candidate will keep his or her political promises to members of their own community
and, because of the lower communication costs with a more effective representation of the
interests of the community in parliament will likely result” (Landa and Copeland, 1995: 436).
However, recent research suggests that somewhat less instrumental factors, including the
simple fact of identifying with a candidate, explains affinity voting (Goodyear-Grant and
Tolley, 2017). The literature on affinity voting also suggests minority groups sometimes (but
not always) coalesce around certain political parties, the latter “capturing” their vote because
of their strong ties with that community (Megyery, 1991: 221-47).
Again, we have to be cautious in using theories developed to explain the electoral
behavior of ethno-cultural minorities in the context of settler-colonial relations between
Indigenous peoples and Canadian institutions. It is nonetheless worth asking if the recent
surge in indigenous electoral participation reflects patterns of affinity voting. Without fully
explaining recent increases in indigenous participation, is it possible that the presence of
more indigenous candidates encouraged indigenous individuals to vote and shaped how they
Data and Indicators
In order to test the affinity voting model, we must identify and isolate the indigenous
vote. Existing data from pan-Canadian interview-based electoral studies offer too small a
sample of indigenous voters for our purpose. We therefore used data from Elections Canada
(March 1, 2018) to create a dataset of predominantly indigenous communities. In order to
maximize accuracy, we used the smallest unit of analysis possible in order to isolate the
indigenous vote: the ballot box. Ballot boxes contain the vote of a few hundred registered
voters and provide two crucial types of information: voter turnout and the vote share of each
candidate. Using census data, we isolated ballot boxes that matched census tracts where 95
per cent or more of the population self-identifies as indigenous. We used this method to
compare voting patterns in four federal elections: 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015.
There are some downsides to this approach. Perhaps most significantly, it only
focuses on vote patterns in predominantly indigenous communities. It does not take into
Data from the 2006 Canadian Census (Statistics Canada, 2006) were used for the 2006 and 2008 elections and
data from the 2011 National Household Survey for the 2011 and 2015 elections (Statistics Canada, 2011).
Elections Canada uses a similar approach in its own analyses of indigenous voting, but it uses a 90 per cent
threshold. We believe that 95 per cent is a more adequate threshold given that non-indigenous voters are more
likely to vote and will tend to be overrepresented in the ballot boxes.
account the increasingly important urban indigenous population, nor regions where
Indigenous peoples are more geographically diffused. Our data sample is therefore not
representative of the broad diversity of the indigenous population. Most of the ballot boxes we
identified are located on First Nations reserves, while a small number are in Inuit
communities. Voting rates, especially on reserves, are also likely overestimated given that
registration is far lower than the Canadian average (and is sometimes even discouraged within
the community). Another challenge we face is the reliability of the data over time. As
Statistics Canada recognizes, census data in indigenous communities are often incomplete
and should be used carefully for comparative purpose.
To minimize the impact of variations
in data availability, we only kept ballot boxes where census data were available for the
entire period. We also eliminated ballot boxes for which the electoral boundaries or census
tract boundaries shifted in order to maintain comparability over time.
Despite these imperfections, the pairing of census and elections data at the local
level offers a relatively simple way to isolate a significant proportion of the indigenous
vote from across the country and to control for a number of factors that are generally
associated with variations in voter turnout, notably socio-economic conditions and education
levels. In total, we kept 734 observations (ballot boxes) for which the electorate is composed
of at least 95 per cent of self-identified indigenous individuals according to census data.
Statistics Canada (2014) discusses the various challenges in interpreting data it collects from indigenous
Table 1 displays the distributions of these 734 boxes across Canada.
The distribution is unequal among provinces and is non-representative of the actual
distribution of Indigenous peoples across Canada. Manitoba, Québec and Saskatchewan are
overrepresented, whereas Alberta, British Columbia and especially Ontario are
underrepresented. Furthermore, Yukon Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland are not
represented at all. As mentioned, a large majority (79%) of voting boxes are located on
First Nations reserves, whereas only 23 per cent of self-identified indigenous individuals live
on reserves. This dataset nonetheless provides comparable data for 734 ballot boxes over
For each ballot box, our focus is on two dependent variables: turnout (that is the
number of registered voters that voted divided by the total number of registered voters in a
given box) and the vote share (in percentage) of all candidates and their affiliated parties.
Our main independent variable is the identity of the candidate and whether he or she
identifies him or herself as indigenous or not. To establish whether a candidate is indigenous,
we relied on different methods. For the 2008 election, we used their own biographies and
their self-identification in party’s website and media. For 2006, we relied on a list of
indigenous candidates constituted by Loretta Smith (2006). For the 2011 election, we used
a list of indigenous candidates constituted by Media Indigena (2011) and for the 2015 election
we used a list constituted by Tim Fontaine (December 10, 2016). Table 2 displays the number
of Ballot Boxes for which we identified one or more indigenous candidates in our 734 ballot
boxes. The numbers are greater than the actual number of indigenous candidates running
for office since the unit of analysis is not the Electoral District but the ballot box (the same
candidate is present in a number of ballot boxes). As we can see, the possibility for
indigenous voters to support an indigenous candidate increased significantly in 2011 and
This dataset allows us to verify whether or not turnout in our targeted ballot boxes
was indeed higher in 2015, as suggested in media reports immediately following the
elections. We also want to test the affinity voting model with three hypotheses. First,
indigenous turnout should be higher where voters have the possibility to vote for at least one
indigenous candidate. We also want to see if the likelihood of voting increases with the
number of indigenous candidates. Our second hypothesis is that the more indigenous
candidates, the higher the turnout is among indigenous voters for a given ballot box. While the
first hypothesis is operationalized in a dichotomic way, the latter scrutinize the possibility
that the relationship is continuous. Finally, we want to test a third hypothesis derived from
the affinity voting literature, namely that political parties that present more indigenous
candidates will tend to capture a higher proportion of the indigenous vote.
Our results confirm that turnout was indeed significantly higher in 2015 for our targeted
ballot boxes, reaching 54 per cent. But as Figure 1 shows, the increase is relative when
compared over time. Turnout in the targeted indigenous communities is also still almost
10 per cent lower than the Canadian average. While indigenous individuals voted in higher
number in 2015, they are still less engaged in electoral politics at the federal level than other
Canadians. The so-called “surge” in indigenous voting should therefore be relativized. That
being said, the vote did increase. To what extent this relative increase correlates with the
presence of indigenous candidates? We now turn to this question.
In order to test the effect of affinity voting, we run an OLS regression with turnout as
the dependent variable. Table 3 shows the results. Based on available census data, we included
key control variables generally associated with turnout and vote choice: the proportion of the
population without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate, the median age and the
annual income. We also included as a control factor the percentage of non-indigenous
individuals for corresponding ballot boxes and a variable that takes into account the presence
of an incumbent candidate or not.
We tested three models and in all of them, the results are quite striking. Model 1 is
dichotomous: it looks at the impact of the presence or absence of an indigenous candidate on
turnout. All things being equal, the simple presence of an indigenous candidate increases
turnout by 5.58 per cent. Model 2 offers a more textured view by taking into account the
number of indigenous candidates. Again, the more candidates, the higher the turnout. When
there are four indigenous candidates, turnout is 18.58 per cent higher (that is 4.59 times
It is important to note that the census doesn’t provide information related to socio-economic control variables
for every ballot box. We therefore lose 205 observations in our model. However, there is no systematic pattern
that would result in a selection bias in the withdrawing of these ballot boxes. Results are not affected if we drop
variables with missing values.
four candidates, which is the maximum). We should, however, interpret the results for higher
number of indigenous candidates (3-4) with caution given the small sample of ballot boxes that
qualify (22 in total). Perhaps more significant is the increase in turnout when we go from
one to two candidates. The third model shows this relationship, which appears to be convex
rather than linear. Compared to when there is no indigenous candidate, turnout is 3.8 points
higher when there is one. The relationship is even stronger when there is an addition of
other candidates. For example, there is a significant increase when we move from two to three
indigenous candidates, as the marginal impact on turnout goes from 8.5 to 15.5 per cent.
We also want to test the impact of affinity voting on individual vote preference. To
do so, we look at the relationship between support for political parties and the presence of
indigenous candidates. Our hypothesis is that parties with more indigenous candidates will
receive more votes than parties without. We excluded the Bloc Québécois because it presents
candidates in Québec only and obtains very few votes in indigenous communities. Figure
2 illustrates the vote share of federal parties in our predominantly indigenous ballot boxes.
The Liberal party was largely dominant in 2006, with more than 60 per cent of vote
share. It dropped sharply in 2008 and 2011, only to regain some of its support in 2015.
More significantly, in 2011 and 2015, the Liberal party was essentially replaced by the New
Democratic party as the party of choice for indigenous voters. Support for the Conservative
party and the Green party remained relatively stable. With the exception of 2006, support
for the Liberal party among indigenous voters is more or less consistent with the support the
party received in the overall population (38% in indigenous communities versus 39% overall
in 2015). Of note however is the significantly lower support for the conservative party
compared to its support amongst Canadians (8% versus 31% overall in 2015) and the
comparatively higher support for the New Democratic party (59% versus 20% in 2015),
a party with a social-democratic tradition. It is fair to say that overall, the indigenous vote
is disproportionally captured by the two main parties on the left of the political spectrum.
Ideological inclinations are one possible explanation for party support, but we also want to test
the impact of affinity voting on partisan preferences.
In order to test the impact of affinity voting on party support, we look at the
significance of running indigenous candidates on electoral support for each of the parties,
using a regression model that includes socio-demographic control variables. We also know
that incumbent candidates receive more votes than non-incumbents (Kendall and Rekkas,
2012). We therefore control for that factor as well.
