Explaining Aboriginal Turnout in Federal Elections: Evidence from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

Lay Summary 

Widespread inclusive political participation is a central value for liberal democrats. The recent slide in voter turnout has caused much discussion of the factors contributing to the decline. Turnout among Aboriginal peoples is commonly thought to be much less than that of the general electorate. Turnout rates among Aboriginals have seldom been the focus of commentary, much less the focus of sustained empirical investigation.

What explains patterns of voter turnout and abstention among Aboriginal peoples in Canada? Standard models of turnout emphasize factors such as socioeconomic resources, engagement with politics, and involvement in mobilizing social networks. In addition to the standard predictors, the Canadian turnout literature has highlighted the role of generational change and the competitiveness of elections. What is unknown is the degree to which these forces operate in generic ways among Aboriginals.

This paper, examines this question by taking advantage of a unique dataset, the Equality, Security, Community Survey, which includes a large and representative sample of Canadians collected in 2000 and a unique sample of Aboriginals on the Prairies collected in 2004. These data permit us to speak with unprecedented clarity on the nature and determinants of Aboriginal participation in Canadian federal elections. Our analysis unfolds in two steps. First, we assess the applicability of standard turnout models to Aboriginals. Second, we expand the turnout model to examine factors specific to Aboriginal communities that may promote turnout, including differences across First-Nations communities, involvement in Aboriginal politics, and the concentration and salience of Aboriginal issues. We conclude by discussing the policy implications of the findings.

Published in: Aboriginal Policy Research: Voting, Governance and Research Methodology, edited by Jerry P. White, Julie Peters, Dan Beavon and Peter Dinsdale. Volume 10, 2011 Toronto, Thompson Educational Publishing, Inc.

Political Science
St. John's
Newfoundland and Labrador
Aboriginal Peoples
Industry Sectors 
Scientific Research and Development Services
Public Administration
Start date 
1 Jan 2011