The Challenge of Direct Democracy: The 1992 Canadian Referendum


338 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-1505-4
DDC 971.064'7




Reviewed by Eric P. Mintz

Eric P. Mintz is an associate professor of political science at Sir
Wilfred Grenfell College, The Memorial University of Newfoundland.


The 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown Accord has important
implications both for the future of Canada and for the nature of
democracy in Canada. Using a rolling sample conducted throughout the
referendum campaign along with a final postreferendum survey, the
authors provide a thorough examination of voting behavior in the

In Quebec, the “yes” side faced the obstacle that the large block
favorable to sovereignty were committed to voting no. In the rest of
Canada, Trudeau’s interventions against the Accord (although,
perversely not Manning’s interventions), Mulroney’s unpopularity,
opposition to the distinct society clause, negative views on whether
their province gained in the Accord, and the tendency not to view the
threat of Quebec separation as credible contributed to the no vote. The
authors single out the guarantee of 25 percent representation for
Quebec, in the House of Commons as having been particularly important to
the outcome: it did little to contribute to the yes vote in Quebec,
while a large majority in the rest of Canada opposed it. Likewise, the
connected proposal for Senate reform raised concerns in Quebec about a
possible decline in power for Quebec in Parliament while gaining little
support for the Accord in the rest of Canada. More generally, the
authors find that feelings about Canada affected how Quebeckers voted,
and feelings about Quebec affected how the rest of Canada voted.

Although the authors conclude that a constitutional agreement better
designed to appeal to voters might be able to succeed by a narrow
margin, they also conclude that, compared to well-informed voters,
voters with low levels of information—of whom there are many—are
less likely to act in accordance with their interests, more likely to be
affected by feelings about groups (particularly in the sense of being
negative toward groups to which they do not belong), and more likely to
be swayed by polling results.

The Challenge of Direct Democracy provides a sophisticated and
comprehensive analysis of referendum voting behavior, but unfortunately
does not discuss the varying levels of turnout across the country.
However, its conclusions are important. Readers unfamiliar with
political-behavior research will not find this book easy to read.


Johnston, Richard, et al., “The Challenge of Direct Democracy: The 1992 Canadian Referendum,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024,