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A widening gender gap could be an ominous sign for the Conservatives

News

Predicting the results of the next election may be as a simple as asking Canadian women for their thoughts on Pierre Poilievre.

In a world of increasing gender polarization, where women are leaning left and men are leaning right, the last three decades show an ominous trend for the Conservative Party: the more the gender gap widens, the less likely the party is to win elections.

A recent Gallup poll found almost 45 percent of American women aged 18 to 29 now identify as political liberals, up from 30 percent in 2012. On the other hand, men aged 18 to 29 identifying as liberals decreased from roughly 30 percent in 2012, to 25 percent today. 

Data collected in Canada indicates a similar, but less drastic, gender divide.

Longtime Conservative strategist Melanie Paradis says she doesn’t see it as a major problem for society but says it could certainly swing elections.

“I don’t believe we are currently polarized between sexes; nor do I worry that we will be. We are talking about shifts of a few percentage points, which absolutely matters for winning elections and subsequently for governing,” says Paradis.

It’s true that a larger gender gap has consistently correlated with election losses for the Conservative Party and its legacy parties.

According to data from Canadian Election Study, the Conservatives have only succeeded in closing the gender gap outside Quebec in 2004. The party kept the gap within five percentage points in the three subsequent election victories, which culminated in a majority government in 2011.

The Conservatives have never won an election where the gap widens beyond 6 percentage points, even going back to the successive Liberal majorities in the 1990s and when the Canadian Right was represented by the Progressive Conservative Party, the Reform Party, and, in 2000, the Canadian Alliance.

These results suggest the Conservative Party cannot afford to let the gender gap between itself and the Liberals exceed the high single digits.

Why has the party been unable to boost its salience with female voters?

National Post columnist Sabrina Maddeaux says the Conservatives need to elevate younger and stronger female voices to connect with Canadian women, as well as overcome their inability to successfully address issues like child care and climate change. 

“I heard a lot from peers that these issues decided their last vote, and Conservatives didn’t really have a solution for them as much as they just opposed the Left’s positions,” says Maddeux. “At the same time, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have been very, very good at weaponizing abortion as a wedge issue.” 

Maddeaux says the influence of social conservatives like Leslyn Lewis within the party who oppose abortion is another reason why the Conservatives have failed to make inroads with women on voting day.

“If the next Conservative leader wants to win in a general election, they will have to come up with modern answers on issues that matter to women,” says Maddeaux. 

Progressive pundit Amanda Alvaro says the overruling of Roe v. Wade by the mostly Republican-appointed Supreme Court of the United States weighs on the minds of Canadian women as well.

In the wake of Roe’s overturning, 56 percent of Canadians surveyed by Ipsos believe women should have access to an abortion at any time, 13 points more than in 2010. However, while a large majority of older Canadians say women should have unrestricted access to abortions, just half of Canadians aged 18 to 34 agree.

“Whether or not Roe v. Wade actually impacts access for Canadian women, they have now been shown what could happen,” says Paradis. “It doesn’t matter how hard it would be to do that here, it’s a perceived threat. And that threat will be used in campaigns for as long as it keeps working.”

Regarding abortion, Maddeaux says Canada’s conservative politicians have largely failed to create enough space between themselves and the Republicans.

“Many see the direction Republicans have gone and associate all conservatives with the same politics and positions,” says Maddeaux. “Our Conservative Party also probably hasn’t done enough to actively distance themselves from that.” 

Alvaro believes progressive policies also push younger women toward the political Left, citing polling showing women are inclined to support investments into sectors like child care and health care.

“Women still hold disproportionate responsibility for family decisions in regards to children and aging parents, so parties who champion those policies tend to attract a stronger female vote,” says Alvaro. 

One widely-circulated reason for why women have progressive inclinations in Canada and the United States has been their growing presence in universities, with more women than men attending in North America since the 1980s

While Alvaro agrees that the growth of higher education amongst women influenced their political shift, Maddeaux says it was less impactful in the last fifteen years than in previous decades and that the political gender divide is not permanent. 

“As we’re starting to see with the once written-off younger demographic, the right politician with the right messaging and policies can reverse this trend,” says Maddeaux, who adds that Canadians are fed up with Trudeau and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh.

Alvaro says data suggests that the winning formula for parties is to attract a large amount of support from one gender and be competitive with the other, but when the gap widens and parties become less competitive, they run into deadlocks.

