Poverty and Political Movements

  • Maurice Pinard


The analysis of the rise of the Social Credit party in Quebec in the federal election of 1962 revealed that there is a strong linear and positive relationship between short-term changes for the worse in one’s economic conditions and Social Credit support. Unemployment in the respondents’ family, for instance, bears a strong positive relationship to the support for this political movement.1 On the basis of this, one could be tempted to infer that the party got a disproportionate support from the lower classes and, more specifically, that the poor were the most likely supporters of the new party. Is this so? Were the poor particularly strong supporters of Social Credit? And, more generally, do the poor form the basis on which protest movements are built?


Income Group Occupational Group Curvilinear Relationship Political Behaviour Part Versus 
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  1. 2.
    Quoted by Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1960), p. 34.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    V. O. Key, Jr., Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups (4th ed.; New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1958), p. 28.Google Scholar
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    Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (Rev. ed.; New York: Collier Books, 1962), p. 31. Italics in original.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Ralph H. Turner and Lewis M. Killian, Collective Behavior (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1957), p. 432. Italics in original.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    S. M. Lipset, Agrarian Socialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1950), p. 29. Lipset also developed the same theme in his Political Man (Garden City: Doubleday, 1960), p. 63.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    James C. Davies, “Toward a Theory of Revolution”, American Sociological Review, 27 (1962), p. 7. See alsoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Wm. Bruce Cameron, Modern Social Movements (New York: Random House, 1966), pp. 39–40;Google Scholar
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  9. 8.
    The Conference on Economic Progress has defined on the basis of studies by the U.S. Department of Labor that families in the U.S.A. with an income below $4,000 “live in poverty”, while those with an income between $4,000 and $5,999 “live in deprivation”. See Conference on Economic Progress, Poverty and Deprivation in the United States: The Plight of Two-Fifths of a Nation (Washington, 1962), especially chapter 3. It is interesting to note that the main break in the data is at a net income of $3,500, which is close to the above definition for the poverty level.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    In his analysis of Gallup poll data, Alford reports that “the emerging Social Credit party took over the votes of the poorer Quebeckexs”. This divergent finding may be due to the loose definition of socio-economic status (interviewers’ ratings from A to D) and/or to the fact that he does not control for immediate strains in the respondents’ families as we do. Robert R. Alford, “The Social Basis of Political Cleavage in 1962”, this volume, V/28. However, using aggregrate data, Irving reports a finding similar to ours (see Table 3). W. P. Irvine, “An Analysis of Voting Shifts in Quebec”, in John Meisel (ed.), Papers on the 1962 Election (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965), pp. 131–2.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Very much like Father Coughlin’s movement in the United States during the thirties. See S. M. Lipset, “Three Decades of the Radical Right: Coughlinites, McCarthyites, and Birchers”, in Daniel Bell (ed.), The Radical Right (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1964), pp. 374–446, especially pp. 374–91.Google Scholar
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    Claude Leleu, “La géographie des partis dans L’Isère”, in Maurice Duverger et al., Les élections du 2 janvier 1956 (Paris: A. Colin, 1957), pp. 393 ff. (my translation).Google Scholar
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    Irving Crespi, “The Structural Basis for Right-Wing Conservatism: The Goldwater Case”, Public Opinion Quarterly, XXIX (Winter 1965–1966), pp. 523–43, especially pp. 529 and 533.Google Scholar
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    See Maurice Pinard, Jerome Kirk, and Donald Von Eschen, “The Growth of the Sit-in Movement: Some Processes” (typescript, 1966). Ns equal to 58, 45, and 97 respectively.Google Scholar
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    See James C. Davies, op. cit. In trying to explain why some workers in France and Italy are not Communist voters, Cantril wrote that many are too much concerned with their own daily personal problems and “just don’t see any point in worrying about the political scene because their own private worries are so pressing”. H. Cantril, The Politics of Despair (New York: Basic Books, 1958), pp. 119–20. See also S. M. Lipset, Political Man, pp. 150 ff. and pp. 113 ff.;Google Scholar
  16. Genevieve Knupfer, “Portrait of the Underdog”, in R. Bendix and S. M. Lipset, Class, Status and Power (Glencoe: Free Press, 1957), pp. 255 ff.; Donald R. Whyte, “Sociological Aspects of Poverty: A Conceptual Analysis”, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology (1965), pp. 175–89; andGoogle Scholar
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  18. 21.
    Kahl, in his analysis of the values of the various classes, writes that “the lower-class persons … react to their [conditions] by becoming fatalistic, they feel that they are down and out, and that there is no point in trying to improve, for the odds are all against them. They may have some desires to better their position, but cannot see how it can be done.” Joseph A. Kahl, The American Class Structure (New York: Rinehart and Co., 1957), p. 211. See also Oscar Lewis, “The Culture of Poverty”, Scientific American (October 1966), pp. 19–25, especially p. 23.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    Strictly speaking, they are unable to reach the positive stages of envisioning alternatives. They go through the negative steps of losing faith in a given normative set-up, but fail to develop the vision of a movement as an omnipotent cure. See Neil J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behavior (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963), especially chapter 5. See alsoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. H. Blumer, “Collective Behavior”, in A. McClung Lee (ed.), Principles of Sociology (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951), p. 199.Google Scholar

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© The Macmillan Company of Canada Limited 1968

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  • Maurice Pinard

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