2021 Insight Award Winner: André Blais
Video: André Blais - Insight Award - 2021 Impact Awards
“I fondly remember, when I decided to go to university, hesitating between mathematics and political science. I chose the latter because this was during the Quiet Revolution in Quebec and I thought the subject area was cool,” says political science professor André Blais.
Voters across Canada, indeed around the globe, can be thankful Blais took an interest in the topic. His research has revolutionized global understanding of how electoral democracies function.
Fascinated by everyday citizens’ attitudes and behaviours, Blais wanted to know what prompts people to participate in elections. He went on to develop the research evidence needed to explain the precipitous declines in voter turnout in the 1990s and early 2000s, interactions between political parties and voters, and why people do—or do not—vote.
Blais’s work has provided invaluable insights into citizens’ voting decisions and populations at risk of disenfranchisement, including youth and racialized groups.
Two landmark studies led by Blais, the Canadian Election Study and Making Electoral Democracy Work, are among the biggest projects ever funded by SSHRC. Both have directly impacted how Canada and other countries run, and are reforming, their electoral systems. The datasets from the two studies are available to policy-makers, researchers, students, the private and not-for-profit sectors, media, and the general public.
His research’s influence has been just as evident in Blais’s own roles, including as co-director of the national attitudinal survey for the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, and research coordinator for the Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada (MacDonald Commission).
Embracing Anton Chekhov’s observation that “knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice,” Blais continues to provide advice to government departments and agencies in Canada and Quebec, including Elections Canada, about how to make elections more accessible. His work has won the admiration and respect of peers.
In his Impact Awards nomination, Blais’s colleagues describe him as a world-class scholar who has transformed academic research and supported the resilience of democracy around the globe.
“There is no political scientist, in the world, who has had a larger impact on the discipline over the past 30 years,” says James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and a faculty fellow at Northwestern University’s Institute for Policy Research.
In 2019, Blais was awarded a Killam Prize in the social sciences. He currently holds the University Research Chair in Electoral Studies at the Université de Montréal. He has formerly held two Tier I Canada Research Chairs in Electoral Studies at the university. Blais is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a research fellow with the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship.
The modest academic is quick to credit his outstanding research teams for many of his achievements.
“I have been privileged to be part of great teams in which we tried to design the best-quality surveys possible,” he says. “It is always a team effort, and I have learned so much from the brilliant researchers I have worked with.”
Blais describes his collaborations with policy-makers as being equally rewarding. He says the most gratifying aspect of his career, however, is training and mentoring. He has to date supervised 52 graduate students and 21 postdoctoral researchers. They have gone on to positions across Canada, Europe, and the United States.
“Keeping up with young students is so rewarding and I am so very proud of them, as they are doing extremely well,” he says.
This year’s Insight Award winner expresses great gratitude for SSHRC’s financial support and vote of confidence in his work.
“The kind of research I do involves massive data collection and large teams, which is very expensive,” says Blais. “My career would have been completely different without SSHRC.”
About the award
The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship, as well as the highest achievements resulting from a SSHRC fellowship awarded.
SSHRC’s Insight Award recognizes outstanding achievement by an individual or team whose project has made a significant contribution to knowledge and understanding about people, societies and the world.
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