Challenge of Direct Democracy

Challenge of Direct Democracy: The 1992 Canadian Referendum

RICHARD JOHNSTON
ANDRÉ BLAIS
ELISABETH GIDENGIL
NEIL NEVITTE
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 352
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt80hpv
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  • Book Info
    Challenge of Direct Democracy
    Book Description:

    Based on extensive surveys conducted during and after the campaign, The Challenge of Direct Democracy is a comprehensive investigation of voter opinion, intention, perception, and behaviour in a referendum. The authors investigate voters' responses to arguments for and against the Accord, examine how well informed voters were, and explore a variety of explanations to account for the negative result.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6629-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    In October 1992 Canada’s political leaders asked the country’s voters to accept the Charlottetown Accord, a comprehensive package of constitutional amendments, the product of years of negotiation, consultation, and compromise. Voters rejected the Accord outright; they said No, simply halting Canada’s formal constitutional evolution. But what did they mean when they did so? Would they have said Yes to any proposal? And did they really know what they were doing?

    The first and second questions are critical to understanding the place of the 1992 referendum¹ in Canadian history. It is natural to wonder if the referendum foreshadows theendof...

  5. 1 The Challenge of Direct Democracy
    (pp. 9-41)

    One key opponent of the Charlottetown Accord was Preston Manning, leader of the Reform Party, a new and apparently growing political force. Reform presented itself as a populist movement, sympathetic in principle to direct democracy, including the referendum. When the time came to announce his position, Manning summarized it with a clever double entendre, “Know More.” This sounded like “No More,” and played into voters’ constitutional fatigue. But it also suggested that the more voters learned about the Accord, the less they would like it. This suggestion carried a subtext that suited Reform perfectly: an image of democratic action in...

  6. 2 Coming Through Charlottetown
    (pp. 42-74)

    The seeds for the 1992 débâcle were sown a decade earlier. The process that ended with the Charlottetown Accord began as an attempt to close gaps left by a settlement entrenched in 1982. At various points, negotiations stalled as attempts to satisfy one interest provoked opposition from others. Satisfying one seemed to require satisfying all, hence the delicacy and complexity of the bargain ultimately reached at Charlottetown. At critical junctures the exact sequence by which certain elements got included forced other, probably fatal, inclusions.

    If the failure of the Accord reaffirmed how hard it is to alter Canada’s constitution, the...

  7. 3 The Charlottetown Accord as a Coalition
    (pp. 75-95)

    Day to day, politics is about building coalitions of minorities, about reconciling opposites. In this respect, the Charlottetown Accord was just day-to-day politics writ large. It had “something for everyone”: it attempted to respond to the reality that various segments of Canadian society have different grievances and that these grievances are hard to redress all at once. Selling such a package required two qualitatively different kinds of claim, “carrots” and “sticks.” General arguments were the sticks: all Canadians would suffer economically and politically should the Yes lose. Specific arguments were the carrots, and there were different carrots to win over,...

  8. 4 Beyond Coalition-Building
    (pp. 96-115)

    If the Accord was such a bad bargain, why did so many voters consider supporting it? Some may have suppressed doubts about specifics and accepted claims about the package as a whole. Voters were urged to accept half a loaf, the alternative being none. Voters were also asked to ponder the consequences of failure, to ask if the status quo was acceptable, even sustainable. If such arguments helped the Yes side at the start, they did not suffice at the end.

    Was one’s province a winner or a loser?The crudest argument invited voters to focus on the general interest...

  9. 5 Locating the Accord
    (pp. 116-142)

    How did voters reach positions described in the preceding two chapters? Some voters could figure things out for themselves, obviously, but for many, shortcuts were necessary. The most obvious shortcut was to listen to well-placed commentators: agenda-setters, the Charlottetown negotiators themselves; and key intervenors, both the formidable coalition that formed around negotiators and the scattered forces in opposition. To assess the value of each agenda-setter or intervenor, the key issue was where that person or group came from, where he or she was on the policy landscape. If voters could locate intervenors, they could also get some sense of the...

