By Patrick B. Craine

MONTREAL, Quebec, July 31, 2009 ( – A group of Canadian political scientists have found that the Catholic vote, along with that of visible minorities, played a significant role in the Liberals' fall from power in the course of the 2000 to 2008 Canadian federal elections. 

The study, principally authored by Professor Elisabeth Gidengil of McGill University, analyzes the causes of the Liberals' “historic defeat” in the 2008 election.  Entitled 'The Anatomy of a Liberal Defeat,' it was prepared to present at the May 2009 annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association at Carleton University.

According to the study, “A close look at the sources of Liberal dominance in [the 2000] election reveals that the support of Catholics and visible minorities was a critical ingredient.”

“The Liberals were able to coast to victory in 2000 with the support of two key groups: visible minorities and Catholics,” the study says, but “by 2008, the Liberals could no longer count on their loyalty.”

According to their figures, in 2000, 70% of the visible minority vote went to the Liberals.  The Liberals dropped 14 points in 2004, primarily to the NDP, and remained basically the same in 2006.  But in 2008, they dropped another 19 points, this time largely to the Conservatives, who then received almost as much of the vote as the Liberals.

“The Catholic vote tells a similar story,” they say, with Catholic support dropping “a massive 24 points” since the 2000 election, dropping from 54% to 30% in 2008.  In 2006, the Liberals and Conservatives received about the same percentage of the Catholic vote, but by 2008, the Conservatives far exceeded the Liberals with over 40%.

Why have Catholics come to favor the Conservatives?  “The common assumption has been that the same-sex marriage issue cost the Liberals the support of many Catholics,” the authors say, but according to them, “this is simply not the case, at least in 2004 and 2006.”

They say that the most important factor in 2004 and 2006 was the sponsorship scandal, but pro-life concerns also had a major impact.  While “opposition to same-sex marriage did not have a significant effect on the probability that a Catholic vote would vote Liberal,” the study says, “…in 2006, views about abortion did.”

In 2008, however, Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage was a factor, it says.  “The story is different in 2008.  It was not Dion and it was not the green shift. In contrast to 2004 and 2006, Catholics who oppose same-sex marriage were less likely to vote Liberal.”

The other major new factor in the 2008 election, according to the study, was the vote of Catholics who believe in the divine inspiration of Scripture.  In 2008, they say, “for the first time, Catholics who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God were significantly less likely to vote Liberal.”

The authors conclude that “the Liberals can no longer take the support of Catholics or visible minority voters for granted. … Catholics and minority voters have been the twin pillars of Liberal dominance, but their support is clearly crumbling. The Liberals' failure to own a single major issue in 2008 underlines just how serious the party's situation has become.”

They emphasize the Liberals' need to regain the vote of Catholics and visible minorities.  “To return to power, the Liberals have to recognize that simply replacing the leader and forgetting about the green shift is not going to be enough. They have to go back to basics and rebuild their partisan base.”


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