And an interesting gender perspective on voting in Canada. I would imagine the patterns are similar in the States, but there's no third federal party to provide a shade of gray to the election results.
Women to the left, men to the right
Outside Quebec, the gender gap reappeared in the past election, especially on social issues, say analysts ELISABETH GIDENGIL, JOANNA EVERITT, NEIL NEVITTE, ANDRÉ BLAIS and PATRICK FOURNIER
Since the early 1990s, parties on the right have held less appeal for women than they have for men. In fact, it is very likely the Canadian Alliance was denied its electoral breakthrough in Central Canada in the 2000 election because it failed to appeal to more women. While the newly united right succeeded in closing the gender gap in 2004, it reopened in last month's election. In the closing days of the campaign, women outside of Quebec were once again less likely than men to say that they would be voting Conservative, by an average of 10 points.
If fewer women than men were voting for the Conservatives in 2006, it was not because they were voting for the Liberals. The Liberals had the support of an equal number of women and men. Instead, it was the NDP that benefited from women's votes. The gap on the right was mirrored by a 10-point gender gap on the left. As they had since 1997, more women than men were voting NDP outside Quebec.
Why did the gender gaps reappear in 2006? Was it the leaders? Was it the issues? Were women more likely to see the Conservative Party and its leader as too extreme? To answer these questions, we have examined our data from the 2004 and 2006 Canadian Election Studies to provide some insight into these gender dynamics outside Quebec.
In the opening days of the campaign, men and women rated Stephen Harper very similarly. As the election wore on, though, men came to view the Conservative Leader more positively, while women's views hardly changed. As a result, a gender gap of more than 5 points (on a 0 to 100 scale) had opened up in evaluations of Mr. Harper by the campaign's close. In contrast, both men and women came to rate Jack Layton more favourably. Mr. Layton was the most popular of the three leaders outside Quebec, and he appealed equally to men and women. In fact, by the close of the campaign, men preferred Mr. Layton (52 points) to Mr. Harper (48 points).
The leader's lack of appeal to women may help to explain the gender gap on the right, but leadership, it seems, is not the key to the gender gap in support for the New Democratic Party.
In 2004, health care was the No. 1 issue, especially for women. In the final days of the 2004 campaign, 61 per cent of women said health was their most important issue, compared with only 42 per cent of men (the list of issues from which to choose also included taxes, social welfare programs, the environment, and corruption). In 2006, the dominance of health care was challenged by the corruption issue, but it remained of primary importance for women: Almost one woman in two (47 per cent) named health as her most important issue. For men, however, government corruption (38 per cent) outweighed concerns about health care (30 per cent). Although the corruption issue increased in importance during the campaign for men and women alike, this issue continued to rank a distant second (25 per cent) for women.
Men's judgments about the sponsorship scandal and corruption in the Liberal Party were harsher than women's, and men were more likely to re-evaluate the Liberals during the campaign. The number of men agreeing with the statement that the federal Liberal Party is more corrupt than the other parties went to 54 per cent in the final days from 44 per cent in early December. The figure for women barely budged over the same period; by the close of the campaign, the figure for men was fully 18 points higher.
At the end of the campaign, men (44 per cent) were much more likely than women (31 per cent) to believe that there had been a lot of corruption in the Chrétien government. Similarly, they were more likely to think that Paul Martin knew about the scandal before he became prime minister. Three out of four men (74 per cent) held this view, compared to fewer than two-thirds (63 per cent) of women, even though men (58 per cent) were more likely than women (45 per cent) to know that the Gomery report on the sponsorship scandal had absolved Mr. Martin of any blame.
As the campaign progressed, men became more disenchanted with Mr. Martin's handling of the sponsorship scandal: The proportion saying that he had done a good job dropped 8 points over the course of the campaign. Women's judgments remained unchanged, though they were not much more impressed with Mr. Martin's performance on this score (47 per cent) than men were (43 per cent). Finally, men (56 per cent) were less confident than women (65 per cent) that Mr. Martin would prevent a scandal from happening again if he were re-elected.
The corruption issue helped to boost men's support for the Conservatives, but the gender gap has deeper roots. Men and women differ on the issues in ways that mirror the partisan divide. Men are more conservative on social issues. For example, they are more likely than women to oppose same-sex marriage. They are also far more likely to favour the death penalty for people convicted of murder.
Views on gun control differ, too. Men are much less likely to believe that only the police and the military should be allowed to have guns, and much more likely to think that the gun registry should be scrapped entirely.
Men and women also react differently on Canada-U.S. relations. Men are more inclined to believe that free trade with the United States has been good for the Canadian economy and they are more likely to support closer ties with the U.S. In the area of social policy, men are more open to the idea of having some private hospitals in Canada, and less concerned about doing more about poverty.
Women are to the left of men on all of these issues, which may explain why they evaluate the Conservative Party and its leader more negatively. In the closing days of the campaign, almost one in three women outside of Quebec named the Conservatives when asked if there was a party that they would absolutely not vote for. Fewer than one in four men held that view. Women (28 per cent) were also more likely than men (20 per cent) to name the Conservative Party when asked if there is any federal political party that is just too extreme, and they were more likely (53 per cent) than men (47 per cent) to agree with the statement that Stephen Harper is just too extreme. While the number of men who subscribed to this view of the Conservative Leader had dropped 11 points since the start of the campaign, the figure for women was barely changed. Finally, women were a little more likely than men to consider the Conservatives a threat to Canada's social programs, but the gap was small (4 points).
Despite these perceptions, the Conservatives still managed to attract more votes from women than did the NDP (the gap in vote intentions was 7 points in the closing days of the campaign). Nonetheless, the fact the Conservatives could not attract as many votes from women as they did from men may well have prevented them from achieving majority status. If the Conservatives wish to win a majority in the next election, they need to win over more women. Likewise, if the NDP wants to increase its share of the vote, it has to figure out why it cannot attract more votes from men.
Elisabeth Gidengil of McGill University, Joanna Everitt of the University of New Brunswick, Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto and André Blais and Patrick Fournier of the University of Montreal directed the 2006 Canadian Election Study.
A comparison of Canadians' views outside Quebec found that when it comes to social values, women are to the left of men.
Oppose same-sex marriage
Favour the death penalty for people convicted of murder
Think only the police and the military should be allowed to carry guns
Think the gun registry should be scrapped entirely
Think free trade with the U.S. has been good for the Canadian economy
Think Canada should have closer ties with the U.S.
Favour having some private hospitals in Canada
Think more should be done to reduce the gap between rich and poor
Source: CES 2006 CAMPAIGN SURVEY
About the study
The 2006 Canadian Election Study (CES) is based on a rolling survey that interviewed small, random samples of respondents each day of the campaign. A similar study was conducted for the 2004 election. In each campaign, more than 4,000 30-minute interviews were completed.
These surveys were conducted by the Institute for Social Research at York University under the direction of this article's authors. The response rates for the 2004 and 2006 CES were respectively 55 per cent and 57 per cent. Financial support was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and by Elections Canada.