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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
September 17, 2014
Canadian Excellence

Public Opinion and Electoral Studies

The public opinion and electoral studies field (POES) focuses on the "human" side of politics: voting, public opinion, collective action, culture, values, social movements, groups, leadership, attitudes, legitimacy, media, and so forth. In addition, the field looks at institutional factors that may influence behaviour, such as the electoral system and party organizations.

This site offers more information to prospective MA students considering this exciting sub-field.

Advantages of the Public Opinion/Electoral Studies field:

  • Wilfrid Laurier University offers the only Ontario master's program political science with a field dedicated to public opinion and electoral studies, and the only such curriculum among Canada's English-speaking universities.
  • The sub-field is very interdisciplinary, drawing on theories from psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology, and now even biology.
  • Graduates acquire research skills needed for careers in government, consulting, polling, and advocacy.
  • The Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP) offers many opportunities to engage in ongoing research projects.
  • Ipsos Reid, one of the world's largest polling firms, has recently donated a large quantity of public opinion data to WLU, which is currently being mined by LISPOP associates. The donation includes unique large-sample surveys administered during federal and provincial elections.

To apply, visit:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

  1. "I was never really good at math, so should I avoid this field?"  Being "good at math" is not a requirement to perform well. Although the sub-field has a reputation of relying heavily on quantitative methods, research today employs a wide variety of methodologies. Other sub-fields of political science have also grown more empirical. The advanced methods course (PO603, see below) does not require a deep mathematical background.

  2. "Does the sub-field focus primarily on Canadian politics?" At one time, much of the sub-field focused on American politics. This is no longer true. The field has broadened to include leading researchers on every continent. In addition, the field has accumulated a great deal of data that much research today is comparative. Some of the more interesting work concerns political attitudes in emerging democracies of the developing world.

  3. "Is the field more practical and technical compared to theoretical and conceptual?" The entire field is driven by some of the more central questions and debates of political science, such as those related to rational choice, decision making, mass behaviour, collective action, organizational behaviour, and political culture, to name a few. Since the sub-field emphasises solid methodology, it sometimes projects a "technical" impression. But the "big picture" questions are never shunned. The objective is to offer a precise answer to real-world problems related to how people think and act in a political system.

Do you have a question that is not covered here? Then send it by email to:

Related Courses:

  • PO603, Applied Research Methods. This course provides students with an overview of the typical analytical techniques encountered in the field of public opinion and electoral behaviour.
  • PO631, Political Parties: A comparative discussion of party systems and the role political parties play in the electoral process.
  • PO632, Electoral Behaviour. An advanced seminar addressing the electoral process and the various factors that influence individuals' voting behaviour, with special emphasis on Canada and the United States.
  • PO633, Public Opinion. An advanced seminar that explores the structure of political thinking at the individual level, examines factors accounting for individual differences in opinions and attitudes, and investigates factors affecting the movement of public opinion at the aggregate level.

Suggestions for a Major Research Paper:

Students who pursue an MRP generally follow their own ideas and interests. The following are suggested by individual faculty members associated with the POES field. Students are invited to contact any member to explore further ideas for a research project.

Suggested MRP ideas Contact
Why do lifestyle choices relating to marriage trump gender and many demographics in their association with vote choice? Dr. Barry Kay
Is the traditional Catholic-Protestant distinction in vote choice relevant to Canadians?
What are the relationships between cultural and ethnic diversity, socioeconomic inequalities, and political attitudes? Dr. Loren King
What are the correlates of geographic variation in political values and participation?
In what societies and in what context does "class" emerge as an important driver of voting decisions? Dr. Andrea Perrella
Do emerging democracies fail because they lack a democratic "political culture" or because they lack economic stability?
Is "political information" relevant for young voters? Dr. Jason Roy
How has increased use of social media tools influenced Canadian political behaviour?
Constituency and list MPs in MMP electoral systems: Two different classes of representatives? A case study of Scotland and New Zealand. Dr. Brian Tanguay
What explains the differing levels of success of rightwing populist parties in Canada and Australia?

