The defeat of Stephen Harper: A case study in social movement electoralism

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This article aims to identify the key electoral dynamics of the 2015 federal election in Canada, an election which ended 10 years of Conservative rule and propelled the Liberals to office, under new leader Justin Trudeau. It suggests, building on the work of Rosa Luxemburg, that social movement electoralism—motivated by a strong anti-Tory sentiment—best captures the phenomenon of millions of new voters arriving at the ballot box. Using comparative data at a national, regional, and riding level, the article posits that the 2015 election witnessed an unprecedented increase in voter turnout, an increase that disproportionately benefitted the Liberals. Activist-driven strategic voting can only account for a small proportion of this turn to the Liberals, and the article introduces a Hypothetical Strategic Voting Test to make this point. The social movement electoralism framework has implications not just for our understanding of this and future elections, but for our understanding of the nature of contemporary democracy itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-623
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Canadian Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep. 2018


  • Electoralism
  • Liberal
  • NDP
  • Rosa Luxemburg
  • Social movements
  • Strategic voting


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