“At the end of the day, a vote is a vote. So if the Liberals attract more women to the party and Conservatives attract more men, how much does that change the outcome of an election result?” says Alvaro “What it will do potentially, is change the type of policies that the parties put in the window.”

Despite some data showing the Liberals have an advantage among Canadian women, Paradis says the party has done little to aid young women and mothers on issues like shortages in baby formula and infant Tylenol, and that their national $10-a-day daycare plan is insufficient.

“To the extent the Liberals court their vote, it just seems to be to scare them about guns and abortion access,” says Paradis, who believes young women and mothers are a demographic taken for granted by all the parties, including the Liberals.

In her opinion, winning over women would require a commitment similar to Doug Ford’s outreach to organized labour in the last Ontario election, which helped his party win an overwhelming majority.

“I have yet to meet anyone in politics interested in making that investment, but if you are out there, call me and let’s cause trouble,” says Paradis.

A quarter of Canadians are tuning out ‘too depressing’ political news: Poll

News

As Conservative leadership frontrunner Pierre Poilievre zig-zagged across the country this year, from community centres in Nova Scotia to hockey rinks in Alberta, there was at least one similarity in these disparate parts of the country: raucous chants of “defund the CBC” spontaneously erupting around the room.

Along with his promise to axe the CBC, Poilievre hasn’t shied away from criticizing other media outlets and even individual journalists.

But while many Canadians share Poilievre’s skepticism about the mainstream media, it’s not necessarily for ideological reasons, according to a recent poll produced by The Hub and Public Square Research and conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panelClick the link to join the Leger Opinion online panel and get your voice heard in surveys like this..

In fact, most Canadians who are tuning out the news say they’re doing it because the sheer negativity is turning them off from politics.

One-fifth of Canadians engage with political news “throughout the day,” while a third of Canadians engage with it daily and 22 percent engage with it a few times a week.

About a quarter of Canadians are almost entirely disengaged from the news, though. Ten percent of Canadians actively avoid political news, five percent engage with politics only through conversations with friends and ten percent read the news a few times a month.

Fifty percent of the people who are disengaged say they are “tired of the negativity in politics” and 38 percent say the news is simply too depressing.

About a third of Canadians who have less interest in the news agree that they don’t know where to go to get the truth or that there is too much media bias. About 31 percent of Canadians who don’t watch the news say they just have too much going on in their life to find the time.

The poll also shows that only 26 percent of Canadians said they were concerned about the CBC’s status as the public broadcaster.

“The CBC is not an issue of concern for them,” said Heather Bastedo, who runs Public Square Research and produced the survey for The Hub. “The CBC is a little bit different. If you open up the debate about defunding them you do appear to look small because there is a romantic attachment to the CBC.”

The poll also finds a mismatch between the issues dominating the headlines and what Canadians are concerned about.

Only 16 percent of Canadians said they were concerned about the Pope’s visit to Canada and 35 percent said they were concerned about the backlog in immigration processing in Canada.

“The role of the news isn’t always to give people the news they want to hear,” said Bastedo. “But the media needs to make the connection to people’s lives with these stories. Most people aren’t flying out from Pearson, but the fact that the government can’t run things should be an issue.”

Thirty-four percent of Canadians said they were concerned about the long lineups at passport offices, while 21 percent said it doesn’t concern them at all, 18 percent said it’s not really a concern and 22 percent said it may affect them in the future.

The number one issue for Canadians right now is rising interest rates. Forty-five percent say they are very concerned about it, while 26 percent say they are concerned and 13 percent say it may affect them in the future.

The war in Ukraine is similarly pressing for Canadians. Forty percent of Canadians are very concerned and 35 percent are concerned, while nine percent say it may affect them in the future.

Younger Canadians are least likely to be highly engaged news consumers, with only 13 percent of people aged 18 to 34 reporting that they read the news throughout the day, compared to 27 percent of people over the age of 55.

Young people are less likely to be totally disengaged than people aged 35 to 54, though.

Among people under the age of 35, about 11 percent report having no interest in politics at all, compared to 14 percent of people aged 35 to 54. Younger people are also more likely to check in on the news when something big happens or to get informed via social media or by talking to friends.

The research involved an online omnibus survey of 1,520 people, which was fielded between July 29 and Aug. 2.

This survey was conducted with LEO, Leger’s online panel. If you want your voice to be heard, you can join the LEO panel today.