Some other graduate project topics in Public Opinion/Electoral Studies:

  • Democratic development
  • Elections
  • Electoral systems and reform
  • Parties and party systems
  • Political communication (media and politics)
  • Political culture
  • Political psychology
  • Public opinion
  • Referenda
  • Social movements
  • Voter turnout
  • Voting behaviour

Recently Completed Major Research Papers and Theses

  • Borden, Joshua. 2012. "Visible Minority Candidates in Canadian Political Parties: Barriers to Electoral Success." Supervisor: Dr. Brian Tanguay; Second reader: Dr. Jason Roy.
  • Draper, Steven. 2011. "Economic Vulnerability and the Radical Right in Post-Communist Europe." Supervisor: Dr. Dejan Guzina; Second reader: Dr. Jason Roy.
  • Morano, Natasha. 2009. "Media Interference: The Effects of Framing the "Toronto 18" Terrorists Arrests." Supervisor: Dr. Andrea Perrella; Second reader: Geoffrey Stevens.
  • Morrison, Matt. 2009. "What Makes a Social Movement Successful? The Case of the Christian Right in American Politics." Supervisor: Dr. Barry Kay; Second reader: Dr. Andrea Perrella.
  • Piscitelli, Anthony. 2011. "Cleaning Up Broken Windows: Fear of Crime and its Relationship with Civic Engagement."  Supervisor: Dr. Andrea Perrella; Second reader: Dr. Robert Williams; External referee: Dr. Tom Brenner (University of Waterloo).
  • Power, Nicole. 2012. "Online Political Engagement in the 2011 Canadian Federal Election: Mobilizing or Reinforcing?" Supervisor: Dr. Jason Roy; Second reader: Dr. Tamara Small.
  • Pulman, Victoria. 2012. "Surveying the Future: How Do New and Emerging Methodologies Affect Our Ability to Study Political Behaviour?" Supervisor: Dr. Andrea Perrella; Second reader: Dr. Jason Roy.
  • Summerlee, Lydia. 2011. "Assessing the Stability of Elite Political Culture: An Empirical Analysis of the Attitudes of Elected Officials in Canada." Supervisor: Dr. David Docherty; Second reader:Dr. Andrea Perrella; External referee: Dr. Maureen Mancuso (University of Guelph)

From some recent graduates...

"I don't consider myself to be a natural mathematician, but Laurierís hands-on approach to teaching research methods has given me a very solid foundation in qualitative and quantitative techniques. Thanks to professors who helped students navigate the lab setting and encouraged us to pursue original research, I now feel comfortable with analyzing public opinion data."

Jessica Spindler, MA (2010), Legislative Assistant for David Orazietti, MPP

"As a researcher at Ipsos Reid's Public Affairs Division, 90% of what I learned in my MA has already been useful and valuable to me in my work. Looking at statistics and analyzing data is a breeze thanks to the valuable skills I acquired. The program was a perfect balance of theoretical approaches and practical skills required to understand numbers that apply to real scenarios."

Katherine Serwin, MA (2010), Assistant Policy Advisor, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

"The unique specialization and  the first-rate professors left me with a distinct advantage over many of my peers who spent years working through more generic social-science programs. Courses were exciting and challenging, but it was only after returning to the workforce that I truly realized their value. I highly recommend this field to anyone interested in a career in electoral and party politics or the public opinion and social research industry."

Jayson McDonald, MA (2008), Legislative and Communications Assistant for John Rafferty, MP

"The programís hands-on experience with analyzing public opinion and other data provided a solid background for careers in marketing or social research. The field really took me beyond just looking at the numbers, but taught me to find the meaning in the statistics and apply them to real-life situations. The bottom line is that the program is excellent and opened many doors for me in terms of employment and career opportunities."

Craig Wood, MA (2008), Institutional Research Officer, Medicine Hat College, Alberta

"This program provided me with the building blocks for a career in research that I now bring to my current role as Senior Manager, including how to select and execute the appropriate methodology, survey design, data analysis, and reporting results. I highly recommend this program to anyone interested in marketing research, public opinion or electoral studies."

Stephanie Blenkiron, MA (2005), Senior Research Manager, Maritz Research Canada, Toronto 

Contact Information:

For more information about this MA option, please contact Dr. Andrea Perrella