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Electoral Insight – New Ways of Building Democracy

Electoral Insight – November 1999

Third Party Expenditures: An Analysis of the 1997 Canadian Election Study

Tony Coulson
Former Research Project Officer, Elections Canada

The results presented here are based on the mail-back component of the survey in the 1997 Canadian Election Study. The sample size is 1 848 and the margin of error is approximately 2.3 percent. The approximate margins of error for the provincial/regional samples are as follows: Atlantic Canada, 7.5 percent; Quebec, 4.6 percent; Ontario, 3.7 percent; Manitoba/Saskatchewan, 8.5 percent; Alberta, 7.3 percent; and British Columbia, 6.7 percent.

To determine the degree to which Canadians support limits on candidate and political party expenditures, survey respondents were asked: Do you think political parties and candidates should be allowed to spend as much as they want in an election campaign or should there be a limit on what they can spend? The results demonstrate strong support for limits on party and candidate spending; 93.8 percent responded that there should be a limit, 4.3 percent indicated that there should be no limit, and 1.9 percent were not sure. There are no major differences by region.

Who Should Be Allowed to Advertise during Election Campaigns?
REGION* ONLY PARTIES AND CANDIDATES OTHER INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS ALSO NOT SURE
National result 35 50 15
Atlantic Canada 27 58 15
Quebec 51 35 14
Ontario 31 54 16
Manitoba/Saskatchewan 29 58 14
Alberta 28 50 22
British Columbia 32 58 10
Territories 20 60 20

*Regional groupings are based on sample size and margin of error.

Should Third Party Spending Be Limited?
REGION* YES NO NOT SURE
National result 83 11 7
Atlantic Canada 86 9 5
Quebec 92 5 3
Ontario 78 13 9
Manitoba/Saskatchewan 85 10 5
Alberta 78 14 9
British Columbia 80 13 7
Territories 75 25 -

*Regional groupings are based on sample size and margin of error.

Should Individuals and Groups Be Allowed to Spend Less, the Same, or More than Candidates?
REGION* LESS THAN SAME AS MORE THAN NOT SURE
National result 31 48 4 18
Atlantic Canada 31 52 4 13
Quebec 43 39 1 17
Ontario 25 51 5 19
Manitoba/Saskatchewan 33 46 8 14
Alberta 26 49 6 19
British Columbia 24 54 3 18
Territories 25 50 - 25

*Regional groupings are based on sample size and margin of error.


To assess public attitudes toward the participation and spending of third party electoral participants, survey respondents were asked: Which comes closer to your own view: "only political parties and candidates should be allowed to advertise during election campaigns" or "advertising by other individuals and groups should also be allowed during election campaigns"? In response, 35 percent indicated that only political parties and candidates should be allowed to advertise during election campaigns; 50.1 percent responded that advertising by other individuals and groups should also be allowed; and 14.9 percent were not sure. The results by region follow.

Residents of Quebec are the least supportive of allowing interest groups to participate in election campaigns (35 percent).

Respondents were also asked: If individuals and groups other than candidates and political parties are going to advertise during election campaigns, should there be a limit on what they can spend? Overall, 82.7 percent answered yes, 10.7 percent answered no, and 6.6 percent were not sure. The results by region follow.

To obtain a sense of the type of spending limit that Canadians would consider fair, respondents were asked: Suppose individuals and groups can advertise, should they be allowed to spend: "less than candidates", "the same as candidates", or "more than candidates"? In response, 48.1 percent indicated that third parties should be allowed to spend "the same as candidates"; 31 percent responded "less than candidates"; 3.8 percent responded "more than candidates"; and 17.7 percent were not sure. A large majority of respondents are of the opinion that third parties should not be permitted to spend more than candidates (79 percent). The following data suggest that Canadians are divided on this question by region.

These results are consistent with those of a study conducted for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing. According to that study, when faced with the choice of having spending limits for all participants, including third parties, or limits for none, 90 percent of Canadians opted for controls (Blais and Gidengil, RCERPF research volume 17, 1991: 84-89).


Note: 

The opinions expressed are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada.