Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Generational Replacement, Value Shifts, and Support for a Sovereign Quebec (1)

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

Generational Replacement, Value Shifts, and Support for a Sovereign Quebec (1)

Article excerpt

This article examines the values of different generations of Quebecers and considers how values influence whether Quebecers support or oppose sovereignty. My previous research has demonstrated that supporters of sovereignty are more likely than are opponents of sovereignty to share certain values, such as moral permissiveness and egalitarianism. These values are most prevalent among Quebecers born after 1945, and there is reason to believe that a value shift resulting from generational replacement will increase support for a sovereign Quebec in the future as older generations are replaced by younger generations with different values. On the other hand, the youngest generations of Quebecers tend to be less interested in politics and to have less confidence in the ability of governments to solve societal problems. Consequently, it may be very difficult for any political movement to mobilize younger Quebecers.

Using data from the 2000 Canadian Election Study (CES) and other public opinion surveys, this article explores the values of different generations of Quebecers that may influence them to support or oppose sovereignty. My analysis is limited to Francophones--defined as those who speak French at home--because this is the group that provides the constituency for the sovereigntist movement. Those whose first language is English are almost unanimously opposed to sovereignty, and those whose primary language is neither French nor English are highly unlikely to support sovereignty. (2) One should be careful, however, not to confuse language and ethnicity in Quebec. My sample does include French-speakers of non-French ethnicity--including many immigrants and children of immigrants. Recent studies demonstrate that the gap between Quebecers of French ethnicity and Quebecers of other ethnicities regarding support for sovereignty is narrowing rapidly (Lavoie and Serre). In 1997, for example, 57 percent of Quebec Francophones of French ethnicity supported sovereignty, whereas 49 percent of Quebec Francophones of other ethnicities supported sovereignty. (3)

Age and Support for Sovereignty

I have divided Quebecers into four generations for the purpose of this analysis: Older Quebecers (those born prior to 1945), Baby Boomers (those born between 1945 and 1959), Generation Xers (those born between 1960 and 1974), and (where data permit) Generation Y (those born in 1975 and after). (4) Although all methods of dividing people into generations or age cohorts are artificial, there is logic behind this particular division. Those Quebecers born between 1945 and 1959 attained maturity during the 1960s and early 1970s--a period of great political change in Quebec, marked by the Quiet Revolution and the emergence of the sovereignty movement. By contrast, those born prior to 1945 and those born after 1960 were socialized during very different eras. The corrupt and authoritarian government of Maurice Duplessis reigned in Quebec from 1944 to 1960, and the era before Duplessis was characterized by war and economic hardships. Generation Xers began to join the electorate during the 1980s--a period when the sovereigntist movement was in disarray and Quebec's economy suffered through two major recessions (Guay 87). Members of Generation Y began to enter the electorate in the mid-1990s--a period coinciding both with the fervor (and defeat) of the 1995 referendum and a gradually improving economy.

Figure 1 shows that support for sovereignty among Francophones has fluctuated over the past fifteen years. In this article, I argue that an individual's decision whether or not to support sovereignty is strongly influenced by his or her values and that an individual's values are unlikely to change after early adulthood. If one assumes that values are relatively stable and that the relationship between values and support for sovereignty is relatively stable, then the level of support for sovereignty within any particular age cohort should also be relatively stable. …

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