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Public Opinion and Policy Making in Canada 1994–2001

  • François Petry (a1) and Matthew Mendelsohn (a2)


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.

Résumé. En comparant 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 d'adéquation 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 corrélation 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 politiques 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.


Corresponding author

François Petry, Department of Political Science, Université Laval, Quebec, QC G1K 7P4;
Matthew Mendelsohn, Department of Political Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6;


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Public Opinion and Policy Making in Canada 1994–2001

  • François Petry (a1) and Matthew Mendelsohn (a2)


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