Each model corresponds to one party.
Table 4 presents the results.
There is no ‘Green Incumbent’ variable because no voting booth was located in a district where there was an
incumbent from the Green party.
Every model is a different OLS regression predicting the vote share of every party in
percentage according to various scenarios. The first model tests the impact of indigenous
candidates on Liberal party support, the second the support for the New Democratic party, and
so on. The effect is especially striking for the New Democratic party, but the support for all
parties increases significantly when they run an indigenous candidate. The magnitude of the
impact outweighs that of our control variables. For instance, the Liberal party gains 5.44
percentage points when it runs an indigenous candidate. The New Democratic party obtains
12.7 additional percentage points and the Green 2.77. Interestingly, even when other
parties present indigenous candidates, presenting a First Nation, Inuit or Metis candidate
has a positive and independent impact on vote preferences.
We can therefore confirm the
impact of affinity voting on both turnout and party preference among indigenous voters in
Canada for the 2006 to 2015 elections.
We also ran the analysis while clustering at the district level. The patterns remain the same. Results are
available upon request.
Most studies looking at indigenous electoral engagement in Canada focus on the
reasons for the historically low turnout amongst Indigenous peoples. There is no doubt that
colonial institutions and policies, as well as socio-economic barriers, continue to limit electoral
engagement in many indigenous communities. In light of media reports suggesting a surge
in the indigenous vote for the 2015 federal election, this study nonetheless shift the focus to
those who do vote. In order to shed some light on recent indigenous voting patterns, we
constructed a dataset using census data and electoral results for the 2006, 2008, 2011 and
2015 elections. We were able to isolate 734 ballot boxes where 95 per cent of the electorate
self-identifies as indigenous. This provided us with a significant, although not entirely
representative, sample of indigenous voters in order to study voting patterns over time.
Our results confirm the spike in indigenous turnout for the 2015 elections, although the
increase is not as pronounced as originally suggested in media reports. Numerous factors
can of course explain this increase, including a higher level of frustration with the outgoing
Government and a successful social media campaign to get the vote out in indigenous
communities. Without dismissing these important factors at the national level, we focused
on one relatively simple element that contributes to indigenous turnout at the local level and
explains some of the voting patterns in the communities concerned. Higher voter turnout in
indigenous communities, we argued, correlates with a higher proportion of indigenous
candidates. This is consistent with the literature on affinity voting, which suggests
historically disadvantaged groups tend to vote more when there is a candidate they can
identify with. Our analysis suggests turnout was higher in indigenous communities where
indigenous candidates were on the ballot. Moreover, the more indigenous candidates on the
ballot, the greater the impact on voting behavior. Having three or four indigenous candidates
on the ballot increases turnout by more than 15 percentage points, which is considerable.
Political parties presenting indigenous candidates also benefit from affinity voting patterns. The
more indigenous candidates they present, the higher their support in communities with a high
proportion of indigenous voters.
Those results are based on a limited sample and caution should be exercised in
drawing generalizable conclusions. Most significantly, our dataset underrepresents indigenous
individuals living in the city, who usually display higher level of education and income. We
therefore invite more studies, based on alternative methods and more representative datasets,
to confirm or infirm our results. More factors are certainly also at play in shaping why and
how indigenous individuals vote. A more comprehensive survey-based analysis of
indigenous electors would likely reveal such factors. That being said, our analysis reveals
an important pattern with significant implications both for researchers and policy-makers.
From a research standpoint, the importance of affinity voting challenges some of our
assumptions about indigenous voting, or lack thereof. Without dismissing historical factors
that have created the deep sense of alienation observed in a number of indigenous
communities, we should perhaps rethink how these factors play out in contemporary politics.
A significant proportion of indigenous individuals seem to be influenced in their choice to
vote or not by the presence of indigenous candidates. This, of course, does not mean that
individuals who chose to participate in the electoral process fully accept the legitimacy of
Canadian institutions, let alone Crown authority on their traditional lands and communities.
It does, however, suggest a more complex and multilayered understanding of their membership
in the Canadian political community than previously suggested (Cairns 2000; Papillon 2018).
While it is beyond the scope of this paper, a more fine-tuned analysis is warranted to fully
grasp the implications of this strong pattern of affinity voting.
From a policy standpoint, our results suggest a clear pathway for those who seek to
increase indigenous participation in electoral politics. Who is on the ballot seems to matter
greatly in indigenous communities. Political parties have everything to gain in running
indigenous candidates in ridings with a high proportion of indigenous electors. Our results
also bring water to the mill for those advocating for a more representative electoral system
or a model of guaranteed indigenous seats in Parliament as partial responses to the legitimacy
deficit facing Canada’s democratic institutions (Flowers, February 17, 2017)
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