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The Urban-Rural Factor

April 19th, 2011 · andrea

By Barry Kay

A demographic correlate of partisanship that many election observers know from simply looking at a map is the urban-rural distinction. Anyone who has seen an Elections Canada map know that the presence of Liberal red  is largely concentrated around the big cities, and much of the rest apart from Quebec is coloured Conservative blue. This visually distorts the reality of where Canadians live, but reflects the fact that those in less densely populated areas tend to vote Conservative.

Noting the size of one’s community doesn’t explain the whole story however. Certainly Canada’s three largest metropolitan centres of over one million, are electoral wastelands for the Conservative Party. However when one moves to the next population category, they find that centres of 500,000  to a million indicate more Conservative support than any other classification. That is because it includes the two Alberta cities of Calgary and Edmonton.

In reality once region is controlled, population size has a very modest relationship with party support, apart from that big metroplitan category of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. It is only among these three largest cities where there is a distinctive pattern.

Table 1: 2008 Vote by Community Size
Cons. Lib. NDP Other
Over 1 million 30.4 39.2 13.2 18.2
500k-1 million 52 22.2 13 12.8
100k-500k 40.8 28.4 20.1 10.7
10k-100k 46.5 24.1 14.6 14.9
1500-10k 44.3 22.1 15.9 17.8
Under 1500 44.3 20.1 17.7 17.9
Source: Ipsos Reid, 2008


Data not presented here suggests these centres are home to disproportionate numbers of unmarried voters, renters, recent immigrants, gays and non-religious citizens, all categories associated with Liberal or NDP support rather than Conservative. In other words, apparent differences by community size, are largely accounted for by other demographic factors. It would seem that vote differences in various sized communities is itself related to the different demographics among them.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J.K. Gailbraith // May 1, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Is there a formal lisiting somewhere riding by riding of which ones are urband and rural? I see a lot of writing about this divide but have found it hard to find a full breakdown that actually uses Statistics Canada definitions of what is urban and rural.

  • 2 bill // Apr 24, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    it would be helpful if our so called polls could be trusted, how can there be such variation? Are many of these polls trying for a self fullfilling result?

  • 3 Barry // Apr 23, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Are the GTA’s suburb cities (Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan, Pickering, Oshawa etc.) being included in the over 1 million community size category (i.e., as part of Toronto)?

  • 4 Joella Kesterson // Apr 23, 2011 at 7:17 am

    My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

  • 5 mikeross // Apr 22, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

  • 6 Jeffrey // Apr 19, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    They are just analyzing Canada as a whole, including Bloc would be very difficult because they probably don’t have enough data. As well, they have mentioned before on the website that the Green Party will start to be included in seat projections, etc. when they either have valid support to gain a seat or they actually have a seat. But either way, showing green support wouldn’t be worth it for this article because it is looking at noticeable patterns in differently populated areas and green support is probably spread out in patches.

  • 7 Bob // Apr 19, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    It would help if you broke out Bloc and Green in the “other” category.