How diverse is Canadian politics?

Much has been written about Canada’s diversity, but is that diversity reflected in our elected institutions? Our new dataset suggests not really. I worked with Marc André Bodet, Melanee Thomas, and Anna Johnson to create the first publicly available district-level dataset that tracks candidate gender, race, Indigenous background, age and occupation for federal elections from 2008-2019. It includes information on more than 4,500 candidates who ran for the major federal parties, and also has variables on incumbency, electoral outcome, and district competitiveness.

The dataset can be downloaded and used to answer a variety of questions about diversity in Canadian politics. It can also be combined with other datasets to understand the relationship between diversity, media coverage, political donations, and representation.

Overview of the DatasetDownload the Data from Dataverse

Anna Elizabeth Johnson; Erin Tolley; Melanee Thomas; Marc A. Bodet, 2021, “Dataset on the Demographics of Canadian Federal Election Candidates (2008-2019)”,, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:l3XZtRo/Ob017+yomN//hw== [fileUNF]

Ethnicity and political donations

Despite increased attention to ethnic differences in political behavior, there is little research on ethnic minorities as political donors and almost none outside the United States.

We draw on an administrative dataset of contributions to candidates, which we augment with donors’ ethnicity. Focusing on the 2015 Canadian election, we find ethnic minorities are generally less likely to donate than other Canadians, but South Asian Canadians donate at astonishingly high rates. Contrary to previous research, there are only modest differences in the size of donations across ethnic groups.

Linking donation data to candidate characteristics and census data reveals substantial co-ethnic affinity effects among Chinese and South Asian Canadians. Even in the absence of co-ethnic candidates, however, South Asians donate at a substantial rate. The proportion of donations to out-of-district and weaker candidates is also quite high, which could signal symbolic considerations are especially important to ethnic minority donors. The substantial heterogeneity between ethnic groups and the different effects on rates versus size of donations add important nuance to our knowledge of ethnicity and political behaviour.

View this Preprint

Randy Besco & Erin Tolley (2020) Ethnic group differences in donations to electoral candidates, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies,DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2020.1804339

Race and candidate recruitment

There is growing attention to the descriptive representation of racialized minorities in politics. However, because of a systematic lack of data on nomination contestants’ racial backgrounds, most research looks at outcomes on election day, thus ignoring the crucial stages that help to shape minority candidate emergence.

Using a unique data set on nomination contestants and local party presidents in a recent Canadian election, this study demonstrates that while district diversity is one determinant of minority candidate emergence, the presence of a racialized local party president is also substantively important. In other words, if you’re a prospective candidate, who you know matters. The findings show that racialized party gatekeepers play a key role in the emergence of minority candidates, and these networks matter most in the districts with lower levels of racial diversity. The findings further suggest the general pattern of left-center parties facilitating minority candidate emergence may not apply in the Canadian context.

View this Preprint

Tolley, Erin. 2019. Who You Know: Local Party Presidents and Minority Candidate Emergence. Electoral Studies 58: 70-79.