  10. 6 Polls and Expectations: Further Explorations in Campaign Dynamics
    (pp. 143-159)

    If Pierre Trudeau was the biggest story of campaign dynamics, he could not have been the only one. The 2O-point drop in Yes share induced by the Egg Roll speech did not last. According to Figure 2-1, about half the drop was erased within roughly one week. But if the total post-Egg Roll drop was not sustained, neither was the 10-point recovery. Something else came along to knock the Yes share back down. This chapter considers the possibility that reality fell prey to expectations, to voters’ sense of the chances of a Yes majority.

    Expectations might matter for reasons canvassed...

  11. 7 Social Structure and Sentiment
    (pp. 160-191)

    Was the battle closely fought within the electorate’s social and economic subgroups, or was the conflict mainly between groups? If group membership explained only a small part of the vote, did group sentiment pick up the slack?

    Group-related attitudes can be very crude or quite sophisticated. The crudest sentiments in play were mere feelings, for Quebec in particular. Voters did more than just indulge feelings about Canada’s group structure, however. They also entertained such thoughts as whether any groups have a distinctive claim, and whether decision rules should presumptively favour majorities or minorities. Either type of consideration — raw feeling or...

  12. 8 Why Did Quebec Say No?
    (pp. 192-218)

    The Quebec campaign was over before it officially began. The province may have been prepared to say Yes for a very brief moment in the unofficial campaign during late August or early September, but otherwise the Yes share was well short of a majority. But if Quebec was almost always off side, its rejection of the Accord was never as one-sided as in, say, the West. In Quebec, there just was little room to move.

    The weakness of campaign dynamics reflected the fact that half or more of the Quebec electorate was committed in advance to one side or the...

  13. 9 “Know More”: Education, Knowledge, and the Vote
    (pp. 219-251)

    University-educated Canadians were one of the few large electoral groups to vote Yes. This was true both outside Quebec and in Quebec’s critical middle group, francophone non-sovereignists. But why? Did education produce political awareness and did awareness, in turn, promote a Yes vote? To put it crudely — and turn Preston Manning’s admonition on its head — did university-educated voters say Yes because they did in fact “know more”? Canada in 1992 exemplified a pattern widely remarked empirically and commonly thought to reflect the operation of the mainstream effect identified in chapter¹. In its exalted version, the mainstream effect sees well-educated voters...

  14. 10 Simple Majorities in Complex Societies: Direct Democracy and High Politics
    (pp. 252-274)

    Was the referendum foolish, then? The vote on the Charlottetown Accord seemed only to continue Canada’s dreary plebiscitory history. National plebiscites were held twice before, and hindsight regards each as an unhappy experience. They all gave the “wrong” answer, or the “right” answer in the wrong places, and each was deeply divisive. The dreariness is inescapable, for Canada, on this view, is precisely the sort of country that should never conduct national referendums.

    Rule by simple popular majority presupposes underlying sociopolitical unity. Even when, as in 1992, a referendum’s rules are super-majoritarian, direct votes are brutal in their transparency. Where...

  15. 11 Conclusions
    (pp. 275-286)

    The lessons of the 1992 referendum can be found at several levels. The most obvious question is: What did voters mean by rejecting the Charlottetown Accord? The answers to this question tell a story about Canadian constitutional politics. Rejection of this particular document naturally makes one ask if any measure would have passed. Would Canadians have rejected any proposal the political elite was realistically likely to make? This question shades into cross-national comparisons. The final question is the most general, probably the most enduring: Did Canadian voters really know what they were doing?

    Did the rest of Canada say No...

  16. APPENDIX A: Design of the 1992 Sample
    (pp. 287-288)
  17. APPENDIX B: Selected Items from the 1992-3 Canadian Referendum and Election Survey
    (pp. 289-294)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 295-324)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-334)
  20. Index
    (pp. 335-338)